the ling space



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.


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!


One more thing! I will be a guest speaker at NerdCon this Friday and Saturday at the Minneapolis Convention Center, and you’ll be able to see me do a whole bunch of goofy things. Check out my schedule here!

I had a fantastic time hanging out with @bluedelliquanti at NerdCon this past weekend! And then I bought a book and forgot to get it signed OH NO

Blue’s one of the rad folks I interviewed this weekend for

@thelingspace so we can all look forward to seeing that video on our YouTube channel​ soon!

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. 



Why do so many words and sentences have multiple meanings? How do we deal with all of the overlaps? In this week’s episode, we talk about ambiguity: where it comes from, how we deal with processing it, and how children pick meanings from the menu of semantic possibilities they’re presented with.

We’ve been meaning to talk more about this for a while! Looking forward to hearing what you all think. ^_^

Reblog for the day crew! And happy Canada Day. ^_^

New episode!! And hello all our new viewers, delighted to meet you! ❤

10,000 Subscribers


So over the weekend, we passed 10,000 subscribers on our YouTube channel. We’re really excited and amazed by this! Thanks so much for your support for us. We even got lucky enough that our staff writer Stephan managed to snag a screenshot of our page just when we hit 10,000:

As is customary for this milestone, we’re planning on doing a Q&A video to commemorate the occasion! Feel free to ask us stuff here, or on Twitter or Facebook or wherever. It can be about language stuff, the channel, or whatever else you feel like! Then we’ll pick among the questions and answer them. I’ll try to get together the whole team to do the session, too. ^_^

Also, another reminder: We’re going to be at VidCon this Thursday to Saturday! Our director Adele and I will be both attending. We’re really happy to meet up with people, so please come say hi. ^_^

I just want to say how thrilling it is to be part of this project and to be able to make linguistics videos for the wonderful audience that you all are!! Thank you to everyone who has subscribed so far and everyone who enjoys our videos.

See you at VidCon!

Interview with Patricia Churchland


So a week and a half ago, our staff writer Stephan had a chance to interview Dr. Patricia Churchland, after a talk she gave at the Montreal Neurological Institute. Dr. Churchland is Professor Emerita of Philosophy at UCSD (having been chair of the department from 2000 until 2007), as well as an adjunct Professor at the Salk Institute. She is probably best known for her work on eliminative materialism and the interface between neuroscience and philosophy — most notably, perhaps, within the pages of the seminal Neurophilosophy (1986). Her more recent books include Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells us about Morality (2011) and Touching a Nerve (2014), both of which focus on morality and the social brain. She is also former president of the American Philosophical Association and the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, and has received numerous awards, prizes, and honours throughout her distinguished career.

She discussed with us a number of topics, including the evolution and innateness of language, whether language is a module in the brain, the importance of science literacy, and more. You can find the whole thing below here!

Keep reading

Very cool interview!!



How do we put our words together? What varieties of building blocks do we stack up to create bigger meanings? In this week’s episode, we talk about derivational and inflectional morphology: what roles each of them play, how to tell them apart, and how differences in how we string them together can lead to ambiguity.

Back talking about morphology for the first time in a while! Looking forward to hearing what people have to say. ^_^

Reblog for the day crew!

New video is up! Time to stack those morphemes. 😀