My peace is helping people. 

He doesn’t say ‘family business’ and he doesn’t say 'hunting things’. and this is so important. Because this is what really makes him who he is, his will and wish to help people. To do good, to make them safe and happy and alive. and when he focuses on that and not on the rush that comes with the kill, or the adrenaline that accompanies the fight, he is looking at himself, he saw in the past two weeks, what really helped him feel better, made him feel like himself. It was saving Sam and Tina, it was saving Delilah today, it is helping people. it’s his own new motto, not anything like the family business, it’s not about saving, or business, but about helping, about people, individuals, doing the best you can. It sounds peaceful, and in the right direction. 

"Where is a frown?" Americans say mouth, Brits say forehead (my mind=blown)

This recent post from Lynne Murphy on Separated By a Common Language created much discussion in my Twitter feed and over dinner with a collection of American, British and Australian English speakers. Many of us have been living with semantic variation staring up in the face. Even (American English) Lynne didn’t realise her (British English) husband had a difference sense from her:

When I tweeted the question “Where is a frown?” British people told me “on the forehead”. When I asked the Englishman in my house, he said the same thing. Fourteen years together and only now do I know that he’s been frowning much of the time.

And like one of the blog commenters, the Brits I talked with had an epiphany: so that’s why Americans say “turn your frown upside down!” to mean ‘cheer up!’.

Older Australian English speakers I talked to identified the forehead frown as the sense that they have, but a frown has always been the opposite of a smile for me, all about the mouth. Otherwise, what is the opposite of a smile? It looks like we have some intergenerational semantic shift happening right under our noses.

See Lynne’s original post on Separated by a Common Language.

On “True Synonyms” and why a thesaurus isn’t always your best friend.

There’s a writing tip I’ve heard a lot over the years claiming that a thesaurus can be your best friend because it can expand your vocabulary and help you avoid repetition. There are also posts floating around promoting the whole “said is dead” idea, bringing attention to the fact that there are many other words that could be used in place of “said.” While I think this is great and having an extended vocabulary is important, especially being a writer, this can also get you into trouble.

In lexical semantics (i.e. the study of word meanings), synonymy and antonymy are things that come up kind of a lot. One of the most basic ways that we humans conceptualize the world around us is by comparison–saying something is like something else, or the opposite of something. The same is true when ascertaining meaning. For example:

Person 1: So, what is a wolf?
Person 2: Well, it’s like a dog, but has x, y, and z features.

Person 1: What exactly does “day” mean?
Person 2: It’s not night, for one thing.

And so on.

One of the main features of language in general is that it’s efficient, or at least it tries to be. Taking this into account, it’s hard to believe that there would be two single words that express the same exact meaning. Even words that appear to have the same exact meaning, upon closer inspection, have subtle differences which makes them two separate words. They may belong in the same semantic field, but there’s still some tiny difference in meaning that warrants the existence of both.

Take, for example, the word scared. If you were to look this up in a thesaurus, you’d probably find words like afraid, terrified, and frightened. Sure, they all have the same general meaning of a feeling inflicted by fear, but they’re not all the same. Each word is a varying degree of fear. Even afraid, despite being almost the same as scared, can’t always be used interchangeably without slightly changing the meaning of the entire clause  it’s a part of.

It’s really important to take this into account when writing. Take those advice posts with a grain of salt. Sure, those posts can give you a hundred different substitutes for the word “walk,” but if you really mean walk, don’t say amble or saunter because they’re entirely different types of walking. True synonyms don’t actually exist. Write exactly what you mean, and don’t try to flower it up by plugging in a bunch of words you found in a thesaurus.

If anyone has anything else to add, please do!

