June 2021: texting periods, LingComm21 meta posts, and finally a new bookshelf!

I’m quoted in a New York Times Wordplay piece about ending texts with a period. Now that Because Internet has been out for two years, I can attest that people have successfully used it as a way of opening up cross-generational conversations about changing texting norms.

Gretchen McCulloch, the Canadian linguist and author of “Because Internet,” dedicated an entire chapter of her book to “typographical tone of voice,” which explores not only periods and ellipses as signifiers of tone, but also TYPING IN ALL CAPS, which is seen as yelling; using *asterisks* and ~tildes~ for emphasis; the all lowercase “minimalist typography,” which can indicate a kind of deadpan, sarcastic monotone; and, of course, tYp1nG l1k3 th!z. (This is called “l33t [elite] speak,” and while it was once a sincere and popular way of spicing up texts, it is now employed almost exclusively in irony.)

No More Periods When Texting. Period.

For anyone else who’s been trying to figure out how to do virtual events that are actually social, the organizing committee of LingComm21 has written a six-part series on how we designed the conference:

  1. Why virtual conferences are antisocial (but they don’t have to be)
  2. Designing online conferences for building community
  3. Scheduling online conferences for building community
  4. Hosting online conferences for building community
  5. Budgeting online conferences or events
  6. Planning accessible online conferences

I was a contestant on Webster’s War of the Words, a virtual quiz show fundraiser for the Noah Webster House, and also attended two online conferences, the Dictionary Society of North America and the annual meeting of the Canadian Linguistics Association.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was an interview with Jade Abbott and Bonaventure Dossou from Masakhane, a grassroots initiative to make natural language processing tools in African languages, for Africans, by Africans. The bonus episode was about the linguistics of Pokemon names, looking at highly important Pokemonastics research like what makes a name sound cuddly or powerful. Also, Lingthusiasm now has a LinkedIn page, in case that’s a thing that’s been missing from your life. You’re welcome?

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This month’s image is, finally, inside a new bookshop again! This is from Librairie l’Alphabet in Rimouski, admittedly definitely a linguistics section that overlaps considerably with “reference” but containing a few French-language books I hadn’t seen before.

A bookshelf containing linguistics and reference books in French, including 337 Expressions Quebecoises, Le tu et le vous, and Une Histoire des Languages.

May 2021: 9th blogiversary and pfinally pfizer’d

I hit my 9th blogiversary on All Things Linguistic! Hard to believe I’m coming up on almost an entire decade of blogging now, but at any rate, here’s the traditional blogiversary post with highlights of the past year. It feels like I compensated for the isolation of the whole global pandemic situation this past year by working on a lot of projects with people through the internet, most notably Crash Course Linguistics and the LingComm21 conference, plus of course ongoing projects like Lingthusiasm episodes and Because Internet coming out in paperback.

In the aftermath of #LingComm21, we did a couple tours of the custom Gather space that we made for the conference. The tours are finished now, but if you want to see people’s screencaps of the parts of the space and the conference that they found memorable, you can check the photos tab of the #LingComm21 hashtag.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about negation (transcript) — or shall I say, it wasn’t NOT about negation — and the bonus episode was about “uh-huh”, nodding, thumbs up, and other kinds of backchannelling (the edited audio-only version of our liveshow last month).

Pfinally, some pfantastic inpformation:

(See the thread for further suggestions on how you can adapt your speaking style if you received a vaccine from a different manufacturer!)

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We finally started going out of lockdown here this month, so while I haven’t yet managed any new bookshop or travel photos, I did at least get to have a drink outside after the sun went down.

April 2021: #LingComm21, Lingthusiasm liveshow and #lingfest

We finally ran LingComm and LingFest, the events we’d been planning for the past few months!

LingComm21, the first International Conference on Linguistics Communication, had just under 200 registrants, around 100 of which were formally part of the programming in some way. It was fantastic to get to see old friends and meet new people and find out more about so many great lingcomm projects. Thank you to everyone involved in the conference, especially the organizing committee and those who participated through panels, posters, volunteering, and organizing meetups. My opening remarks and closing remarks are here as blog posts, and see the #LingComm21 hashtag for highlights of what people noticed about the conference.

