so i just googled the phrase “toeing out of his shoes” to make sure it was an actual thing

and the results were:


it’s all fanfiction

which reminds me that i’ve only ever seen the phrase “carding fingers through his hair” and people describing things like “he’s tall, all lean muscle and long fingers,” like that formula of “they’re ____, all ___ and ____” or whatever in fic

idk i just find it interesting that there are certain phrases that just sort of evolve in fandom and become prevalent in fic bc everyone reads each other’s works and then writes their own and certain phrases stick

i wish i knew more about linguistics so i could actually talk about it in an intelligent manner, but yeah i thought that was kinda cool

Ha! Love it!

One of my fave authors from ages ago used the phrase “a little helplessly” (like “he reached his arms out, a little helplessly”) in EVERY fic she wrote. She never pointed it out—there just came a point where I noticed it like an Easter egg. So I literally *just* wrote it into my in-progress fic this weekend as an homage only I would notice. ❤

To me it’s still the quintessential “two dudes doing each other” phrase.

I think different fic communities develop different phrases too! You can (usually) date a mid 00s lj fic (or someone who came of age in that style) by the way questions are posed and answered in the narration, e.g. “And Patrick? Is not okay with this.” and by the way sex scenes are peppered with “and, yeah.” I remember one Frerard fic that did this so much that it became grating, but overall I loved the lj style because it sounded so much like how real people talk.

Another classic phrase: wondering how far down the _ goes. I’ve seen it mostly with freckles, but also with scars, tattoos, and on one memorable occasion, body glitter at a club. Often paired with the realization during sexy times that “yeah, the __ went all they way down.” I’ve seen this SO much in fic and never anywhere else

whoa, i remember reading lj fics with all of those phrases! i also remember a similar thing in teen wolf fics in particular – they often say “and derek was covered in dirt, which. fantastic.” like using “which” as a sentence-ender or at least like sprinkling it throughout the story in ways published books just don’t.


I love this. Though I don’t think of myself as fantastic writer, by any means, I know the way I write was shaped more by fanfiction and than actual novels. 

I think so much of it has to do with how fanfiction is written in a way that feels real. conversations carry in a way that doesn’t feel forced and is like actual interactions. Thoughts stop in the middle of sentences.

The coherency isn’t lost, it just marries itself to the reader in a different way. A way that shapes that reader/writer and I find that so beautiful. 


and it poses an intellectual question of whether the value we assign to fanfic conversational prose would translate at all to someone who reads predominantly contemporary literature. as writers who grew up on the internet find their way into publishing houses, what does this mean for the future of contemporary literature? how much bleed over will there be?

we’ve already seen this phenomenon begin with hot garbage like 50 shades, and the mainstream public took to its shitty overuse of conversational prose like it was a refreshing drink of water. what will this mean for more wide-reaching fiction?



I’m sure someone could start researching this even now, with writers like Rainbow Rowell and Naomi Novik who have roots in fandom. (If anyone does this project please tell me!) It would be interesting to compare, say, a corpus of a writer’s fanfic with their published fiction (and maybe with a body of their nonfiction, such as their tweets or emails), using the types of author-identification techniques that were used to determine that J.K. Rowling was Robert Galbraith.

One thing that we do know is that written English has gotten less formal over the past few centuries, and in particular that the word “the” has gotten much less frequent over time.

In an earlier discussion, Is French fanfic more like written or spoken French?, people mentioned that French fanfic is a bit more literary than one might expect (it generally uses the written-only tense called the passé simple, rather than the spoken-only tense called the passé composé). So it’s not clear to what extent the same would hold for English fic as well – is it just a couple phrases, like “toeing out of his shoes”? Are the google results influenced by the fact that most published books aren’t available in full text online? Or is there broader stuff going on? Sounds like a good thesis project for someone! 

See also: the gay fanfiction pronoun problem, ship names, and the rest of my fanguistics tag.

Interesting stuff about fanfiction language patterns!

