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A couple of weeks ago I ran a workshop at NTU on the basics of using ELAN, a handy program for creating time-aligned transcriptions of audio and video. I decided to try the screen capture function in QuickTime to record the presentation. If you’re interested in getting used to the basic settings and screens, and you can cope with listening to me talk you through it for an hour and twenty minutes I hope you’ll find it useful!

This workshop will introduce you to the features of ELAN. ELAN is a program that allows you to create time-aligned transcriptions of audio and video recordings. These transcriptions can then be further enriched through other programs such as Toolbox or FLeX, and can be used to create printed transcripts or subtitles. In this workshop we will work through setting up templates for a variety of transcription types, creating a basic transcription and some handy hints and shortcuts.

Using screen capture was a good learning experience for me - I’ll be sure to record any future workshops I run to share with you! Sorry if the video is a bit grainy, but it was a longer video than any I’ve made before.

English Pronoun Reform?

Since I’m an amateur linguist and a high-schooler interested in LGBTQ and gender identity, I’ve decided to think up what English should be like if it satisfied not necessarily everyone, but most LGBTQ and “nonbinary” people.
In short, I’ve figured out that if English had a set of gender-neutral singular pronouns that people can opt out to, instead of relying on the singular they, then there would be much fewer problems.
"xe/xem" and "ze/zem" seemed to be the most common ones, so I chose them. Also because it looks like it could have been developed alongside he/she in the English language.

Here are the pronoun sets and how I think they should be used:

subjective / possessive / objective / possessive / reflexive
Male (LGBTQ or not): he / his / him / his / himself
Female (LGBTQ or not): she / her / her / hers / herself
Plural (multiple people of any gender): they / their / them / theirs / theirself or themself
Gender-neutral (people who want to opt out from gendered pronouns): ze / zer / zem / zers / zerself; xe / xer / xem / xers / xerself (Either spelling yields the same pronunciation); some can opt out to “singular they”
Inanimate objects: it / its / it / (no accepted form) / itself
 Please refer to your gender. Pronouns are decided by gender, and animals and objects are not genders. (In other words, no “nounself” pronouns, as that will make the language overcomplicated.)

Also, in this system, the singular they and the general he, as well as “he/she” will be replaced with the gender-neutral singular, as in:
"Any person who comes to the party is expected to bring food with xem." or "When someone wants to learn Japanese, xe will need to first understand Japanese culture."

xkcd: Wikipedia article titles with the right syllable stress pattern to be sung to the tune of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song. (Here’s the song, for reference.)

All of these titles are examples of trochaic tetrameter, which is one of the most common English meters (a trochee is a foot consisting of STRONG-weak and tetrameter is four feet per line). Another example is Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, although that has a deficient last foot, but you can sing any of these titles to that tune as well if you just double the last note.

Trochaic tetrameter creates a strong feeling of sing-song “poem-ness” in English. Most Shakespearean characters, for example, speak in iambic pentameter (weak-STRONG, five feet per line), which sounds more natural, but a few speak in trochaic tetrameter for dramatic effect. For example, MacBeth and Lady MacBeth speak in iambic pentameter, which gives the effect of talking normally: 

Methought I heard a voice cry “Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep,” the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care,

Out, damned spot! out, I say!—One: two: why,
then, ‘tis time to do’t.—Hell is murky!—Fie, my
lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we
fear who knows it, when none can call our power
to account?—Yet who would have thought the old
man to have had so much blood in him?

But the witches speak in trochaic tetrameter, which makes them seem like they’re delivering an incantation: 

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Fair is foul, and foul is fair

Previous xkcd on poetry: metrical foot fetish, ballad meter, trochaic fixation. Language Log also has a long, interesting post on meter

I was reading the other day that it was believed that using the Proto-Indo-European word for bears (which evolved into the Latin ‘ursus’ and the Greek ‘arktos’) would summon one to wreck your shit, so the Germanic people speaking Old English would use ‘bruin’ or ‘brown one’ as a euphemism. The original word is now completely lost because of it.


The Best Language for Math

What’s the best language for learning math? Hint: You’re not reading it.

Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Turkish use simpler number words and express math concepts more clearly than English, making it easier for small children to learn counting and arithmetic, research shows.

The language gap is drawing growing attention amid a push by psychologists and educators to build numeracy in small children—the mathematical equivalent of literacy. Confusing English word names have been linked in several recent studies to weaker counting and arithmetic skills in children. However, researchers are finding some easy ways for parents to level the playing field through games and early practice.


