September 2022: WorldCon, xkcd on Lingthusiasm, and IPA lens cloths

This month, I went to Chicago for WorldCon (ChiCon 8), in which I was on the panels Ask A Scientist, That’s Not How That Works!, and Using SFF for Science Communication, as well as doing a Table Talk (where a small number of fans get to hang out and ask questions). It was very fun to see and hang out with lots of interesting people!

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was Episode 72: What If Linguistics, in which Randall Munroe of xkcd asked us his very good absurd hypothetical questions about linguistics. Here’s a completely real and normal photograph of what that looked like:

The bonus episode was Bonus 67: Behind the scenes on making an aesthetic IPA chart – Interview with Lucy Maddox.

Speaking of which! We’ve heard excitement all month about the fun, minimalist design of the classic International Phonetic Alphabet chart which we released in August and which we’re printing on a massive order of microfibre lens cloths for Lingthusiasm patrons at the Lingthusiast tier or higher. (There’s still a few hours left to sign up for that from when this newsletter goes out, if that’s something you’ve been procrastinating on – it closes once it stops being October 5th, 2022 anywhere in the world, so a lot of folks may be able to sneak in a couple extra bonus hours.)

I also started a bracket on how people spell the clipped form of “usual” (spoiler: they’re all confusing)

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This month’s image is still the aesthetic IPA design because we’ve been doing a few final tweaks on it this month!

Demo of the minimalist lens cloth IPA chart by Lucy Maddox for Lingthusiasm's patrons. Blue background with green and white symbols in different combinations of green and white circles. Some are filled in blocks of color, some are just a line around the symbol. Lingthusiasm logo in bottom left corner.

August 2022: redesigning the International Phonetic Alphabet (to put in your pocket)

This month, we rethought the structure of the International Phonetic Alphabet.

Okay, let me explain.

The IPA is typically presented in a chart that shows the sounds of languages of the world arranged in two dimensions: from top to bottom as the mouth is more and more open and from left to right as the sound is produced from the front of the mouth to the back. It’s elegant, it’s informative, it’s a highly familiar reference diagram for linguists. So my cohost Lauren Gawne and I thought it would be nifty to create a more aesthetically attractive version of this already really neat technical diagram which is typically presented in rather boring technical greyscale, as practical-yet-elegant merch for our podcast, Lingthusiasm. Almost a year ago, we sent off an email to our resident artist, Lucy Maddox….and now, finally, here we are.

In the process, we’ve learned a whole lot about the history of the International Phonetic Alphabet (longer version in the thread below!)

We’ve also realized that we have some questions about parts of the IPA chart layout that we’d been taking for granted. For example: why is there a third chart for the non-pulmonic consonants like clicks and implosives, when they have the same places of articulation as the main, pulmonic consonant chart and could surely just be rows there? And, wouldn’t it be sort of nifty to put the vowels back in the same chart as the consonants again, when they used to hang out there for decades? This started as an art project, but any good art also provokes…questions. Longer version and speculations in this blog post.

At any rate, here’s what it looks like when we put all of the symbols on the same chart!

An abstract, minimalist* rendering of the International Phonetic Alphabet as a grid of white, sans-serif letters on a midnight blue background, with no row or column headings. Bright green is used as an accent colour, for solid green circles around the voiceless consonants; white circles with green font for the rounded vowels, and narrow green borders around the lateral sounds. There’s a small lingthusiasm logo in the bottom corner and a translucent “demo” watermark splashed in the background.

*Yes, we know there’s a syntax theory called Minimalism as well, which this has no real relationship to because it’s a different subfield. Consider it a bonus easter egg!

We also thought, wouldn’t it be ideal if this eclectic nerd art IPA design came in a convenient format for carrying around with you? One that might even be useful for other purposes? So we’re getting it imprinted onto microfibre lens cloths (useful for cleaning glasses, sunglasses, camera lenses, and phone/computer screens). The thing is, lens cloth printing companies only take orders in the hundreds or preferably thousands, so we’ve decided to place one massive order for everyone who’s a patron at the Lingthusiast tier as of October 5th, 2022. This is our most popular tier, which also gets you our whole archive of monthly bonus episodes and access to the Lingthusiasm patron Discord server — if you’ve been on the fence about becoming a patron, now would be a really good time for it. (Higher tiers can get several lens cloths, if you want spares or to share with friends.)

Here’s more about the IPA redesign and here’s the link to get it by becoming a patron if you’re already convinced.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm this month was Episode 71: Various vocal fold vibes (curious about what some of those circles mean on the IPA chart? This episode will help you with that!). The bonus episode was Bonus 66: Using a rabbit to get kids chatting for science.

Technically speaking, next month’s bonus episode is an interview with Lucy Maddox about the IPA chart redesign and being a linguist/artist but we’ve made that bonus episode free for a limited time until the IPA lens cloth special offer is closed on October 5th, so you should go listen to that now if you’re interested!

