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.

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.

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

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

Top posts of 8 years of All Things Linguistic

Cross-posted from All Things Linguistic

It’s my eight year blogiversary! Wow! Let’s celebrate by looking back at some of my favourite posts from the past year:

Because Internet

My book about internet language came out in July 2019. Here are a few of my favourite blog posts about it:

I also did over 200 media interviews for the book, but I’ve already summarized those on my 2019 year in review post.

Wired Resident Linguist column

I kept writing my Ideas column for Wired, which included these articles:

Other writing

Surprising internet crossovers

After 7 years of blogging, I thought I had pretty much figured out which sections go in this yearly summary post. But for year 8, I’ve found myself needing to add a delightful new one.

Lingthusiasm

We celebrated our third year of making Lingthusiasm, a podcast that’s enthusiastic about linguistics! This year we were recommended by Buzzfeed (!!), which called Lingthusiasm “joyously nerdy”.

The most exciting Lingthusiasm episodes this year were the ones where our guests helped me and Lauren Gawne push the boundaries of what a podcast typically is: this video episode in ASL and English interviewing Lynn Hou about her research on signed languages in real-world contexts and the one where Janelle Shane used a neural net to generate fake Lingthusiasm quotes based on our existing transcripts, and then we performed the best ones out loud (see also Janelle’s blog post about making this).

Here’s all twelve regular monthly Lingthusiasm episodes:

  1. Why spelling is hard – but also hard to change
  2. Emoji are Gesture Because Internet
  3. Putting sounds into syllables is like putting toppings on a burger
  4. Villages, gifs, and children – Interview with Lynn Hou on signed languages in real-world contexts (also a video episode!)
  5. Smell words, both real and invented
  6. Many ways to talk about many things – Plurals, duals, and more
  7. How to rebalance a lopsided conversation
  8. Making machines learn language – Interview with Janelle Shane
  9. This time it gets tense – the grammar of time
  10. What makes a language easy? It’s a hard question
  11. The grammar of singular they – Interview with Kirby Conrod
  12. Schwa, the most versatile English vowel

And the twelve monthly bonus episodes:

  1. North, left, or towards the sea? With guest Alice Gaby
  2. Words from your family – Familects!
  3. Welcome aboard the metaphor train!
  4. Behind the scenes on Because Internet (Q&A)
  5. Jobs, locations, family, and invention – Surnames
  6. Reading fiction like a linguist
  7. The sounds of sheep, earthquakes, and ice cream – Onomatopoeia
  8. What might English be like in a couple hundred years?
  9. Generating a Lingthusiasm episode using a neural net
  10. Teaching linguistics to yourself and other people
  11. When letters have colours and time is a braid – The linguistics of synesthesia
  12. A myriad of numbers – Counting systems across languages

We also started a Discord community that’s enthusiastic about linguistics, to solve the problem of “Your podcast got me (back) into linguistics, but now I don’t have people to fan out about language with! Where do I make lingthusiastic friends?”

Finally, we released more Lingthusiasm merch: schwa pins and more that say Never Stressed, 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 all the Lingthusiasm merch here.)

Other projects

Lauren Gawne and I also started working on several other projects in the pop linguistics ecosystem online:

  • LingComm Grants – grants to help the next generation of linguistics communication projects get started, which we were able to expand from one grant to four thanks to the support of our patrons. Grantees to be announced in upcoming months!
  • Mutual Intelligibility – a newsletter summarizing existing linguistics resources on specific topics to help instructors moving their courses online, including shorter 3 Links posts and longer Resource Guides
  • Linguistics Crash Course – a series of intro linguistics videos in collaboration with the educational youtube channel Crash Course and linguist Jessi Grieser, to appear later in 2020

Blog posts, generally

Internet linguistics

Linguistics memes and humour

General linguistics

Linguistics jobs (mostly by Lauren Gawne)

Creative linguistics creations

Language Files videos 

I collaborated with Tom Scott and Molly Ruhl on a series of short youtube videos about linguistics.

A series on Weird Internet Careers

A reflection on how starting All Things Linguistic back in 2012 was the seed that led to all of the interesting and exciting things I’m doing now, including writing articles, writing a book, and doing the podcast — and how to approach trying to do something similar.

Haven’t been with me this whole time? You can see my favourite posts of year oneyear twoyear threeyear fouryear five, year six and year seven.

For shorter updates, follow me on twitter as a person, as my blog, or as the podcast, or for a monthly newsletter with highlights, subscribe on substack.

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