Writing Skills: XKCD is on point about language again.

Here’s a study from this year on kids who use abbreviations while texting, and here’s a summary of previous studies: 

The first study, published in 2008, showed that 11 and 12-year-olds in Britain who used more textisms — whether misspelled words (“ppl,” instead of “people”), grammatically incorrect substitutions (“2” for “to” or “too”), wrong verb forms (“he do” instead of “he does”), or missing punctuation — compared to properly written words tended to have slightly better scores on standardized grammar and writing tests and had better spelling, after controlling for test scores in other subjects and other factors. A 2009 study, conducted by some of the same researchers on 88 kids between 10 and 12 years old, found similar associations between high textism use and slightly better reading ability.

Hovertext from the xkcd comic: I’d like to find a corpus of writing from children in a non-self-selected sample (e.g. handwritten letters to the president from everyone in the same teacher’s 7th grade class every year)—and score the kids today versus the kids 20 years ago on various objective measures of writing quality. I’ve heard the idea that exposure to all this amateur peer practice is hurting us, but I’d bet on the generation that conducts the bulk of their social lives via the written word over the generation that occasionally wrote book reports and letters to grandma once a year, any day.

language questions!
  • 1. favorite language to speak?
  • 2. favorite language to write in?
  • 3. favorite language to listen to?
  • 4. favorite musician in each language you know?
  • 5. favorite language-classroom-related memory?
  • 6. most embarrassing slip-up?
  • 7. hardest language you've ever studied?
  • 8. weirdest place knowing a foreign language has been useful?
  • 9. funniest translation error you've committed/heard?
  • 10. have you ever dreamed in a language other than your native language?
  • 11. favorite word in your target language(s)?
  • 12. worst language-related classroom memory?
  • 13. weirdest language-related classroom memory?
  • 14. favorite resources/books?
  • 15. have you ever eavesdropped on people just to see if you could understand what they were saying?
  • 16. ¿qué tal?
  • 17. ça va?
  • 18. wie geht's?
  • 19. come sta?
  • 20. nasılsın?

An interesting article on adjective ordering

It is a lovely warm August day outside, and I am wearing a green loose top. Does the second part of that sentence sound strange to you? Perhaps you think I should have written “loose green top.” You’re not wrong (though not entirely right, because descriptivist linguistics): An intuitive code governs the way English speakers order adjectives. The rules come so naturally to us that we rarely learn about them in school, but over the past few decades language nerds have been monitoring modifiers, grouping them into categories, and straining to find logic in how people instinctively rank those categories. […]

Linguists have broken the adjectival landmass into several regions. They are: general opinion or quality (“exquisite,” “terrible”), specific opinion or quality (“friendly,” “dusty”), size, shape, age, color, origin, and material. Generally, modifiers from the same region can be strung together in any order. Thomas Wolfe, writing in Look Homeward, Angelof “blistered varnished wood” and “fat limp underdone bacon,” could also have said “varnished blistered wood” or “limp fat underdone bacon.” (All five examples count as “specific opinion” words.) […]

These tricky situations—neither pure correlation nor accumulation—generally occur when you cross the border between adjectival regions, such as size and color. When that happens, an invisible code snaps into place, and the eight categories shimmy into one magistral conga line: general opinion then specific opinion then size then shape then age then color then provenance then material.

(Read the rest.)

Also related is this Tom Scott video on adjective ordering. The generalization that adjectives seem to be ordered the same way across a wide variety of languages is the type of data used as evidence for a cartographic approach to linguistics: detailed typological surveys of how aspects of language do or do not vary in very specific ways. 

that post that calls british english “english (traditional)” and u.s. english “english (simplified)” is literally the most preposterous thing like a) do you understand what complexity within a language even entails and b) do you understand that english in the uk is no more traditional than english in the us bc they’ve undergone linguistic change simultaneously and c) you do know that the simplified in “chinese (simplified)” refers to the writing system don’t you

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Jamila Lyiscott: 3 ways to speak English

Jamila Lyiscott is a “tri-tongued orator,” and this powerful spoken-word essay celebrates — and challenges — the three distinct flavors of English she speaks with her friends, in the classroom and with her parents. As she explores the complicated history and present-day identity that each language represents, she unpacks what it means to be “articulate.”