Blind people gesture (and why that’s kind of a big deal)



People who are blind from birth will gesture when they speak. I always like pointing out this fact when I teach classes on gesture, because it gives us an an interesting perspective on how we learn and use gestures. Until now I’ve mostly cited a 1998 paper from Jana Iverson and Susan Goldin-Meadow that analysed the gestures and speech of young blind people. Not only do blind people gesture, but the frequency and types of gestures they use does not appear to differ greatly from how sighted people gesture. If people learn gesture without ever seeing a gesture (and, most likely, never being shown), then there must be something about learning a language that means you get gestures as a bonus.

Blind people will even gesture when talking to other blind people, and sighted people will gesture when speaking on the phone – so we know that people don’t only gesture when they speak to someone who can see their gestures.

Earlier this year a new paper came out that adds to this story. Şeyda Özçalışkan, Ché Lucero and Susan Goldin-Meadow looked at the gestures of blind speakers of Turkish and English, to see if the *way* they gestured was different to sighted speakers of those languages. Some of the sighted speakers were blindfolded and others left able to see their conversation partner.

Turkish and English were chosen, because it has already been established that speakers of those languages consistently gesture differently when talking about videos of items moving. English speakers will be more likely to show the manner (e.g. ‘rolling’ or bouncing’) and trajectory (e.g. ‘left to right’, ‘downwards’) together in one gesture, and Turkish speakers will show these features as two separate gestures. This reflects the fact that English ‘roll down’ is one verbal clause, while in Turkish the equivalent would be yuvarlanarak iniyor, which translates as two verbs ‘rolling descending’.

Since we know that blind people do gesture, Özçalışkan’s team wanted to figure out if they gestured like other speakers of their language. Did the blind Turkish speakers separate the manner and trajectory of their gestures like their verbs? Did English speakers combine them? Of course, the standard methodology of showing videos wouldn’t work with blind participants, so the researchers built three dimensional models of events for people to feel before they discussed them.

The results showed that blind Turkish speakers gesture like their sighted counterparts, and the same for English speakers. All Turkish speakers gestured significantly differently from all English speakers, regardless of sightedness. This means that these particular gestural patterns are something that’s deeply linked to the grammatical properties of a language, and not something that we learn from looking at other speakers.


Jana M. Iverson & Susan Goldin-Meadow. 1998. Why people gesture when they speak. Nature, 396(6708), 228-228.

Şeyda Özçalışkan, Ché Lucero and Susan Goldin-Meadow. 2016. Is Seeing Gesture Necessary to Gesture
Like a Native Speaker?
Psychological Science

27(5) 737–747.

Asli Ozyurek & Sotaro Kita. 1999. Expressing manner and path in English and Turkish:
Differences in speech, gesture, and conceptualization. In Twenty-first Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 507-512). Erlbaum.

So many interesting potential follow-up studies! For example, do Turkish-English bilinguals use the appropriate gestures in each language, or do they show transfer effects from their first language? It also seems plausible to me that there might be some gestures that come with language while others might be learned by imitation (perhaps iconic gestures like rolling and down versus arbitrary gestures like thumbs up). 

This is incredibly cool! 


Merriam-Webster adds “genderqueer”, “cisgender”, and “Mx” to its dictionary, pushes back against critics.

This is your periodic reminder that dictionaries are records of how people are already speaking a language and that every word was at some point being used before any dictionary added it

(Although apparently MW is also considering adding “ship” in the fandom sense, which would be pretty exciting.)

Fyeah Merriam-Webster!

Simon Snow, Good Omens, and Stylometrics


So we’ve had a couple of questions regarding our interview with Lisa Pearl
and what she had to say about textual analysis and writeprints, the
ways in which we signal who we are by how we use language. Like, for
example, Gretchen McCulloch on All Things Linguistic asked about telling apart the different writing done by different characters in Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl vs. Carry On. And in the YouTube comments, Valdagast asked about Good Omens, a book co-written by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, regarding whether we could use this kind of analysis to figure out which parts were written by which author.

went ahead and ran these questions by Dr. Pearl, and I’ve got her
answers below here! And I’m glad she answered them, because wow, this is
not my area of expertise.