I also finished the #103papers project this month, reading 1 paper each for the 103 languages identified by Kidd&Garcia in the top 4 journals about child language acquisition. More on the big picture from what I learned later, but in the meantime, here’s a neat thing I learned:

LingComm, the International Conference on Linguistics Communication, has put out its participant/volunteer survey for the next conference in February 2023. I’m not organizing it this year, but this year’s committee is fantastic and I look forward to seeing there many linguists who do communication with broader audiences and journalists, podcasters, youtubers, and other communicators who do linguistics — if that’s you, do check it out!

At the end of the month, I headed to Chicago for a double feature: in August, participating in Ada Palmer’s Renaissance papal election simulation (description at Part 5) and in September, WorldCon/ChiCon8, about which more next month.

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This month’s image is a summary of what’s going on with the IPA lens cloth situation, for those who don’t like big blocks of text.

What if the International Phonetic Alphabet looked like weird nerd art? Get this design (arrow to previously-described abstract IPA demo) on a handy-to-carry lens cloth (image of those microfibre cloths you clean glasses with; these are not the actual cloths but just to give you an idea of the genre). (Tiny abstract drawing of Lauren & Gretchen silhouettes from the website.) We're placing one bulk order for everyone who's a Lingthusiast patron or higher as of October 5, 2022. Sign up at patreon.com/lingthusiasm

July 2022: In which I get my brain scanned!

This month’s Lingthusiasm episodes were a special double feature from my trip to Boston to get my brain scanned and finally discover whether I am one of the extremely special left-handed people who has their language centres on the right or both sides of the brain instead of the left. Spoiler: I am not, mine is on the right, just like most other people, left- and right-handed.

However! It was still really neat to take off all my metal items and go in the massive magnet that is an MRI machine and hear about language in the brain with Ev Fedorenko and what specifically was being tested in the experiments I participated in, with Saima Malik-Moraleda. (You can listen to the episodes in either order, depending on how much you like ~suspense~)

The #103papers reading project is still (still!) going on, in which I finally got through the enormous Indo-European section and learned some things about languages like Lazuri:

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This month’s image is a picture of my brain doing language!! Okay, admittedly, it looks a lot like all of the other brain scans that people get, but this one’s mine!!!

Left hemisphere of Gretchen's Brain from an MRI observing language and the brain. (Assorted red and yellow blotches around the top curve of the temporal lobe, on a grey brain scan image.)

May 2022: 10th blogiversary and Japanese translation of Because Internet

In May, I hit my 10-year blogiversary on All Things Linguistic. I celebrated with two linkposts, one of the usual highlights from the past year and another, shorter post of more zoomed-out highlights from the past decade.

I participated for the second year running as a contestent in Webster’s War of the Words, a virtual game show fundraiser for the Noah Webster House.

Promotional graphic of Gretchen as a contestant for Webster's War of the Words virtual game show, including logo, headshot, and bio.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was Tea and skyscrapers – When words get borrowed across languages. The bonus episode was What makes a swear word feel sweary? A &⩐#⦫& Liveshow, an edited recording of our online liveshow from April.

It’s delightfully surreal when an author whose books you’re enjoying also likes your book!

The #103papers project continued, in which I read one paper per language for the 103 languages identified as having papers published about them in the four major child language acquisition journals, based on a survey paper by Kidd&Garcia. Here’s a bit from a paper about Greenlandic showing that kids love morphology!

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This month I received my author copies of Because Internet in Japanese, translated by Toshio Chiba, which kept the bright yellow/blue cover. You can get it at Filmart or Amazon.co.jp.

Image of Japanese editions of BECAUSE INTERNET on top of blue fabroc covered in symbols. One copy is in its yellow dust jacket; one shows the blue cover inside the jacket.

March 2022: PIE Day and Memory Speaks

Here are some Pi Day (3rd month, 14th day) facts about the PIE (Proto-Indo-European). Both of these guys were named William Jones, confusingly enough.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was Word order, we love (transcript). The bonus episode was Behind the scenes on how linguists come up with research topics. The deadline for the LingComm Grant applications was March 31st, so next month we head into reviewing the proposals!

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This month’s image is of the excellent book Memory Speaks: On Losing and Reclaiming Language and Self by Julie Sedivy, which I greatly enjoyed reading! It’s a really interesting combination of pop science book and memoir, which we don’t see enough of in pop linguistics.

February 2022: Teaching with Because Internet survey and Lingthusiasm liveshow in April

I set up a survey for anyone who’s been using Because Internet for teaching – put in what you’ve been doing and I’ll compile and share it with other instructors!

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was Knowledge is power, copulas are fun. The bonus episode was Emoji, Mongolian, and Multiocular O ꙮ – Dispatches from the Unicode Conference.

We also announced a Lingthusiasm liveshow in April, a sweary liveshow about swearing, taking place on the Lingthusiasm Discord. Plus: a longer descriptive post about the LingComm Grants, of which there are now several more thanks to people who supported them!

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This month’s image is brought to you by linguistics takes on the Roses are Red poem.