17 things (other than grammar) linguists know about language. And so should you. #lingchat

Languages are not a simple matter of grammar. Any language policy must consider what is known about language from the fields of pragmatics, sociolinguistics, and cognitive linguistics. These are the key aspects of what we know about language collected from across many fields of linguistic inquiry:

  1. Every sentence communicates much more than just its basic content (propositional meaning). We also communicate our desires and beliefs (e.g. “It’s cold here” may communicate, “Close the window” and “John denied that he cheats on his taxes” communicates that somebody accused John of cheating on his taxes. Similarly choosing a particular form of speech, like slang or jargon, communicates belonging to a community of practice.)
  2. The understanding of any utterance is always dependent on a complex network of knowledge about language, about the world, as well as about the context of the utterance. “China denied involvement.” requires the understanding of the context in which countries operate, as well as metonymy, as well as the grammar and vocabulary. Consider the knowledge we need to possess to interpret “In 1939, the world exploded.” vs. “In Star Wars, a world exploded.”
  3. There is no such thing as purely literal language. All language is to some degree figurative. “Between 3 and 4pm.”, “Out of sight”, “In deep trouble”, “An argument flared up”, “Deliver a service”, “You are my rock”, “Access for all” are all figurative to different degrees.
  4. We all speak more than one variety of our language: formal/informal, school/friends/family, written/spoken, etc. Each of these variety has its own code. For instance, “she wanted to learn” vs. “her desire to learn” demonstrates a common difference between spoken and written English where written English often uses clauses built around nouns.
  5. We constantly switch between different codes (sometimes even within a single utterance). Think about what is going on in a sentence like “The Joe said unto Karen.”
  6. Bilingualism is the norm in language knowledge, not the exception. About half the world’s population regularly speaks more than one language but everybody is “bi-lingual” in the sense that they deal with multiple codes in their language. They may seem like very close but for a child without much familial academic background, entering school and learning to read may feel very much like a foreign language and they often need the same sort of support learners of second languages need.
  7. The “standard” or “correct” English is just one of the many dialects, not English itself. It is not something other dialects diverge from, it is their linguistic equal.
  8. The difference between a language and a dialect is just as much political as linguistic. An old joke in linguistics goes: “A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.” There is no standard measure or universal definition of one language as opposed to another.
  9. Language prescription and requirements of language purity (incl. simple language) are as much political statements as linguistic or cognitive ones. All language use is related to power relationships. Language purists often just parrot half-remembered rules from school and personal peeves.
  10. Simplified languages develop their own complexities if used by a real community through a process known as creolization. (This process is well described for pidgins but not as well for artificial languages.)
  11. All languages are full of redundancy, polysemy and homonymy. It is the context and our knowledge of what is to be expected that makes it easy to figure out the right meaning. Speakers always use context, expectation and all kinds of inference to figure out the intended meaning.
  12. Language speakers have many tools to figure out what a statement is about other than just listening or reading carefully. In a dialogue, people use something called ‘conversation repair’, they raise their eye-brows, ask 'Sorry’, etc. With written texts, they use reference materials, highlight, bookmark, look things up in an index, etc. All of these strategies are a part of their language competence.
  13. There is no straightforward relationship between grammatical features and language obfuscation or lack of clarity (e.g. It is just as easy to hide things using active as passive voice or any Subject-Verb-Object sentence as Object-Subject-Verb).
  14. It is difficult to call any one feature of a language universally simple (for instance, SVO word order or no morphology) because many other languages use what we call complex as the default without any increase in difficulty for the native speakers (e.g. use of verb prefixes/particles in English and German)
  15. Language is not really organized into sentences but into texts. Texts have internal organization to hang together formally (John likes coffee. He likes it a lot.) and semantically (As I said about John. He likes coffee.) Texts also relate to external contexts (cross reference) and their situations. This relationship is both implicit and explicit in the text. The shorter the text, the more context it needs for interpretation. For instance, if all we see is “He likes it.” written on a piece of paper, we do not have enough context to interpret the meaning.
  16. Language is not used uniformly. Some parts of language are used more frequently than others. But this is not enough to understand frequency. Some parts of language are used more frequently together than others. The frequent coocurrence of some words with other words is called “collocation”. This means that when we say “bread and …”, we can predict that the next word will be “butter”. You can check this with a linguistic tool like a corpus, or even by using Google’s predictions in the search. Some words are so strongly collocated with other words that their meaning is “tinged” by those other words (this is called semantic prosody). For example, “set in” has a negative connotation because of its collocation with “rot”.
  17. All language is idiomatic to some degree. You cannot determine the meaning of all sentences just by understanding the meanings of all their component parts and the rules for putting them together. And vice versa, you cannot just take all the words and rules in a language, apply them and get meaningful sentences. Consider “I will not put the picture up with John.” and “I will not put up the picture with John.” and “I will not put up John.” and “I will not put up with John.”


