arika okrent

The job of the linguist, like that of the biologist or the botanist, is not to tell us how nature should behave, or what its creations should look like, but to describe those creations in all their messy glory and try to figure out what they can teach us about life, the world, and, especially in the case of linguistics, the workings of the human mind.
—  Arika Okrent
youtube

A video from Arika Okrent with a quick introduction to historical linguistics. For more on historical sound change in European languages, especially Germanic, I always enjoy this classic youtube series on Verner’s Law

The job of the linguist, like that of the biologist or the botanist, is not to tell us how nature should behave, or what its creations should look like, but to describe those creations in all their messy glory and try to figure out what they can teach us about life, the world, and, especially in the case of linguistics, the workings of the human mind.
—  Arika Okrent, In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language
“How many Lojbanists does it take to change a broken light-bulb?” goes the old Lojban joke. “Two: one to decide what to change it into and one to decide what kind of bulb emits broken light.” The further I waded into Lojban, the more everything I heard seemed to be filtered through the sensibilities of a bratty, literal-minded eight year old– “You love birthday cake? Well, why don’t you marry it?” “Can you use the bathroom? I don’t know, can you?” – with the difference being that while an eight-year-old knows what you really mean, my lapses in understanding were genuine. One day during my weeklong immersion in the Lojban grammar, I was watching an Elmo video with my son when a friendly puppet character popped up to ask, “what are two numbers that come after 6?” I had no idea what this puppet was getting at. “What the hell does she mean?” I wondered. “There are an infinite number of numbers that come after the number six.” I honestly did not know what the answer was supposed to be until the video told me (it’s 7 and 8, by the way).
Was this some kind of Whorfian affect? Well, no. It was more like a Freudian effect–like when you read a little Freud and suddenly everything starts to look like a penis. If someone keeps calling your attention to hidden meanings, you may start to see them.
—  Arika Okrent, In The Land of Invented Languages, p.233, discussing the constructed language Lojban, which began as an attempt to create a language that followed the rules of formal logic

lesbianjuliet  asked:

hey!! I've been getting into linguistics recently (yes, because of arrival, ahaha it was a super good movie!! it made me start researching what linguistics really was and I like what I'm hearing about it) and I was wondering if you had any recommendations for books I should check out or documentaries or whatnot??

first of all: love the url

second:  i mean bc i’m a student i read like.. my textbooks and stuff. i’ve read “through the language glass” which is interesting and, for movies, “the linguists” is supposed to be very quality (i haven’t been able to find it online though). there aren’t many as far as i know - and that’s why arrival is such a big deal!!!!

anyway, since i’ve not been very helpful, people who are familiar w/ some quality linguistics books/films, please respond to or reblog this post w/ your suggestions!!

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The Story of ASL, by Arika Okrent for Mental Floss.  

The video above has subtitles, but if you’d rather see a history of ASL in ASL (also with subtitles), there’s also this video from CHS ASL

youtube

A video by Arika Okrent pointing out that one generation’s despised jargon is another generation’s unremarkable vocabulary. Old-timey peevers look ridiculous! (Psst, so do modern-day ones.)

The job of the linguist, like that of the biologist or the botanist, is not to tell us how nature should behave, or what its creations should look like, but to describe those creations in all their messy glory and try to figure out what they can teach us about life, the world, and, especially in the case of linguistics, the workings of the human mind.
—  Arika Okrent, In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build A Perfect Language

In The Land Of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent

I’m what I would describe as an amateur language enthusiast. I’m no linguist, but I am enchanted and enthralled by languages and love learning them and learning about them. For anyone with similar interests, this book is perfect. It’s about artificial languages: their history, their methods, their ambitions, their flaws. I bought it because it was quoted in an academic paper I read about Klingon. But it is the polar opposite of an academic paper - hilarious, engaging, and easy to understand. It requires no previous knowledge of linguistic terminology. It…well, it speaks English. Literally anybody who can read well enough to play Pokemon can pick this book randomly off the shelf and enjoy the entire thing, which is a really great and rare quality in a book about such an academic niche. And I’m not kidding about hilarious; I laughed so loudly so often that people kept coming to check on me. Granted, I have a pretty dorky sense of humor. But the introduction is about how the author looks up swear words first thing every time she starts a new language. What could be more endearing? I was entertained and learning and enjoying both simultaneously and LOVING EVERY MINUTE OF IT.

If you can’t tell, I REALLY love this book. I already call it “my book” and my friends know what I’m talking about. I think absolutely everyone should read it, but especially people who enjoy language or just weird cultural things. I’m definitely going to read it again, probably several times.

