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.

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

August 2020: Virtual hallway experiments and bouba/kiki video

Because Internet was featured in the New York Times Paperback Row, a list of books that came out in paperback recently!

I did two experiments around creating a sort of virtual conference hallway/coffeebreak experience, since running into people in hallways is the biggest thing I miss about conferences having moved online!

I was on a Linguistics in the Pub panel about linguistics podcasting, along with my cohost Lauren Gawne (moderator) as well as Megan Figureoa and Carrie Gillon from The Vocal Fries and Daniel Midgley and Hedvig Skirgard from Because Language. You can rewatch it online here.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about the happy fun big story of adjectives and the bonus was about doing linguistics communication on a shoestring budget (and the Lingthusiasm origin story).

We started reviewing screener videos for the upcoming Crash Course Linguistics video series, coming out on Fridays starting September 4 for the rest of 2020! Subscribe to Mutual Intelligibility to get an email whenever a new episode comes out.

The latest video in my ongoing collaboration with Tom Scott and Molly Ruhl came out, and it’s about the Bouba/Kiki experiment! Follow it with this Lingthusiasm episode about replicating (and failing to replicate) the bouba/kiki experiment across languages.

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This month’s image is from last year, the linguistics section at Powell’s in Portland.

July 2020: Because Internet in paperback!

Because Internet, my book about internet language, is now available in paperback! 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. Because Internet was also featured in Paperback Row, the New York Times’s list of paperback books that came out this week, among other media (below). (There was also, briefly, one of those ebook sales.)

My Wired article about preliterate children texting in emoji from a while back was translated for Wired Japan. Here it is in Japanese and here it is in English again.

Lauren Gawne and I gave a talk for Abralin, the Brazilian Linguistics Association, about emoji and gesture. You can watch it online here on the Abralin youtube channel. (Auto-captions only; for similar content already in text form see our slides, this livetweet thread, our paper about emoji as gesture or the transcript of our Lingthusiasm episode about emoji and gesture in Because Internet.)

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about phatic expressions like “hey”, “no problem” and “bye” and the bonus was about linguistics and music, including tones, drums, and whistled languages.

If you’re a Lingthusiasm fan, and you’re considering reading the Because Internet audiobook but you wish Lauren was there too, not just my voice all by itself, we now have a solution to that problem! That’s right, we’ve made a clip of Lauren-backchannelling audio that you can now play on loop in the other ear while you listen to the Because Internet audiobook.

Lauren and I also finally finished the bulk of the writing on the scripts for Crash Course Linguistics this month! We’ve been working on this intensively since March, not to mention the planning side in previous months. The Crash Course and Thought Cafe teams are now moving into exciting things that we’re less involved in, like filming and animating, although we’ll still be keeping an eye on technical accuracy as it goes along. I’m excited to share that the 16 ten-minute intro linguistics videos will be going up on the Crash Course youtube channel starting in September! If you want to get emails with each of the Crash Course Linguistics videos and suggested further reading/activities as they go up, you can sign up for the Mutual Intelligibility newsletter.

I did an edition of Mutual Intelligibility about teaching internet linguistics in honour of Because Internet coming out in paperback, along with several other great resources in the internet linguistics domain.

Media list:

  • Rotten Tomatoes – mention “WHY AIRPLANE!’S TITLE IS ONE OF THE CLASSIC COMEDY’S BEST JOKES” – 7/2
  • The New York Times – interview “A Short History of ‘Simp’” – 7/7
  • Grist – mention “Is nature all healed now? A look at the pandemic’s best meme” – 7/9
  • Daily Beast – mention – 7/17
  • Inverse – mention “Comic-con@Home” – 7/29
  • Against The Grain – Book of the Week  – 7/31
  • New York Times – paperback row – 8/2

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This month’s image is, of course, that snazzy paperback edition of Because Internet! The inside is pretty much the same, except that there are now two entire pages of fancy people saying nice things at the front, which you can see here, should you desire. But it’s also just been really gratifying over the past year to hear from so many regular internet people on social media finding yourselves in its pages. Thank you.

Because Internet paperback on esoteric symbols scarf

February 2020: Comma-Con keynote, SocSci FooCamp, #AAASmtg, and visiting PanLex and the Internet Archive

In February, I did a bunch of travel. First, I went to the Bay Area for Social Science FooCamp, where I gave a lightning talk about how the internet is changing language, and for Comma-Con, Facebook’s internal conference for their writing team, where I gave a keynote about the future of language online.

While in SF, I also paid visits to the Wired mothership office, to PanLex at Long Now (where I got to see one of the original Rosetta Project disks), and to the Internet Archive’s headquarters (where I took a short video of this art installation of the first full crawl of the web, 1997).

I then went to Seattle for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting. Highlights: a short talk about emoji, gesture, and internet linguistics, a thread from a SciComm workshop, the Language Science for Everyone booth, and meeting a bunch of people who have a similar sort of weird internet/scicomm job as I do but in different fields.

Looks like there won’t be much travel in anyone’s cards for the upcoming months, so I’m glad I got to see so many friends and meet new interesting people while it was still a thing.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about time and tense in languages. I also did a lingcomm thread about how we approached the topic.

The bonus episode is a robo-generated version of Lingthusiasm, where we asked last month’s guest Janelle Shane to help us use a neural net to generate a new Lingthusiasm episodes based on the transcripts of our ~70 existing episodes, and then we performed the best snippets. Accuracy: low. Hilarity: high.

The Lingthusiasm Patron Discord server is also still going strong, and people have requested a linguistics basics book club channel, to read through an open access linguistics textbook supportively together. I did a thread about how this solves a big lingcomm problem I’ve been working on for years.

A new collab video with Tom Scott and Molly Ruhl went up, this time about the sentences humans can understand but computers can’t.

This month’s media list:

  • Tor.com– roundup “Jo Walton’s Reading List: January 2020”– 2/5
  • Medium – CommunicationHealth Bookclub –2/13
  • The Atlantic —feature “Corporate Buzzwords Are How Workers Pretend to Be Adults”– 2/19
  • Thrive Global—mention—2/21
  • Beachcomber– roundup “recommended reading”– 2/6

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This month’s image is the Rosetta Disk from when I visited PanLex, with a bonus sunset in the background.

rosetta disk panlex sunset

November 2019: Emoji stats, speaking reel, Crash Course announcement, and Weird Internet Careers

I wrote a very deep-dive article about the growing pains of the new emoji approval process at Unicode for Wired, featuring a graph that I’m very proud of: New emoji are so boring — but they don’t have to be.

If you’ve been unenthused about the emoji of recent years, you’re not alone. A flashlight? A toolbox? A fire extinguisher? A tin can? Who even uses these?

The emoji set to appear on your phone next year are similarly dismal. A screwdriver, a toothbrush, a bell pepper—seriously, what is this, a shopping center? When you think of emoji, you don’t think of a laundry list of random objects. You think of iconic, sometimes weird, expressive faces, like the face with tears of joy, the thinking face, the angry devil, the smiling pile of poo, and the see-no-evil monkey, plus classic symbols like the thumbs-up and the heart. But the latest batch includes just three new faces and one new hand shape, compared with 49 new objects, from a roller skate and a rock to a plunger.

The reason for this slide into irrelevance? The Unicode Consortium—the organization in charge of determining which symbols our devices are supposed to recognize—has increasingly been measuring the wrong thing in the process of approving new emoji.

I also wrote a very short piece for New York Magazine’s Futures issue (print) about memes and cultural references: In the future, we will have meme folklorists.

I now have a speaking reel online! If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like when I’m giving a talk about internet linguistics, you can now watch a short demo video, also embedded below. To book me to talk at your conference or company, please see the instructions on my contact page.

I’m very excited to announce that there’s going to be a Crash Course Linguistics minicourse on youtube in 2020! I’m even more excited to say that I’m involved, along with the excellent linguists Lauren Gawne and Jessi Grieser.

linguistics crash course graphic

I guess we’re heading towards the end of the year, because the “top books of 2019” lists have started to appear, and Because Internet is on some of them!

Because Internet also made it to the semifinals of the Goodreads Choice Awards despite not having been in the previous round, because apparently enough people wrote it in! I’m stunned and honoured.

Other notable media included being interviewed on the Ezra Klein Show and having a review go up in Ars Technica. (Full list of all media this month below.)

It was our three-year anniversary for Lingthusiasm! A thread of which lingthusiasm episode you might want to start with, and a few choice quotes that people liked: evidentials in Tibetan languages, the French circumflex, and language is an open source project.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about the many ways of talking about many things: plurals, duals, and more and the bonus episode was about reading fiction like a linguist and our favourite lingfic book recs. We’ve also been very much enjoying seeing all of the Lingthusiasm merch that people are getting this month, especially the new lingthusiastic socks and BIG GRAMMAR tshirts, and the perennially popular baby onesies.

I updated my FAQ to include a bit about how to get started writing a book, and also started writing a retrospective series on Weird Internet Careers.

I love hearing about all your Because Internet gifting plans! (So far, popular giftees include parents and teenagers!)

If you want to get signed/personalized copies of Because Internet, you can order those through Argo Bookshop in Montreal and I’m happy to personalize them to whatever name you like, just indicate it in the “notes” field on checkout! (Signing is free, but shipping is at your own expense.) Argo recommends ordering by December 10 if you want the book to arrive internationally by December 25, if you’re within Canada you can order as late as Dec 12. You can also, of course, get regular non-signed copies of Because Internet everywhere books are sold.

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This month’s featured image is already above, an advance glimpse of the graphics from the planned Linguistics Crash Course!

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October 2019: UK edition of Because Internet comes out, Sound Education & Scintillation conferences

The UK edition of Because Internet came out this month! It will also be replacing the US edition in Australia, New Zealand, and other places that typically get UK versions of books. In celebration, I re-recorded a tiny portion of the Because Internet audiobook in a very posh, very fake British accent. You can get the real audiobook, featuring my normal voice, as well as all other versions of Because Internet here (or scroll to the bottom for a comparative photo of the US and UK editions!).

