Monday, August 25, 2008


I snapped the above pic at the Canadian border crossing on the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, Canada (Saturday, Aug 23) while heading up to Toronto to enjoy the cool Buskerfest (sorry, you missed it, but there's always next year). While not obvious at first from this cell phone camera's photo, look closely and you'll notice that the French word 'arrêt' looks slightly off-center. That's because it originally read 'arrête', but someone put red tape over the final 'e'. I'm assuming that final '-e' was the French imperative morpheme for -er verbs occuring with the (implied) second person singular informal pronoun tu. I could be wrong. Feel free to correct me. But the letter 'e' undeniably was originally there for some reason. Was it the informality of tu that someone objected to?

Any French speakers out there? Is there some reason why it would be "wrong" to use this imperative morpheme on a stop sign? I found an image of another English-French bilingual stop sign on Wolfgang Meyenberg's cool little site here and indeed, it uses the 'arrêt' form.

As for the Buskerfest, well, that just rocked.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Learning Something Niue Everyday

(Map of Niue from CIA World Factbook)

Thanks to Yahoo! news, I learned today that there is a nation of Niue: "Tiny nation of Niue gets laptop for every child". Niue is composed of a whopping 1444 persons and occupies 260 sq km, making it "one of world's largest coral islands" (CIA Factbook). What language do they speak in Niue? Why, they speak Niue, of course (aka Niuean, "Niuefekai").

Ethnologue Classification: Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Central-Eastern, Eastern Malayo-Polynesian, Oceanic, Central-Eastern Oceanic, Remote Oceanic, Central Pacific, East Fijian-Polynesian, Polynesian, Tongic.

As for the laptops, I'm a fan of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative. I especially like two features of the XO green boxes they've designed. Each computer automatically links to any other around it, making a sort of mini-web. Plus, you can get a hand crank to manually power the little guy. God! I wich my laptop had one of those!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Do Ossetians Speak Osetin?

The Daily Dish had a reader make the following statement: "...It claimed that there are a majority of ethnic Russians in South Ossetia. In fact, the majority are Ossetians, a small Iranic-Language speaking group." (original here)

I have no special knowledge of the linguistic diaspora in this region, so I did a little quick research.
  • According to The CIA World Factbook, Georgia's overall population is 4,630,841.
  • According to its Wikipedia page, there were about "45,000 ethnic Ossetians and 17,500 ethnic Georgians in South Ossetia in 2007" (let's say about 62,000 altogether).
  • According to Ethnologue there is a language called Osetin with about 100,000 speakers in Georgia (figure from 2001).
  • Osetin's typological classification is Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Iranian, Eastern, Northeastern.
It does seem to be the case that a) there are a majority of Ossetians in South Ossetia; and b) Ossetians do speak an Iranian language.

The answer, then, is yes, Ossetians speak Osetin.

UPDATE (8/25/2008): Bill Poser over at Language Log has a nice post discussing the "linguistic aspects of the situation in Georgia" here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

That's a "box"?

(screenshot from NYT)

The New York Times today had a nice story about the official introduction of boxed win in Italy. Quoting Bloomberg, the NYT rerported "Italy’s Agriculture Ministry said that some fine Italian wines that receive government quality guarantees will be allowed to be sold in boxes. "

Good for them. I'm a hater of corks. No other technology in the world would be allowed to fail as often as corks do and be allowed to persist. What if gallons of milk went bad at the rate that bottles of wine do? The dairy industry would die off in weeks.

But I must say, what counts as a "box" is being given clever and stylish leeway. For me, a prototypical box is most certainly square-ish, with 90 degree angles. If a box is to deviate from this prototype, for me it needs a special modifier like "hat box" or "pill box" or (even "Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat" as in this most excellent Dylan song).

The specialty wine box above seems to be a haute couture variation on Labov's famed 1973 study of how how an object's function affects its naming. Prototypical wine boxes might be square-ish, but a variation may take the box name because it is more importantly a wine container fashioned out of a similar material (presumably cardboad of some sort).

(pssst, the best reference I could find quickly for Labov's 1973 study is this Google books result here. If anyone knows of a better one, just let me know.)

Friday, August 1, 2008

Dissin' Linguists

(screen shot above from Inside

Oh this is a fitting follow up to my last post. Today, Mankiw posted The Cost of Being PC , regarding a ranking of academic disciplines based on how politically correct they are (PC = "the belief that gender gaps in math and science fields are largely due to discrimination..."

The full ranking is here.

And the big kicker? Linguistics ain't even listed. That's right! Glossed right over, like we don't exist. But they listed Art ... and frikkin Communication! Communication!?! Frikkin Communication!

TV Linguistics - and the fictional Princeton Linguistics department

 [reposted from 11/20/10] I spent Thursday night on a plane so I missed 30 Rock and the most linguistics oriented sit-com episode since ...