  • white girl:i feel discriminated against because i think that i didn't receive a scholarship because i'm white
  • jose:actually, turns out you - as a white person - have a 40% more chance to receive a scholarship than any other person of color
  • white girl:i feel like you're attacking me rn i'm obviously the victim here

At Google, we spend a lot of time thinking about how computer systems can read and understand human language in order to process it in intelligent ways. Today, we are excited to share the fruits of our research with the broader community by releasing SyntaxNet, an open-source neural network framework implemented in TensorFlow that provides a foundation for Natural Language Understanding (NLU) systems. Our release includes all the code needed to train new SyntaxNet models on your own data, as well as Parsey McParseface, an English parser that we have trained for you and that you can use to analyze English text.

Parsey McParseface is built on powerful machine learning algorithms that learn to analyze the linguistic structure of language, and that can explain the functional role of each word in a given sentence. Because Parsey McParseface is the most accurate such model in the world, we hope that it will be useful to developers and researchers interested in automatic extraction of information, translation, and other core applications of NLU.

Announcing SyntaxNet: The World’s Most Accurate Parser Goes Open Source

At Google, we spend a lot of time thinking about how computer systems can read and understand human language in order to process it in intelligent ways.

The difference between epistemic & deontic, necessity & possibility, in an overlapping diagram

This is a handy reference diagram I made way back in grad school for remembering the difference between epistemic necessity, deontic possibility, and other basic types of modality, and I’ve finally put it online. 

Here’s how it works: 

In linguistics, modals (aka modal verbs, modal auxiliaries) refer to words like can, could, shall, should, will, would, may, might, must which indicate likelihood, permission, obligation, and ability. The concept of modality includes both modal auxiliaries as well as longer constructions, like ought, have to, be obliged to, be able to, be capable of, it’s possible that, it’s necessary for __ to, it’s obligatory to, it’s permissible that, possibly, necessarily, maybe, perhaps, and so on.   

In the diagram, the blue areas are epistemic modality (according to evidence, reasoning, or beliefs), the red areas are deontic modality (according to a set of rules or desires), the dark areas are necessity (in all possible worlds), the light areas are possibility (in at least one possible world). Every area has both a colour (blue/red) and a shade (light/dark) because modality is made up of a modal base (according to what, on the basis of what) and a modal force (how strong is the result). 

Here are some examples for each of the regions.  

Dark blue is epistemic necessity

  1. “It must be raining outside (I can hear the rain).” In all worlds consistent with my beliefs, it is raining outside. 
  2. “When you add vinegar to baking soda, it should fizz.” In all worlds consistent with my reasoning about chemical properties, vinegar added to baking soda fizzes. 

Light blue is epistemic possibility

  1. “It may be raining outside (I heard that it was going to rain today)” In at least one world consistent with my beliefs, it is raining outside. 
  2. “The doctor has said, they can go to the bathroom.” In at least one world consistent with the doctor’s assessment of their physical capabilities, they go to the bathroom. 

Dark red is deontic necessity

  1. “It must rain this week (in order for the crops not to spoil)” In all worlds consistent with my desires, it rains this week. 
  2. “You should drive under the speed limit.” In all worlds consistent with the rules for proper driving, you drive under the speed limit. 

Light red is deontic possibility

  1. “It may rain this week (as far as I’m concerned, I’m not planning any activities that would be spoiled by the rain so I don’t care).” In at least one world consistent with my desires, it rains this week. 
  2. “The teacher has said, they can go to the bathroom.” In at least one world consistent with the teacher’s rules for the classroom, they go to the bathroom.  

Notice that English is generally good at making distinctions between necessity and possibility but bad at making distinctions between epistemic and deontic, which must be cleared up via context. Some languages do make straightforward lexical distinctions between various flavours of modality like epistemic and deontic. 

Also note that more advanced theories of modality distinguish between more types of modality than epistemic and deontic (such as circumstantial, dynamic, logical, metaphysical, ability, teleological, bouletic, etc) but this is a basic introduction to making these distinctions at all, so I’m not going to get into them here. If you want to expand the diagram yourself, however, you could assign these other types of modality other colours, as long as you give them each two shades. (And in case anyone reading this already knows a lot about modality, I’d also like to point out that the Wikipedia article on linguistic modality is in dire need of improvement.)

