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I haven't forgotten this series! It just took me a few days to write this up. I hope you enjoy it.

Gretchen McCulloch, internet linguist, has been talking a lot about the IPA on Twitter lately (I've been tagged in quote-tweets of both how to type the IPA on an Android phone and the thread of IPA (symbols) as IPAs (beers), and I think what she says about learning the IPA is well-timed for where we're up to:
Useful caveat about learning the IPA: there are a LOT of symbols, because it's designed to represent all sounds used in human language. Intro linguistics/phonetics courses often prioritize more frequently used IPA symbols, but I find self-taught people are more likely to get discouraged that they have a hard time remembering like, all the mid-central unrounded vowels except schwa They're v infrequent, it's okay. You still "know the IPA" for functional purposes if you have a good grasp on the symbols for the sounds you encounter regularly and know how to use the resources of the IPA to figure out less familiar sounds/symbols.
And it's this familiarity I'm trying to offer. )
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[personal profile] moem's comment to the post I wrote yesterday got me thinking. After asking how something is pronounced, it went "I'm worried that you will only be able to reply in those characters that I can't read, the ones that indicate how words sound... I don't even know what they are called."

I wanted to reply not just to explain the pronunciation but to answer the question of what those characters are called, and maybe give a little basic info. So I googled "International Phonetic Alphabet" and...I was surprised not to find anything useful. Everything seems to be just the charts, with at most a little history but I don't expect anyone cares what year the IPA was invented or whose idea it was. And the charts aren't much use if you don't know how to read them.

I find it really frustrating that I was exposed for years in high school to, say, the periodic table -- I had to memorize the first twenty elements, I can recognize a bunch of the symbols still, I know the chart's organization tells you stuff about electron shells and similarities between elements' properties, I knew what atomic number and atomic weight are -- and, no shade but...I can't recall it having been useful to me since. Whereas I long for a wider knowledge of the IPA every time people talk about accents, or about unfamiliar words, or even how unfamiliar a familiar word can sound sometimes.

I can imagine a high-school level linguistics knowledge, but it doesn't really exist. There's this frustrating gap: practically nothing's out there between the level of (often uninformed and bigoted) rants about personal langauge peeves and undergrad-level linguistics. Sure there are some cool podcasts and twitter accounts and stuff (that's how I ended up inspired to do a lingulistics degree, after all!) but I think there's a lot of potential for more interested-layperson level stuff, and I thought a good place to start might be by talking about how to read the IPA chart. I promise it's way easier than a periodic table.

How to Read the International Phonetic Alphabet, Part 1 - voicing and some places of articulation )
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TIL another thing that I cannot say in British English is "Notre Dame."

Not when I'm this sleep deprived at least! I caught myself this morning sounding like I was talking about college football (both of which are also words that have wildly different meanings here, yes I'm aware) and felt like such a hick from the sticks.

But then, I am. Plus I feel that Minnesota has a great tradition of butchering French names: it's more than a decade since I read [livejournal.com profile] mwhittier saying that Minnesotans pronounce the lovely poetic name "Mille Lacs" as if it was spelled Mlax and I still think about that all the time.

(Plus other things I can't say in British English include my first name and the city where I live, so it's nothing personal, Notre Dame.)

I said this on Mastodon and it led to delightful sprawling conversations about phonetics, rhoticity, Spanish, Czech, the Pride I went to last weekend, and a favorite episode of my favorite TV show [link is spoilery for early season 3 of The Good Place]. Kept me company on an afternoon when I was too headachy to do anything else, even eat or sleep.

For all I was talking about America butchering French names, I think it's important to mention what linguist Lynne Murphy calls America's Verbal Inferiority Complex. She talks about it in relation to British English because she lives here but I'd argue it's even more acute for languages like French, which white Americans consider at least as prestigious as British English but also treat with the same suspicion our little monoglot hearts have for all languages other than English.

I got thinking about this when the Mastodon conversation ended up with someone saying "Americans can't pronounce their own French last names properly" and I am very opposed to the idea that people can be wrong about their own damn names. It's a complicated issue -- this person was arguing that it's an "erasure of history when people do this to their family name, like refusing to acknowledge that languages other than English exist" and I am keen for the acknowledgement of languages other than English, but I think people's names are different than other parts of language; I fervently believe that no one is pronouncing their own name wrong, that it is not possible.