We did a liveshow for my podcast, Lingthusiasm! Here’s a fun thread that I did about backchannels while we were getting ready for the show. If you’ve now realized that you want to belatedly watch the liveshow, here’s the archive link (for patrons, as encouraging people to become patrons is what helps us keep the show running).

The Lingthusiasm liveshow was part of LingFest, a fringe-festival-like program of online linguistics events aimed at a general audience, which contained a total of 12 events attended by a total of over 700 participants. Thank you to everyone who both created and attended events!

I also moderated a panel for the European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics (EACL) on NLP Applications for Crisis Management and Emergency Situations.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm this month was about R and R-like sounds (rhoticity), featuring A Thing About Eeyore that keeps blowing listeners’ minds, and the bonus was about talking to babies and small children.

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This month’s image is a group photo of attendees from the LingComm21 conference! So much fun to get to be in a group photo again for a change!

Tweet from @LingComm reading: Look at how many lingcommers there are! Group photo from #LingComm21, tag yourself! With screencap of about 50 videogame-style avatars from Gather around the word #LingComm21

March 2021: LingComm21 preparations and two video talks

This month was largely occupied in continued preparations for a pair of events in April:

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about how linguists figure out the grammar of a language (transcript) and the bonus was about reduplication and a classic linguistics paper affectionately known as the salad-salad paper.

I did two video talks: at Planet Word, the new language museum in Washington DC, about internet language and Because Internet, and for Slate’s Future Tense about the meaning of emoji with Jennifer Daniel.

I collaborated on another video with Tom Scott, this one about the rhythms of poetry in different languages or Why Shakespeare Could Never Have Been French:

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This month’s photo, since I yet again didn’t go anywhere, is a throwback photo from ReadeBook, a bookshop in Adelaide, from when I was in Australia in 2018.

Reference section featuring linguistics books at ReadeBook in Adelaide, South Australia

February 2021: Announcing #LingComm21 and #lingfest

This month, I announced LingComm21, the first International Conference on Linguistics Communication, and LingFest, a fringe-festival-style coordination of independently organized public linguistics events, together with an excellent organizing committee consisting of Lauren Gawne, Jessi Grieser, Laura Bailey, and Liz McCullough (different spelling, no relation!), both to take place in April 2021.

I wrote a thread about how we came to the idea of running a linguistics communication conference, plus a more official-looking announcement on LinguistList.

We reached our 100th episode of Lingthusiasm! This month’s main episode of Lingthusiasm was about imperatives (transcript) and the bonus was a Q&A episode featuring naming dogs, modifying English, keeping up with linguistics research outside academia, and more. (Also, the cutest IPA update.)

I attended the virtual AAAS conference, including making a virtual “hotel bar” in Gather to hang out with fellow attendees in.

I also may or may not have been in another xkcd comic, this time about the Tower of Babel. (I am choosing to consider it a representation of curly-haired linguists everywhere.)

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This month’s featured image is from xkcd. I have to say, I’m severely tempted to screencap that exultant curly-haired linguist as a new profile picture.

January 2021: Linguistics, Language and the Public Award, end of Crash Course Linguistics, and a cappella song about Because Internet

I started off the year as usual at the Linguistic Society of America annual meeting, at which I was honoured to be the recipient of the Linguistics, Language, and the Public Award. I put up my acceptance speech as a blog post (and also a reminder that I wrote a series on how to have a career sorta like mine). Although this year was virtual and Word of the Year had been in December, it was still great to see everyone in the unofficial Gather space that I made for the conference (thanks to everyone who helped brainstorm ideas for what to call a fantasy linguistics coffeeshop). Also thanks to Christian Brickhouse and Lauren Collister for running the annual Wikipedia editathon with me, which we also did in Gather and it worked well there.

The final Crash Course Linguistics videos and accompanying resource posts on Mutual Intelligibility came out!

There’s also now a directory of all of the Mutual Intelligibility posts, a whole year’s worth of compiled resources, which we put up to conclude the project. Many thanks to everyone who read and contributed to the project, especially our editor Liz McCullough.