Valingtine Poem on a gradient green to blue to purple background. 
Roses are red
Violets are blue
Ideas are green
And colourless too
#valingtines

2021 Year in Review

2021 was in many ways a very meta year: most of my writing projects were reflections on the social functions of various other projects I was working on. But those other projects were very interesting both to do and to reflect on, such as coordinating LingComm21: the first International Conference on Linguistics Communication, and redesigning the Lingthusiasm website. (Might they also reflect how under-socialized I got by a certain point in this pandemic? Hmmm.)

I was honoured to be the recipient of the Linguistics, Language, and the Public Award from the Linguistic Society of America in 2021. I put up my acceptance speech as a blog post.

Media and crossovers

Media

Crash Course Linguistics

The final three videos of Crash Course Linguistics came out in 2021, although it was largely a 2020 project. Here’s the full list again so they’re all in once place, or you can watch them all at this playlist.

  1. What is linguistics?
  2. What is a word? Morphology
  3. Syntax 1: Morphosyntax
  4. Syntax 2:
  5. Semantics
  6. Pragmatics
  7. Sociolinguistics
  8. Phonetics 1: Consonants
  9. Phonetics 2: Vowels
  10. Phonology
  11. Psycholinguistics
  12. Language acquisition
  13. Language change and historical linguistics
  14. World Languages
  15. Computational Linguistics
  16. Writing Systems

Each video also comes with a few companion links and exercises from Mutual Intelligibility and a list of all of the languages mentioned in Crash Course Linguistics is here. It was great working with the large teams on that project!

Lingthusiasm

In our fifth year of Lingthusiasm, a podcast that’s enthusiastic about linguistics which I make with Lauren Gawne and our production team, we did some general sprucing up, including a new cover photo (now featuring a jacketless Because Internet), a new portrait drawing, and a new website (for which I wrote a long meta process post here). We also did our first virtual liveshow (as part of LingFest), introduced new bouba/kiki and what the fricative merch, and sent patrons a Lingthusiastic Sticker Pack. Here are the main episodes that came out this year:

And here are this year’s bonus episodes:

Conferences and Talks (all virtual unless noted)

Conferences/events attended:

LingComm and LingFest

In April, I co-organized a pair of new events related to linguistics communication: LingComm21, the first International Conference on Linguistics Communication, and 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. One of those events was our first virtual Lingthusiasm liveshow: here’s a fun thread that I did about backchannels while we were getting ready for the show.

LingComm21 had just under 200 registrants, around 100 of which were formally part of the programming in some way. 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 then wrote a 6-part blog post series on the conference as a case study in making online conferences more social, in hopes of helping other people who are interested in better virtual events. 

  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

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Books and more

Helpful threads

Linguistics fun

General fun

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

Linguistics jobs

Linguistics fun

Languages

Meta and advice posts

Missed out on previous years? Here are the summary posts from 2013201420152016201720182019, and 2020. 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.

August 2021: Duolingo talk and Lingthusiasm on NPR

I did a talk about How Linguistics Can Help You Learn a Language for Duolingo! It was part of their annual public fan event, DuoCon, and my talk was alongside fancy people like Trevor Noah and Sohla El-Waylly (please note increasingly fancy fellow linguist Jessi Grieser, who gave a talk about language and belonging, which I also recommend). The talks were all put online after the live event and you can watch them all here (and mine is also embedded below!).

I also did a guest interview about internet language on That Word Chat, an online talk show for editors and word nerds, which you can see summarized in tweet form here.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Theory of Mind. The bonus episode was Sentient plants, proto-internet, and more lingfic about quirky communication. We also have a new cover photo! Lauren Gawne and I did a Lingthusiasm crossover appearance on the NPR show Ask Me Another, featuring two fun quiz segments, one on accepted or rejected emoji and one on famous book titles, if you’d like to hear us on the radio (also available for streaming online afterwards).

In behind the scenes news, I also now have an assistant! This won’t change much about the public-facing things, but it feels like a kind of professional level up to have someone helping on the email/logistics side part-time.

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This month’s image is our new Lingthusiasm cover photo, featuring Because Internet (in disguised, jacketless form) as well as a compilation of some Lingthusiasm merch from over the years!

Lingthusiasm merch: Mugs of tea, pastries, Lingthusiasm notebooks, and BECAUSE INTERNET surrounded by blue Lingthusiasm tree diagram and esoteric symbols scarves.

July 2021: fun facts and fricatives

I asked people for their favourite fun fact about linguistics and ended up with a delightful thread of replies! (Click through to read them.)

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was A Fun-Filled Fricative Field Trip (transcript), and the bonus episode was on language under the influence of alcohol and other substances. We also released new Lingthusiasm merch! You can now ask people which shape is kiki and which one is bouba from the comfort of your own scarf, tshirt, mug, and other items. And…did we do a whole episode on fricatives just so that we could release “what the fricative” merch? In the immortal sounds of another fricative: Shhhhhhh.

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This month’s image is a delightful miniature tea and book display from a tea shop in Montreal.

Wooden bookshelf with compartments for tea and shelves for books against orange wall.

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.