Semantics and Judging Functions

In order to clarify some of the confusion about judging functions I would like to propose a semantic clarification.

Feeling functions make judgments based on value
Thinking functions make judgments based on truth

Value is “the quality (positive or negative) that renders something desirable or valuable” or “the degree of importance given to something”

Truth is “conformity to rule; exactness" or “genuine depiction or statements of reality”

Introverted functions produce subjective judgments and extraverted functions produce objective judgements.

Subjective is “experienced by a person mentally and not directly verifiable by others”

Objective is “based on observed facts”

Having clarified those semantic points I propose the following as an easier way to understand judging functions;

Introverted feeling produces subjective judgement of value. Fi seeks to clarify what is moral.

Extraverted feeling produces objective judgement of value. Fe seeks to clarify what is ethical.

Introverted thinking produces subjective judgement of truth. Ti seeks to clarify what is rational.

Extraverted thinking produces objective judgement of truth. Te seeks to clarify what is empirical.

Now let’s look at each of those terms;

Moral is “conforming to a standard of right behavior; sanctioned by or operative on one’s conscience”

Ethical is “relating to the accepted principles of right and wrong”

Rational is “agreeable to the mental powers concerned with forming conclusions, judgments, or inferences”

Empirical is “provable or verifiable by experience or experiment”

So just to wrap it all up in a nice bow;

Introverted Feeling (Fi) determines the degree of importance given to something based on a standard sanctioned by one’s conscience.

Extraverted Feeling (Fe) determines the degree of importance given to something based on the accepted principles of right and wrong.

Introverted Thinking (Ti) determines statements of reality based on the mental powers concerned with forming conclusions, judgments and inferences.

Extraverted Thinking (Te) determines statements of reality based on what is provable or verifiable by experience or experiment.

Please feel free to add, criticize and critique with credit.
The linguistics of #BLM: Scalar Implicature and Social Controversy
A linguistic controversy is raging in the US, with arguments taking place on the news, on Facebook and Twitter, and at uncomfortable family dinners across the country. I'm talking, of course, about the interpretation of the statement "Black Lives Matter," and various responses to it -- "all lives matter," "blue lives matter," and even the more aggressive "black lives don't matter," that occasionally pops up in some recesses of the internet. I think that part of this controversy is purely social, but part of it is linguistic in nature. I've been seeing well-meaning people talking at cross purposes, and I think it arises from a fundamental misunderstanding of starting assumptions. I'm going to make a linguistic claim, and then attempt to justify it. The claim: Some confusion, and animosity, over the statements black lives matter and all lives matter comes from different interpretations of assumed Scalar Implicature and the context of the utterance.

Taylor Jones has an interesting analysis of scalar implicature and how people interpret Black Lives Matter:

Among the people I know who have good intentions, the reactions to Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter seem to be about what kind of context you put these utterances into. So my black friends are all claiming:

  • Black Lives Matter [too!]

…but some of my white friends are interpreting that as:

  • Black Lives Matter [more than others/white lives/your life!]
  • [Only] Black Lives Matter!

Already, there’s a fundamental misunderstanding here, which is exacerbated by the response:

  • All Lives Matter!

Often, I think they’re trying to respond to a perceived “black lives matter more than others” with “all lives matter equally!” But it’s missing the point because they’re having two different conversations. More importantly, given the context – black people being executed by agents of the state, with a complete disregard for due process – and it’s hard to understand why people leap immediately to the interpretation that there’s a “[more]” there.

The way most people use it, there’s a (silent) scalar implicature: Black Lives Matter [As Much As Others]. This does not make for a good chant, and is hard to fit on t-shirts, though. Note, though, that the most natural reading is not to assume “more than others,” without a context that would suggest that implicature. 

Read the whole thing

Another way I saw this phrased linguistically was in a tweet by mitcho: “Read a lot on focus today, but the best things I read are tweets about how #BlackLivesMatter is additive or verum focus, not exhaustive.” 