The main Lingthusiasm episode this month was about how writing is a technology (a companion to the final Crash Course episode), and the bonus was our 100th episode total, a “director’s cut” of excellent deleted scenes from previous episodes that we’d had to cut for time. It’s also the one-year anniversary of launching the Lingthusiasm patron Discord, which has since become a place that’s lively and active but not too much to keep up with, in my opinion an ideal state for an online community.

Someone made a musical tiktok video asking why adults over 40 use ellipsis so much, a lot of people tagged me in it so I tweeted about it, and then the delightful A Capella Science made an extremely catchy response video, also in music, with the answer:

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This month’s image is a screencap from the A Cappella Science video about Because Internet, which I still utterly cannot get over. Amazing.

2020 Year in Review

Crossposted from my blog, All Things Linguistic.

2020 wasn’t the year anyone was expecting, and I did much less travel than in previous years. But, while I was social distancing at home like everyone else, I did at least keep doing enjoyable linguistics things: Crash Course Linguistics videos went from early planning stages to nearly complete, Because Internet came out in paperback, and my podcast Lingthusiasm launched two other projects to contribute to the pop linguistics ecosystem: LingComm Grants and Mutual Intelligibility.

Because Internet

Because Internet, my book about internet language which hit the NYT bestseller list last year, came out in paperback this year! Links to get it in all of the formats, including how to get signed copies.

Here are some photos of the new paperback edition, same bright yellow cover, now with 10x more nice quotes from people. I also wrote an old-school reflexive blog post about what it’s like to hit the final milestone in a book journey that began in 2014.

Crash Course Linguistics

I worked on these 16 fun intro linguistics videos, 10-12 minutes long each, along with a large team, including linguists Lauren Gawne and Jessi Grieser, host Taylor Behnke, the animation team at Thought Cafe, and of course the production team at Crash Course itself. Writing the scripts ended up being our first lockdown project in the spring, and then reviewing the filmed and animated episodes for accuracy a second lockdown project in the fall. The final few videos will be appearing in early 2021 — you can watch them all at this playlist.

Other Writing

Wired Resident Linguist column:

Language Files videos, with Tom Scott and Molly Ruhl:

Lingthusiasm

My fourth year of producing a podcast that’s enthusiastic about linguistics with Lauren Gawne! Regular episodes:

  1. Making machines learn language – Interview with Janelle Shane
  2. This time it gets tense – the grammar of time
  3. What makes a language easy? It’s a hard question
  4. The grammar of singular they – Interview with Kirby Conrod
  5. Schwa, the most versatile English vowel
  6. Tracing languages back before recorded history
  7. Hey, no problem, bye! The social dance of phatics
  8. The happy fun big adjective episode
  9. Who you are in high school, linguistically speaking – Interview with Shivonne Gates
  10. How translators approach a text
  11. Climbing the sonority mountain from A to P
  12. Small talk, big deal

And 12 bonus episodes, with thanks to our patrons for keeping the show sustainable:

  1. What might English be like in a couple hundred years?
  2. Generating a Lingthusiasm episode using a neural net
  3. Teaching linguistics to yourself and other people
  4. When letters have colours and time is a braid – The linguistics of synesthesia
  5. A myriad of numbers – Counting systems across languages
  6. Doing linguistics with kids
  7. Tones, drums, and whistles – linguistics and music
  8. LingComm on a budget (plus the Lingthusiasm origin story)
  9. The quick brown pangram jumps over the lazy dog
  10. The most esteemed honorifics episode
  11. Crash Course Linguistics behind the scenes with Jessi Grieser
  12. Q&A with lexicographer Emily Brewster of Merriam-Webster

We started a Lingthusiasm Discord server, a place for people who are enthusiastic about linguistics to find each other and talk! And we released new schwa-themed merch with the (admittedly aspirational these days) slogan Never Stressed.

Lingthusiasm also sponsored two other projects this year: LingComm Grants and Mutual Intelligibility.

LingComm Grants – We gave out four $500 grants to up-and-coming linguistics communications projects. Thank you again to everyone who applied, and do check out the projects of the winners of the 2020 LingComm Grants.