Our language can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions from various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses.
— 

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

Good old Wittgenstein is one of my favorite philosophers. Wittgenstein laid the foundations for modern-day symbolic logic in his first, highly technical, logical, and rigid book, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

He saw language and reality as an isomorphism, “the limits of my language are the limits of my world,” he said, meaning that language reflected reality. So he was leaning towards Wilkins’s style with each word functioning as a name/symbol for something. 

Then he did all kinds of stuff for a bunch of years, like being a mean teacher and gardening and being exiled and stuff. AND THEN, he wrote Philosophical Investigations, in which he repudiated most of what he said in his first book.

He had come to see language as an organic thing that evolved. He compared it to an old city that grows and morphs over time. Old streets get paved over, new streets added, buildings torn down and additions built. 

Okrent reminded me of that metaphor when she said;

“The languages we speak were not created according to any plan or design. Who invented French? Who invented Portuguese? No one. They just happened. They arose…

This is the way all natural languages are born– organically, spontaneously.” (70)

Ahh, I love this stuff, I could just keep going and going! 

Before you judge me as some kind of ‘anything goes’ language heathen, let me just say that I’m not against usage standards. I don’t violate them when I want to sound like an educated person, for the same reason I don’t wear a bikini to a funeral when I want to look like a respectful person. There are social conventions for the way we do lots of things, and it is to everyone’s benefit to be familiar with them. But logic ain’t got nothin’ to do with it.
—  Arika Okrent, In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build A Perfect Language
Who invented French? Who invented Portuguese? No one. They just happened. They arose. Someone said something a certain way, someone else picked up on it, and someone else embellished. A tendency turned into a habit, and somewhere along the way a system came to be.
— 

Arika Okrent, In The Land Of Invented Languages

An excellent explanation of why insisting someone follows the “rules” of grammar is absoutely ridiculous

Nuclear Waste and Language Evolution: 10,000 Years in the Future

“Over multiple generations, any sign, symbol, or picture that once conveyed meaning may become completely unrecognizable. This is a problem that was addressed by the semiotician Thomas Sebeok when, in the early 1980s, he was asked by the Office of Nuclear Waste Isolation to prepare a report on how best to encode a warning message on sites where nuclear waste had been buried. To ensure the safety of future generations, the message had to be interpretable for ten thousand years. He recommended extreme redundancy of encoding: the message should be printed in all known languages; there should be pictures, icons, and other relevant symbols; repositories around the world should store technical messages written in mathematical formulas (or perhaps, he suggests, in something like Lincos, Freudenthal’s self-teaching logical language). But even all of this redudancy, he noted, might prove worthless in ten thousand years.

The best way to make sure the message would get through to the future, he proposed, was to include a second "metamessage,” with a “plea and a warning” that every 250 years or so the information (including the “metamessage” itself) be re-encoded into whatever languages, symbols, and unknown-as-of-yet communicative devices were current at that time. Still the possibility would exist that the people of the future would ignore the plea, or forget to comply, so as added insurance he suggests the creation of a sort of folklore, perpetuated through rituals and legends, that would promote the development of a superstition or taboo about the dangerous sites. An “atomic priesthood,” a group of scientists entrusted with the true reasons for the danger, “would be charged with the added responsibility of seeing to it that our behest, as embodied in the cumulative sequence of metamessages, is to be heeded … with perhaps the veiled threat that to ignore the mandate would be tantamount to inviting some sort of supernatural retribution.” Even if the “priesthood” should forget the original reason for its existence, it is hoped that whatever kind of entity it should evolve into would maintain some sort of authority and sense of responsibility toward passing on the folklore.“

From "In the Land of Invented Languages,” by Arika Okrent


http://www.amazon.com/Land-Invented-Languages-Adventures-Linguistic/dp/0812980891/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1324518960&sr=8-1

I’m reading this book and this passage just astounded me. The danger of nuclear waste to future generations is just something I’ve never thought about before, much less that someone was actually appointed to determine how to pass along the message to future societies. Isn’t it completely possible that in 10,000 years, English will be to future humans what Ancient Egyptian was to us; completely uninterpretable until the Rosetta Stone? Language evolution is an AMAZING thing to study.

6

Sorted Books, Part II

Decided to not only make poems with friends’ books, but also my own for the Thirteenth Art Assignment.

1.
The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
2001, A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
Gravity by Erica Wagner
Don’t Panic by Neil Gaiman
Crisis on Conshelf Ten by Monica Hughes
The Fault in our Stars by John Green

2.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

3.
The Archived by Victoria Schwab
Paper Towns by John Green
In the Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent

4.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

5.
Real Men Don’t Rehearse by Justin Locke
The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White

6.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Sum, forty tales from the afterlives by David Eagleman
Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld