Month: November 2014


How does our first language influence learning new ones? What gets moved over from the old languages to the new? This week on The Ling Space, we talk about transfer in second language acquisition: how we know that the foundation of our new language is the one we knew already, and what the effects are of having that old language knowledge around.

L2 acquisition is my favorite of all linguistics topics, so I’m very excited to hear what everyone has to say about it!

INSIDE SCOOP – there is such a nerdy visual pun in this episode, omg!! I dare anyone to find it ^_^ 

The idea that one fantasy fiction can be deemed more realistic—essentially, more non-fictional—than the other, deserves contemplation. With science fiction, at least, we have the categories of hard and soft, depending on the sort of technology at the heart of the story. Consider, for example, elements in Martin’s Game of Thrones which Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings lacks. A Game of Thrones begins with a slaughter, followed by a beheading scene. The Lord of the Rings begins with plans for a birthday party, followed by the birthday party itself. Beheading, in fact, constitutes the single most gruesome detail of Tolkien’s many scenes of war, when the forces of Sauron use a catapult to throw the heads of Gondorian soldiers over the walls of Minas Tirith. In A Game of Thrones, atrocity is unflinching; even dead children are shown in all their red ruin. […]

There can be no doubt that Martin and Tolkien provide different experiences. The more modern publication delves much deeper into the personal psychology of its characters, while the other provides much more historical depth. To claim, however, that one imaginary world is more realistic than the other is to beg a standard that simply cannot assert itself. As Northrop Frye considered in his Anatomy of Criticism, as inhabitants of the real world, everything we imagine ourselves to understand—whether fiction or nonfiction—must have some basis in our own experience. Something entirely apart from that experience would be incomprehensible to us—untranslatable, as it were.

In deciding matters of realism, then, we must ask ourselves how deeply our experience goes with the criteria we invoke, and from there decide whether our decision is valid. Some may realize, for example, that they have attended more birthday parties than beheadings in their lifetime.

With Game of Thrones, as with a great many current television programs and films whose realism is measured by their grittiness, the spotlights are constantly on the shadows. It should come as no surprise that cockroaches scatter. To claim, however, that their matters of murder, deceit, rape, and worse somehow impart greater credibility to a fantasy world than do their existing moral counterparts—this makes Game of Thrones not just theater, but a thermometer.

Harley J. Sims, asking “Is Game of Thrones ‘Realistic’ Fantasy?” (via joannalannister)

I get really, really tired of the claims that GoT is “more realistic” or “more like the real Middle Ages.”  GoT is only more realistic to us, as people in 2014, because its lens and worldview is our own.  It shows us a medieval-esque world that is as brutal and nasty as we feel our own is.  Tolkien was showing a brutal and desperate world, too — but through the lens of surviving WWI and dealing with WWII and trying to find some meaning in the rise of mechanised, dreadful warfare.  But his lens is a century removed from ours, quite nearly.  GRRM is a contemporary.  So his medieval fantasy feels like something we understand because it reflects a vision of the medieval that we resonate with.  And that is what makes it so troubling — not that it’s grim and brutal and incredibly, over the top violent, but that this is what we feel is necessary to make anything set in the past, even a past through a mirror darkly, real.  That’s what it has to be to make it resonate.  And that’s what it has to be to make modern American audiences feel things were worse then than they are now.  Compared with Tolkien’s world, on the heels of the Shoah and the two deadliest wars in modern history, that says a terrifying lot about how we perceive our real world.

(via hobbitballerina)

——- This is a line of thought I’ve never even considered before. You definitely do hear that George R.R. Martin’s writing is so much more “realistic” than Tolkien’s – heck, even I’ve had those thoughts myself from time to time (even though I don’t fully agree, but that’s another story). But the fact is, it’s probably true that what we decide “realism” is, what lens we see fiction through, is contextual to our time, our society, our experience. 

But I actually think there’s more to it than that. I don’t think it’s just the content of stories that matter in determining their realism: it’s their execution, too. JRR and GRR have very different writing styles (even if their names are distractingly similar). Tolkien’s is much more narrative, spacious and plentiful and unhurried. I definitely know people who have never been able to get into Lord of the Rings because his style was too florid and longwinded for them. There’s something old-fashioned to it that you don’t really see in Martin’s writing, with its clipped descriptions, action-driven continuity, and characterization conveyed largely through dialogue. The pace of A Song of Ice and Fire is often as jagged and brutal as its people. Tolkien’s writing is operatic; George R.R. Martin’s is metal. 