Mutual Intelligibility – A newsletter to connect linguistics instructors with existing linguistics resources suitable for teaching online in a bite-sized, easy-to-digest fashion, with considerable help from the editing and organizational skills of Liz McCullough.

Conferences

I did do a tiny bit of travel this year, my usual January trip to the Linguistics Society of America annual meeting (this year in New Orleans) and February trips to Comma Con (I gave a keynote about the future of language online), Social Science FooCamp, PanLex at Long Now, the Internet Archive offices (all San Fransisco Bay Area) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting (Seattle).

Virtual conferences and talks:

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I celebrated my eighth blogiversary on All Things Linguistic! Here are some of my favourite posts from this year:

Linguistics jobs and other advice:

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Missed out on previous years? Here are the summary posts from 201320142015201620172018, and 2019. If you’d like to get a much shorter monthly highlights newsletter via email, with all sorts of interesting internet linguistics news, you can sign up for that at gretchenmcc.substack.com.

December 2020: Words of the Year

I did several media things this month on the theme of trying (insofar as it’s possible) to sum up this year: The Coronavirus’s New Words in the New York Times, Words of 2020! (and Metaphors, and Interfaces of the Year) on the a16z podcast, and a Bonus 2020 highlights episode from The Allusionist.

The Crash Course Linguistics episodes which came out this month were:

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about small talk and the bonus episode was a Q&A with lexicographer Emily Brewster of Merriam-Webster about the process of making dictionaries. Thanks to our patrons for their great questions! If you want to suggest potential future guests and ask questions of them (along with getting access to bonus episodes and chatting with fellow linguistics enthusiasts in the Lingthusiasm Discord more generally), you can become a patron. Someone also made a Sporcle quiz about Lingthusiasm episodes, which we thought was very cool!

I went to the American Dialect Society’s annual Word of the Year vote, which is normally in person in early January at the annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, but this year as both have moved online, we were able to have the WotY vote at the end of December instead. A bit weird, but still nice to see familiar faces in the chat! The winner was, surprising no one at all, “covid”, and you can see the longer (and in my mind, more interesting) list of nominees in each category here.

A video with Tom Scott on the complicated question of how many languages there are.

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Lots of people seem to have received copies of Because Internet for Christmas this year, as it’s now in paperback, and have been tagging me in them on twitter and instagram, which is lovely! Here are some of them:

November 2020: Proximity chat in Wired, bears in xkcd, vaccines in Jolene

I wrote an article for Wired this month summing up the results of my experiments in having more fluid conversational groupings (popularly known as “parties”) online.

The Zoom-birthday-party-slash-quiz-show is not terrible, and it is better than nothing—not to mention far better than hosting a Fun Party for Viral Particles in your friends’ respiratory tracts. But this birthday-board-meeting simply doesn’t feel like a party. (I’d hereby like to apologize to my friends who’ve hosted said Zoom gatherings. No really, please invite me back next year, it’s the medium that’s at fault!) One possible solution is to embrace the necessary structure of large Zoom events, and organize a more formal type of fun, like book clubs and game nights and powerpoint karaoke and show-and-tell events.

But, internet help me, I was still determined to have an actual virtual party. Which raises the question: If getting a bunch of people together on a video call doesn’t feel like a party, then what does?

A Mission to Make Virtual Parties *Actually* Fun

I also made a cameo in an xkcd comic. (Possibly twice, if you interpret this one as a subtweet.) I would like to thank everyone for their concern, but it is actually very comfortable here in the stomach of the Eldritch Spirit of the Brown One and I am getting some very interesting fieldwork done with this ursine speaker of Proto-Germanic so please do not be alarmed.

I late-night-wrote a parody version of “Jolene” but about vaccines (“Vaccine, Vaccine, Vaccine, Vaciiiiine / I’m begging you please go in my arm”) which someone made an excellent video recording of and then it got picked up by quite a lot of media outlets, including the BBC, New York Times (print), Associated Press, Boston Globe, and Fortune. (Youtube version, for posterity.) Still no word on whether Dolly Parton herself has seen it yet, which would be thoroughly incredible.

