Friday, December 28, 2012

The "perfect" language?

Hello all!

Here is a little New Years present for ya:

Long but FASCINATING article in The New Yorker about a man who worked at the DMV and in his spare time, over the last three decades, invented a language he calls "Ithkuil".

From the article:
"'Natural languages are adequate, but that doesn’t mean they’re optimal,' John Quijada, [...] told me. In 2004, he published a monograph on the Internet that was titled 'Ithkuil: A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language.'"

"In his preface, Quijada wrote that his 'greater goal' was 'to attempt the creation of what human beings, left to their own devices, would never create naturally, but rather only by conscious intellectual effort: an idealized language whose aim is the highest possible degree of logic, efficiency, detail, and accuracy in cognitive expression via spoken human language, while minimizing the ambiguity, vagueness, illogic, redundancy, polysemy (multiple meanings) and overall arbitrariness that is seemingly ubiquitous in natural human language.'"
"Ithkuil has two seemingly incompatible ambitions: to be maximally precise but also maximally concise, capable of capturing nearly every thought that a human being could have while doing so in as few sounds as possible."

Here's the website with the actual language (pages on phonology, morphology, syntax etc.):

What do you guys think about this enterprise? I think it's a wonderfully cool philosophical and cognitive experiment. It's crazy to think about a society whose language would force people to make explicit, through their language, all the thoughts and feelings that we are currently able to intentionally hide (if aware of them), or unintentionally omit (if we are semi-conscious or unconscious of them). How would "politeness" change? How would humor? Politics? Dating/relationships/love lives?

What elements of the language do you think would be the first to morph or disappear if Ithkuil was adopted as a real means of communication?

Mind-boggling stuff. 

- Hannah

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"The odd accent of Tangier, VA"

For anyone interested in phonetics/phonology and historical linguistics/language change:

We came across this cool video clip featuring the unique accent of Tangier, VA:

Here is what Wikipedia has to say:

"The dialect of the small isolated island of Tangier in the Chesapeake Bay is significantly unique in that it seems relatively untouched by linguistic evolution. It has been hypothesized that this dialect is the closest resemblance there is to the dialect of the original colonists"

- Hannah and Jesse

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Phrontistery

For all of you word lovers --

I recently came across a really cool compendium of old and/or obscure English words that I wanted to share:

A sampling from the site:
alabandical adj 1656 -1775
barbarous; stupefied from drink
His behaviour after the party was positively alabandical.

alogotrophy n 1753 -1853
excessive nutrition of part of body resulting in deformity
Was he born with that huge head, or is it the result of alogotrophy?

brochity n 1623 -1678
projecting or crooked quality of teeth
His parents later regretted that they did not correct his brochity in his youth.

Unfortunately neither IPA/pronunciations nor etymology is included for the words, but if you're curious and able to access the Oxford English Dictionary Online, perhaps it also contains some of these wonderful terms.

- Hannah

Monday, November 21, 2011

Why some languages sound so fast

Interesting study on the speed of speech across different languages:,8599,2091477,00.html

I haven't tried to find the actual paper in Language. And although the conclusion of the article is thought-provoking, I think there are some questions that can be raised as to the methodology. First, as one of the commentors noted, they only tested 8 languages, then seemed to make the generalization that the results from testing those 8 languages applied to all of the world's languages. This may be a misrepresentation by the Time Science writer, and may not be present in the actual paper.

A second question I had regarding methodology was the specifics on how they categorized syllables as more or less information-dense. Again, the actual paper in Language might explain this, but the Time Science article didn't touch on it at all. Since "information density" must be a somewhat subjective semantic classification, and the study's conclusion hinges on such a classification, I'd be quite curious to learn what exactly the parameters were.

What do you guys think? Any other questions/doubts?
If anyone can find a freely accessible version of the actual paper, let me know and I will post it!

Happy Thanksgiving!


Sunday, September 18, 2011

LGSA Pub Nite!

Yes, it is happening!

When: Thursday, September 29th, 8p.m.
Where: Hog & Rocks, in the Mission
(3431 19th St, between San Carlos St & Mission St)

Hog & Rocks is newish and great... decent beer, wine and cocktails selection, as well as very yummy food for those of you (us) who may be hungry coming straight from class:

Open to all SFSU Linguistics & related MAs and faculty. Come drink and get to know your fellow students!

- Hannah

Monday, September 12, 2011

Linguistic Links: two unrelated but intriguing phenomena

So. I'm sure most if not all of you are already deeply buried in readings for your classes, but I wanted to post a couple links to some interesting goings-on in the linguistics world. Well worth checking out, even if the checking-out has to be postponed until Thanksgiving or winter break.

(I will be posting more links to articles etc. throughout the year...good for bookmarking...for that rainy/foggy/cold San Francisco day when the only thing you want to do is cradle a coffee and imbibe a fascinating snippet of linguistics research...)

The first one is called "Meet The Computer That Tells The 'That's What She Said' Joke Better Than You":
Read about robots and double entendre/humor identification!
(Scroll to just below the article to access the actual paper.)

The second is entitled "Recursion and Human Thought: Why the Piraha don't have numbers":
It's a talk with Daniel L. Everett (and accompanying full text) about recursion, and how the language of a tribe in the Brazilian Amazon challenges the Chomskian claim that recursion is the essential property of human language.



Friday, April 16, 2010

Paper Presentation: Positional Verbs of Teotitlán del Valle Zapotec

A message from Dr. Troi Carleton:
Keiko Beers, a former MA student in our program, will be presenting a paper on positional verbs of Teotitlán del Valle Zapotec at the upcoming WAIL conference in Santa Barbara. She will be giving us a preview on Tuesday in HUM (room, TBA) at 3:30. Anyone one going to Oaxaca this summer should make a special effort to be there. I encourage all of you to come. Thanks!