Keep reading

This is incredibly cool and I’m excited I got to be (a tiny) part of the process of making ithappen. Thank you Dr. Pearl! ^_^


How much meaning is there just in sounds? How much are words alike across languages? In this week’s episode, we talk about the arbitrariness of the sign: how our sounds don’t have to connect to the meanings they do, how much cases like onomatopoeia serve as a counter to the random matching of words, and whether individual sounds or syllables carry their own semantic punch.

Here’s a fun topic with some really cool old and new research in it! Looking forward to hearing what people have to say.

This one was super fun to co-write! I especially enjoyed coming up with the fakey brand names. Language!

» 2015 Word of the Year is singular “they” American Dialect Society


Here’s the Word of the Year announcement from the American Dialect Society: 

In its 26th annual words of the year vote, the American Dialect Society voted for they used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun as the Word of the Year for 2015.They was recognized by the society for its emerging use as a pronoun to refer to a known person, often as a conscious choice by a person rejecting the traditional gender binary of he and she. […]

While editors have increasingly moved to accepting singular they when used in a generic fashion, voters in the Word of the Year proceedings singled out its newer usage as an identifier for someone who may identify as “non-binary” in gender terms.

“In the past year, new expressions of gender identity have generated a deal of discussion, and singular they has become a particularly significant element of that conversation,” Zimmer said. “While many novel gender-neutral pronouns have been proposed, they has the advantage of already being part of the language.”

Word of the Year is interpreted in its broader sense as “vocabulary item”—not just words but phrases. The words or phrases do not have to be brand-new, but they have to be newly prominent or notable in the past year.

You can also see the entire ballot, as well as an exciting livetweet of the entire voting and nomination process, on the #woty15 hashtag

Three cheers for singular they! 😀 

It’s a tremendously useful pronoun, and I’m delighted it won Word of the Year. Singular they has 100% become my default for the generic third person, as in “Every linguist should know their IPA”, but my ease with it as a specific remains a work in progress: “Yuki knows their IPA” still jumps out at me a bit, even if I know that Yuki identifies as non-binary. 

The specific usage works better for me with usernames, probably because they’re inherently non-gender-specific (like, “Lexikitty68 knows their IPA” is easier). But weirdly, the hardest time I have with singular they is when it’s used for a clearly gender-defined group: like “Every mother who breastfeeds their baby…” makes my brain go WAIT WHOSE BABY THIS IS WEIRD, even though, you know, you don’t strictly need to identify as female to be a nursing mother, so ‘they’ is probably the best choice anyway. Does anybody else have this problem, or does that phrase seem fine to you?

Either way, the way things are going, one can hope the next generation will have it figured out and internalized! Looks like we’re on the right track for making our language change to fit our needs. Which shouldn’t really come as a surprise – after all, that’s how people do.

» 2015 Word of the Year is singular “they” American Dialect Society



ASL sign names have to be given to you by a deaf person. Sign name is usually based on a person’s personality and have to follow ASL grammatical rules. And, ASL sign name isn’t like English name. Two person with English name ‘Jonathan’ don’t have the same sign name. So that’s why we deaf people cannot come up with a sign name on a spot for a stranger. We have to get to know them first, and getting a sign name is a huge deal- it’s like naming a baby hah.

Also, yep, Brits have different sign language than US. I couldn’t really understand a deaf brit signing.


This is a cool concept, explained using comics in a really cool way!

