April 2020: expletive infixation and singular they

Hello!

We put up many posts on Mutual Intelligibility, the new newsletter that I'm producing with Lauren Gawne with resources for people who are teaching (or self-teaching) linguistics online (thanks to our contributors Liz McCullough and Katy Whitcomb!). Here are a few of them: 

I made lists on Bookshop.org about Linguistically Interesting Fiction and Pop linguistics books, if you're looking for distractions that also support independent bookstores. 

The Lingthusiasm main episode was an interview with Kirby Conrod about the grammar of singular they (see also the show notes and transcript). This month's Lingthusiasm bonus episode was about synesthesia - when letters have colours and time is a braid

We're officially giving out four LingComm Grants! If you have an idea for a linguistics communication project, make sure to apply by June 1st! 

Lauren Gawne gave a video talk about our joint work on emoji and gesture. We also continued to work on scripts for Crash Course Linguistics. 

A new Language Files video came out: Abso-b████y-lutely - Expletive Infixation, product of the ongoing collaboration between me, Tom Scott, and Molly Ruhl.

National Print/Top Online:

Podcasts

Local Print/Online:

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month's photo is of Because Internet in the Technology section of Elliott Bay Books, from back when I was there in February. Remember browsing bookstores? I’m glad so many indie bookstores are doing online delivery, but man, browsing. That was nice.

Thanks for coming along,

Gretchen

elliott bay books because internet technology section

March 2020: Mutual Intelligibility project for online linguistics teaching resources

Hello!

The large print edition of Because Internet is now a thing that exists, in case you need to explain how we talk online these days to a person in your life who likes large print and hasn't already gone for the resizable-text ebook. 

If you're in the Montreal area, I'd appreciate people's support these days for my local indie bookstore, Argo Bookshop, which did the book launch party and signed copies of Because Internet, and are now facing the loss of foot traffic like all small, "non-essential" business. Argo takes orders online (now including gift certificates and local delivery!) and everyone who goes to their events would really like to see them still be there after this! 

A lot of linguistics professors started scrambling to move their courses online this month, so I revised and updated my post with a very long list of linguistics youtube channels and other free online videos about linguistics, and did a couplethreads answering questions about further resources that people were looking for. 

The popularity of our existing linguistics resource roundups led Lauren Gawne and I to launch Mutual Intelligibility, a project to connect linguistics instructors with existing linguistics resources suitable for teaching online in a bite-sized, easy-to-digest fashion. (Also potentially of interest to linguistics fans who want a distraction from the news cycle.)

We're putting up thrice-weekly Mutual Intelligibility newsletters for the next while: on Mondays and Wednesdays short "3 Links" posts on a particular topic, and also on Fridays six longer Resource Guides diving deep into topics with a whole bunch of resources. We're fortunate to have Kate Whitcomb and Liz McCullough (different spelling, no relation) along to help us make them. Thanks to everyone who has sent in queries and suggestions! 

Read our first Mutual Intelligibility newsletter here, check out the archive so far, and put your email here to get future themed linguistics resource updates

Because Lauren Gawne is essentially my partner in all forms of business, we also spent a substantial amount of time this month working on scripts for Crash Course Linguistics, along with Jessi Grieser and the Crash Course team. (Nothing official to report yet but stay tuned!) 

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about the tricky question of what makes a language “easy” (Spoiler: it's not that straightforward).

The Lingthusiasm bonus episode was about teaching linguistics to yourself and other people -- how to articulate what you find so cool about linguistics (and other complex topics you may find yourself needing to explain). We also experimented with doing live listen-alongs of new Lingthusiasm episodes on Discord, and made a Lingthusiasm Turing Test, where you can see how well you can identify which Lingthusiasm quotes are real and which robo-generated. 

Lauren and I also announced that we're giving out a second LingComm Grant, thanks to the support of Claire Bowern's NSF grant. If you're a linguist with a linguistics communication idea that could use a $500 boost to make it, you can apply at lingcomm.org by June 1. (Also a reminder that there are no conditions on how the grant money is used, so if you need it to take care of some living costs so that you can allocate your time to a project, that is totally fine with us!)

