Shared posts

06 Dec 07:13

linguist-breakaribecca: phonaesthemes: THOSE ARE BACK VOWELS...




They’re coming for the vowel chart!!!

idk I mean those mid-central vowels are pretty…curvaceous

03 Dec 14:10

doughtier: ricekrispyjoints: nerdyqueerandjewish: captainlordau...








Jewish mood

It’s almost that time of the year!




xanike made me ascend out of the physical realm and into an astral plane

Honka and Xanike are on opposite sides of the spelling spectrum

the answer to “how do you spell Hanukkah” is “with a different alphabet”

Gather round, my children, and let me tell you how to spell this pesky word.

I’ll start by what everybody agrees on in the spelling: the vowels. Everybody agrees that they go -a-u-a- (I’m using the dashes to denote possibly missing consonants for now).

You may have noticed the 2 different spellings of The Word in Hebrew above:

  1. חֲנֻכָּה: the original word, in which the /u/ portrayed in  נֻ  (/nu/) is a short one. Biblical Hebrew distinguished between long vowels, short vowels, and half-sized vowels. Due to Biblical Hebrew syllable-structure shenanigans, the /u/ is short.
  2. חנוכה: the modern way of writing the word. The נו (/nu/) would have denoted a long vowel in Biblical Hebrew … but Modern Hebrew does not distinguish vowels by length.  
  3. The first /a/ (in  חֲ) used to denote a half-length vowel. Since vowel-length doesn’t mean anything anymore in Hebrew, both /a/ are equal.

Therefore, in Modern Hebrew,  חנוכה =  חֲנֻכָּה.

That covers the vowels. Next, the bits where everybody who knows even a bit of transliteration would agree on:

  1. There’s only 1 /n/. That means it’s -anu-a-.
  2. There are 2 /k/ after the /u/. That’s because the Hebrew is  כָּ. You see the little dot in the middle? That used to mean that the sound used to be geminated. We don’t really observe gemination in Modern Hebrew anymore, except that in some letters (v, f, ch) the little dot (dagesh) denotes something very important.
    • In case you don’t want to double the K, because the language that you’re using, AKA English, that doubling means absolutely nothing, you can skip it.

This leaves us with -anuk(k)a- as a definite spelling so far.

This is where things get murky. Because you see … this is when the transliteration rules start falling apart by way of a long tradition of transliteration as well phonology rules across several languages in the duration of about 2000 years.

The beginning ח: is it h, kh, or ch? Frankly, it could be any of these.

  • KH: This is the transliteration of a sound in Hebrew that no European language has or has had. Standard Modern Hebrew doesn’t have it anymore, but it’s still considered an acceptable, very common variance of the consonant ח. In linguistics, it’s written as [ ħ ], and in Semitic studies, it’s written as ḥ (an h with a little dot below it). You can listen to it [here on Wikipedia]. This is the classical, old-fashioned, origins-faithful spelling … which looks very very wrong: Khanukka-. Weird, right? Still correct.
  • If you listened to the recording, you might think it sounds between an /h/ and an /x/ (as in ‘ch’ in the Scottish Gaelic word for lake ‘loch’), depending on which sound you preferred.
  • H is how the Greeks transliterated the letter ח in the Bible (such as in the second h in the word ‘Bethlehem’)
  • CH is how Standard Modern Hebrew pronounces via the Ashkenazi pronunciation of Yiddish.
  • So if you spell it with a KH, you’re an out-of-date traditionalist; if you spell it with an H, you’re faithful to the name of the holiday in your own language, and if you spell it with a CH you’re faithful to the Standard Modern Hebrew pronunciation (and probably have family who speaks either Hebrew or Yiddish).

Possible, correct options so far:

  • Khanuk(k)a-
  • Hanuk(k)a-
  • Chanuk(k)a-

Which leads us to the very last dash! Is there an H at the end? Should there be an H at the end?

  • This is where it gets the most complicated, because it requires some background in Hebrew noun-noun constructs.
  • The word ‘ חנוכה ‘ is an actual word in Hebrew that means ‘inauguration, dedication, consecration‘ according to (the Hebrew-English-Hebrew web translator). Since Hebrew is a gendered language, The Word is a feminine noun. A lot of feminine nouns in Hebrew end with what can be directly transliterated as ‘-ah’, or, in Hebrew, a word-final ‘ ה ‘ (the name of this letter is either He or Hey, depending on how much official Hebrew education the person had).
  • This Hey is silent. It hanging around does not mean there’s an /h/ sound in the word. All it does is tell the user of the language that they should pay attention to this word, because in noun-noun constructs, the Hey becomes a Tav (or Taf). This was ‘inauguration of [noun]’ is חנוכת-בית (khanukkat-bayit in pefect translit; ‘bayit’ is ‘house’ or ‘home’).
  • So, it’s really up to you whether to add that last H or not.