There was also some UK media around the UK publication! I did interviews in The Times (yes, that Times, the Times of London), the Observer/Guardian, BBC Science Focus, the Financial Times. Here’s a quote from my interview in the Guardian:

Like many linguists, I have a difficult time turning the linguistics part of my brain off. If you get me at the pub, I may be trying to listen to what you’re saying and then get distracted by your vowels. So to be interested in the way people talk on the internet is just a natural extension of being interested in how people talk around me on an everyday basis. […]

I think it’s easy to see people doing something different from you, and assume it must be haphazard, random, or they must not know “the right way” to do it. In reality, people are acting for deliberate reasons, and I’m figuring out what those reasons are.

I was on panels at two conferences this month! I did threads about adding linguistics programming to not-explicitly-linguistic conferences and about how making public-facing work leads to interesting opportunities.

Sound Education is a conference about educational podcasts in Boston, and I was on a panel about busting language myths through podcasting.

Scintillation is a small speculative fiction convention in Montreal, which I participated in for the second year now, and I was on panels about Using Language for Worldbuilding (moderator) and “What did we say before we said Cool?”

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about smell words, both real and invented, and the bonus episode was about surnames. We were also recommended by Buzzfeed (!!), which called Lingthusiasm “joyously nerdy”.

Lingthusiasm also released new merch, including socks with our International Phonetic Alphabet, tree diagram, and esoteric symbols prints; greeting cards that say “thanks” or “congrats” on them in IPA; the pun-tastic “glottal bottle” and liquids for your liquids bottle/mug; and shirts/mugs/bags that say Linguistic “Correctness” is just a lie from Big Grammar to Sell More Grammars. (See photos of the all the Lingthusiasm merch here.)

I got inspired by the “ok boomer” shirts that have been going around to make “ok pedant” shirts (and people have actually bought them!)

Finally, but perhaps most excitingly, someone dressed up as my book for Halloween! I am ded.

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This month’s photo is of the new UK edition of Because Internet (left) hanging out with the US edition (right) and a small stuffed wug.

because internet US vs UK editions and wug

September 2019: Book events in Toronto and Seattle, XOXO in Portland, and New York Times Op-Ed From the Future

I wrote an op-ed for the New York Times (my first time writing there instead of being quoted!), from the perspective of 200 years in the future when people have nostalgia for the good old days of quaint emoji. Here’s one part that I liked (longer excerpt here).

The early 21st century was also a golden era for linguistic innovation related to using indirect constructed dialogue to convey actions and mental states. In speech, this era saw the rise of “be like” and in writing, the “me:” and *does something* conventions. (And I’m like, how did people even communicate their internal monologues without these?? also me: *shakes head* yeah I have no idea.)

We now take these linguistic resources for granted, but at the time they represented a significant advancement in modeling complex emotions and other internal conditions on behalf of oneself and other people. Imagine being limited to the previous generation of dialogue tags, which attempted to slice everything into sharp distinctions between “said,” “felt” and “thought.”

I was very proud that this op-ed got me no fewer than five (5!) entries in New New York Times, a twitter account that tracks words that appear in the New York Times for the first time. (Also, which unhyphenated compound word from the early 23rd century are you?)

I also did quite a lot of travel!

Torontobook event in conversation with Ryan North (of Dinosaur Comics fame), featuring a packed house with many old friends at The Ossington with Flying Booksn.

PortlandXOXO fest where I held a language meetup for the second time, introducing people to the excellent word game called Contact, left some signed copies at Powells, and gave many Because Internet stickers to people!

Seattle – two talks about the book, one internally for Textio in the afternoon, and one in the evening for the public with the Seattle Review of Books and Elliott Bay Books.

The third Language Files video in my recent collaboration with Tom Scott and Molly Ruhl went up, this time about the language sounds that could exist, but don’t (the forbidden grey boxes of the International Phonetic Alphabet).

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was a bilingual video episode interviewing linguist Dr Lynn Hou about her research on signed languages in natural contexts, including ASL on youtube and Chatino Sign Language, in ASL and English. The bonus episode was a behind-the-scenes look at the writing process for Because Internet. Watch the video episode here:

My keynote talk about internet linguistics at the CoEDL Summer School in Canberra, Australia last year went online. I also switched this monthly newsletter from Mailchimp to Substack (existing subscribers were already migrated, and you can still view it online at gretchenmcculloch.com/news, but if you’d like to get an email when I write a new post like this, you can sign up here).

I spent a week at a friend’s cottage by a lake for a much-needed respite, where I wasn’t on the internet much but did enjoy JY Yang’s Tensorate series :)

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Here’s a photo of me and Ryan North just before our event in Toronto, featuring the really excellent sign based on Because Internet that The Ossington made for us!

because internet event ossington toronto gretchen mcculloch ryan north.jpg