linguist humour

Who would have believed that the perfect Wikipedia photo caption could have been improved on? (Alan Ferrier on twitter)

I love this as an example of Gricean humour. Grice’s Maxims say to only say things that are relevant (i.e. interpret everything someone says as if it adds relevant information to the conversation). In this case, the caption is “improved” by adding (right) after the name of the bagpiper. In many photo captions, (left) or (right) is used to tell us which of several similar-looking people the caption is about. If there were several bagpipers or even humans, (right) would be a neutral, informative information. 

But here, the only entities in the photo are Piper Kerr and the indifferent penguin. It’s very easy to tell the difference between them. So adding (right) brings with it the absurd interpretation that (right) is relevant information, i.e. that the piper and the penguin are hard to tell apart. 

  • Romans: *steal the Greek Gods, only change the names*
  • Greeks: As artists who respect creative integrity and intellectual property, we are disgusted at how much you’ve copied. From the hair to the suit, do you not have any value for respect for originality? You’re a laughing stock. It’s cheesy, it’s disgusting, we personally found it artistically atrocious.
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.
—  Nelson Mandela

Ling & Lang Bingo sets — how to play:

Multiplayer version:

Each player gets a randomly selected piece of popular journalism dealing with language(s), linguistics, or linguists. Taking turns, you could read one paragraph each, everyone crossing off what they think they detected in the presented passages. The first one to complete a row (horizontal, vertical, diagonal) shouts “Bingo!” and wins.

Note: Of course one should rearrange the table cells, otherwise there’d be multiple winners. (Do some actual copying and pasting if necessary.)

Solitaire version:

Grab yourself a news article on ling & lang or listen to anyone from outside linguistics talk about ling & lang. Make sure you only yell “Bingo!” if that doesn’t get you expelled from a lecture.

Pro tip:

If you want to make the game a little bit harder, do the same with scholarly articles.

Learning a language closely related to your mother tongue


-you are fluent in your target language after two months

-you don’t have to spend much time learning vocabulary because it’s all the same as your mother tongue

-same with grammar, idioms etc.

-you're top of the class without any effort

-you can omit the basics because they are so obvious

-you don’t have any problems with pronunciation

-you understand the spoken language after few lessons  

-actually you don't  have to learn it, it’s so easy!


-you constantly make mistakes because something sounds weird in it’s correct form

-you understand everything from course book but you cannot tell anything yourself

-you have a feeling you learn something obvious for tomorrow text and you’ll remember it so you can relax

-you don’t remember nothing but your name on the test

-you have a feeling the pronunciation is funny and you giggle when you try to read something loud

-you cannot pronounce correctly every second word because of differences in vowels too subtle for your ears to hear

-you start to wonder whether spelling in your mother tongue is correct because identical word in your target language the has different spelling

-you cannot force yourself to use the suspicious conjugations

-every time you don’t know a word and you try to use an unchanged word from your mother tongue the word in your target language will be different

-every time you don’t know a word in you try to modify a word from you mother tongue the words in both languages are homophones

-people ask you why you learn the language and suggest it’s useless because you should be able to communicate with your target language natives in your mother tongue (which has nothing to do with reality and is really annoying)

-everything is similar and different at the same time and you are constantly confused

-you can never be sure if you teacher doesn’t make a joke when something on the blackboard is really really funny (he probably doesn’t but it sometimes happens so…)

-there is a possibility that some words from your mother tongue are curses in your target language and vice versa