What you should be careful of, probably, is mix-and-matching. Khanuka is just outright weird, because you’re mixing a bunch of translit styles – going from extreme translit mode (KH) to mild mode (one K, no H). Chanuka also looks strange, because the CH is also somewhat strict-ish translit.

This all means that these are all the correct spellings in English, from a Hebrew standpoint, from most-strict transliteration to the most permissive:

  • Khanukkah
  • Chanukkah
  • Hanukkah
  • Chanukka (h is silent, double-k still serves a phonetic purpose that I didn’t bother going much into)
  • Hanukah
  • Hanukka
  • Hanuka (as much as it makes me twitch)

You’re welcome, and may you all confuzzle everybody you come across!  🎉

03 Dec 14:07


by Mark Liberman

Wrong ethically? Practically? Legally?

No — according to this t-shirt, polyamory is wrong morphologically:

The morphological picture is actually more complex — the OED gives

Etymology: < poly- comb. form + classical Latin amor (see amour n.) + -y suffix, after polyamorous adj.
In form polyamoury probably after French amour amour n.

And poly- is originally from Greek, but was enthusiastically borrowed into Latin, French, and German. English poly- words have been borrowed from those languages — "combining chiefly with second elements ultimately of Latin or Greek origin". As the OED explains:

Etymology: < ancient Greek πολυ-, combining form (in e.g. πολύγωνος polygon adj.) of πολύς , πολύ much (in plural, πολλοί , πολλαί , πολλά many) < an ablaut variant (o -grade) of the Indo-European base of fele adj. Compare classical Latin, post-classical Latin, and scientific Latin poly-, French poly- (formations in which are found from at least the late 17th cent.), German poly- (formations in which are found from at least the early 19th cent.).

Attested earliest in the Old English period in the classical Latin loan polytrichon n., and subsequently in the late 14th and early 15th centuries in loans from Latin and French (polyp n., polypus n., polymite adj.), and in the 16th and 17th centuries in adaptations of Latin, Greek, and French words (e.g. polygamy n., polysyllabe n.), which become very frequent from the late 18th cent. onwards, chiefly in scientific vocabulary. Occasional formations within English are found from the beginning of the 17th cent. (e.g. polytragic adj., polytopian n. at sense 1), but the bulk of English formations date from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Compare multi- comb. form, which shows considerable semantic overlap with poly- comb. form, although it does not show the specialized use in chemistry (see sense 2). Compare also mono- comb. form.

Combining chiefly with second elements ultimately of Greek or Latin origin.

Restrictions of that kind ("Combining chiefly with…") are one of the many quasi-regular aspects of morphology, which might stand as a metaphor for the quasi-regularity of morality.

[h/t Fritz Newmeyer — I'm not sure who gets credit for the t-shirt.]

Update — Ben Zimmer points us to Stan Carey's terrific 2011 blog post, "The monstrous indecency of hybrid etymology", as well as the source of the t-shirt.

30 Nov 10:41

"Why do Greek, Czech, Hungarian, and Swedish, with their 8 to 13 million speakers, have Google..."

Why do Greek, Czech, Hungarian, and Swedish, with their 8 to 13 million speakers, have Google Translate support and robust Wikipedia presences, while languages the same size or larger, like Bhojpuri (51 million), Fula (24 million), Sylheti (11 million), Quechua (9 million), and Kirundi (9 million) languish in technological obscurity?

Swedish, Greek, Hungarian, and Czech have a wealth of language resources, created one human at a time over centuries. They’re the languages of entire nation-states, with national TV and radio recordings that can be used as the foundation for text-to-speech models. Their speakers have the kind of disposable income that makes media companies translate popular novels and subtitle foreign movies and TV shows. They’re found in countries that tech companies imagine their customers might be living in or might at least visit on holiday, meaning it’s worth localizing interfaces and adding them as translation options. They have regularized spelling systems and dictionaries that can be rolled into spellcheckers and predictive text models. They have highly literate speakers with internet access who can contribute to projects like Wikipedia. (Speakers who can even, in the case of Swedish, create a bot to automatically make basic Wikipedia articles for rivers, mountains, and other natural features.)

Language resources don’t just appear. People have to decide to create them, and those people need to be fed and watered and educated and housed and supported, whether that’s by governments or by companies or by the kind of personal wealth that lets individuals take on time-consuming intellectual hobbies. Creating parallel corpora and other language resources takes years, if it happens at all, and cost tens of millions of dollars per language.