And what counts as "properly" is entirely a matter of social context: as a friend pointed out, "Mlax" or /mɪl læks/ is pretty close to French c. 1680. Modern French pronunciation was only just starting about then, when French people were naming things in what was going to be Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Vermont, etc. If you've heard of America keeping some Elizabethan English features (which is always seen as a good thing! (though I think that's another example of American Verbal Inferiority Complex)) this is like that but with French.

I think I could explain what I'm thinking better if I didn't still have such a headache (I have at least had a nap and pizza now, but it's still there) but... Because white America isn't any good at dealing with its colonialist history, it tends to think of itself as a broken or substandard version of Europe. But "correctness" is always relative, and the hundreds of years of political, linguistic, and every other kind of change in the U.S. mean there's no way it's going to confirm precisely to the conventions of any language as spoken in Europe.

And that is normal and okay and unavoidable. Notre Dame is just as good a pronunciation as Notre Dame.
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"And you flap?" he asked me, which sounds like a personal question but it was just my phonlogy lecturer checking whether something would in fact be a minimal pair for me. #LinguisticsLyfe, right?

Since it was a minimal pair for me (two words that only differ in a single feature), I got to be an example of Canadian Raising for my class. Not bad for a Minnesotan!

When I said the two words, my class laughed gently and the lecturer grinned and asked me to do it a few more times so I guess my suspicions about whether this is part of my accent have been confirmed.
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If there's one thing I've learned since I moved to the UK, it's that Brits love telling me about how they talk differently from other people.

Remember how popular the NY Times dialect mapping was a few months ago when that did a UK/Ireland version? A class I'm in is doing some similar mapping and we need data!

So if you're a native English speaker who spent at least your childhood (ages 4 to 13) in the UK, you'd be helping us out if you go to http://tinyurl.com/DialectSurvey2019 and answer a few questions. Something I just noticed, though: the only gender options offered are male, female and prefer not to say, and you have to pick one. Sorry. There are Reasons for this, but it still sucks. I don't blame anyone who doesn't want to do the survey on that basis.

(England is better represented than other parts of the UK so far, and I know I have some friends who grew up elsewhere in the UK, so consider yourselves particularly looked-at-with-a-hopeful-expression.)

And whether or not you fit the survey criteria, you can still help me out by sharing the link if you'd like to do that.


(We're actually going to be doing some cool science with the results we get, which I'm sure to talk about once it's done.)
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This is an old blog post about an even older story (Holly's linkblogs: never knowingly relevant!) but I just read it the other day and found it really striking.
To preserve as many scraps of the dying language as possible, linguists have taken Esenç to Oslo and to Paris, where he has been four times. Others have trooped rutted tracks to the farm village of Haci Osman where the last of the Ubykh speakers lives in a hut with a dirt floor. Mr. Esenç became the primary source of not only the Ubykh language, but also of the mythology, culture and customs of the Ubykh people. To elucidate some of the puzzling features of the language, Mr. Esenç even allowed himself to be X-rayed while articulating. One interesting issue raised by the necessity of working with just one speaker of the language is whether his way of speaking is representative of the language in general or is peculiar to him alone. In the case of Mr. Esenç, it turned out that he was a purist, and therefore his idiolect of Ubykh (i.e. personal way of speaking) is considered by some as the closest thing to a standard “literary” Ubykh language that existed.
That consonant inventory! (This bit's a little technical but I wanted to copy it for my own admiration as much as anything, but I can try to explain if people want.)
It has consonants in at least eight, perhaps nine, basic places of articulation, distinguishing for example alveolar, post-alveolar, alveolo-palatal and retroflex affricates and fricatives. It also distinguishes plain, palatalized and labialized stops and fricatives. Its sound inventory contains 29 distinct fricatives, 27 sibilants, 20 uvulars and 3 different l-sounds, more than any other documented language. Ubykh also has the most disproportional ratio of phonemic consonants to vowels (though analyses of different scholars produce different vowel phoneme counts). Thus, as John Colarusso remarked, “any rigorous account of human phonetic perceptual capacity will have to take into account this precious marvel, Ubykh”. And luckily some of it is now recorded on Georges Dumézil’s file cards, on tape and in those X-ray images of Mr. Esenç. (You can hear some sample Ubykh sound files here.)
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I get an Audible book credit every month. Last month I got a book called Starlight Detectives, which is about nineteenth and early twentieth century development of photography and better telescopes and other technology. It hugely increased astronomical knowledge, like figuring out what stars are made of and that galaxies are moving away from each other. Because professional astronomers weren't interested in more than naked-eye stuff for a long time (like their job was just to catalog stars so they could be used for maritime navigation), it was left to amateurs to develop and work on this stuff. So you hear about a lot of "inventors and eccentrics," as the subtitle puts it, or white men as I think of them. Mostly they kinda blurred together for me, but it was still an interesting book.

