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!



How can we try to capture the commonalities and differences between linguistic sound systems? What makes one language sound different from another? In this week’s episode, we take a look at Optimality Theory: how we can use constraints to describe how phonology behaves, how we rank which rules we care most about breaking, and how changing our priorities leads to totally different sound outcomes.

Looking forward to hearing what people have to say! ^_^

Reblog for the day crew!

New episode!



It is a thing.

How Louise Solved Heptapod B



In the past few years, a number of films have made a point of Getting the Science Right. Interstellar (2014) famously consulted with astrophysicist Kip Thorne, in order to achieve a realistic on-screen depiction of black holes (amongst other things). Just last year, The Martian was praised for basing much of its appeal around its scientific realism.

Now, in 2016, the sci-fi film Arrival is attracting similar accolades for it’s portrayal of linguistics, and of how scientists approach solving a problem. One standout piece hails from Science vs. Cinema – a YouTube channel devoted to examining how Hollywood fares on various science-related matters:

Since the movie only had so much time to cover exactly how Amy Adams’ character Dr. Louise Banks unraveled the aliens’ writing system, let’s do a deep dive and actually answer the question:

How do linguists do what they do?

Keep reading

An interesting discussion from one of @thelingspace‘s writers of how linguists go about analyzing unfamiliar languages and breakdown of how this can be applied to Heptapod B in Arrival. 

Having said that, I’d also point out that this gets to one of my quibbles about the nonlinear orthography in the movie: true, Heptapod B is written as a circle, but the circle appears to be easily divided into parts. So I’m not sure it’s evidence of nonlinear *thinking* any more than if I was to write English (or Elvish) in a circle. 

Great piece by Ling Space staff writer Stephan about the linguistics of Arrival!


This week’s Wednesday video shout-out is to DS Bigham and his series on popular linguistics! Specifically, about queer linguistics for this video. We’ve talked about how even in our neurolinguistic processing, we tend to assign stereotypical gender roles. This video looks more at the sociolinguistics side of things, and it’s super interesting!

We’ll be back Friday with a video for Project for Awesome, too! Looking forward to sharing that, too.

Language Map of NYC


New York City has a huge amount of linguistic diversity. It’s easy to know that abstractly, but to drive it home, it can help to visualize it, too. And that’s where designer Jill Hubley’s interactive language map of NYC comes in. It’s colourful, fun to play with, and informative. Here’s a look at one fairly broad setup:

The map allows you to have all languages shown, or to exclude English or Spanish, which lets you look at the pockets of diversity below. All the data was taken from
the United States Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, and while that’s not perfect in terms of its characterizations (so many “other” categories!), it’s still a great base to look from.

This kind of diversity is why New York is a great place to do linguistics fieldwork, like that done by the Endangered Language Alliance. If you want to hear more about them, check their site, or our Project for Awesome video from last year!


How the movie Arrival made the linguist’s office 

When the trailer for the xenolinguistic movie Arrival first came out, I mentioned that I knew the linguists who consulted for the film. Ben Zimmer followed up with them for Language Log

For the film, the linguistic consultants included Jessica Coon, Lisa deMena Travis, and Morgan Sonderegger, all from McGill. The set designers spent time with Travis and Coon in their offices and ended up borrowing many of their books, as well as reproducing other items from their offices, in order to create the office set.

Via e-mail, Coon writes:

The set crew came to my office first and took a lot of pictures (they liked my tea kettle and plants, and they wanted to know what kind of bag I carry). They needed to rent a certain number of feet of books, but I didn’t have enough, so we went up to Lisa’s office. I keep a fairly tidy office… they liked Lisa’s much better. […]

But Travis told me that the set designers were less interested in titles than colors: they were particularly interested in borrowing blue and beige books. Fortunately, she had plenty of both. Many of the blue ones are in the Linguistik Aktuell series from John Benjamins (Travis serves on the advisory editorial board). And she had lots of beige-colored journals (e.g., Language, Natural Language and Linguistic Theory,Linguistic Inquiry, Oceanic Linguistics) and conference proceedings (e.g., NELS, short for the North East Linguistic Society).

An article for McGill News interviews Jessica Coon about what she wrote on the whiteboard: 

Sequences that take place in the code-breaking tent where military cryptographers struggle to crack the aliens’ language, feature words that Coon wrote on whiteboards to lend that process a more authentic air. Words like “articulators.”

The articulators that humans use to form speech include our tongue, teeth and lips. “[The aliens] don’t look human at all, their vocal tracts and their mouths or whatever they’re using to make language is nothing like ours,” says Coon. In a situation like that, the military experts would probably be thinking a lot about articulators.



How can we tell apart different sonorant consonants- your [n]s and [m]s, [l]s and [ɹ]s? What do their sound waves look like? In this week’s episode, we take a look at the acoustics of nasal and approximant consonants: how opening up your nose influences your speech, how similar some consonants are to being vowels, and why it can be hard for some people to tell apart the English l and r.

I tried dressing up differently for this episode, too, which was pretty fun. Looking forward to hearing what people have to say! ^_^

New Ling Space! Whoops I’ve been sporadic in my reblogs lately. Hope I can catch up sometime ^^;

Moti dressup!



Penguin: Trust me! I’m a linguist! It’s called reduplication! 

The penguin is not a linguist, don’t listen to her.

Comparative linguist: Reduplication is a plural-formation strategy in many languages, but English is not one of them. 

Internet linguist: Internet English does, however, have a related phenomenon known as re-noot-lication.   


AP linguistics course planning begins


A really exciting initiative from the Linguistic Society of America! The LSA has announced that it’s formed a committee to create an Advanced Placement (AP) course in linguistics: 

This will be a long term project requiring many years and tremendous effort. Nonetheless that effort, if successful, has the potential to transform our field. Among other things, Linguistics could go from being a “discovery major” to a field high school students have heard about, and perhaps even sampled, before arriving on campus.

As this document makes clear, AP proposals require many elements that are challenging in the current context, including a well-developed college intro level curriculum, documentation from 250 US High Schools saying they are willing to offer it, documentation from US universities saying they would be willing to award college credit for it. AP Linguistics will plainly need HS teachers trained to deliver it, it will need an accompanying exam, and it will require funding to support its initial offering.

Recognizing that such demands will require the efforts of professional linguists and High School teachers in programs and schools from across the country, the ad hoc committee (APLC) has been charged to oversee and coordinate the work. APLC foresees four major subareas of effort: Curriculum Development, Outreach to High Schools and Universities, Teacher Training, Fund Raising. 

Of course, not all schools have AP or may offer a future AP linguistics course, but it would still a fantastic increase in visibility for linguistics at the high school level. General high school courses are typically approved by the school board, so at the moment anyone trying to create a high school linguistics course has to first explain to their school board what linguistics even is (as Suzanne Loosen did in her excellent article for Language). Being able to say “we should have linguistics, look, it’s already an AP course” would make this argument much easier. 

So if anyone is at a high school, knows high school teachers, or can get in touch with your former high school, helping to form that list of 250 high schools that are willing to offer the course would is one area in particular that would be really helpful, although you can also contact Richard Larson with offers to help in any area

At the moment, for anyone interested in doing linguistics at the high school level before the AP course gets going, I have a list of ideas for integrating linguistics into high school classes

Yes!!! Awesome! Three cheers for AP Linguistics!

We at The Ling Space have always had as part of our passion and our mandate the notion that linguistics – the study of this amazing thing each one of us does every day – is something that should be accessible and available for anyone as part of scientific literacy. Having high schools offer it as an option would be phenomenal, and I’m really excited to see how this project develops. 

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!