Super cool! I admit I didn’t know about this at all until now, but I’m happy to have learned about it through this awesome comic. 

re: how teens and adults text, I would be super interested for you to explain your theory!












ok SO. a lot of this comes from various stuff i’ve seen on the linguistics of tumblr, but at the heart of it is that people in my generation (at least in the us; idk abt other countries’ timelines on this front) went thru (or are still going thru) our Formative Social Years in an environment where we’d regularly interact with even our closest friends on text-only platforms (whether texting or gchat or fb messages or w/e), and b/c so much linguistic/social information is actually conveyed by facial expression and tone of voice, we’ve collectively made up all of these textual ways of conveying that in a concise, efficient way

so like, sometimes on this blog i’ll talk about “straight people”, and sometimes i’ll talk about “str8 ppl”, and even tho i would pronounce those the same, the first is much more neutral — it would probably happen in the context like “i’m not sure how i feel about straight people writing stories that center around experiences of homophobia” — than the second, which which is much more frustrated/venting — it would be more likely to crop up in the context of “all i want is to live quietly in my little queer utopia but no str8 ppl have to come along and heteronomativity UGH #over it #whatever #NOT RLLY OVER IT”. or even with more subtle things like end punctuation: “i’m not going” basically just means i’m not currently planning to go to the thing; “i’m not going.” carries much more of a connotation of “i have seriously considered going and have Reasons for staying at home” (and note that capital — “i have Reasons for staying at home” feels different than “i have reasons for staying at home”). (and this isn’t even getting into things like shitposting or advanced memeology, but there are specific textual markers that go with things like that, some of which would be pronounced if you read them aloud, but many of which wouldn’t be)

but, crucially, for these kinds of things to carry meaning, they have to be used consistently: if i use “str8 ppl” and “straight people” interchangeably in all contexts (as i do for something like “the supreme court” vs “scotus”), then there’s no way to develop a distinction in meaning between the two — the only way to do that is to consistently use the different orthographies in different contexts. (to take another example: if something is “great”, then it’s solidly good. if something is “gr8”, it’s more in the land of “i can’t quite believe this is as earnest/tacky/tasteless as it is but i’m weirdly into it anyway?” (sometimes with a side helping of “do i just enjoy this ironically or do i genuinely enjoy it there is no way of knowing please send help”))

the upshot of this is that to be fluent in tumblr (or texting, or fb messenger, or w/e) means to actually be paying a lot of attention to subtle points of grammar and spelling, to know when to use “did u kno” or “ur” or even pull out an old-fashioned tip of the hat to “e733T haxxor 5killz”. most of these are very subtle distinctions, the kind of things you feel intuitively rather than write out explicitly, and so it’s very hard to convey them concisely and accurately to someone who’s not already immersed in the linguistic environment

and let’s be real, people in my parents’ generation aren’t. i mean, sure, many of them have facebook accounts, but these kinds of platforms weren’t around when they were in their “really getting to grips with social interaction” years, and their most important social interactions usually don’t take place exclusively online. for me, all of my closest friends are people i’ve only interacted with online for more than a year now (with a few brief face-to-face visits when various travel arrangements have allowed), so tumblr, facebook, and gchat are absolutely critical to my social life and interpersonal interactions; for my parents, their closest friends are people they see in person at work every day, so social media is a light overlay to their social lives, not the thrumming core

as such, my parents don’t grok these distinctions. to them “what are you doing?” means the same thing as “lol wut r u doing”; “gr8” is just like “great” (and “gr9” takes some parsing … ); dogespeak doesn’t have the same distinctive valence that it does to us. since they don’t know about these distinctions, they don’t feel the need to maintain more “proper” spelling/grammar when texting with a friend — different people have different set points for this, obvs, but in general i feel like “standard (setting aside all the class and racial implications in that term …) spelling and grammar” (with lighter-than-standard punctuation and capitalization) translates to “relatively neutral/pleasant conversational voice”, and then deliberate misspellings, abbreviations, letter substitutions, and grammar deviations are markers used to indicate shifts in mood — i have a vague sense that bitterness tends to collapse down and preserve grammar but weird spelling (“lyk w/e im happy 4 u but pls, i kno u lied 2 get that”) whereas enthusiasm tends to preserve spelling but weird grammar (“what i can’t even no how do air AMAZE”). since people in my parents’ generation don’t realize that doing so unintentionally changes the way their words come across, they feel free to text “poorly” (ie with lots of errors/substitutions, generally mixing various text-flagged vocal tones in ways that are often incoherent) in order to do so more quickly (b/c lbr typing everything out can be a pain (esp on a non-smartphone), and since parents don’t do it as much, they’re not necessarily as fast as our spry young fingers on a familiar interface)