This month's media hits: 

National Print/Top Online:

  • Kottke.orgfeature “Weird Internet Careers”– 3/9

  • Financial Timesmention 3/15

  • CNBC’s Make Itfeature “How not to sound like a jerk (and communicate effectively) over Slack and email, according to a linguistics expert”– 3/18

  • Mel Magazine – feature“WILL CORONAVIRUS FINALLY END THE SCOURGE OF ‘I HOPE THIS EMAIL FINDS YOU WELL’? ”– 3/26

  • The GuardianSolitary refinement: a lockdown survival guide – mention 3/27

  • HerCampus.com– roundup “3 Books To Read While Stuck At Home” – 3/30

Newsletters:

Podcasts:

Local Print/Online:

Selected tweets: 

Selected blog posts:

Obviously I didn't go anywhere this month, so this picture is of an emoji-Escher-esque exhibit in the Burke Museum of Natural History from last month in Seattle, which I went to for a science journalist "Night Out at the Museum" event at the AAAS. 

Thanks for coming along,

Gretchen

emoji ish symbols escher burke museum seattle aaas

February 2020: Comma-Con keynote, SocSci FooCamp, #AAASmtg, and visiting PanLex and the Internet Archive

Hello!

In February, I did a bunch of travel. (Remember when travel was a thing?)

First, I went to the Bay Area for Social Science FooCamp, where I gave a lightning talk about how the internet is changing language, and for Comma-Con, Facebook's internal conference for their writing team, where I gave a keynote about the future of language online.

While in SF, I also paid visits to the Wired mothership office, to PanLex at Long Now (where I got to see one of the original Rosetta Project disks), and to the Internet Archive's headquarters (where I took a short video of this art installation of the first full crawl of the web, 1997).

I then went to Seattle for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting. Highlights: a short talk about emoji, gesture, and internet linguistics, a thread from a SciComm workshop, the Language Science for Everyone booth, and meeting a bunch of people who have a similar sort of weird internet/scicomm job as I do but in different fields.

Looks like there won't be much travel in anyone's cards for the upcoming months, so I'm glad I got to see so many friends and meet new interesting people at the time.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about time and tense in languages. I also did a lingcomm thread about how we approached the topic.

The bonus episode is a robo-generated version of Lingthusiasm, where we asked last month's guest Janelle Shane to help us use a neural net to generate a new Lingthusiasm episodes based on the transcripts of our ~70 existing episodes, and then we performed the best snippets. Accuracy: low. Hilarity: high.

The Lingthusiasm Patron Discord server is also still going strong, and people have requested a linguistics basics book club channel, to read through an open access linguistics textbook supportively together. I did a thread about how this solves a big lingcomm problem I've been working on for years.

A new collab video with Tom Scott and Molly Ruhl went up, this time about the sentences humans can understand but computers can't.

This month's media list:

  • Tor.com– roundup “Jo Walton’s Reading List: January 2020”– 2/5

  • Medium – CommunicationHealth Bookclub –2/13

  • The Atlantic—feature “Corporate Buzzwords Are How Workers Pretend to Be Adults”– 2/19

  • Thrive Global—mention—2/21

  • Beachcomber– roundup “recommended reading”– 2/6

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month's image is the Rosetta Disk from when I visited PanLex, with a bonus sunset in the background.

Thanks for coming along,

Gretchen

rosetta disk panlex sunset

January 2020 news: a robo-generated episode of Lingthusiasm, Lingthusiasm Discord server, LingComm Grant, and xkcd hovertext

Hello!

I got namechecked in the hovertext of an xkcd comic this month, which may have resulted in more congratulatory messages from friends than when my book was reviewed in the New York Times, so, you know, it's good to see that everyone has their priorities on track.

My Wired article about code being based on English got translated into Japanese for Wired Japan. I can't actually read it, but I suppose that's the point. Here's the English version again if you missed it. 

Several exciting Lingthusiasm-related announcements! 

Our main episode on Lingthusiasm was an interview with Janelle Shane, who the Very Online might recognize as that person who gets neural nets to come up with weird names for ice cream flavours, colour terms, and other delightfully strange experiments. We talked about how machines understand language (and don't) and her excellent new book You Look Like A Thing And I Love You.