- Gretchen McCulloch, The widely-spoken languages we still can’t translate online. (My latest article as Wired’s Resident Linguist.)
24 Nov 00:42

Black Friday Sale at the Arrant Pedantry Store

by Jonathon Owen

It’s Black Friday (ugh), but from now through Sunday, everything at the Arrant Pedantry Store is 15 percent off (yay!). Now’s a great chance to get a word-nerdy shirt for that special someone in your life (or for yourself). Just use the code CYBER18 at checkout. Or if you wait until Monday, you can get 15 percent off and free shipping, which I think is the best sale that Spreadshirt has ever offered. Use the code CYBERSALE on Monday to get that deal.

And don’t forget that you can customize products. Just hit the Customize button, find the design you want, and put it on whatever product you want. You can put Battlestar Grammatica on an iPhone case or I Could Care Fewer on a tote bag.

Check it out!

21 Nov 07:42

In Mapping, Size Matters

by Evan Stewart

Recent news on climate change is deeply troubling, and people around the world are mobilizing to call for immediate action. This unique global problem means we all have to get better at understanding global inequality, but the first step to this might just be getting a more accurate view of the globe itself.

I love this classic clip from The West Wing about the problems with the Mercator Projection—the way we typically draw maps of the world.

About a month ago, data scientist Neil Kaye made a popular animation correcting the Mercator Projection to countries’ true sizes. Watch how dramatically the northern hemisphere shrinks, and the points from Cartographers for Social Equality seem even more serious.

One of the most striking parts of this animation for me is that many of the regions that are most vulnerable to extreme early changes don’t shrink much. If it is true that people attribute importance to size, these maps are an important reminder that we may not have the best mental pictures for thinking about both old trends in economic and political inequality and new trends in climate risk.

Evan Stewart is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Minnesota. You can follow him on Twitter.

(View original at

21 Nov 07:26

“I made this for my phonetics class, and my students insisted I...

“I made this for my phonetics class, and my students insisted I share it online. So, here it is.“ -Rory Turnbull on twitter

13 Nov 14:53

Sometimes I want to get a tattoo of the word “strength” just so...

Sometimes I want to get a tattoo of the word “strength” just so I can make this joke over and over. 

-Why’d you get that? 
-In English, it means “strength”

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

12 Nov 21:00

Booth viva-ed

by manling

Eee, I'm in that Old & Middle English class and Hannah is SO GREAT! She's good at accessibility, remembers our names, her lectures are a bright spot in this slog of a semester.

Congratulations to Hannah Booth on passing her viva! Hannah has successfully defended a dissertation on “Expletives and clause structure: syntactic change in Icelandic” last Friday. The PhD was supervised by Kersti and Tine, with John as a panel members. The examiners were Helge Lødrup (Oslo), and our own Delia.

We have come to know Hannah not only as a promising researcher, but also a popular colleague, as she’s been lecturing in Old and Middle English this semester. Sadly to us, this is now coming to an end, as Hannah’s off to Konstanz next term, where she’ll be working with Miriam Butt and Christin Schätzle on a project developing computational methods and visualisation techniques for the study of language change. Konstanz has absorbed so much of Manchester linguistics talent lately that the local supermarkets would be well advised to stock Lancashire cheese and Cloudwater beer, while Manchet is considering having its own Kontanz spin-off. This should keep Hannah from getting too homesick, so she can enjoy her new research.


Featured image shows Hannah celebrating her result with her supervisor and examiners.

12 Nov 16:33

The Rainbow Connection

by Evan Stewart

Political drama over the past few years has driven us to take a new look at bridging social division. Pundits worry about filter bubbles, cultural enclaves, and the way “identity politics” might be driving us apart into groups that understand each other less and less. The theory assumes we do a lot of identity policing—we figure out who we are, anchor that on who we are not, and spend a lot of time and effort policing that boundary to keep other people out. If everyone self-sorts into similar identity communities, it can be harder to connect in a diverse society.

But is that really what’s happening? Sociologists know that identities are a key part of cultural membership, but we often complain about “identity politics” for certain groups and ignore it for others. Now, new research shows how focusing on one kind of identity can bring people together, rather than pushing them apart.

Photo Credit: Ted Eytan, Flickr CC

In a new study published in Sociological Science, Adam Horowitz and Charles Gomez look at “identity override”—a process where a shared identity can lead people to bridge other social divides. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent to Adult Health, they find evidence for an interesting case of identity override: people who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (GLB) have more friendships and relationships with people from different racial groups.

Identity was the key factor here; people who reported same-sex relationships but didn’t identify as LGB didn’t show the same patterns. Rates of interracial relationships also held after the authors controlled for other demographics and whether respondents lived in urban areas. Racial segregation still persists in the United States, but it looks like coming out and coming together encourages interracial social ties that can overcome some of these barriers. Horowitz and Gomez write,

the cross-racial nature of GLB membership allows it to override the otherwise high borders between people without such a second salient identity.

This research provides a little bit of good news for a world that seems full of conflict. In this case, there’s some evidence that investing in an identity doesn’t always mean cutting other people off.