I feel like this probably contributes to the feeling of modernity and realism in the work. The writing is very much of our time; I feel it resonates with us as much because of its syntax as its brutality. It’s not so much what the characters do as how it’s depicted, that gives us that sense of “realness”. Just think of the LotR movies – there’s definitely parts of those that feel Game-of-Thrones-y, right? All grit and death and lies? In a way, it’s like all Peter Jackson had to do to update the tone of those scenes was to spotlight the action, tease it out from the saga-esque presentation of the original. A lot was added, but I think it can be argued that most of it was already implied. Middle-Earth and Westeros are maybe not as dissimilar as you think. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t want to live in either of them.

What do you think? Is “realism” in fantasy fiction as much a product of writing style as it is of actual story content?

Some French orthographic history notes


So we got a comment on our video about dialects asking about whether French orthography is the way it is because of people making explicit decisions to keep less educated people from breaking into literacy. And then I did a bunch of reading to answer that, so I thought I’d share it here, too. Particularly since this meant struggling with some old French stuff.

The simple answer is that it seems like the class barrier stuff is part of the story, but there’s more to it than just that! If you want more, take a look below.

Read More

So just the other day I was proofreading something in French, and saw the word “apparaître” (‘to appear’) – except it was written as “apparaitre”, without the accent on the i. So of course I drew the attention of the text’s writer to this… And then he told me, supported by several other people in the office, that while I wasn’t looking (*cough* 1990 apparently) French went and put into use a whole giant pile of spelling reforms. One of which was removing the accent there.

Now, I’m still not quite sure how pervasive they are – it looks like a lot of people fought them. Some of them seem sort of wacky to me, even! So they have this weird intermediate officialness that some people adopt and others not. Still! I’m surprised I somehow failed to even notice this! >_>

For more info:

Wikipedia article on the topic

Lexicon of words with new spelling


We love it when people find inventive uses for Google Street View (previously featured here). Artist Halley Docherty turned Google Street View into a time machine by taking paintings of London created in the 18th and 19th century and superimposing them over Street View images of the precise locations depicted in those old paintings. It’s as though contemporary locations, from river views and park trails to landmarks, intersections and street scenes, have opened themselves to reveal their own memories of how they looked and who was there many years ago.

“This is not the first time Docherty has created a merging of past and present. Other projects have included collages of present-day settings with classic album covers and another featured juxtapositions with photos from World War I. Docherty’s series help to reveal the aesthetic flavor and wide-ranging eye of Street View.”

Click here to learn more about these pieces and view more of Halley Docherty’s fascinating London paintings project.

[via Architizer]

I love this…! There’s this real sense of depth, both in space and in time, that I can just feel myself falling into. Brilliant stuff.



We landed on a comet. We recorded the mysterious sounds the comet was making. And here those sounds have been transformed into a song.


Andrew Huang, one of the perfect strangers, builds an entire album just out of sounds made by a comet. 

You can also watch a video on how he did it here.

Ahhhh this blows my mind! I sort of wish it had been something original, though, not a cover. More comet songs plz, everybody! 😀



How can we track all of the sounds of language, exactly how we hear them? Why aren’t our regular writing systems up to the challenge? This week on The Ling Space, we talk about the International Phonetic Alphabet: what it is, why we need it, and how the charts are arranged. Plus, we made our own IPA charts!

We put a lot of work into this one, and we’re looking forward to hearing what you all have to say. ^_^

It was very cool watching simongannon do a new take on the IPA charts! 😀 We hope you like them, and we hope you love the episode as well!

I love the new IPA charts in this! Nice job. 


Writing exercise thing:

Pick five of your characters, it doesn’t matter if they’re all from the same story or anything, just five characters that you write.

1) List them in order of how good their hugs are

2) Why are the last person’s hugs the worst?

3) Why are the…

This sounds like the loveliest way to spend a winter afternoon~


Writing exercise thing:

Pick five of your characters, it doesn’t matter if they’re all from the same story or anything, just five characters that you write.

1) List them in order of how good their hugs are

2) Why are the last person’s hugs the worst?

3) Why are the…

This sounds like the loveliest way to spend a winter afternoon~