(Additive focus would be like adding “too” and verum focus would be like adding “do”, while exhaustive focus would be like adding “only”.)

torabelichan  asked:

Hello Chekhov! If I'm not wrong you studied linguistics right? Since I'll go to Uni soon and I'm interested in studying it too I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about your... experience with it? Was it difficult to study? Is it useful to you now? Thanks in advance! ^^ (also I really like your art! It's so lovely!!!)

Heyo! Thanks for the question. I hope you don’t mind, but this is a semi-frequent question so I’m gonna post it publically. 

You are correct! I did study linguistics in University. I loved it, and I loved studying it. I can’t say for sure whether or not you’d love it too, but here’s a few things to consider:

1. Linguistics is not an English degree. 

It’s not about studying one language - and it’s not about studying literary classics. You will not be reading a whole bunch of really flowery language books, and you will hardly ever be studying a single language for long enough to become proficient at it. (You can, however, study a language on the side - many people do, because most Linguists are language nerds.)

2. Linguistics is unreasonably NOT a Science major - but it should be.

While technically classified as a BoFA, Linguistics classes tend to resemble math classes more than anything else. In most programs, you’ll need to load up on the general knowledge of basic language-building such as Linguistics 101, Sociolinguistics, Phonology, Semantics and Syntax. 

The first two are softer - you can get in and out without too much math-ing and will probably enjoy yourself a lot if you like analyzing fanfics. 

The last 3 are gonna be a cold shower of no-numbers-involved algebra at best. They are purely analytical in the math sense - you will need to create and recreate formulas for sentence structure, solve semantic truth statements and figure out the logic behind why a sound changes in one context but not the other. They might be fun for you - but you need to go into it with the right mindset, and you need to be ready to solve puzzles for those 45-90 minutes.  

3. Linguistics majors are diverse

This one kinda ties into the “How can I use it?!” question. It’s a good question! I’m not sure I even have the answer. However, I’ll try to give  avery basic rundown of options.

Professor/field research

This is basically…. study after more study. You get into the research field, you go somewhere to study a language or a linguistic phenomenon. You document dying languages, or help with language rehabilitation. This requires major sacrifices from you in a mental way - it’s basically just writing and researching work. If you enjoy that, if that’s your deal, great! Your life will depend on grant money, though.

Speech pathologist

This is a field which works with people with speech impairments - they could be purely physical, they could be neurological. You’ll be working with the medical side of things, so this involves a thorough knowledge of human sounds and you will need to apply them to things like speech therapy or rehabilitation. 

Coding/computer language

While this isn’t necessarily the same as being a code-monkey, if you’re really into syntax and semantics, you might be a good fit for computer language analysis and writing and etc. Right now this field can pay off a lot. I know quite a few people who, after taking courses in semantics, ended up in a field coding apps or programs for larger companies. It’s not guaranteed, but if that’s something that has been your dream, it might be a good step into the coding world as well. 


Although this field is technically NOT accessible with ONLY a language degree, you MIGHT be able to worm your way into it. Google translate is a big project still going on, and it’s still a big goal for many companies to create a translation device that can rival human brains. You could technically make linguistics your stepping stone if you want to work in a field of helping machines take over the world translate some words. 


Okay, so this is what I’m doing - but it’s not because I’m a linguist. I technically got this job for other reasons, but it’s still valid. A lot of people DO become teachers - many of them foreign language teachers or linguistics teachers. That’s because it’s easier to teach a language if you know how ALL languages work in blueprint form as opposed to only studying the grammar of one. Specifically for me, teaching English in a foreign country language and phonetics has been a huge help in focusing my kids’ issues with pronunciation. In fact, currently I’m trying to channel my linguistics knowledge into the new curriculum I’m helping create in my school. It’s a bit out there, but it happens! 

This is just a rundown of things, but I hope it helps someone - anyone. 

Honestly, my biggest piece of advice would be - don’t study linguistics if you don’t like studying! It’s a very academic route, it’s not just a reading club. That being said, it can also be incredibly invigorating to be in a class with only 6 people (as most linguistics classes of upper level tend to be small) arguing about that one part of a sentence you’re analyzing from a language none of you speak. You feel like you’re discovering something. You feel excited.

Or maybe that’s just me, cos I’m a nerd. 

Anyway, if other linguistics majors have something to add, pls reblog!!