Evan Stewart is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Minnesota. You can follow him on Twitter.

(View original at

08 Nov 13:29

thegaylinguist: “what is a linguist?” linguists: a person who studies language at a meta level; a...


“what is a linguist?”

linguists: a person who studies language at a meta level; a language scientist

average non-linguist: a walking dictionary, encyclopedia, spelling/grammar-checker, & translator

amazon, google, microsoft: a data scientist specializing in ontology

05 Nov 15:05

sp: lana del rey fr: laine du roi port: lâ do rei cat: llana del...

sp: lana del rey 
fr: laine du roi
port: lâ do rei
cat: llana del rei
it: lana del re
rom: lâna regelui 

vulgar latin: *lana dẹ (ẹllọ) rẹgʲe 

classical latin: lāna rēgis 

proto-italic: *wlānā rēges 

proto-indo-european: *h₂wĺ̥h₁neh₂ h₃réǵs

-Matthew Boutilier‏ on twitter

05 Nov 15:01

Cane Accessories

by BlondeHistorian

Ironically, visual impairment is often an invisible disability. That is until you use a white cane.

Thinking back, I recognise how many coping mechanisms I had developed to compensate for the absence of a mobility aid like a white cane. From my slow penguin shuffle walk, to my tippy toe taps to feel my way down the stairs, I was constantly trying to adapt to the absence of something I really needed.

Part of the reason I resisted a white cane for so many years was that it was such an obvious symbol of my disability.

I had been given a symbol cane as a teenager. A symbol cane is a short cane that you hold to indicate you have a visual impairment. It isn’t a mobility aid and in my honest, and slightly controversial opinion, it’s a bit useless. They’re like a longish white conductor’s baton, and so most people don’t really seem to understand what they are.

As a teenager I massively resisted using the symbol cane, the only concession I would make for my mum was that I would get it out at road crossings. However, I was relentlessly teased about it by my school friends so it was shoved at the back of my wardrobe for 10 years.

18 months ago I once again tried to use a symbol cane. The anxiety of commuting through central London was causing me near daily panic attacks. I was desperate and the stupid little white stick was all I had. It made a bit of a difference, some people did move out of my way, if they bumped into me I could at least show them the stick and they would be more understanding.

Amy's legs stood on a pavement. I'm wearing a black skirt and black pumps. I'm holding a long white cane across my body.

As I’ve talked about in other posts, I finally reached out and received a lot of support from Guide Dogs, including mobility training using a long white cane.

It was a big decision to become a cane user and it was overwhelming sometimes. There was a lot to learn! From how to hold it properly, to the width of the arc, the rhythm and pace I had to adopt, as well as learning how to interpret the information through the vibrations and sounds. Luckily, I had lots of support from a fantastic orientation and mobility specialist who equipped me with all the tips and tricks of the trade.

Although my cane almost immediately made a huge difference to my confidence and independence, embracing it wasn’t easy.

After so many years of ‘able-performing’ or pretending I didn’t have a disability, suddenly I had this great big long white symbol of my blindness.

I had to constantly explain why I suddenly needed a cane to colleagues, friends and family. There was also the shock of dealing with all of the new experiences of being visibly disabled in public (yes I mean the grabbing). I was tempted to go back to my penguin shuffle and just hope I didn’t have a bad fall on the way to work.

Sometimes I felt defined by my cane. I was “the blind lady” rather than Amy.

I decided the solution was to show my personality through my cane. I stumbled across the idea to personalise my cane during training.

The long cane is held out in front of the middle of your body and swept from side to side. However, my arm kept drifting and I was missing information on my left side. I came up with the idea of attaching a pom-pom to my cane elastic handle. If my cane drifted too much to one side, the pom-pom started bouncing off my leg and I knew to correct myself.

Soon I’d perfected my cane sweep, but everyone loved the pom-pom so much I kept it. Now I have a whole collection of cane accessories! From glitzy pom-poms, to fluffy birds, rainbow puffs, Christmas decorations and even a plush narwhal, my cane always has something bright & tactile hanging from the handle.

A glittery pink bird pom pomp A letter A in gold fabric with pom poms down one side of the A, it's on a key chain. A long cane rests against a staircase cupboard. It has tinsel around the handle and a robin with a christmas hat decoration hanging from the handle.

My cane even has its own bespoke stripy pink carry case, made by a friend. As I currently have pink hair, I’m trying to co-ordinate my cane accessories to match!

A white cane on a table. It's resting on a slender fabric case. The case is pink and stripey with a bright pink handle. The cane is folded and a rainbow coloured pom pom is resting on the handle.

My first, and current, cane is RNIB standard issue. It’s a bit chunky and old fashioned compared to the swish light ones my friends have. I imagine it’s like the slightly rubbish first car you learned to drive in – you know there are shinier faster models, but you are comfortable with your old reliable banger.

