Language Log has been especially lively lately, and I wanted to share some of my favorite items:
1) Comments on the news story that “Mapuche tribal leaders have accused [Microsoft] of violating their cultural and collective heritage by translating the software into Mapuzugun without their permission”: Mark Liberman, Geoff Pullum.
2) Mark Liberman’s post on prescriptivism in literature, with glorious extended quotes from Thomas Pynchon, Mark Twain, and Stephen Fry, not to mention the immortal “Romanes eunt domus” sequence from Life of Brian.
3) Bill Poser’s post of a wonderful map of South Asia that has the name of each region written in its own alphabet.
4) And Mark Liberman doggedly pursues his continuing coverage of the issue of whether women talk more than men: 1, 2, 3, 4.


  1. I also had some comments ( on the Mapudungan case after it was posted to slashdot – and the reaction on slashdot was also rather interesting. Sort of a prolonged and heated agreement with Geoff Pullum, given the sort of aggressive freedom-of-information position taken by most slashdotters. Without more clear information on the case, I guess I come down on the “sympathetic but somewhat skeptical” side.

  2. Is the Brian sequence really an instance of prescriptivism? Afterall, a native speaker was correcting Brian on a wholly ungrammatical phrase.

  3. By the way—and I say this only partly out of uncritical Anglophilia, hello John Emerson!—Stephen Fry is fucking fantastic. Read anything of his you can get your hands on, and I say that in the quiet certainty that Fry is the only author whose writing involves seх with animals of whom I ever will^H^H^H^H shall say that.

  4. The map’s pretty cool – I wonder if anyone’s working on a version for the entire world?
    Also, Tibet’s name is not composed properly – the vowel should be atop the first glyph rather than by itself.

  5. Re the Mapuche/Mapudungun story:
    The article says that Microsoft translated (rather, had someone translate) its software so that anyone can “access the cultural riches” of the Mapuche people – not so that “the Mapuche people can have access to more information” or “communicate easily through email throughout the country” or “set up their own websites” or other wording stressing any advantages which might accrue to the Mapuche themselves. If Microsoft’s wording (assuming it is quoted accurately) does not suggest to the Mapuche that Microsoft is out to rip them off without any benefit to them, I don’t know what does.
    Most people from large, expansive cultures (such as French, English, and a few others) can’t imagine what people of small, unprivileged, often exploited groups feel when they see others appearing to benefit from what they themselves might know – especially if they are not sure of exactly what this is (we often “don’t know what we know”, to quote a well-known personality) because no one has bothered to consult them and explain what they were doing and why. “Our whole philosophy of life is in our language” – yes, but exactly what does that mean? the vagueness itself makes any thought of “sharing” the language with outsiders a threat (especially if the language is on its way out because even the fluent speakers do not use it that much).
    Even experienced field linguists are sometimes not aware of the impact carelessly chosen words can have: speaking about language endangerment, a well-known linguist in Australia has been saying “we have to get the languages” – rather than “record” or some other more neutral as well as more accurate term. Many native people in North America are saying that “the white man took away our languages” (where did he put them?). I have heard people accusing linguists of causing words to disappear from people’s mouths when they put them in dictionaries. With all these misunderstandings going on, even from relatively educated people, talking about “accessing their cultural riches” can only sound like a rip-off. No wonder the Mapuche are mad at Microsoft.

  6. David Marjanovi? says

    not to mention the immortal “Romanes eunt domus” sequence from Life of Brian.
    Immortal, yes, but too short. I still miss the final question: “Do they all go to the same home?” — They don’t, so the plural must be used, domos.

  7. What, doesn’t Latin allow a distributed object to be expressed in the singular?

  8. David Marjanović says

    (Not to let this loose end hang after 11 years… that’s indeed what I had been taught, but apparently it’s wrong, as was shown here on LH maybe half as many years ago.)

  9. Whew, I can finally exhale!

  10. It’s all right, back then you were still an unformed David Marjanovi? (says my browser).

  11. Mine too.

  12. David Marjanović says

    Mine three.

  13. January First-of-May says

    Mine four.

    [EDIT: Though it’s a mobile browser.]

  14. It not only looks like a question mark, it is a question mark, probably representing some uninterpretable byte or bytes at the time of the conversion to WordPress. So it’s going to look like a question mark to everyone. Here’s a little of the output from curl | od -c | less:

    0040140 s = " f n " > D a v i d M a r
    0040160 j a n o v i ? <

  15. January First-of-May says

    I’m going through the list of commented LH posts upwards from the bottom (earliest), and I have already seen several comments with mojibake (apparently representing umlauted or otherwise non-standard letters). I can’t recall any other outright question marks, however.

    (I might consider doing a full commentary pass of Language Hat if I ever get done with Language Log Twelve Years Later. Which was about 0.1% done last time I checked…)

  16. January First-of-May says

    I can’t recall any other outright question marks, however.

    A few months ago I stumbled on a LH comment relating to the Lagash-Umma border dispute, where I recall having seen actual cuneiform posted – but when I saw it again, there was no cuneiform, only question marks.

    I wasn’t able to find the comment again (it doesn’t come up on Google for “Lagash”, “Umma”, or “border dispute”; in fact there’s only one Google hit for “Umma” on LH at all and it’s not even about the town), but I did find this comment, which also had actual cuneiform when posted [and still in August 2020], but only appears to have question marks now.

    I’m guessing something went wrong in the most recent server change…

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