This Week’s Language Blog Roundup

by Angela Tung on June 24, 2011

It’s Friday again, folks, which means it’s time for our Language Blog Roundup, in which we give you the highlights of our favorite language blogs and the latest in word news.

The ignoramus of the week award goes to the narrator of Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman’s biography video. Huntsman, the former Ambassador to China and Utah governor, speaks Mandarin Chinese and Hokkien, “whatever that is,” quips the folksly narrator. As the article helpfully notes, it’s “a Chinese dialect based in Taiwan, and spoken throughout Southeast Asia by about 47 million people.”

Ben Zimmer at Language Log commented that we “now face the fascinating prospect of having two major presidential candidates who can speak Asian languages with some degree of proficiency” (President Obama knows Indonesian, from his time in Jakarta), and Huntsman has talked about “the importance of learning foreign languages as a bridge to cross-cultural understanding.”  Robert Lane Greene at The Economist wrote about presidential language abilities, while the prolific Ben Zimmer noted some new words from this early stage of the election campaign.

The New York Times pondered Sarah Palin’s undeniable influence on the English language (“How’s that hopey-changey stuff working out for ya?”), while K International discussed how Twitter is changing language, and Stan Carey reviewed Guy Deutscher’s book, Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages.

Hopefully after you’ve read Through the Language Glass, or any book, you won’t have biblio-amnesia and forget what you’ve read, though chances are you will (here’s a whole list of book recommendations for you to forget).  In “Whatpocalypse Now?” Mark Liberman at Language Log talks about libfixes, in this case sportspocalypse.  Arnold Zwicky, coiner of the libfix term, has an extensive list.

Meanwhile, a pub brawl broke out in Penrhyndeudraeth, a Welsh village, when bar patrons in the predominantly Welsh-speaking area were forced by management to make their orders in English. We’re happy to report that the pub is now “back under Welsh-language friendly management“. In the Twitterverse a less violent, though no less passionate, disagreement occurred over accent marks.

The Virtual Linguist engaged in a taming of the various meanings of shrew, which originally referred to a “wicked, evil-disposed or malignant man,” and in “the 14th and 15th centuries. . .was applied to the Devil.”  The Wrdnrd enjoyed some sake terms, while Mark Peters over at Oxford University Press blog informed us he likes bullshit and other slang.

Stan Carey also wrote about Silbo Gomero and other whistled languages, while The Dialect Blog posted about Quebec English and California English and the “gay accent,” if there’s a such a thing.  Separated By a Common Language explored the American and British expressions, respectively, “it’s up to you” and “it’s down to you.”

Like Scots words? You can contribute them to an online dictionary.  Meanwhile the Squamish Nation published their first dictionary, “designed to help the Squamish learn their own language and bring it back from the brink of extinction.”

In our neck of the woods, medical students at the University of California, San Francisco are helping to bridge the language divide between doctors and patients through a “free mobile translation application” they invented, which “allows health care providers to play medical history questions and instructions out loud, so far in five languages.”

In fun stuff, the Oatmeal taught us the difference between “ie” and “eg”; the Phoenix New Times listed the best bands with punctuation or typographical marks in their names; and hey, did you know there’s a Language Museum? Flavorwire alerted us to the 30 harshest author on author insults in history. Our favorite? Some William Faulkner on Ernest Hemingway – and vice versa – action.

Finally, we wanted to give a special shout-out to our librarian friends as they kick off ALA 2011 in the Big Easy. Nowadays, librarians and libraries are often heading the way in terms of increasing access to information online. For instance, the National Library of Medicine released its “Turning the Pages” iPad app, which  “is free and features selections from three rare books from the Library’s collection.”  The Biodiversity Heritage Library helped to digitize and hosts part of Charles Darwin’s huge personal scientific library.  It was announced that the British Library and Google would be working together to digitize “about 250,000 texts dating back to the 18th Century.”  (Of course “the project will take some years to complete,” so until then, have some fun with the British Library’s interactive timeline on the history of the English language.)

The Atlantic went as far as to suggest that big media could learn a lot from the New York Public Library and what it has been doing around “innovative online projects,” such as “smart e-publications, crowdsourcing projects, and an overall digital strategy that shows a far greater understanding of the power of the Internet than most traditional media companies show.”

Speaking of an innovative online project, this week JK Rowling revealed Pottermore.com, an interactive website that will exclusively host the e-book formats of the Harry Potter series, as well as include a social networking element and additional background for the original stories.  The site goes live July 31, Harry’s birthday, though you can sign up now.

That’s it from here!  Tune in next week, same Wordnik-time, same Wordnik-channel.

Joe Clark June 24, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Someday you’ll subscribe to my Linguistics and Canadian English feeds. Meanwhile: “Wannabe Brit laments Canadian English.”

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