My accessories have given my cane a bit of character, while still being the obvious symbol of visual impairment. Some people like different coloured canes, and one day I do fancy getting a cane with a coloured handle. However, I work in central London and regularly travel through busy crowds. I need people to notice my cane and understand quickly what it means.

It’s been a complicated journey, but now I’m proud of my cane. After all, it’s the symbol of my independence and confidence.

Shot from above. Amy is holding her cane, dangling from the elastic handle is a bright coloured unicorn multi coloured pom pom and a soft plush blue narwhal. A narwhal is a whale with a unicorn horn.

Plus, it looks pretty cool…

This blog was inspired by a piece originally written for #WhiteCaneAwarenessDay & posted by London Vision

02 Nov 11:12

Punctuation takes on the distracted boyfriend meme. 

Punctuation takes on the distracted boyfriend meme. 

28 Oct 07:53


by Mark Liberman

Jonathan Lundell writes about a passage in yesterday's Matthew Shepard memorial:

It was lovely and moving, especially Bishop Gene Robinson’s homily, but I couldn’t help remarking his folk-seminarian (I assume) etymology for “anamnesis”. He explained it as “an-“, against, and “amnesia”, forgetting. Seminarians would learn it in the context of holy communion. I can see the appeal of that explanation. It leads to the right sense of the word, or close enough, and is more poetic, less clinical somehow, than ana-mnsesis would be.

As the OED explains, the etymology of anamnesis is indeed

 < Greek ἀνάμνησις remembrance, n. of action < ἀναμνα- stem of ἀναμιμνήσκειν to remember, < ἀνά back + μνα- call to mind, < μένος mind.

That's the ana- of anaphor (= back + carry), analogy (= back + speech), anaphylaxis (= back + protection), anapest (= back + strike). Not the an- of anarchy (= no + rule), anechoic (= no + echo), etc.

But as Jonathan says, maybe "no + forgetting" is a better label for (what the OED calls) "That part of the Eucharistic canon in which the sacrifice of Christ is recalled and pleaded" than "back + thinking".

It's worth noting that Wiktionary and Merriam Webster both omit the liturgical sense.

26 Oct 21:38

curlicuecal: so I’ve been having fun playing with ConceptNet, a semantic network designed to help...


so I’ve been having fun playing with ConceptNet, a semantic network designed to help computers understand language.

Here’s what the robots have figured out about cats:

25 Oct 04:52

Pale Red Dot… for now

by Phil Plait

I do so love high-resolution full-color enormous images of galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters.

But there are times when a low-res, mostly black, and maybe-kinda-medium-sized snapshot fills my heart with wonder.

Such is the case now. Witness this unassuming photo, and let your imagination soar.

Mars (circled) as seen by MarCO-B, a very tiny spacecraft on its way to the Red Planet. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech Zoom In

Mars (circled) as seen by MarCO-B, a very tiny spacecraft on its way to the Red Planet. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

That is an image taken by MarCO-B, aka “Wall-E,” and it shows Mars. You can see the planet as a simple red dot, unresolved, an entire world literally too far away and too small to appear as anything but a point of light.

But that will change, and very soon.

MarCO-B is one of two spacecraft (along with its redundant twin, MarCO-A, nicknamed EVE, naturally) that comprise Mars Cube One, a mission to Mars. Launched along with NASA’s InSight lander on May 5, 2018, they have been cruising for all these months toward the Red Planet, and after traveling for 400 million km are now nearing their target.

This image — the first one of Mars by the spacecraft — was taken from a distance of about 8 million kilometers, a fair distance, about 20 times the distance of the Moon from the Earth. It was taken using the MarCO-B’s wide-field camera, which is why Mars is just a dot. At that distance, Mars’s 6,800 km diameter appears to be just 0.03° across (roughly 2 arcminutes, where the Moon is 30 arcminutes wide as seen from Earth). If you were sitting on MarCO-B (which would be uncomfortable, as you’ll see in a moment), Mars would just barely be discernible as a disk, maybe if you squinted.

The wide-field camera has a 752 x 480 pixel detector on it, and sees 138° across the diagonal; that means Mars is far smaller than a pixel wide. For the moment. The spacecraft are still on their way, headed for a rendezvous on Nov. 26. Given that timing, Mars will stay a dot in this camera until just a day or two before MarCO-B passes the planet.

Mars (circled) as seen by MarCO-B, along with various parts of the spacecraft labeled. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech Zoom In

Mars (circled) as seen by MarCO-B, along with various parts of the spacecraft labeled. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

But there’s also a narrow-field camera, which has a 6.8° diagonal view; to it, Mars is already a couple of pixels wide. However, the cameras are mounted on opposite sides of the spacecraft, and since this was a test pointing engineers used the wide camera to maximize their chance of success. We’ll get better views of Mars soon enough.