so yeah, that’s what i suspect is going on

tl;dr: parents don’t use orthography to mark vocal tone in the way youngfolk do, and thus feel free to condense their texts and otherwise use textspeak. youngfolk are using orthography to mark for tone, and thus text more “correctly” to preserve their social intentions

Which is something that leads to some confusion between parents and children – I’ve gotten really upset over some of my mother’s texts because they have a period at the end, and in order to be neutral, they need to not have a period. And then I remember that the way she composes text messages (and, incidentally-not-incidentally, the way my boyfriend composes messages in text) come from a different tonal background, and they don’t use orthography in the same way to convey mood. It’s weirdly difficult to code-switch texting, I think.

I’ve been referring to this particular phenomenon as having a vivid sense of typographical register, but I think it also fits well into the broader sociolinguistic idea of style-shifting. If you don’t communicate via technology that much, you basically have just one style (or maybe a simple split between formal like a professional email and informal like a text), but the more computer-mediated friendships you develop, the more you develop ways of communicating textually with all the subtle shifts in nuance that you also have offline. 

As an adult who grew up using the internet and texting as the primary media for engaging with most of my friends most of the time, I often feel sort-of between these generational divides.

I rarely switch to text-speak unless it’s in reference to specific memes. (I would never write “str8 ppl” for instance, but I understand the nuances described above perfectly. I understand that language, but I wouldn’t use it). But I absolutely get and use the “you only use a full stop in a text/IM to indicate when you’re annoyed/very srs”. That’s been a thing for at least 15 years now.

One of the hard things I find about tumblr is that most people here don’t seem to speak my language when it comes to emotes. Hell, one of the most common emotes I use everywhere else online (>_> but with the eyes facing the other way) doesn’t even work on this site because of poor site coding.

Everywhere else I use :3 :/ 😛 😀 and others in abundance. They are my main form of punctuation. I use them to indicate tone all the time.

And tumblr just doesn’t seem to use them. So to me, tumblr always feels somewhat formal all the time, because I don’t feel it’s a space where I’m allowed to use the tools I need to properly, informally and comfortably express myself. I’m always translating myself for tumblr.

And part of why I don’t feel comfortable using emotes on tumblr is because no one else seems to use them (not the ones I grew up using anyway) so I have no way of knowing whether those emotes even work the way I want/need them to for the vast majority of tumblr.
It’s kind of a shame because they were such useful scripts and made communication so much easier for me. It’s a lot of effort sometimes to figure out how to convey the same things without using them and I wish I didn’t have to.

Maybe the two-character sideways smiley is seen as old fashioned already? Is that why people don’t use them? 

:/ and 😛 are the two most useful indicators of tone in my toolbox, like “yeah I don’t know 😛 ” and “yeah I don’t know :/ ” are very clearly very different. However I do think (hope) that other people can understand it even if they don’t use it themselves (I’m like you, I can understand Tumblr speak I just don’t speak it). 

I’m however totally useless with the iPhone little-full-colour-picture-emoji things. >_> Half the time those don’t even show up on computer-tumblr either. 
(also didn’t know that the other eye thing messes coding, what’s it do? :O)

Edit: of course on this post where I actually wanted the <_< to show it’s borked version, it works just fine 😛 idk if the problem is therefore specific to mobile tumblr.

