John Gordon Ross

A Man for All Reasons

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Language Stuff

Almost everyone uses language, so inevitably almost everyone thinks they are an expert in it. I don’t consider myself an expert, though most of my work requires at least language competence and sometimes actual skill, but I do follow the blogs featured on this feeds page.

(If you are wondering where the translation-related feeds have all gone, I have put them on their own page.)

Most of the blogs represented here are in English, most of the time, but don’t be surprised to find other languages used. Go with the flow – I occasionally find myself pleasantly surprised at how much I can grasp in languages I have never seen before.

Language On the Net

Chomsky Rebutted

Posted 15 days ago

Paul Ibbotson and Michael Tomasello have penned a rather thorough take down of Chomsky’s theory of universal grammar in Scientific American. While highly critical, it’s also one of the clearest explanations of Chomsky’s work that I’ve seen. [Discuss this post] [Link]

A New Type of Turing Test

Posted 9 weeks ago

In 1950, computer pioneer Alan Turing formulated his famous test for determining whether or not a computer was true artificial intelligence (AI). It involved discourse between humans and a computer, and if the humans could not tell whether they were speaking to a another person or to a machine, then the machine was “intelligent.” A neat idea, but when put … [Link]

Omniglot blog


Posted 40 hours ago

This week is Welcome Week at Bangor University when new students arrive for the first time, register, join clubs and societies, some of which they’ll actually go to, and so on. It’s also known as Freshers’ Week and the new students are known as freshers, though after this week, they’re generally known as first years. I understand that in the … [Link]

Do you come here often?

Posted 5 days ago

I’ve started to put together a new page on Omniglot with translations of the phrase ‘Do you come here often?‘. I got the idea after finding a Cornish version of this phrase (A wre’ta dos omma yn fenowgh?) on Learn Cornish Now. Could you check the translations that are already on the page, and provide ones if other languages? Have … [Link]


Posted 25 hours ago

Reader Jeff sent me an e-mail to this effect: I recently wrote the word “rigamarole” on my computer, only to have the machine change it to “rigmarole”. Aghast, I checked, and found the latter is definitely a possible choice. On the other hand, I don’t think I have ever heard it without the a between g and m. Do we … [Link]

Erard on Australian Languages.

Posted 2 days ago

My favorite reporter on linguistic issues, Michael Erard, has a fine Science piece about recent studies of Australian languages and the controversies they help address; after surveying some of the problems (the members of the hypothetical Pama-Nyungan family have lots of similarities but few cognates), he writes: Now, a new generation of researchers is attacking the problem, and a small … [Link]

World Wide Words: Updates

Updated online: Fair to middling

Posted 8 days ago

Any ideas on the origins of 'fair to middling'? [Link]

Updated online: Joe Soap

Posted 8 days ago

Who, or what, is 'Joe Soap'? [Link]

Language Log


Posted 8 hours ago

Lisa Feldman Barrett, "Hillary Clinton's 'Angry' Face", NYT 9/23/2016: When Hillary Clinton participated in a televised forum on national security and military issues this month, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, tweeted that she was “angry and defensive the entire time — no smile and uncomfortable.” Mrs. Clinton, evidently undaunted by Mr. Priebus’s opinion on when she … [Link]

Close verbal shadowing

Posted 9 hours ago

Rhett & Link: "They're so close they can finish each other's sentences." In the first part of the skit, Rhett & Link are demonstrating "close shadowing". This technique was probably invented as a children's game many millennia ago; but two decades before Rhett & Link were born, it was applied as a method for studying the psychology of speech perception. … [Link]

Urban Word of the Day

steppin on my dick

Posted 17 hours ago

when someone disrespects your manhood. chick: you can't even pay for dinner or kill a spider, what's wrong with you guy: damn quit steppin on my dick! [Link]


Posted 41 hours ago

No Fucking Idea The manager has NFI of the work that goes on around here… [Link]

You Don't Say

Moving on

Posted 5 years ago

Today You Don’t Say relocates to a new Web address and new software. You will be able to find it at where … [Link]

A spell of rough weather

Posted 5 years ago

There was a mild dustup today on the Internet over, of all things, spelling.The rhubarb started when Anne Trubek flung down the gauntlet with a suggestion in Wi … [Link]

Talk Wordy to Me

That time I got accused of making a bomb in school but did not get fucking arrested

Posted 12 months ago

OK so by now you have probably heard about the 14-year-old in Irving, Texas, who was arrested cause he is a fucking genius who built a goddamn clock out of circuit boards and wanted his teachers to be proud of him but instead they were racist at him and he got hauled off by the fucking cops WHO ALSO THINK … [Link]

Asking for a bit more help for Goofus

Posted 19 months ago

2015-03-08 13.09.31 UPDATE: We’ve raised $1,560 this week. From Goofus, Lauren, and I, thank you so much for all of your help, you’ve gotten us out of the woods on this. I’ve taken down the Paypal donate button. Hey everyone. So earlier this year, we raised some money to help pay for some of the medical costs of getting two kitty sisters … [Link]

the world in words

A bilingual seal of approval for high school graduates

Posted 21 months ago

Peter Kuskie and Maria Regalado are students at Hillsboro High in Oregon and are on track to receive a new bilingual seal on their diplomas. (Photo: Monica Campbell) Read this post from Monica Campbell. Or listen to the podcast above. Let’s take a trip back to September 1995, when Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole was talking about education on the campaign … [Link]

A Soviet-era storytelling game trains you to bluff, lie and sometimes tell the truth

Posted 22 months ago

A tense moment during a game of “Mafia” in Kiev, Ukraine. (Photo courtesy of the English Mafia Club of Kiev) Read this post from Alina Simone. Or listen to the podcast above. The storytelling parlor game “Mafia” crosses borders, transcends culture and bridges the language divide in ways you’d never expect. There are no game boards or joysticks involved in Mafia … [Link]


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