All this aside, there are a couple of reasons this image struck me so. For one thing, MarsCO-B and its twin are small. They’re CubeSats, a bit like LEGO spacecraft, assembled from smaller, versatile cube-shaped units — in this case, six of them. Each MarCO is a rectangular parallelepiped just 10 x 20 x 30 centimeters on a side. I’ve had plates of nachos bigger than that. To be able to fling one, let alone two, of these minisats into space all the way to Mars is a feat unto itself.

Artwork depicting the pair of Mars Cube One satellites on their way to Mars. Credit: NASA Zoom In

Artwork depicting the pair of Mars Cube One satellites on their way to Mars. Credit: NASA

But the bigger reason is what they mean. They’ll be used as backup communication relays for InSight, the spacecraft that will land on Mars and which comprises the main goal of the mission. A previous spacecraft, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, will be used as the primary communication relay, but the MarCO twins will also be used to see if they can be used to perform such a task. They have a flat rectangular antenna on one face that will be used to send telemetry and images back to Earth during the rendezvous.

The Earth and Moon from a million kilometers away, seen by Mars Cube One-B on May 8, 2018 (annotated). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech Zoom In

The Earth and Moon from a million kilometers away, seen by Mars Cube One-B on May 8, 2018 (annotated). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

If this works, it will prove that such small (and inexpensive — that’s how two redundant versions could be flown!) spacecraft can do far more than you’d expect at first glance, and could be key players for interplanetary missions.

CubeSats have been around for a while, and I remember wondering what the heck they could be used for back when I first read about them. And now, here we are… or more accurately, there they are, flying to Mars. I have since learned that my own initial lack of imagination should not be used as a limiter on that of others.

That’s a pretty good lesson.

I’ll note that while InSight will touch down on the dusty surface of Mars, the two CubeSats will fly past the planet, heading into space. But they’ll still be orbiting the Sun forever, pioneers of a new type of spacecraft and a new way of thinking about exploring the planets.

25 Oct 04:15

linguisticsnerd:A bit late on the Halloween game but this just...


A bit late on the Halloween game but this just happened today

24 Oct 18:03

allthingslinguistic:schwa is the spookiest English vowel because any other vowel can become it. it’s...


schwa is the spookiest English vowel because any other vowel can become it. it’s like a vowel ghost. cədaver skeləton devəl halləween autəmn

21 Oct 08:28

A video demonstrating what a conversation against a noisy...

A video demonstrating what a conversation against a noisy background sounds like if you have a cochlear implant (spoiler: not good). This article in The Conversation talks about one strategy to improve that: adding sound played sound through the skin. 

19 Oct 02:42

Craters on the Moon named for iconic Apollo 8 ‘Earthrise’ photo

by Phil Plait

This is wonderful news: The International Astronomical Union’s Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature — the group of astronomers tasked with giving official names to astronomical objects and features in the solar system — have approved the naming of two craters on the Moon’s far side for the iconic “Earthrise” photo taken during the Apollo 8 mission. Even better: The craters appear in the photo and are named after the Earthrise photo itself!

The incredible photograph, from December 24, 1968 — almost exactly 50 years ago now — was the first of its kind ever taken, and shows our blue-green planet rising somberly over the stark gray Moonscape as the Apollo 8 Command Module orbited from the far side of the Moon to the near side. No human had ever seen the Earth hanging in space above the Moon like that with their own eyes. The impact on our species was profound; this photograph is actually credited for starting the environmental movement.

One of the most famous and important photographs ever taken from space: Earthrise, by Apollo 8 Lunar Module Pilot Bill Anders on December 24, 1968. Credit: NASA Zoom In

One of the most famous and important photographs ever taken from space: Earthrise, by Apollo 8 Lunar Module Pilot Bill Anders on December 24, 1968. Credit: NASA

Two of the craters seen in the photograph have now been named: The larger is now called “Ander’s Earthrise” and the smaller “8 Homeward.”

How poetic and lovely!

Two craters have been named after the iconic Earthrise photo taken during Apollo 8. Credit: NASA Zoom In

Two craters have been named after the iconic Earthrise photo taken during Apollo 8. Credit: NASA

The craters had names before, or more accurately designations: Pasteur T for the larger and Ganskiy M for the smaller. It’s common for smaller craters on the Moon to be named after larger nearby craters using letters after the larger crater’s name to designate them. In this case, Pasteur is a very large crater 233 kilometers wide, and Pasteur T (now Ander’s Earthrise) about 40 km across; Ganskiy is about 43 km across and Ganskiy M (now 8 Homeward) 14 km wide.

