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Richard Nordquist

Frankenstorm, Google Ngrams, and Linguistic Universals: Language in the News

By October 31, 2012

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It's time for our end-of-month roundup of language-related items in the news--from the linguistically profound to the lexically ridiculous.

  • A Raging Blend: "Frankenstorm"
    CNN didn't like the nickname, saying that it "trivializes" a dangerous weather system. It banned it from CNN broadcasts. But there's no stopping "Frankenstorm." As this beast "barrels" up the coast and gets ready to "slam" the East Coast, "Frankenstorm" is also taking the English language by storm. . . . Read more
    (Eric Wemple, "Hurricane Sandy: 'Frankenstorm' Floods the English Language." The Washington Post, October 29, 2012)

  • Grammatical Annotations in Google's Ngram Corpus
    Back in December 2010, Google unveiled an online tool for analyzing the history of language and culture as reflected in the gargantuan corpus of historical texts that have been scanned and digitized as part of the Google Books project. . . . As of today, the Ngram Viewer just got a whole lot better. . . . [T]he most exciting change for the linguistically inclined is that all the words in the Ngram Corpus have now been tagged according to their parts of speech, and these tags can also be searched for in the interface. . . . Read more
    (Ben Zimmer, "Bigger, Better Google Ngrams: Brace Yourself for the Power of Grammar." The Atlantic, October 18, 2012)

  • New Research on Linguistic Universals
    In a new study, researchers from the University of Rochester and Georgetown University believe the brain's tendency toward efficient communication is an underlying reason that many human languages are comparable. Over and over, linguists have identified nearly identical grammatical conventions in seemingly unrelated languages scattered throughout the globe. . . . Read more
    (Rick Nauert, "Language Mirrors Brain's Desire for Clarity." Psych Central, October 17, 2012)

  • The Language Skills of Babies
    Babies are born ready to learn any language in the world, and they have linguistic super-powers that many adults don't. . . . But around 10 months old, babies typically stop being able to make these distinctions. As they get better at perceiving a native language, they are less sensitive to non-native sights and sounds, says Janet Werker, psychologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. . . . Read more
    (Elizabeth Landau, "Does Mom's Depression Affect Baby's Language?" CNN.com, October 8, 2012)

  • Another Round of the Language Wars
    The labels "prescriptivist" and "descriptivist" are increasingly unhelpful. One could defensibly call me a descriptivist. I just describe something that dogmatic egalitarians don't want described: the linguistic choices of a fully informed, highly literate but never uptight user of language. . . . Read more
    (Bryan A. Garner and Robert Lane Greene, "Which Language Rules to Flout. Or Flaunt?" The New York Times, September 27, 2012)

  • The Story of Webster's Third
    The dictionary commonly known as Webster's Third--its full title is Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language--was published in 1961 after years of assiduous preparation and immediately ran into a storm of controversy that its editors could not have anticipated. . . . Read more
    (David Yardley, "The Story of Ain't: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published by David Skinner." The Washington Post, October 6, 2012)

  • Mitt Romney's English
    My favorite moment of the 2012 presidential debates came at the beginning of the final confrontation Monday night. . . . Republican nominee Mitt Romney went first and began with a typical stumbling attempt to be charming, almost successful in its very failure. . . . Then he moved into the mode where he sounds like a college freshman padding a term paper. . . . Read more
    (Michael Kinsley, "Mitt Romney vs. the English Language." Bloomberg.com, October 24, 2012)

  • The Language of Global Business
    With China's growing economic might, is Mandarin becoming the preferred language of business? Not anytime soon, says a newly released study. Instead, English will maintain and grow its dominance, moving from "a marker of the elite" in years past to "a basic skill needed for the entire workforce, in the same way that literacy has been transformed in the last two centuries from an elite privilege into a basic requirement for informed citizenship." . . . Read more
    (Dorie Clark, "English--The Language of Global Business?" Forbes, October 26, 2012)

  • Exploring the Power of Language Through Poetry
    Grammar and persuasive argument are essential skills for any student. But if someone is telling you that there is a set and finite way to construct a sentence--and you're a poet--you will naturally get a little annoyed. And you will be justified in feeling this way, because it's simply not true. . . . Read more
    (Dorothea Lasky, "What Poetry Teaches Us About the Power of Persuasion." The Atlantic, October 13, 2012)

  • Britishisms in American English
    There is little that irks British defenders of the English language more than Americanisms, which they see creeping insidiously into newspaper columns and everyday conversation. But bit by bit British English is invading America too. . . . Read more
    (Cordelia Hennlethwaite, "Britishisms and the Britishisation of American English." BBC News Magazine [UK], September 26, 2012)

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