I did a virtual discussion event with Maria Dahvana Headley (translator of the new “bro” Beowulf edition) and Alena Smith (creator of the show Dickinson) about translation and the juxtaposition of historical texts with modern language styles. It was part of Predictive Text, a new series I’m doing with Slate’s Future Tense, and the archive video is online.

I also did a talk at the Australian Educational Podcasting Conference: From mythbusting to metaphors – Learning from cross-disciplinary research to communicate complex topics better. (Not recorded, but my slides are at the link.)

A few more Crash Course Linguistics episodes went up this month (we’re taking a few weeks off this month and next for assorted holidays this time of year).

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about how sonority shapes our sense of what a possible word is in various languages and the bonus episode was a behind-the-scenes episode about the making of Crash Course Linguistics with Jessi Grieser. It was also our anniversary month — we’ve now been making Lingthusiasm for four years! Thank you to everyone who’s helped spread the word about the show, both for our anniversary and in general. We know that parasocial relationships are especially important in isolation and it’s been an honour to be that for so many people this year.

I got sent a review copy of The Language Lover’s Puzzle Book, which is exactly the sort of book that I wish had been available to me as a 15 year old budding linguist and which I hope you get for language or puzzle fans in your life, of any age. Thread with some pictures and impressions.

I also read and greatly enjoyed the linguistic aspects of A Memory Called Empire, which includes poetic descriptions of fifteen syllable verbs and a very neat naming system loosely inspired by the Aztecs. More tweets to come when I eventually get my hands on a paper copy, read it now so you can follow along even better!

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This month’s image is, obviously, xkcd!Gretchen. Seriously, look at that hair, I’m so impressed!

October 2020: More Crash Course, SBTB, #SciWri20

I had a very fun time doing this interview on Smart Podcast, Trashy Books this month, talking about the cheese plate as social technology, various language aspects of books I’ve read recently, and of course your ever-present Internet Linguistics Content. Here’s a quote:

Gretchen: So the interesting linguistic fact about Tooth and Claw is, I happen to know Jo Walton and she was telling me the story about the Japanese translation for Tooth and Claw. There’s a linguistic feature in Japanese where you have, like, categories for different types of entities in the world, and there’s one for humans and there’s one for monsters, and what the Japanese translator approached her for permission to do was, can I use the human category, this linguistic thing, for the dragons in this book, and for these other people, who are implicitly humans, but they’re external to the society – can I use the monster descriptor for them?

Sarah: [Gasps] Ohhh! Oh my.

Gretchen: [Laughs] And, and Jo was obviously like, oh my God, of course you can! I would have done this in English if I’d had the ability!

428. The Cheese Plate is a Technology: Because Internet with Gretchen McCulloch

The Crash Course Linguistics videos (10-12 minute videos about intro linguistics!) and their accompanying Mutual Intelligibility newsletters continued coming out this month, as the prophecy (er, scheduling calendar) foretold.

This month’s main episode of Lingthusiasm was about how translators approach a text, featuring that new translation of Beowulf that I’m super keen on, the Tale of Genji, and more. The bonus episode was about honorifics, that most esteemed and venerable of topics.

I’m pleased to report that the latest set of draft emoji from Unicode include three emoji that I co-wrote the proposals for, along with Lauren Gawne and Jennifer Daniel.

I virtually attended the online National Association of Science Writers (NASW) conference, where I got to try out the Remo table-based proximity chat platform and also ran a “night owls hang out at the hotel bar” meetup in Gather. I also really liked this quote on how writing for the public is difficult and sublime.

Planet Word, the language museum in Washington DC that I’m on the Advisory Board for and have been watching the progress of with interest for several years, finally opened its doors! I watched the virtual ribbon cutting here (still online, if you’re curious) and I’m looking forward to eventually getting to see it in person one day.

A further video in my ongoing collaboration with Tom Scott, about the corpus statistics behind the pronunciation of “gif”.

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I didn’t really go anywhere this month, so here’s a small easter egg from inside a Crash Course Linguistics video.