An image of the Moon’s far side showing the locations of craters seen in the Apollo 8 Earthrise photographs (noting what was visible in the first greyscale photo and then the second color one). Zoom In

An image of the Moon’s far side showing the locations of craters seen in the Apollo 8 Earthrise photographs (noting what was visible in the first greyscale photo and then the second color one). Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

Both craters are on the far side of the Moon, just barely. The Moon rotates once for every time it orbits the Earth, a dance that keeps one side forever facing the Earth — the near side ­— and one facing away — the far side. If you are standing on the far side of the Moon the Earth never appears in your sky, whereas if you stand on the near side it’s always in the sky.

However, the Apollo 8 capsule was in orbit, about 110 km above the lunar surface. That means they could peek around the lunar edge just a bit, seeing the Earth even while technically over the far side (and watch it rise as they moved toward it). 8 Homeward is 7° around the lunar edge as seen from Earth, and Ander’s Earthrise about 10°.

This means they can’t be seen from here on Earth. They can only be observed via spaceflight. I find this fitting.

The larger crater is named after Bill Anders, the Apollo 8 Lunar Module pilot, who took the photo. For quite some time there was a controversy over who actually took it. For years the official story was that Frank Borman took it, but Anders disputed that. It turns out Anders did indeed take it, and the story behind the confusion is actually a really great one, solved due to great detective work by space historian Andy Chaikin. I suggest you take a few minutes to read that. It’ll give you even more perspective on this epic photograph.

The folks at the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio created a phenomenal simulation of what the astronauts saw using elevation data and observations from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and Blue Marble data to simulate the Earth (courtesy Reto Stockli (NASA/GSFC)). In this animation, the Earth rises as the astronauts orbited the Moon, and it pauses twice to juxtapose the photographs taken by Bill Anders (one in grayscale, then a second in color; the delay between them occurred due to Anders having to switch the film in the camera).

It’s funny, given today’s effortless access to information (and perhaps even the overload of it) to think that in 1968 one single photograph could have such an impact. We now see so many gorgeous and awe-inspiring images sent back from space-based observatories and probes visiting asteroids and planets and moons and comets that, ironically, their individual impact is diluted visually even as their real scientific value continuously adds to our knowledge. This is why I try to take the time to highlight special ones to you, my readers, even as I sit back and drink them in on my own before I can write about them.

This is such a remarkable time, when we are learning so much so quickly about the Universe, and learning our own context inside it. It’s important, sometimes, to remember the critical moments that showed this to us.

19 Oct 02:27


by Mark Liberman

Umarell is one of those words that people like because it references a somewhat familiar concept that their own language or variety has no easy way to name. Wikipedia has this to say about it:

Umarell (Italian pronunciation: [umaˈrɛlː]; modern revisitation of the Bolognese dialect word umarèl [umaˈrɛːl]) is a term popular in Bologna referring specifically to men of retirement age who pass the time watching construction sites, especially roadworks – stereotypically with hands clasped behind their back and offering unwanted advice. Its literal meaning is "little man" (also umarèin), and it is often pluralized in spelling by adding a final s (out of English influence).

Danilo Masotti has written a couple of books on the topic, and maintains a weblog whose main purpose seems to be to promote the books. But there are relevant articles here and there in the media, and there's apparently a band, a restaurant, and in Bologna una piazza dedicata agli 'Umarells'". So I conclude that it's a real thing and not a sort of Bolognese ozay.

[h/t Andrea Mazzucchi]

16 Oct 07:40

Narrow Views

by BlondeHistorian

Whenever someone gets a new pair of glasses what’s the first thing everyone does? They ask how strong they are. Then usually someone asks to try them on, giving their own verdict on what the world looks through someone else’s eyes. We never expect everyone to see the same. We understand that every pair of glasses is different and that the person wearing them is unique.

So why does everyone expect a visually impaired person using a white cane or a guide dog to be totally blind?

As I talked about in my first post, embracing my long white cane was quite an emotional process. I am now using it happily, safely and confidently.

However, people do treat me differently because I use a cane. I have to deal with the negative attitudes or incorrect ideas that many people have around blindness.

Last week my good friend and fellow disability activist Chloe experienced some of these misplaced attitudes.

Chloe started using her white cane around the same time that I did. She’s been a fantastic support throughout the process. Chloe has her own amazing blog which I thoroughly recommend.

Like me, and many other white cane users, Chloe has some useful residual vision and can read print if it’s zoomed up to the max! Check out Justin’s post on phone accessibility to learn more.

94% of visually impaired people have some useful vision! Useful vision can range from light perception or the ability to detect movement, to vision with blurred spots or dark patches. Someone might be able to see nothing in the centre of their vision but have excellent detailed vision around the edges. Often conditions like lighting or tiredness can significantly affect the quality of vision. If I look into strong sunlight I can see almost nothing except blurred light and shadows.

It’s really important to understand that we all see the world differently.