We also challenged Janelle to train a neural net on Lingthusiasm episode transcripts, which Lauren and I performed to great hilarity in a special bonus episode (technically February's bonus, but released at the same time because we didn't want to make you wait). Here's a short excerpt:

Gretchen: “We’re gonna start with the question of, ‘How do we spell “soup”?’ How do we spell soup?”
Lauren: “Yes. I had to say ‘soup’ in the first 10 minutes or so of this episode because I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh! I just can’t spell “soup.”’”
Gretchen: “Oh, my gosh! I just can’t spell ‘soup.’”
Lauren: “Oh, my gosh! I just cannot spell ‘soup.’”
Gretchen: “Oh, my gosh! I just cannot spell ‘soup.’”
Lauren: “Oh, my gosh! I do not know how to spell ‘soup.’”
Gretchen: “I know how to spell ‘soup.’”
Lauren: “Oh, my gosh! I have never been able to sell ‘soup.’”
Gretchen: “I’m sorry, Lauren, but I can’t spell ‘soup.’”
Lauren: “Oh, my gosh! I’m so sorry.”
Gretchen: “Thank you, Lauren.”
Lauren: “We are very sorry. This is a problem.”
Gretchen: “Sorry, Lauren.”
Lauren: “Can I borrow you some soup?”
Gretchen: “Yeah.”
Lauren: “And soup.”
Gretchen: “And, you know, I think it’s a good question.”
Lauren: The thing thinks we’re very into soup.
Gretchen: We’re in a soup loop.
Janelle: I love it.

As you may have noticed, GPT-2 did okay at figuring out the tone of a Lingthusiasm episode and the back-and-forth turntaking between me and Lauren, but as for the content...let's just say that we don't vouch for any of the linguistics in this particular episode. But we do vouch for the hilarity. 

Technically, January's bonus episode was about predicting the future of English, so you effectively get two bonuses this month! Make sure to also read Janelle's blog post about making the robo-generated Lingthusiasm episode.

We also made a Discord server (easy to use chatroom) for Lingthusiasm patrons, thus solving the problem of "Your podcast got me into linguistics, but now I don't have people to fan out about language with! Where do I make lingthusiastic friends?" Here's how to join.

Finally, we announced the LingComm Grant, a $500 (USD) grant that we're giving out to help another linguistics communication project, thanks to the support of the Lingthusiasm patrons! See the announcement thread or check out our new LingComm.org website for details.

I started the year by attending the Linguistic Society of America annual meeting, this year in New Orleans. As usual, I ran a lingwiki Wikipedia editathon and judged the Five Minute Linguist competition.

This month's media list, which is finally calming down again to something resembling normalcy:

National Print/Top Online:

Newsletters:

  • Math With Bad Drawings – roundup “Books I loved in 2019”– 1/6

  • Dan Pink’s Pinkcast newsletter – roundup “my 4 favorite books of 2019”– 1/7

Local Print/Online:

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month's photo is the obligatory screenshot of the hovertext in the xkcd comic containing my name.

Thanks for coming along!

Gretchen

ok okay xkcd

2019 Year in Review

Featuring Because Internet highlights and more internet linguistics

2019 was a very big year for me.

My book about internet language, which I'd been working on since 2014, finally came out into the world! Because Internet hit the New York Times bestseller list and was one of TIME's 100 books of 2019, plus tons of other media.

I wrote two op-eds for the New York Times and continued writing my Resident Linguist column at Wired, and we made two special video episodes of my podcast, Lingthusiasm.

Book: Because Internet

There were over 200 media hits for Because Internet in 2019, at final count. Here are a few highlights:

Short-form Writing

Wired Resident Linguist column:

I also co-wrote an academic article with Lauren Gawne, Emoji as Digital Gestures in the journal Language@Internet [Open Access].

Events, Talks, and Videos

In January, I did a lingwiki Wikipedia editathon and judged the 5 Minute Linguist competition, both at the LSA annual meeting.