With one flaw: I am very picky about audiobook narrators, and this one seemed okay in the sample you can get before you buy it, but that hid his habit of putting on terrible accents when reading quotes. This is a non-fiction book; it's not like voices had to be distinguished from each other! And since the narrator was American (he was very good at Boston accents!) and a lot of the people were British, they came out sounding vaguely Australian. It was not good.

And this month I picked a book about NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto (and beyond!). I am hoping for less white men in a modern astronomical story.

I'm not too far into this one yet, but I have detected a flaw with this narrator as well! He's one of the writers, he's definitely American, but he's trying hard not to say "Pluto" like an American. He is saying "plu-toe," really hitting that t because I think he doesn't want to say it the normal American way with that alveolar tap I love so much. Now don't get me wrong, I don't mind how anybody says "Pluto," I just don't like the emphasis he seems to be putting on it in order to say it a way that seems unnatural to him. I think it's unnatural because not only does it sound weird but he doesn't always do it. Whenever he says /ˈpluːroʊ/ I want to applaud and cheer a little to encourage him to do it more.

But since it's a book about Pluto I expect to hear /pluːˈtoʊ/ about fifteen million more times.
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So this morning, awake too early (thanks for all the barking, Gary) and lying in bed pretending I'd fall back asleep, I saw a toot (yes that's what they're called on Mastodon):
everyone: herbs and spices
america: 'erbs and spices
???: herbs and 'ices

the search for the missing nation
I tried to let it go, to appreciate the shitpost for what it was, or even just to ponder how interesting it is that both consonants at the beginning of spices are understood to be part of the syllable onset even to people who don't use words like "onset" for that (I've been doing lots of phonology reading today; it probably shows).

But I couldn't. I just coulnd't get over how annoyed I was at one little thing.

I started a screed.

I know this is just a joke but I also just have to say that it's not only America who says "erbs"; the word was originally erb and didn't have an h at all.

Overcorrecting pedants added the h in the 1400s to make the English word look like the Latin word it derived from, but the h was silent for everyone until it changed in Britain in the 1800s (thus, after American English had diverged from British English) as the result of more pedantry (thanks to [personal profile] silveradept, I'd also just read this morning about how many grammar rules are bullshit). And they're a specific, infuriating (to me) kind of bullshit, which I'll get to in a minute.

But before that, I thought of Eddie Izzard's line from Dress to Kill where he says to an American audience "you say 'erbs' and we say 'herbs.' Because there's a fucking h in it."

And the audience laughed because Americans have what Lynne Murphy calls American Verbal Inferiority Complex (a fact that suits the British superiority complex just fine!).

But I'm like, no! I will not accept this from a country where they have to say an historian because they don't say that h at all! (Yes I know not ever Brit says this, but not every American drops the h in herbs either, so this is where generalization gets you.)

The more I think about this, the more it bugs me that a few random posh white dudes (a very few! specific people with names we know!) came up with all these stupid rules. To quote from the link above: some of these "grammar rules that were entirely dreamt up in an age of moral prescriptivism, reflecting nothing of historical or literary usage, to encourage the poor English language to be more like an entirely different (and entirely dead) language, namely Latin?"

The random posh white dudes decreed that English should be more like Latin because they'd been taught that Latin was "pure" and thus superior to English. And they got their own way. (Maybe all of English has an inferiority complex when it comes to things like Latin.)