But it It does something like this: <_<>> Like. It tries to close the tag? I only realised it doesn’t mess up the other one in the same way when I saw you use it a few days ago. I though maybe they’d just fixed the bad coding, but no, <_< is still borked. (obv now i’m thinking that the reason yours works and mine doesn’t is because you tend to be writing stuff on the browser version?

I hate emojis. I can understand them, and sometimes they remind me of Lyra’s  alethiometer (and remind me how silly I found the idea that this thing was supposed to be hard to use because… Um? People do pictograms. We know how to do this stuff), but I don’t use them myself. I think mostly I hate them because I see them as part of the thing that pushed out/replaced the tools I actually already knew how to use and felt comfortable using (i.e: I am old and don’t like change :P) but also a bit because a lot of them, esp. the people ones seem so…. Uuuuurgh. In terms of… Everything. Like. Hey! Want a gender-normative societally-approved-masculine-performing White guy? You got it! Want a gender-normative societally-approved-feminine-performing white woman? You got it! Want anything else? Nah.

And the more traditional emoticon emojis I’ve never liked because they always… Add too much detail. Like, they try to make it represent a very specific emotional reaction? Which limits its use, and I often feel that the way I use the corresponding text emote is not represented in the emoji equivalent.
😕 isn’t the same as :/ for me, and :/ is actually far more versatile. (ESP because you can add a frown to it (but not on tumblr) the emojis for X_x // x_X // x_x // X_X (😵😲) do not, for me, match at all with the text equivalent, and just aren’t as versatile – like those three text variants all have different nuances. And you can add more nuance by introducing deliberate errors: X_c says something different again And X_@. And so does X_Zz. (and on a dvorak keyboard, I’m more likely to type K_X or X_k as the typo version).

In short I don’t actually see emojis as an improvement on text emotes, I see them as a step backwards. They’re more restrictive, less useful, less versatile. And not as personal.

Sure you’ll get the same variation of “x friend uses those three emojis a lot whereas y favours these four” but you don’t get the part with people using similar emotes to convey the same thing, but with a personal flair. Exactly like how you use >_> and I use <_< . Same as Viking being distinguished by putting noses in his emotes, etc. like, basically nearly everything I was celebrating with The Text Gazes Back isn’t there in emojis.

</angry old person rant>

I too am an angry old internet person and agree with all of the above :p

*shakes stick at cyber lawn*

Yes, to the more recent comments! I understand the different usage, and I understand at least some of the emojis (some of them I look at and get confused or my brain just refuses to translate, but hello neurodivergence), but the little two-symbol text things were part of what I used growing up, and putting actions between the little star thingies. And they meant different things, too, and not just formality level, but at the moment it is too early to put the difference into words.


I’m 26 and I understand all the distinctions in the OP, but I definitely have a different experience. For me, not putting a period usually means someone is upset and has more to say but isn’t saying it. When my husband says he’s going to stop by and get a haircut before coming home, I say “okay, cool.” My mother in law has a tendency to respond to any of my texts about our plans with, “okay” ahhh! what is the thinking. is she upset? she hates me, doesn’t she? I think those passive response differences are what really get me. If someone my age responds with “ok” then I know something is not right. If it was okay, they’d actually say “cool” or “cool cool” or “sounds good” or “gotcha!”

Also, I talk really really differently on tumblr than I do on text. I also talk differently on forums where you have a whole littany of abbreviations and shared language. So I mostly use real words and normal grammar when texting. The only really difference I can identify is that I lengthen words to display excitement. “Yaaaaaay!” means so much more than “yay” (Which can easily sound sarcastic to me)

Finally, I just don’t really use emoticons. I got a phone when I was 17, but I don’t think I had texting until I was 19. (Oh gosh, that long distance relationship when I was 18 would probably have lasted even longer than it did if my ex had been able to get away with texting me only). So maybe I was already too old for emoticons/emojis. Or more likely, maybe I’m just not an emoji person. 

The worst for me is the Facebook mobile 😛 emoji – it automatically makes itself into a winky ;P emoji no matter what I do. Trust me, 😛 and ;P are very different feelings. (Facebook on a computer doesn’t do this, so I can’t even know which one my recipient is seeing.) I liked the old gtalk auto-emoji best, the ones that just rotated themselves and didn’t try to add extra personality beyond what I intended. But I actually emoji when I choose to use them specifically, since there are some that I don’t have an emoticon for (e.g. hearteyes, party popper, and the concrete objects like foods, means of transportation, and animals). 

(By the way, this post also led to an interesting comment on Russian internet language, which I’m going to link to rather than reblog it twice.)

I think these comments all tie into a broader question of what influences the language we use via technology. Sure, there are general effects of whether or not you use it a lot, as the original post gets into, but there are also things like which technology you use, when you started using it, and which forms of language were common when you started out. In 20 years, are people going to be saying “these darn kids don’t know how to appreciate the subtlety of emoji anymore, they’re all using x instead!”? Probably. 

standard […] spelling and grammar […] translates to “relatively neutral/pleasant conversational voice”, and then deliberate misspellings, abbreviations, letter substitutions, and grammar deviations are markers used to indicate shifts in mood 

Okay wow I never noticed this before but yes. I do this completely. 

Oscar Headlines and Attachment Ambiguities


We’ve still been thinking a lot about ambiguity on the Ling Space team, and another good, if slightly painful, example came to our attention from Language Log. Sunday night, the film The Imitation Game — a 2014 biopic about the life of computer scientist Alan Turing — won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. During his acceptance speech, screenwriter Graham Moore revealed that he had a very personal connection with some of the events portrayed in the film; he explained that, when he was 16, he had tried to end his own life.

Unfortunately, the headline over at the New York Daily News read “Screenwriter Graham Moore reveals he tried to commit suicide during 2015 Oscars acceptance speech for ‘The Imitation Game’” (as of writing this, the headline’s been changed to “Graham Moore wins Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for ‘The Imitation Game,’ surprises in speech by admitting he made suicide try as teen”, though you can see a screengrab of the original here). This particular arrangement of words, you might notice, carries alongside the intended meaning an unfortunate alternative interpretation: Mr. Moore attempted suicide during his acceptance speech, and only later revealed the act publicly.

So what can these dual meanings tell us about how our language system works? And how do we deal with getting computers to process them? This got kinda long, so take a look below for the rest.

Read More

Headlines, man. 

Performative Language and Magic


We here at the Ling Space are pretty good-sized fans of Halloween, and also of fantasy stories, so I think it’s natural to think of magic this time of year. But when we think of doing spells, what does this actually mean linguistically? Like, we figure there’s magical incantations, those words…

I love performative language! There’s this real human urge to believe that saying a thing makes that thing real. And the thing is, almost everyone does this.

Most of us don’t believe that, I don’t know, saying Bloody Mary in the mirror three times causes anything at all, or that you can literally Wingardium Leviosa that sandwich out of your friend’s hand. But we still take things like vows and verdicts and resignations seriously, and it’s virtually the same thing. We’ve socially encoded speech acts into actual events that permanently alter the reality they’re spoken into. 

I think signing documents is pretty similar, too, even if it’s not spoken per se. Putting your name on a thing makes that thing official. Or, you know, checking that you have read the terms and conditions makes you legally bound to what they contain, whether or not you’ve actually read them. We have this whole performative structure based around the things we say.

And this makes sense, right? I mean, we’re using language all the freaking time. It’s this huge part of who we are as a species, and a huge part of what we do every day. I think it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that word use ends up being some of the most socially biding stuff we have. It’s tied to notions of agency and social contract and consent. In a lot of ways, saying things is what makes them real.

And I think this is one of the fundamental human attitudes towards the world! I mean, a bunch of mythologies include the first humans or gods going around and naming things, or words that create and destroy. It’s not much of a step to go from there to magic spells, on the one hand, and marriage vows on the other. It’s all part of the same picture, something that we carry with us as a species that speaks.

Performative Language and Magic