In March, I gave a comic talk at the festival of Bad Ad-hoc Hypotheses (BAHfest) about why we should make English spelling more weird and confusing, which you can watch online. Recommended if you like Unicode jokes.

In May, I recorded the Because Internet audiobook! Here's a thread with my linguistic thoughts about the process and an audio sample of me reading the audiobook. 

In July, I went to the LSA Summer Institute in UC Davis, to do a lingwiki Wikipedia editathon focussing on articles about underrepresented languages, a talk about effective communication of linguistics to a general audience, and MC'd the 3 Minute Thesis event. Plus, I had book launch party in Montreal with Argo Bookshop!

In September, I did a book event in Toronto in conversation with Ryan North (of Dinosaur Comics fame), featuring a packed house with many old friends at The Ossington with Flying Booksn. I also went to XOXO fest in Portland, and did two talks about the book in Seattle, with Textio and the Seattle Review of Books and Elliott Bay Books.

In October, I was on a panel about busting language myths through podcasting at Sound Education in Boston. I was also on panels about Using Language for Worldbuilding (moderator) and “What did we say before we said Cool?” at Scintillation, a small speculative fiction convention in Montreal.

I now have a speaking reel! So if you've ever wondered what it's like when I'm giving a talk about internet linguistics, you can now watch a five minute highlights video here!

I collaborated on several Language Files videos with youtuber Tom Scott:

Lingthusiasm Podcast

We celebrated our third year of Lingthusiasm, a podcast that's enthusiastic about linguistics which I make with Lauren Gawne. New this year were two video episodes, about gesture and signed languages, so that you can actually see them!

Here are all 24 episodes from 2019:

  1. How languages influence each other - Interview with Hannah Gibson on Swahili, Rangi, and Bantu languages

  2. The verb is the coat rack that the rest of the sentence hangs on

  3. Why do we gesture when we talk? (also a video episode!)

  4. Pop culture in Cook Islands Māori - Interview with Ake Nicholas

  5. You heard about it but I was there - Evidentials

  6. Why spelling is hard - but also hard to change

  7. Emoji are Gesture Because Internet

  8. Putting sounds into syllables is like putting toppings on a burger

  9. Villages, gifs, and children - Interview with Lynn Hou on signed languages in real-world contexts (also a video episode!)

  10. Smell words, both real and invented

  11. Many ways to talk about many things - Plurals, duals, and more

  12. How to rebalance a lopsided conversation

Bonus episodes on Patreon:

  1. Naming people (and especially babies)

  2. How the internet is making English better (liveshow from Melbourne)

  3. Adapting your language to other people

  4. How do radio announcers know how to pronounce all the names? With guest Tiger Webb

  5. Talking with dogs, horses, ravens, dolphins, bees, and other animals

  6. North, left, or towards the sea? With guest Alice Gaby

  7. Words from your family - Familects!

  8. Welcome aboard the metaphor train!

  9. Behind the scenes on Because Internet (Q&A)

  10. Jobs, locations, family, and invention - Surnames

  11. Reading fiction like a linguist

  12. The sounds of sheep, earthquakes, and ice cream - Onomatopoeia

We also made new Lingthusiasm merch, including items with the best esoteric Unicode symbols on themadding socks, mugs, and notebooks in all our prints (IPA, tree diagrams, and esoteric symbols), onesies saying Little Longitudinal Language Acquisition Project, greeting cards that say “thanks” or “congrats” on them in IPA; the pun-tastic “glottal bottle” and liquids for your liquids bottle/mug; and shirts/mugs/bags that say Linguistic “Correctness” is just a lie from Big Grammar to Sell More Grammars. (See photos of all the Lingthusiasm merch here.)

I celebrated my seventh year blogging at All Things Linguistic and wrote a series on Weird Internet Careers.

[Substack says that this full Year in Review post is too long for email, so if you’d like to see the twitter thread and blog post highlights, see the web version here.]

Missed out on previous years? Here are the summary posts from 20132014201520162017, and 2018. If you’d like to get a much shorter monthly highlights newsletter via email, with all sorts of interesting internet linguistics news, you can sign up for that at gretchenmcc.substack.com.

Thanks for coming along,

Gretchen

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