This educational snobbery and classism went a long way to making English the inconsistent, baffling mess it is now. (It wouldn't have been in a fantastic state anyway, with the influx of French and Latin and then the Great Vowel Shift ensuring nothing was spelled like it sounded any more. But still, this

It didn't have to be this way. Around the same time as these Latin-lovers, there was a movement for another kind of "purity," to go back to the Germanic roots of the English language, as a backlash against the huge numbers of French and Latin words that'd entered the language in the Middle English period (up until 1500-ish). Wikipedia says "Some tried either to resurrect older English words, such as gleeman for musician, inwit for conscience, and yblent for confused, or to make new words from Germanic roots, e.g. endsay for conclusion, yeartide for anniversary, foresayer for prophet."

To read something like "Uncleftish Beholdings," which is an explanation of atomic theory written in Germanic words, feels very odd. The Germanic words English has retained are mostly very "ordinary," everyday things, whereas our scientific vocabulary is especially full of Latin and Greek, so we're not used to what feel like "base" words being used to express technical or intellectual concepts.

I wrote all this (more or less, and without most of the links, though I included the Uncleftish Beholdings one because if you mention Germanic reconstructions for English, someone is bound to bring it up (and indeed someone did, who hadn't seen it mentioned just above the toot he was replying to)) before I went to work. I did work, I came home, had lunch, got ready to go to uni...and just before I left, I saw a screenshot of a startingly relevant tweet, from @paulcoxon: "Hello my name is Paul, I have a PhD in physics and thanks to a random brain freeze forgot the word for photon so had to call it a 'shiny crumb' in front of my colleagues."

Yes, you can have a physics Ph.D. and still forget a basic word like "photon." And when you do, what comes to your mind might be a Germanic construction like shiny crumb. (I knew "shine" came from Old English because I remembered seeing the verb; and I looked up "crumb" too which also comes from an OE word). I absolutely love "shiny crumb" and I wish to nominate it for the new Germanic alternative for our scientific vocabulary.

So yeah. I am so ill-suited to shitposts that I couldn't leave one alone. I had to take "herbs" and run with it until I ended up at shiny crumbs... via inkhorn terms, Anglish, snobbery and inferiority complexes. I hope you enjoyed the journey.

Or, as since journey's a nasty foreign word, maybe trip.
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A linguistic blog I follow said it was having a sale on its t-shirts today, so I went to look. I have a collection of lingiustics t-shirts already, but apparently I thought it wasn't enough.

I sorta liked "Ask me about the Great Vowel Shift; it amused me that I was procrastinating learning what Optimality Theory is by looking at t-shirts about it, I liked "We Can Even!" but didn't want to wear it...and then I saw
bɛɾɹ lɪvŋ θɹuː fənɑlədʒi
Better Living Through Phonology. Despite my wariness of all of my phonology lectures so far this semester, I persist in liking the topic. But still. I wasn't sure it was worth buying a t-shirt about, even on sale.

But then I thought about the word better. It's a word that, even if you don't know the International Phonetic Alphabet, you can probably agree is pronounced really differently in American vs. British (and much of the rest of the Commonwealth) English. This short word manages to pack in two features that make it distinct, so I thought I'd look for them.

I was excited about that fishhook ɾ, that alveolar tap (or flap); my favorite IPA symbol, which I feel very protective of now that it distinguishes me and it isn't really used by the people around me. This is thought of by a lot of people as turning a 't' into a 'd'; so that an American pronunciation of better sounds like bedder. It is a distinct movement from a regular [d], but it's subtle.

The second thing that would make this stand out as American is the symbol after the [ɾ], the [ɹ]. This upside-down r is for something else people recognize as a difference between most kinds of North American English and most kinds of British English: rhoticity. This is about how you pronounce your 'r's. The standard in America (with plenty of exceptions, notoriously Boston) is to say them and the standard in Britain (with plenty of exceptions, like Scottish and southwestern dialects) is to not say them. Bostonians are teased for saying "pahk the cah" and stuff, and their fellow Americans write it like this to indicate that it seems to be missing a sound we're used to expecting there.

I am surrounded now by people who say "cah," and I do that sometimes myself too (assimilation is a bitch) but it always makes me uncomfortable and I am irrationally attached to my nice good rrrrrrr sound. (This is written with an upside-down 'r' in the IPA, in case you're wondering, because it's actually a less-common 'r' sound if you look at all the world's langauges, so the regular [r] was used for the more popular sound (a trilled r, like you get in Spanish and again some Scottish accents).)

