Nathanael Green's Blog

An advertising copywriter, novelist, and freelance writer's brain goo.

Posts Tagged ‘Linguistics

Can Your Hands Speak 40 Languages?

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I’m always reading and doing research for any number of projects, and occasionally something sticks with me that just continues to be fascinating.

This post is about one of those fascinating things … but prepare yourself.
The more you think about this one, the more interesting it gets.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Little Science about Language and Babies

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Apparently, babies are tuned in to language from the moment they’re born, and possibly earlier. A recent study suggests that even if they can’t understand or form specific words, newborns recognize the intonation of their parents’ tongue and try to replicate its peculiar melody.

Here’s the article at NPR, which also includes the original broadcast audio and demonstrations of the differences between French and German babies’ intonation.

And just in case you’re still curious, here’s a fairly in-depth analysis of that same study from the Language Log blog at University of Pennsylvania.

Written by Nathanael Green

November 17, 2009 at 6:02 pm

A Linguist Listens to “Mad Men”

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madmen1After a post focusing on advertising and marketing, it’s nice to have a  segue back into linguistics. In the comments from that post, one person recommended checking out the show “Mad Men.” Though I’ve never seen it, it apparently centers around advertising in the 1960s and comes highly recommended. Then I found this article from The New Republic. Author and linguist John McWhorter questions whether the speech patterns affected by the characters in “Mad Men” are really genuine, and whether people really talked the way we think they talked fifty years ago.

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September 8, 2009 at 6:59 am

Does Language Shape Reality?

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Is reality the same for everyone?

Some people think the language you speak may influence how you view the world. It may inform your prejudices, your beliefs and how you relate to everything around you.

What if English didn't have a word for "time?"

What if English didn't have a word for "time?"

For instance, what if your language had no concepts of time? How different would your world-view be? Kind of nice to think you could never be late for work, isn’t it?

This seemingly timeless aspect of one language is precisely what prompted a linguist studying the Hopi language to propose the idea of linguistic relativity. Also known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, linguistic relativity says that because we use language to define our world, our world-view is defined by our language.

What’s that really mean?

Read the rest of this entry »

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July 13, 2009 at 8:34 pm

Linguistics and Political Phrases

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Just a quick note to recommend some language-related listening.

In a recent episode of Fresh Air, Terry Gross talked with linguist Geoff Nunberg about political language, how English is changing, and his sarcastic English teacher.

Click here to go to the page, and click on the “Listen Now” link.

Written by Nathanael Green

June 18, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Using “Over” with Numbers is More Than Acceptable

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bridge in mexicoEarly in my copywriting career, I got into a heated debate with an editor about using the word over to mean more than.

I had drafted a headline on a flyer saying something along the lines of “over 5,000 whatsits” on a promotion for one of the magazines my company produced. The editor took issue with my copy, saying that it should be “more than 5,000.”

I thought that that was total crap.

Either is fine in most instances, and in the promotional piece I was working on — fewer words worked much better. But the editor was insistent on her point, trying to tell me that it’s not just a matter of style, but that using over is blatantly ungrammatical.

Why is using over before a number ungrammatical?

It’s not. But here’s why some people think it is: Read the rest of this entry »

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May 21, 2009 at 6:02 pm

How to Make Your Words Meaningless

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There’s a really easy way to make any word in any language mean absolutely nothing – even children can do it.

I remember one time when I was young, sitting in the back of my parents’ car as we drove to visit family out of state. As we passed a road sign that showed the direction to New York, I said those two words over and over again to myself.

“New York. New York. New York. New York.”

And suddenly, I had no idea what I was saying. My mouth was making the appropriate sounds for “New York”, but it meant nothing to me. It was a jumble of silly syllables. Read the rest of this entry »

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April 23, 2009 at 7:44 am

Why I Can’t Speak English in England.

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In this, the first of two posts discussing accents, I want to talk about an issue for which I have no answers. It’s a question that I’ve discussed with friends over many a beer and is still unresolved, so I’d like to hear what other people think about it.

Let me start with a scenario: Pretend for a moment that you’re going about a regular day. And in this regular day, you meet a new coworker who seems like a nice, normal lady. Soon you find out that she recently moved to the US from Australia … but she doesn’t have an Australian accent.

Is that weird? Did she lose her accent or put on an American one? Or would someone with the same native tongue subdue their natural accent and put on a different one to try to fit in? Read the rest of this entry »

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March 26, 2009 at 7:30 am

Posted in Linguistics

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English As It Is, Or As It Should Be?

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Yesterday, I was enjoying my word-nerdery in the reference section at Barnes and Noble (a not uncommon occurrence) when my wife showed me a book100 Words Almost Everyone Mispronounces.

I smiled. Then I wondered.

If we all mispronounce the same words the same way, doesn’t that mean that language is evolving and our pronunciation is actually correct? English by popular vote?

Or is our language sacred and we should learn to speak it properly?

That got me thinking about how people look at the rules of English, from sentence structure to spelling to pronunciation. Do we get laws handed down to us, or do we just speak however we want?

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Nathanael Green

January 26, 2009 at 9:03 pm