October 2021: Unicode Conference!

I finally went to some physical conferences again this month!

More specifically, I went to California for two conferences, Sotheby’s Level Up in Los Angeles and the Unicode Conference in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I did a keynote called “Taking Playfulness Seriously – When character sets are used in unexpected ways” (slides here!).

Here’s a meme-ish slide I made for my Unicode talk, about how tech tools need to work with and support users’ desires to be playful with language and symbols rather than pretending that people aren’t going to repurpose official tools for entertainment purposes, because ignoring this technological “desire path” just ends up creating a bad experience for users.

A park with two paths through it. The paved path is labelled "stop using our serious unicode characters for your fun games" and then there's a dirt path that clearly a lot of people have used instead.

If you want to watch the Unicode talk, it’s not online as itself, but a few days later I did a talk on the same topic for Bay Area NLP, for which the video is here.

I also gave a virtual talk for some internal folks at YouTube, which is not online.

It was so great to see and meet a different assortment of people from my usual this month! I also got to do fun things like drop in on Spectator Books Oakland, which I happened to be walking by when I was in California so I signed their copy of Because Internet! (I think this signed edition has already been claimed by now, but they said they’d get more copies in later if you happen to be in the area. And as ever, you can always order signed Because Internets via Argo Bookshop in Montreal, if having a signed copy makes you excited enough to want to pay for shipping.)

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was Corpus linguistics and consent – Interview with Kat Gupta. The bonus episode was Lingwiki and linguistics on Wikipedia. We also saw a lot of people sign up for the limited-time Lingthusiastic sticker pack!

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This month’s image is from the Unicode Conference, which put U+1F637 (the Unicode encoding for the masked face) on its masks instead of like, a logo. I just. I’m so pleased about this. Plus my esoteric symbols scarf which everyone at Unicode did appreciate as much as I’d been hoping for, thank you.

September 2021: virtual university talks and a new portrait!

I did some back-to-school virtual university talks this month! I talked about The Internet is Making English Better at Yale with Claire Bowern and about Internet Linguistics and Memes as Internet Folklore with a student at the University of Oklahoma.

In fun internet crossover moments, Cecil Baldwin, host of Welcome to Night Vale (the podcast that got me into podcasts!), discovered the Welcome to Night Vale crossover in Because Internet, which he had evidently been reading!

Peeking face, palm up, and palm down – the emoji I proposed with Lauren Gawne and Jennifer Daniel are now officially in Unicode 14.0 and will be coming to your devices in the next few years!

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was That’s the kind of episode it’s – clitics. The bonus episode was Q&A with Emily Gref from language museum Planet Word. We also debuted a time-limited Lingthusiastic Sticker Pack special offer for people who support the podcast on Patreon. Finally, Lauren and I commissioned a portrait of the two of us hanging out together as cohosts, since international travel restrictions mean we won’t be taking a photo together anytime soon.

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Here’s the portrait of me and Lauren again, I’m so pleased with how it turned out! We also got individual versions to use as social media avatars.

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.

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.

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).

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

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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!

June 2020: translation & public health, LingComm Grantees, and IPA masks

I wrote an article for Wired in which I got to talk with a lot of really interesting people about the importance of language to public health: Covid-19 Is History’s Biggest Translation Challenge.

You, a person who’s currently on the English-speaking internet in The Year of The Pandemic, have definitely seen public service information about Covid-19. You’ve probably been unable to escape seeing quite a lot of it, both online and offline, from handwashing posters to social distancing tape to instructional videos for face covering.

But if we want to avoid a pandemic spreading to all the humans in the world, this information also has to reach all the humans of the world—and that means translating Covid PSAs into as many languages as possible, in ways that are accurate and culturally appropriate.

It’s easy to overlook how important language is for health if you’re on the English-speaking internet, where “is this headache actually something to worry about?” is only a quick Wikipedia article or WebMD search away. For over half of the world’s population, people can’t expect to Google their symptoms, nor even necessarily get a pamphlet from their doctor explaining their diagnosis, because it’s not available in a language they can understand. […]

According to a regularly updated list maintained by the Endangered Languages Project, Covid information from reputable sources (such as governments, nonprofits, and volunteer groups that clearly cite the sources of their health advice) has been created in over 500 languages and counting, including over 400 videos in more than 150 languages. A few of these projects are shorter, more standardized information in a larger variety of global languages, such as translating the five WHO guidelines into posters in more than 220 languages or translating the WHO’s mythbuster fact sheets into over 60 languages. But many of them, especially the ones in languages that aren’t as well represented on the global stage, are created by individual, local groups who feel a responsibility to a particular area, including governments, nonprofits, and volunteer translators with a little more education or internet access.

Read the whole thing.

The Lingthusiasm main episode was about tracing languages back before recorded history (transcript) and the bonus episode was about doing linguistics with kids. We also released new nonmedical face masks, by popular request, in our IPA, tree diagram, and esoteric symbol prints. It’s a weird world where suddenly face masks are our most popular merch item, but we’re heartened to hear from people that it makes them feel a bit more cheerful about wearing a mask.

We also announced the winners of the 2020 LingComm Grants! We had over 75 applications from around the world and we’d like to thank all applicants for making the job of deciding extremely difficult! Stay tuned for further updates from these great projects:

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This month’s image is one of the new IPA masks, which I now also own! They’re made out of a soft, jersey-like material and are pretty comfortable for short wear.

IPA mask navy