So I studied this t-shirt more closely and because it did in fact include these two sounds I love and miss I bought the t-shirt. Might be one of the weirder reasons I've ever bought anything.
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I am a huge fan of Seamus Heaney's Beowulf translation. When it came out, I was at peak "I will never be able to study this properly again so I want to remind myself why I love it," so I bought it. The book came with a CD (of the modern English, read by Seamus Heaney himself), and I've listened to that more than I've read the book. Annoying since I was particularly excited to get in this translation by a favorite poet something I'd always wanted anyway: layout with Old English on one side of the open book and modern English on the other.

Turns out I've been missing other good stuff he had to say about it, from the introduction, which I saw linked here.

First there's "so." I love 'so.'  )

But what I really came here to talk about was thole. When that tumblr poster put up the screenshot with (part of) what I've just quoted here, another called it "the exact moment I feel for Heaney’s Beowulf. You know. From the first word." Another said the single word that made them love it was even earlier, also in that introduction, and it's thole. Or þolian. Heaney explains:
What happened was that I found in the glossary to C. L Winn's edition of the poem the Old English word meaning 'to suffer,' the word þolian; and although at first it looked completely strange with its thorn symbol instead of the familiar th, I gradually realized that it was not strange at all, for it was the word that older and less educated people would have used in the country when I grew up. 'They'll just have to learn to thole,' my aunt would say about some family who had suffered through an unforseen bereavement. And now suddenly here was 'thole' in the official textual world, mediated through the apparatus of a scholarly edition, a little bleeper to remind me that my aunt's language was not just a self-enclosed family possession but an historical heritage, one that involved the journey þolian had made north into Scotland and then across unto Ulster with the planters, and then across from the planters to the locals who had originally spoken Irish, and then farther across again when the Scots Irish emigrated to the American South in the eighteenth century. When I read in John Crowe Ransom the line, 'Sweet ladies, long may ye bloom, and toughly I hope ye may thole,' my heart lifted again, the world widened, something was furthered. The far-flungness of the word, the phenomenological pleasure of finding it variously transformed by Ransom's modernity and Beowulf's venerability made me feel vaguely something for which again I only found the words years later. What I was experiencing as I kept meeting up with thole on its multi-cultural odyssey was the feeling that Osip Madelstam once defined as a 'nostalgia for world culture.' And this was a nostalgia I didn't even know I suffered until I experienced its fulfillment in this little epiphany. It was as if, on the analogy of baptism by desire, I had undergone something like illumination by philology. And even though I did not know it at the time, I had by then reached the point where I was ready to translate Beowulf. Þolian had opened my right of way.
Beowulf is impossible for modern people to read without special study, but still there are these threads connecting it to us, and we are lucky to have people like Seamus Heaney to show us how. The world widened, something was furthered, indeed: thanks to him, a thousand-year-old Germanic saga is being talked about on Tumblr.
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I had an exam this afternoon. More fuckery to make it accessible (I had a more experienced invigilator than last week but he still was totally taken aback when I said I wanted to use the computer, even though the notes he was given about me said I could use the computer.

I went to the shops on the way home (Andrew needed shampoo, and I wanted snacks), hung up laundry and did dishes when I got home, and now I'm Done For Today. I've got a headache I'm worried is turning into a migraine. Still need to find something for dinner.

Luckily I already wrote something for today, I just didn't post it until now:

The machine translation my Mastodon app uses (Yandex) impressed me today.

Somehow I've ended up following a bunch of people who toot in German or Swedish sometimes, and there's the odd thing in other languages. Especially since I'm still doing Duolingo German (and, honestly, thinking about Old English which is so Germanic), I like to try to pick out stuff I know or can guess at, and then I can check if I'm right.

I just saw a Swedish friend say "Kaffe kaffe kaffe börjar med K!!" and it made me laugh. But also I was intrigued. My Swedish lecturer's surname is Börjars, and I didn't know it was so close to an actual word.

So I clicked "translate" and got "Coffee coffee coffee starts with C!!" I took this for granted at first and only realized after a second how amazing it is that it changed the K to a C. Swedish might not have C for some /k/ sounds like English does (I'm pretty sure that's a thing we picked up from the perfidious Norman Conquest) but that the translation software knew to change it, when it'd have been perfectly acceptable, I'd think, to leave a letter of the alphabet as the same letter of the same alphabet.

Well I was impressed anyway, but then I don't know anything about how this kind of translation works, and I'd probably find it boring, so it's more fun to just be ignorantly amazed when it goes well.
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The thing that was most interesting to learn this [UNIT OF TIME], suggested by [personal profile] silveradept

We had our last proper typology lecture yesterday (the one I'll go to after I've written this is exam preparation) and it made me wonder if typology isn't going to be this semester's "thing I'm going to hate taking but be glad I've taken," like Sounds of Language was last spring.

After a rather dry semester I found yesterday's quo-vadis lecture really fascinating: it was about the new areas of study typology is heading towards (according to my lecturer anyway and to her credit she always admits to her biases).

They include overlaps with evolutionary biology, which is surprisingly relevant to linguistics in terms of methods (apparently some of the same statistical models can be used) and what they're trying to find out (the origin and development of diversity, be it in languages or biology).

Some odd correlations have already been found. Like, places with more biodiversity tend also to have more languages spoken there. Mammal diversity has been proposed as having a particular effect. Altitude correlates with linguistic diversity. As does living in a forested area. Even the prevalence of infectious diseases seems to be related to how many languages are likely to be spoken in a place.

Now as I said these are correlations, and none of them might end up being causation. There are masses of biological data in these statistical models these days and it might just be throwing false positives up. There are theories about why some of these correlations might exist though, so I don't know.

These correlations are definitely the best thing I learned yesterday, and maybe for quite some while! I know nothing about biology but it's always nice to see interdisciplinary results, and fun to think about other things after being stuck in linguistics mode so much lately.
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[personal profile] magic_at_mungos asked for "Favourite thing you learnt this year."

I'm going with the International Phonetic Alphabet.

Which is funny because I really hated learning it at the time. Really. I hated almost everything about that class. But I knew it would be useful, and it is. I'm still not as good at the whole thing as I was meant to be -- we were supposed to learn it all, non-pulmonic consonants and everything -- but I'm pretty good at the sounds of English. And I'm really glad.

It's proven very useful, in everything from learning Arabic (I still can't make a very good voiceless uvular plosive, but I know that's the sound I should be going for when I see ق) to figuring out why Andrew thinks I'm repeating myself when I say words like "rum" and "room" back-to-back (pairs like these are called minimal pairs because they differ in only one feature, here the vowel).

In a lot of my social-media/in-the-pub type linguistics conversations with my friends (which happen surprisingly often now; thanks for indulging me, friends), I often find myself trying to answer questions about how people speak that would be infinitely easier if the people I was talking to knew the IPA. Especially on social media: you've got limited characters and if you want to talk about a sound you have to try to conjure a word that'll reliably have that sound in it, in the accent of the person you're talking to.

If you're interested in the IPA, I can recommend Seeing Speech where you can click on any of the symbols and see a few-second video of someone making the sound. There are MRIs in most of the videos, though you can see a stylized animation too (and sometimes an ultrasound but that's much more confusing if you don't know what you're looking at so less fun), and it's pretty great to see what weird squishy bits of your head and neck are doing to make these sounds.

My favorite IPA symbol, for those who are wondering, is ɾ. This is a sound that's in American English but not British English. I don't use it as consistently as I used to; it's one of many sounds I've sacrified it to make myself better understood and less marked (less unusual, less likely to be remarked upon by the people I'm speaking to). But I've ended up all the fonder of it and more determined to use it as a statement that it isn't "wrong," it isn't due to not knowing how to spell, or any of the other things I've been told since I moved here. Linguistics strives for non-judgmental descriptivism, it delights in change and diversity, and the rest of the world could aspire to a little more of that itself. This is what ɾ symbolizes for me these days.

Plus it has a good name: alveolar tap (because the tip of the tongue just very quickly taps a part of the mouth). [personal profile] diffrentcolours and I joke that if there was a pub for linguists it should be called the Alveolar Tap.

Again: please suggest a topic for me to write about in December Days if you like! Still plenty of days left.


Nov. 18th, 2018 08:07 pm
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I just remembered another thing about this weekend which I wanted to include and the last entry is too long anyway so I'll start a new one: the compere at the gig last night seems to like univocalic poems -- ones written entirely with a single vowel -- because he did a couple of those.

I found them really confusing now because I've been taught enough linguistics that "vowel" doesn't mean a letter to me any more; it means a sound. Especially when they're spoken-word poems. I remember "Good Morn" kept appearing in the one about Piers Morgan ("Morgs") and words like that may all be spelled with the same vowel but they sound so different!

(Also it really bugged me that he wasn't counting the letter "y" as a vowel! This is how Stuart and I had a play-fight about whether "crywank" is a univocalic word.)

So now I'm wondering if I can manage a univocalic poem with only one vowel sound in it.

And which one? /i/? /ɪ/? /ɛ/? /aɪ/ because its my favorite diphthong? I immediately thought of /ə/ because it's the most common vowel in English but of course it doesn't really occur on its own because its whole deal is that its only used in unstressed syllables (you can buy t-shirts that say "I want to be like the English schwa, it's never stressed!").

Still pondering this.


Oct. 4th, 2018 10:44 pm
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
Why do we stand on our tiptoes and not our toetips?

This interesting blog post doesn't have the answer to this good question, but it does mention one of my favorite linguistic features with one of the coolest names (it'd make a good punk band name), ablaut reduplication.


Sep. 29th, 2018 01:27 pm
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
I don't understand how I've lived for more than a dozen years in a city with such an ego about itself (especially concerning the Industrial Revolution), that brags and makes all kinds of claims for its exceptional status,and yet I didn't know until today that Australia calls its bedding, towels and suchlike "manchester" because they used to get it from Manchester.

This seems like just the kind of anecdote the local museums, tours, and other purveyors of history would love: an indication of Manchester's global influence and whatnot. And I love museums and local history so I'd think I'd have known that by now...but it wasn't even anybody in Manchester who's told me now; it's a friend who used to live in Australia.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
"It's a shame your t-shirt only says 'Lesbians and Gays,' " Andrew said.

I'm wearing my "Not Gay As In Happy Queer As In Fuck Your Borders" t-shirt, as has become customary on Pride days (Levenshulme Pride today).

The t-shirt was a fundraiser for Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants (which is what it actually says at the bottom of the shirt, where Andrew had read this in the first place).

I explained that it was harkening back to Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (and for the same reasons, recognizing their oppressors are the same and so it helps to stick together), which I don't think he'd known.

He seemed content with my explanation, but then added "They could've at least made the 'bi' in 'lesbians' big! LesBIans." I laughed.*

He thought a little more and said "Les Bi Ans," as if it were a French phrase (so it took me a while to clock that the noise he'd made would be spelled this way, because French phonetics makes no fucking sense to me). "That means 'The Bi Years,' " he told me.

"It'd be a great name for a biography," I said (and then yes, heard myself say "biography" and thought "Bi-ography" must already be taken).

* You could also write it "...support The migRANtS" to get the "trans" in there!
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
Trying to pick classes for next year (the deadline is Friday and this is already closer to it than I want to be!) and it's incredibly stressful. Nothing is jumping out at me as looking particularly appealing; I have overwhelming options in regards to lots of things from the entire Faculty of the Humanities and the link I've been given to check those online is broken; I don't feel like I have very good information about what the different classes entail) so to ignore that stress for a minute, here's a little linguistics vignette:

Internet linguist (that's what she calls heself!) Gretchen McColloch has joined Mastodon where I've been hanging around since hte beginning of the year (it's like Twitter except better in almost every way). She asked if there were any other linguists there. Aaaand, one of my Masto friends tagged me in a reply to her.

Bless you, I told her, but I'm not a linguist, I've only done one year of an undergrad degree. (Though this did give me a chance to tell Gretchen that the podcast she co-hosts, Lingthusiasm, is more directly responsible than anything else for me starting that degree a year ago!)

Ack, my friend said. "You still talk about it enough imo!" This made me laugh so much.

Yes, I am sure I do talk about linguistics enough that I don't blame anyone who actually thinks I am one. (It seems to be my inevitable topic of conversation when I'm drinking, too...)


