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Posts Tagged ‘words

“I resemble that remark”*…

Swiss linguist and philosopher Ferdinand de Saussure articulated the modern version of a belief that dates from Plato, and extended through Locke to modern linguistic scholarship…

… that the letters and words in many writing and language systems have no relationship to what they refer to. The word “cat” doesn’t have anything particularly cat-like about it. The reason that “cat” means cat is because English speakers have decided so—it’s a social convention, not anything ingrained in the letters c-a-t. (According to Saussure, a language like Chinese, where each written character stands for a whole word, was a separate writing system, and his ideas were directed towards writing systems made up of letters or syllables.) 

But new research calls this foundational assumption into question. “The Color Game,” created by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History to study the evolution of language, suggests that there may be a representational relationship after all…

…the idea that words, or other signs, do actually relate to what they’re describing has been gaining ground. This is called iconicity: when a spoken or written word, or a gestured sign, is iconic in some way to what it’s referring to…

… research now suggests that our languages are riddled with iconicity, and that it may play a role in language evolution, and how we learn and process language. Along with this evidence from The Color Game, in the last decade and a half, an increase in cross-cultural studies has re-upped the attention on iconicity, and pushed back against the doctrine of arbitrariness. 

“It is now generally accepted that natural languages feature plenty of non-arbitrary ways to link form and meaning, and that some forms of iconicity are pretty pervasive,” said Mark Dingemanse, a linguist at Radboud University, who said that he too learned in Linguistics 101 that “the sign is arbitrary.” “Iconicity has become impossible to ignore.”…

Iconicity has always been around. One familiar example is onomatopoeias, like “ding-dong,” “chirp,” or “swish”—words that sound like what they’re referring to. Those words aren’t random, they have a direct relationship to what they represent. Yet, onomatopoeias were thought to be the exception to a wholly arbitrary set of signifiers, said Marcus Perlman, a lecturer in English language and linguistics at the University of Birmingham. This belief persisted despite hints that other words might have some connection to what they signified…

There could also be iconicity in what the letters themselves look like, and not just the sounds or gestures of words. In 2017, linguists Nora Turoman and Suzy Styles showed people who spoke unfamiliar languages different letters and asked them to guess which made the /i/ sound (“ee” in feet), and which was /u/ (“oo” sound in shoe). The participants were able to do so better than chance just by looking at the shape of the letters…

Language is most likely a mix of arbitrariness and iconicity, Perlman said, along with something called systematicity, when relationships form between words and meaning that aren’t necessarily iconic. (An example is words that start with gl- in English often are related to light, like glisten, glitter, gleam, and glow. There’s nothing necessarily light-like about the sound gl-, but the relationship is still there.)

Morin thinks of iconicity as the “icing on the cake” of language. It makes words more intuitive, more easy to guess. Iconicity might make languages easier to learn; Kim said there’s a saying about Hangul, that: “A wise man can learn it in a morning, and a fool can learn it in the space of ten days.”…  

Rethinking our most fundamental tool, as new research reveals a connection between what words look and sound like, and what they mean: “Why Are Letters Shaped the Way They Are?,” from @shayla__love in @motherboard.

* Curly, in The Three Stooges’ “Idle Roomers

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As we reflect on resemblance, we might spare a thought for a champion of a different sort of mimesis: James Morrison Steele (“Steele”) MacKaye; he died on this date in 1894.  A well-known theatrical actor, dramatist, producer, and scenic innovator in his time, he is best remembered for his revolutionary contributions to theatrical design.  MacKaye opened the Madison Square Theatre in 1879, where he created a huge elevator with two stages stacked one on top of the other so that elaborate furnishings could be changed quickly between scenes.  MacKaye was the first to light a New York theatre– the Lyceum, which he founded in 1884– entirely by electricity.  And he invented and installed overhead and indirect stage lighting, movable stage wagons, artificial ventilation, the disappearing orchestra pit, and folding seats.  In all, MacKaye patented over a hundred inventions, mostly for the improvement of theatrical production and its experience.

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“The nice thing about doing a crossword puzzle is, you know there is a solution”*…

An Ernie Bushmiller “Cross Word Cal” cartoon, from Sunday New York World, 1925. Note how the animals are caged by letter length and genus — Source.

Roddy Howland Jackson (himself a setter of puzzles) considers the origins of, and reveals the pleasures and imaginative creatures lurking in Torquemada’s seminal puzzles, the original cryptic crosswords…

Just a few years after The Waste Land appeared — a poem whose difficulty critics compared to some “pompous cross-word puzzle” — Edward Powys Mathers (alias: Torquemada) pioneered the cryptic: a puzzle form that, like modernist poetry, unwove language and rewove it anew…

“The Swan” from Torquemada’s Cross-Words in Rhyme for Those of Riper Years (1925) — Source

T. S. Eliot, Vladimir Nabokov, Torquemada, and the Modernist crossword: “Beastly Clues,” from @roddyhj in @PublicDomainRev.