Just like Chloe when I use my phone to answer a text, pick a podcast or tweet, I regularly get stared at, tutted at or even have comments made about me. I’m often accused of “not looking blind”, whatever that means. Just look at the responses to Chloe’s tweet to get a sense of some of these experiences.

I’ve had visually impaired friends tell me about members of the public “testing” their sight loss by purposely blocking paths or moving obstacles in their way. I’ve even had people take photographs of me in public to try to get evidence of me “faking”. Regrettably, I’m not alone in this experience.

Only yesterday a man shouted at me that I was about to walk into some stairs. When I replied I knew about the steps, he instantly confronted me, demanding how I knew there were steps if I was really blind. I pointed out the tactile paving at the bottom of the stairs and he backed down.

It feels like someone is constantly trying to catch me out for cheating at a game I’m not playing.

It’s easy to say that these are just “ignorant” views or unkind people, but these daily micro aggressions can really wear down you confidence. When someone excuses these actions, citing a lack of education or awareness as a reason, it only reinforces the attitude that it is my responsibility to educate everyone. That I have to be patient in the face of prejudice.

Imagine how it feels to be challenged for just existing. Being constantly held accountable to an incorrect standard.

Placing the burden of responsibility on disabled people to educate fails to take into account the impact or risk of these incidents. These unpleasant confrontations can discourage people from using public transport or accessing their community. Also, there is the potential for the situation to progress to something aggressive.

Disability hate crime rose by 51% in the UK last year. Although these figures do indicate that more disabled people feel empowered to report incidents, it also demonstrates the presence of harmful attitudes towards disabled people.

Unfortunately, the concerns about being challenged means that disabled people often adapt their behaviour.

I’ve spoken to many visually impaired people who feel pressured to perform “blindness”. Ashamed as I am to admit it, I’ve acted as if I can see less than I can because I’m anxious about being confronted in public.

This is a behaviour I’m trying to avoid as it only reinforces the misinformed stereotypes and is deeply insulting to the visually impaired community who have total sight loss.

It is this final point that is the most infuriating. Yes it is important to understand that some visually impaired people can read a newspaper headline and also use a white cane or guide dog.

However, it is essential to understand that total sight loss does not automatically make someone useless and vulnerable. Totally blind people have jobs, they use public transport, they play sports, they have one too many pints sometimes, they have relationships, they volunteer, socialise, shop, they have children, and yes, they can still send a text message.

Visually impaired people should be able to navigate the world without being accused of faking their disability just because they are living a full and rewarding life.

So next time someone tuts at me when I use my phone, I will try to remember that their world is defined by a much narrower view than mine. Help me widen their perspective by sharing this post.

16 Oct 07:37

How science works

by Mark Liberman

[h/t Wendy Grossman]


16 Oct 07:36

Top five linguist pregnancy announcements


I’ve been using these over the last few months. There will be a mini-Superlinguo around some time in January!

1. I’m beginning my own longitudinal child language acquisition project

No, we’re not sending them to space.

2. I’m temporarily plural

It’s a pity that English doesn’t have a standard dual form to mark two people, which is common in other language.

3. I’m currently demonstrating an unusual form of noun incorporation

It’s 9 months of moving from inalienable to alienable possession.

4. I’m building my own language acquisition device

I apologise in advance for the poverty of the stimulus.

5. I’m taking a novel approach to illustrating the human capacity for recursion

It’s humans all the way down.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Linguist Parent Social Media is the best social media.

16 Oct 07:36

This is quite something to enshrine on such a big mural,...

This is quite something to enshrine on such a big mural, Lufthansa. Would you have allowed “people” & “look” instead of “language” & “sound”? The idea that some languages are more beautiful (& therefore more valuable) is discriminatory & wrong. All languages are of equal worth. (Lisa Davidson on twitter)

13 Oct 17:04

New favourite example of reduplication: Moons can have moons and...

New favourite example of reduplication: Moons can have moons and they are called moonmoons. 

09 Oct 17:33

Monday Image Thread

by JenniferP

Accurate summation of historical events:


Image description: A meme from The Good Place, where Janet explains that Columbus is in the bad place because of all the raping, slave trade, and genocide.

Two years ago today:


A newly wed Captain Awkward & Mr. Awkward walk back down the aisle while family & friends watch. Photo by Eric Lipe. Fun fact: When you get your wedding photos back and the photographer has made some of them black & white, it’s their way of saying “Nailed it!”



Daniel Striped Tiger, front, and Henrietta Pussycat, back, are getting CRIMINALLY large.

05 Oct 23:59

New favourite example of lexical ambiguity (from...

New favourite example of lexical ambiguity (from WholesomeNsuchArt).

29 Sep 21:10

‘Love or the lack of it’

by Fred Clark
"Deep movie emotions for me usually come not when the characters are sad, but when they are good," Roger Ebert writes. "You will see what I mean."