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Category: language (page 2 of 22)

Talk the Talk: Word Aversion

When we start talking about the most hated words in English, things are bound to get out of hand.

One-off show: Here
Subscribe via iTunes: Here
Show notes: Here

Show tunes:

‘Even If You’re Missing Fingers, You Can Make a Fist’ by The Barons of Tang
from the album Knots and Tangles

‘Do You Remember the First Time?’ by Pulp
from the album His ‘n’ Hers

Talk the Talk: Linguistic Time Machine

Language reconstruction is one of the dark linguistic arts, but this time Ben and I are getting into it. It’s like going back in time, deciding what early languages must have been like by looking at what languages are like now. So first, we talk about how language reconstruction works, and then we look at a new project where people are getting computers to do the work.

I hate to say this, but as is so often the case in linguistics, big progress is being made by non-linguists — engineers and computer scientists! Linguists sometimes grump that the engineers aren’t familiar enough with the actual work of language reconstruction, but I love the idea of taking linguistic tasks and making them tractable for a computational treatment.

Even though this is kind of dense subject matter, I think we made it interesting. Thanks to Ben, of course.

One-off show: Here
Subscribe via iTunes: Here
Show notes: Here

Talk the Talk: Scrabble Points

I love Scrabble. I’m just not sure that Q deserves to be worth 10 points anymore. It used to be a serious liability that required some skill to play off. Now? Pfeh. Just play QI, which is a word meaning new age energy horseshit. It didn’t use to be this way back in the old days of the OSPD 3rd edition.

Well, this episode is half about suggested changes to Scrabble scoring, and then the other half is really interesting! That’s where I talk about Peter Norvig finding letter and word frequencies in English by using billions and billions of words. Cool!

One-off show: Here
Subscribe via iTunes: Here
Show notes: Here

Show tunes:

‘A Letter from the Past’ by I’m Not a Gun
from the album We Think As Instruments

(No video, sorry.)

‘The Numbers Game’ by Thievery Corporation
from the album Radio Retaliation

Talk the Talk: Language and the Pirahã

Doing the podcast is my dream job. Not only do I get to talk about language every week, but I also get to talk about language with some of my linguistic idols. Dr Daniel Everett is definitely on the list. I’ve talked about his work with the Pirahã people of the Amazon many times in my classes, but here I got to ask him about what it all means.

Now everyone on my interview list can move up one. What linguistic types should I go after next?

First episode: Here
Second episode: Here
Subscribe via iTunes: Here
Show notes: Here

Show tunes:

‘Sunchemical’ by O Yuki Conjugate
from the album Equator

‘Crawling by Numbers’ by Lali Puna
from the album Faking the Books

‘Now It’s On’ by Grandaddy
from the album Sumday

Talk the Talk: Retard

I don’t like the term ‘retard’ and won’t use it. But isn’t it possible that this is just another case of semantic shift? Have we successfully uncoupled the ‘loser’ sense of the word from the ‘intellectually disabled’ sense? Probably not yet, but in that case, how long is it going to take?

One-off show: Here
Subscribe via iTunes: Here
Show notes: Here

Letterpress: Great new iOS word game

If you’re hooked on Words with Friends, there’s a new game in town: Letterpress. It’s the best new word game I’ve seen in a long while, and it’s got me hooked.

It’s a word game with elements of strategy, sort of like Scrabble plus Go. No, wait, it’s Boggle plus Risk. Perhaps Upwords plus Ataxx? Actually, the best description would be Boggle plus Reversi. You have to build words from the letters on the board, but when you use a letter, you claim it as your territory and it turns your colour. You win if the most letters are your colour when all the letters have been used.

Your opponent can change your letters to their colour by using them on their turn, but if you manage to completely surround a letter with other letters of your colour, it’ll turn a darker shade of your colour.

Not looking good for red.

That means it’s protected — your opponent can use it, but not flip it. So you have a number of things to do in every turn: make the longest words possible, defend your protected letters, and mount attacks on those of your opponent. And since words can’t be replayed, you’ll be burning through your vocabulary fast.

