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

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.

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

May 2020: retronyms, schwa, Language Files videos, and my 8th blogiversary

I did an interview for the New York Times about the vocabulary of covid times. Here’s a portion of it:

Looking ahead, linguistic changes are yet to come, Ms. McCulloch said. She explained the concept of a retronym — assigning a new name for a default now dated by technology or social change; for example, with the rise of cellphones, non-mobile phones became “landlines.”

“We are still in the phase of naming the new things we’re encountering, but eventually we’ll get to the stage where we need names for what things were like before the virus hit,” she said. We’re still assimilating to “the new normal” and its accompanying word bank, while longing for “the before times.”

But when we return to the life we knew, forever altered as it may be, we may need new qualifiers: first dates that aren’t over FaceTime; IRL hangouts, unmasked and less than six feet apart; to-stay drinks at bars.

I also did an interview in Archiletras, a Spanish-speaking literary publication, about Because Internet and internet language in general (it was very fun to get to read my words translated into Spanish!)

I was on an impromptu panel about linguistics in science fiction/fantasy at the online version of WisCon (#WisConline) with a fun group of linguists!

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about schwa, the most versatile English vowel and the bonus episode was about counting systems across languages. Lingthusiasm was also featured on the big Patreon accounts as part of #MadeWithPatrons and we released new schwa-themed merch with the (admittedly aspirational these days) slogan Never Stressed.

I hit my eighth blogiversary on All Things Linguistic, and it is frankly pretty absurd that I’ve been blogging this long. Here’s the traditional year-in-review roundup post, featuring some of my favourite posts of the past year.

Two new Language Files videos came out: the Hidden Rules of Conversation (about Grice’s Maxims) and schwa, product of the ongoing collaboration between me, Tom Scott, and Molly Ruhl. (It is, uh, maybe not a coincidence that Everything Was Coming Up Schwas this month, when you have a good idea you might as well just roll with it.)

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This month’s image is of the new schwa sticker pack, with art which we commissioned from Lucy Maddox of the schwa + Never Stressed slogan in multicoloured floral and black and white geometric designs.

schwa never stressed lingthusiasm sticker pack

April 2020: expletive infixation and singular they

We put up many posts on Mutual Intelligibility, the new newsletter that I’m producing with Lauren Gawne with resources for people who are teaching (or self-teaching) linguistics online (thanks to our contributors Liz McCullough and Katy Whitcomb!). Here are a few of them:

I made lists on Bookshop.org about Linguistically Interesting Fiction and Pop linguistics books, if you’re looking for distractions that also support independent bookstores.

The Lingthusiasm main episode was an interview with Kirby Conrod about the grammar of singular they (see also the show notes and transcript). This month’s Lingthusiasm bonus episode was about synesthesia – when letters have colours and time is a braid.

We’re officially giving out four LingComm Grants! If you have an idea for a linguistics communication project, make sure to apply by June 1st!

Lauren Gawne gave a video talk about our joint work on emoji and gesture. We also continued to work on scripts for Crash Course Linguistics.

A new Language Files video came out: Abso-b████y-lutely – Expletive Infixation, product of the ongoing collaboration between me, Tom Scott, and Molly Ruhl.

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This month’s photo is of Because Internet in the Technology section of Elliott Bay Books, from back when I was there in February.

elliott bay books because internet technology section

March 2020: Mutual Intelligibility project for online linguistics teaching resources

The large print edition of Because Internet is now a thing that exists, in case you need to explain how we talk online these days to a person in your life who likes large print and hasn’t already gone for the resizable-text ebook.

If you’re in the Montreal area, I’d appreciate people’s support these days for my local indie bookstore, Argo Bookshop, which did the book launch party and signed copies of Because Internet, and are now facing the loss of foot traffic like all small, “non-essential” business. Argo takes orders online (now including gift certificates and local delivery!) and everyone who goes to their events would really like to see them still be there after this!

A lot of linguistics professors started scrambling to move their courses online this month, so I revised and updated my post with a very long list of linguistics youtube channels and other free online videos about linguistics, and did a couple threads answering questions about further resources that people were looking for.

The popularity of our existing linguistics resource roundups led Lauren Gawne and I to launch Mutual Intelligibility, a project to connect linguistics instructors with existing linguistics resources suitable for teaching online in a bite-sized, easy-to-digest fashion. (Also potentially of interest to linguistics fans who want a distraction from the news cycle.)

We’re putting up thrice-weekly Mutual Intelligibility newsletters for the next while: on Mondays and Wednesdays short “3 Links” posts on a particular topic, and also on Fridays six longer Resource Guides diving deep into topics with a whole bunch of resources. We’re fortunate to have Kate Whitcomb and Liz McCullough (different spelling, no relation) along to help us make them. Thanks to everyone who has sent in queries and suggestions!

Read our first Mutual Intelligibility newsletter here, check out the archive so far, and put your email here to get future themed linguistics resource updates.

Because Lauren Gawne is essentially my partner in all forms of business, we also spent a substantial amount of time this month working on scripts for Crash Course Linguistics, along with Jessi Grieser and the Crash Course team. (Nothing official to report yet but stay tuned!)

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about the tricky question of what makes a language “easy” (Spoiler: it’s not that straightforward).

The Lingthusiasm bonus episode was about teaching linguistics to yourself and other people — how to articulate what you find so cool about linguistics (and other complex topics you may find yourself needing to explain). We also experimented with doing live listen-alongs of new Lingthusiasm episodes on Discord, and made a Lingthusiasm Turing Test, where you can see how well you can identify which Lingthusiasm quotes are real and which robo-generated.

Lauren and I also announced that we’re giving out a second LingComm Grant, thanks to the support of Claire Bowern’s NSF grant. If you’re a linguist with a linguistics communication idea that could use a $500 boost to make it, you can apply at lingcomm.org by June 1. (Also a reminder that there are no conditions on how the grant money is used, so if you need it to take care of some living costs so that you can allocate your time to a project, that is totally fine with us!)

This month’s media hits:

National Print/Top Online: 

  • Kottke.orgfeature “Weird Internet Careers”– 3/9
  • Financial Times mention 3/15
  • CNBC’s Make Itfeature “How not to sound like a jerk (and communicate effectively) over Slack and email, according to a linguistics expert”– 3/18
  • Mel Magazine – feature “WILL CORONAVIRUS FINALLY END THE SCOURGE OF ‘I HOPE THIS EMAIL FINDS YOU WELL’? ”– 3/26
  • The Guardian Solitary refinement: a lockdown survival guide – mention 3/27
  • HerCampus.com – roundup “3 Books To Read While Stuck At Home” – 3/30

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Obviously I didn’t go anywhere this month, so this picture is of an emoji-Escher-esque exhibit in the Burke Museum of Natural History from last month in Seattle, which I went to for a science journalist “Night Out at the Museum” event at the AAAS.

emoji ish symbols escher burke museum seattle aaas

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