See also “Topic: Surprise, Drowsy Cows RIP, as Corrected (2,5,7,10)

* Stephen Sondheim (who helped introduce Americans to British-style cryptic crosswords)

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As we contemplate circuitous clues, we might note that today is National Thesaurus Day, celebrated each year on this date in honor of physician, natural theologian, and lexicographer Peter Mark Roget, who was born on this date in 1779. In 1852 Roget published his Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition (or, as we know it, Roget’s Thesaurus), a pioneering collection of related words.

Modern thesauri tend to be collections of synonyms and antonyms. Roget’s Thesaurus was…

… essentially a reverse dictionary. With a dictionary, the user looks up a word to find its meaning. With Roget’s, the user start with an idea and then keeps flipping through the book until he finds the word that best expresses it. The organization of the book reflects the unique intelligence of the polymath that created it…

Roget’s was a two-for-one: it put both a book of synonyms and a topic dictionary (a compendium of thematically arranged concepts) under one cover.

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Roget’s official portrait by Thomas Pettigrew

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“Words of nuance, words of skill/Words of romance are a thrill/Words are stupid, words are fun/Words can put you on the run”*…

We know them by their words…

For some stars, a big vocabulary is priceless. Singer-songwriters from Patti Smith to Nick Cave have built careers with songs whose rich language is as important as the music. We wondered if today’s chart-toppers used such a diverse word set.

We already know that some Hip Hop artists have access to a breathtaking array of expressions. But what about other contemporary stars?

WordTips counted the words used by 100 modern stars and the 100 greatest singers of all time and added up the number of unique words they used per 1,000. For example, Patti Smith used 2,669 different words across a total word count of 12,291, giving a score of 217/1000.

Key Findings

• The star with the biggest vocabulary overall is legend Patti Smith, who uses 217 unique words per 1,000.

Billie Eilish is the modern star with the biggest vocabulary: 169 per 1,000.

• Legend Luther Vandross and modern star Trey Songz are tied with 66 for the smallest vocabulary.

• The song with the most unique words is Lou Reed’s The Murder Mystery, recorded by The Velvet Underground, with 639 words

An interactive that reveals who uses the the widest array of words: “Which Singers Have the Biggest Vocabularies? Modern Stars vs Legends.”

* Tom Tom Club, “Wordy Rappinghood

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As we express ourselves, we might recall that it was on this date in 1965 that the Beatles released their fifth studio album, Help!, accompanying the movie of the same title. Seven of the fourteen songs, including the singles “Help!” and “Ticket to Ride”, appeared in the film and took up the first side of the vinyl album. The second side included “Yesterday”, by Paul McCartney, the most-covered song ever written. While “Yesterday’ isn’t an especially-demonstrative example, McCartney was a top-ten user of unique words (7,896 across his compositions).

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 6, 2021 at 1:00 am

“One should aim not at being possible to understand, but at being impossible to misunderstand”*…

Here’s an ambiguous sentence for you: “Because of the agency’s oversight, the corporation’s behavior was sanctioned.” Does that mean, “Because the agency oversaw the company’s behavior, they imposed a penalty for some transgression,” or does it mean, “Because the agency was inattentive, they overlooked the misbehavior and gave it their approval by default”? We’ve stumbled into the looking-glass world of contronyms—words that are their own antonyms…

This phenomenon is called enantiosemy, enantionymy (enantio- means “opposite”), antilogy or autantonymy; an enantiosemic term is necessarily polysemic.

Contronyms, also known as auto-antonyms or autantonyms– or just as Janus words: “25 Words That Are Their Own Opposites.”

For a longer list, see “75 Contronyms.”

* Quintilian (Marcus Fabius Quintilianus)

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As we note that context is everything, we might recall that it was on this date (which is, by the way, Fibonacci Day) in 1644 that John Milton published Areopagitica; A speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing, to the Parlament of England.  A prose polemic opposing licensing and censorship, it is among history’s most influential and impassioned philosophical defenses of the principle of a right to freedom of speech and expression.  The full text is here.

409px-Areopagitica_1644bw_gobeirne

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 23, 2020 at 1:01 am

“There’s no such thing as an unabridged dictionary”*…

 

dictionary

 

Write with a better dictionary. Modern dictionaries have lazy definitions that focus too much on simplicity at the cost of precision. Instead of using the default one on your computer, bookmark this site, and start using the Webster’s 1913 dictionary…  – @david_perell

The connoisseur’s reference to American English – a dictionary for writers and wordsmiths: Webster’s 1913.

[TotH to @Frauenfelder and Recommendo]

* Jack Lynch, The Lexicographer’s Dilemma: The Evolution of “Pro 

per” English, from Shakespeare to South Park

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As we choose our words carefully, we might send amusingly-composed birthday greetings to Don Knotts; he was born on this date in 1924,  An actor, screenwriter, and comedian, he’s best known for his role as Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show, a 1960s sitcom for which he earned five Emmy Awards (though he’s also pretty well-known for having played Ralph Furley on Three’s Company and for several films, including The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and The Incredible Mr. Limpet.  In 1979, TV Guide ranked him #27 on its 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time list.

When you work with words, words are your work  – Don Knotts

Don_Knotts_Barney_Fife_1966 source

 

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