Jul. 12th, 2018 07:17 am
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
Seeing this link to a tweet made me happy and filled me with chagrin for the same reason: because I had forgotten the word kenning.

Happy because I'd been trying to think of this word the other day and couldn't; chagrin because like the tweeter I love kennings. I learned about them in the Anglo-Saxon poetic tradition, which loves alliteration and riddles, and kennings are little phrases that are almost like tiny riddles, and often alliterative with surrounding words in the poem. Like calling the sea the "whale-way" or a body a "bone-house."

I think the love for these extends into modern anglophone culture to the extent that we love compound words like this (and we often attribute their existence or our desire for them to "there must be a German word for this" when of course Old English is way more similar to German than present-day English is).

And as the tweet alludes to, there's a fashion for calling snakes "danger noodles" and so on (the example of this that most sticks in my mind is a goth teenager renaming household objects: "Those aren’t Band-Aids, they’re SKIN LIES." "It’s not a freezer, it’s a DINNER SARCOPHAGUS").

Anyway I was trying to think of the word kenning the other day because I wanted to tell you all I'd thought of one. I was doing laundry and I dropped one of those detergent pod things on the floor. I looked at it there and thought oh I dropped a... and even to myself I didn't know what to call it.

My brain finished the thought with ...soap pillow.

I kinda like that. Soap pillow!
hollymath: (G)
I can't tell you how delighted linguists are that they've got their own version of That Dress. They've got a reason to talk to people about formants! I think this is the most fun the profession has had in interacting with the world since Arrival!

Whatever you hear, if you're interested at all in it I can really recommend Language Log's post on the sound that might be "yanny" and might be "laurel."

It starts by taking people really gently through some stuff that I've actually just started to learn, about the sounds involved in speech and how to read a spectrogram. (Handily I have my phonology/phonetics exam on Monday, so reading all the layperson-targeted articles about yanny/laurel totally counts as studying, right?)

Then it gets a bit eldritch.
You see some faint stripes that look like lighter-gray formants at those higher frequencies. Those shouldn't be there. Humans can't produce those
I heard the higher-frequency formant sequences when I first listened to this signal two hours ago and thought that they maybe were someone talking in the background. Then I thought "ERMERGERD, IT'S THE AUDIO VERSION OF THE RING.
It's not really a Lovecraftian madness-inducer, and as far as I know a girl isn't going to crawl out of your speakers and kill you for listening. But it is pretty weird.

It's a lovely blogpost, the best thing I've read on Language Log in a long time. Since a lot of you will understandably not care enough to read it, though, I just wanted to quote a couple of the notes at the end:
Speech is hard to understand. We might naively think it's easy to understand because we use it all the time (at least, folks who communicate in the oral/aural modalities do). Speech acoustics (and acoustics in general) are, in my thinking, not intuitive. Moreover, this body of knowledge doesn't build on other bodies of knowledge that most people have. When you learn about language in school, it's mostly about written language, not spoken. That's not me being snotty, but rather me saying that it must be hard to write about this kind of information for a broad audience, because it's three layers removed from what most people think about daily. Even disentangling the types of frequencies ('what is the lowest-frequency tuning fork?' vs. 'what are the frequencies of the loudest tuning forks?') takes a little bit of a conceptual leap. One of the reasons why speech is such a neat phenomenon is because there is so much work to be done still at the ground level. I hope that this phenomenon will inspire people to think more about speech science, experimental phonetics, and the nascent field called 'laboratory phonology'. Good places to start looking for work on these topics are www.acousticalsociety.org and www.labphon.org.
as someone whose primary job is to train people to be speech-language pathologists, consider this. Did you find listening to this audio sample maddeningly hard? Welcome to the daily world of people for whom speech perception is not always automatic. This includes people with even mild hearing loss, people with subtle auditory perception and processing problems that are associated with various learning disabilities (developmental language disorder, speech sound disorder, dyslexia, autism spectrum conditions), and even new second-language learners. The frustration that you might have felt listening to this signal is what many of these folks face on a daily basis when listening to something as seemingly simple as trying to identify speech in the presence of background noise. Turn your frustration into empathy and advocacy for those folks. Learn more at www.asha.org, and support your local speech-language pathologists and audiologists!


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