Sunday, December 07, 2014

Does language really matter?

People are talking today, rightly, about John McWhorter's piece in the NY Times, "Why save a language?".  But a similar question is treated beautifully in a piece by Ewa Czaykowska-Higgins and colleagues (University of Victoria) in the Times Colonist, "Language a strong symbol of cultural identity". It treats revitalization efforts in British Columbia. Here's the punchline:

Supporting the health of these languages is … one way to support and strengthen the well-being of individuals and communities, and to support education and economies.
Language is, in the relevant sense here, very local, and the focused perspective of this piece makes it particularly valuable. But especially relevant for us here in Wisconsin is the partnerships between linguists and communities in revitalization work.

It's important to have good answers when the why-save-a-language stuff comes up (and it does), but the hard work on the ground here is far more important.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Minnesota English in the news

Nice piece about Minnesota English by Andy Rathbun available here. Looks like he talked to about everybody you could on the subject, including some nice on-the-ground stories from speakers.

People like to compare Minnesota and Wisconsin, it seems like. Minnesota's thriving economically while Wisconsin sinks into oblivion these days and they're vastly better than Wisconsin at college hockey right now, but they don't have much going on this year in the NFL. But they're keep pace dialect-wise.

The Wisconsin Englishes Project folks are said to have something new in the works about vowels in Wisconsin and Minnesota ... stay tuned for that.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Endangered Languages Fund

Happy Giving Tuesday! The Endangered Language
Fund is sending around this:
GivingTuesday is today!!! What is GivingTuesday? We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 2, 2014, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give. The Endangered Language Fund depends on member contributions. You can contribute to ELF and become a member here. Thank you!
ELF supports endangered language preservation and documentation projects around the world, providing small grants to individuals, tribes, and museums.

Help them out!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The apostrophic War on the Holidays

I was fighting the urge to post about this piece on Slate, about how to pluralize your last name, and now officially give up. Anything that has this line is hard to resist reacting to:

It’s Christmas! Celebrate by not doing violence to the laws of pluralization.
Wow, I think, how do you do violence to the laws of pluralization? Wait ARE there laws of pluralization? Turns out there's outrage about 'stray apostrophes'. "Every year they assault me." Oh, about spelling. Got it. I won't review the green grocer's apostrophe here (but knock yourself out: here, for one.)

But plurals do get into the picture. (Say cheese.) Apparently there's deep worry about the Wolf family signing as 'The Wolves'. A card from the wolves? I'm cutting back on the eggnog at that point. They usually barely knock when they come to your house here in Wisconsin. That's what I call 'assault'.

Merry Thanksgiving and wishing you all lots of apostrophes for the holidays,
The Verb's

Found the image at a Walk in the Words. They have a nice little post on the topic.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Stumbling over and through Drink Wisconsinbly

Earlier this year, I started noticing t-shirts and hoodies bearing the phrase 'Drink Wisconsinbly', like in the image here. (And, yeah, it comes in green and gold as well as red and white.) Clever, right? But I don't read t-shirts all that closely and I saw it a few times before I realized that it doesn't work at all for me phonologically ... Wisconsably, yes, and Wisconsinably, I suppose, but not Wisconsinbly. I stumble over it every time, dead cold sober.

I'm seeing more and more of these shirts and hats (including the obligatory camo hat) and it now turn out that there's, of course, a website, "Proud home of the greatest drinking culture this fine nation has ever known." Cute, but I'm not sure that "We lacked an official call to arms" when it comes to drinking.

Looks like this thing is probably sponsored by the Tavern League of Wisconsin. If so, that may complicate the feel-good thing for some people ... among other things, the TLW is seen as keeping our drinking and driving laws lax, see here.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

New journal alert: Ampersand (Elsevier)

The world seems to be bursting at the seams with linguistics news ... Word of the Year stuff is cranking up, and the frenzy over mapping language continues (see this cool piece from WaPo) and I'm more puzzled than ever about how language works.

But there's also a new journal, Ampersand, that just published its first article. It's part of the new wave of open access scholarly publishing, so you can get to material even without library privileges. The first article is definitely worth reading ... nice take on a classic issue.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Big announcement from Mr. Verb -- Career change

Dear readers,
You should be the first to know. After literally decades of studying how language works and changes and what it tells us about the mind, I'm moving on. From this day forward, I'll be studying ancient mating habits.

Yes, linguistics has allowed me tremendous opportunities to help understand our state's and nation's past and present and to serve communities around the state. And our students often go on to work for businesses outside of the academy that help grow the economy.

But from this day forward, it's ancient mating habits. Mating habits of what, you ask? Whatever, I say.

Yours verbally,

Mr. V

PS: Read this.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Monday, August 04, 2014

Grad students take note ...

Be sure to credit xkcd when you use this approach. (And check out the roll over.)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Attack of the homophones!

Delightful story in the always delightful Wonkette about a guy who got fired for writing a blog post about homophones, because it sounded too ... icky.  It kind of sounded like another word, you might say.  Of course they had to use the tired old "cunning linguist" joke, but at least with a good graphic.

I did guffaw a bit (but daintily) when I saw their picture of an illustration the firee used in his blog post:

I mean, the very first one is a really bad example!  Tell me you don't look at it and say [rɛd] ~ [rijd].  And BTW, ant ~ aunt only works for some dialects.

It's just as well he got fired.  What might he have brought up next - polysemy???

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Interested in regional and social differences in speech? We are too!"

Just got an email with that subject line for a study about how people identify speakers of different dialects:
Our research team at the University of Wisconsin is recruiting subjects for research on how people perceive and identify dialects of languages people speak. If you’d like to participate, just visit this link, and you’ll hear speech samples and can answer questions about them, e.g. where the speakers are from and whether you think they have strong accents.  The survey will not work on a smartphone; please only use a laptop, desktop, or tablet.
If you have any questions about the study, feel free to contact the study team by emailing And you are welcome to contact us later if you would like to know about our findings as we learn more about the many ways our speech varies.
Could be fun.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Wisconsin Englishes update ...

Word on the street is that Wisconsin Englishes will be on Wisconsin Public Radio in western Wisconsin tomorrow, on Spectrum West with Al Ross.

And the Wisconsin Englishes Project website has been spiffed up a little ... various updates and a bunch of teaching materials, etc. You can check it out here.