Strategy
As in Reversi, the endgame is really important, and there’s a huge advantage for the last player. So part of your strategy will be to watch which letters are left, and make sure your opponent can’t use them all on one massive final word. (Typical scenario: Q, J, and W.) In the most intense games, my opponents and I have had to circle each other, setting up territories and picking off each other’s letters in an ever-diminishing list of available words, until one of us has a healthy bank of protected letters. Then you start knocking off the unused ones when you’re certain that your opponent can’t get enough letters to win, even if they do go out.

Another strategy could be termed the ‘Samsung strategy’: take whatever word your opponent makes, adapt it slightly, and then play it. They played SIFTING? Try (ahem) FISTING. They played THICKETS? Play THICKEST or THICKSET. Progress will be incremental and hard-won, but you’ll be draining your opponent of options if it comes to a game of attrition. And it does.

Improvements
You’re not allowed to use words that have already been played, or forms of that word. That prevents pointless tit-for-tat wars. The problem is that the game has a really strange idea about what constitutes a form (or, mistakenly, a ‘prefix’) of a word. If INCITEMENT is taken, it allows INCITEMENTS, even though it shouldn’t. However, when I played BLIT, it said that was a form of the already-played word BLITZ. It is so not.

Should it disallow only inflections like plural -S? What about -ING or UN-? It needs to be consistent.

There are other improvements that I hope will come in a future update. It needs a chat function. It needs a rematch button. It would also be nice if it could uncouple itself from Apple’s Game Center, which suffers from inexplicable errors and won’t let me start games with certain people.

Even with these problems, Letterpress is still a fantastic game that’s very worth trying out. There’s a free version; the paid version allows you more than two games and a change of colours.

So this is me calling y’all out on Letterpress. I will challenge all comers. I’m ‘fontor’ on the Game Centre. Come and get me if you think you can.

UPDATE: One mystery solved. Are you getting this error message when you invite friends to play?

“Unable to create match. Please try again later.”

It’s because your friend isn’t set up to accept game invitations. Tell your friend to enable them in Game Centre under the “View Account” setting. Now why couldn’t the Game Centre just say that? That’s a terribly unhelpful error dialog.

Talk the Talk: Ease v. Clarity

This was an interesting show for me because I always find it challenging to describe case to English speakers. We don’t use it, except for pronouns like we and us. But this experiment is all about how people use case, and it turns out that the way they used it in this experiment matches what people do in actual languages. Is that because we have an innate bioprogram, or just because it’s easier to do things that way? It’s hard to tell the difference.

One-off show: Here
Subscribe via iTunes: Here
Show notes: Here

Talk the Talk: Political Gestures

It was fun talking about non-verbal communication, even though it’s hard to talk about it on the radio. But there were two recent cases of NVC that we had to discuss: Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech, and Joe Biden’s shenanigans in the recent Veep Debate.

You can sort of tell that Jess Allen and I are starting to lock in and get a rhythm going for our conversation, even if we sometimes miss each other’s cues. On the other hand, we really need to get her watching some TV.

One-off show: Here
Subscribe via iTunes: Here
Show notes: Here

Talk the Talk: New Signs for New Times

Me and Jess are at it again, this time talking about sign languages and how they’re changing. I was horrified by some of the old signs (just like I’m horrified at some terms we use in spoken English), but hey, that’s why language changes.

I also did some digging on the different varieties of English-based sign languages. I wasn’t expecting ASL, BSL, and Auslan to have the same signs for so many words, since they really are different languages, but there really is a bit of convergence.

One-off show: Here
Subscribe via iTunes: Here
Show notes: Here

Talk the Talk: Banned Books Week

We’ve been on quite a civil liberties thing lately, first with Blasphemy Day, and now with Banned Books.

I was all set to read some of Lady Chatterley’s Lover on air, but we didn’t get time. Even so, I think we would have tried it if someone had phoned in requesting it. It would have been good as a kind of readers’ theatre, with Jess as Lady Chatterley, and me as Oliver. On second thought, that might have been awkward.

One-off show: Here
Subscribe via iTunes: Here
Show notes: Here

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