Archive for the ‘Linguistic Musings’ Category

The Final Countdown Quiz – Last LangSoc Social

Sunday, November 16th, 2014 by David

Thursday 20 November – 20:30 to 22:30 – Dining Room, Teviotclue

Contestant Number 1, come on down!

Join us for our last social of the year. Put your knowledge to the test, because we all know there’s only one way to separate the best from the rest; the venerable pub quiz. This time we’re putting a game show spin on things, so fingers on buzzers and no conferring! The questions will be tough and only one team can leave victorious! Do you (and several friends) have what it takes?

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Hoodies, Hoodies, Hoodies!

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 by David

Here is an overview of the hoodie styles and colours available.
You can see our existing designs here. Colours available for each style are listed on this page below.
This year’s winning design, How Linguists Have Fun, is also available:


We will be accepting orders until the end of Sunday 15th February. Payments are cash only and can be made at any of our events. There will be other opportunities once orders are closed. Further details will be communicated through Facebook and emails.

Zipped Hoodie – £20
Order Here


  • Full zip hoodie
  • Covered main zip with self fabric
  • Twin needle stitching detailing
  • Double fabric hood
  • Self Coloured Cords
  • Kangaroo pouch pocket
  • Right hand side pocket has small hidden opening for ear phone cord feed
  • Hidden ear phone loops
  • Ribbed cuff and hem
  • Self coloured twill tape puller
  • Soft cotton faced fabric creates ideal printing surface
  • Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) certified production

Girlie Zipped Hoodie – £20
Order Here

  • Full zip hoodie
  • Girlie fit
  • Covered main zip with self fabric
  • Twin needle stitching detailing
  • Double fabric hood
  • Self coloured cords
  • Kangaroo pouch pocket
  • Right hand side pocket has small hidden opening for ear phone cord feed
  • Hidden ear phone loops
  • Ribbed cuff and hem
  • Deep hem
  • Ribbed main pocket edge detail for comfort
  • Self coloured twill tape puller
  • Soft cotton faced fabric creates ideal printing surface
  • Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) certified production

College Hoodie – £17
Order Here
(Some restrictions apply to colour choices for XS, XXXL, XXXXL and XXXXXL sizes. See order form for details)

  • 50 great colours
  • Twin needle stitching detailing
  • Double fabric hood
  • Self coloured cords
  • Kangaroo pouch pocket with small hidden opening for ear phone cord feed
  • Ribbed cuff and hem
  • Soft cotton faced fabric creates ideal printing surface
  • Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) certified production

ILW Film Screening – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Wednesday 19th February

Saturday, February 15th, 2014 by David

As part of Innovative Learning Week, we’ll be showing the award-winning adaptation of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s memoirs. Paralysed by a stroke, Bauby transcribed his memoirs letter-by-letter from his hospital bed, blinking as his interlocutor reached the right letter in the alphabet.

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Marie-Josée Croze as Henriette Roi, holding a card showing a French frequency-ordered-alphabet, used in partner-assisted scanning, which enabled Bauby to write his memoirs.

Both a powerfully emotional film and an insight into alternative communication methods employed by therapists working with severely speech impaired patients.

LangSoc Members £2 – Non-Members £3

Wednesday 19th February
18:00 – Study – Teviot

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Soap Vox Lecture | Wed 30 Oct | Mark Steedman

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013 by jamiecroy27

at 18:00 in Lecture Theatre 4, Appleton Tower

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The Ghost in the Machine: Linguistics and Computation

Abstract: Almost sixty years ago, Chomsky 1957 placed automata-theory at the
centre of linguistic theory, arguing that natural languages were
beyond the context-free recognition capabilities of pushdown automata,
and raising the question of exactly what level of automata theoretic
expressive complexity would be the minimum needed to capture natural
languages. The interest of the question lies in the fact that most
natural linguistic phenomena, despite the important exceptions, seem to be
context-free, prompting the conjecture that there might exist a
“mildly context sensitive” natural family of languages with a little more
expressive power, but with comparably attractive computational
properties, and consequent increased linguistic explanatory adequacy.

Transformational rules themselves turned out to be too expressive to
be of automata theoretic interest in this sense, and mainstream
linguistics has shown little interest in the question since. However,
in recent years there have been a number of proposals for less
expressive formalisms from computational linguists who build practical
devices for tasks like question-answering and machine translation.
I’ll review some of these developments in non-technical linguistic
terms, using examples from various languages, and draw some
conclusions for understanding problematic notions such as universal
grammar, the role of statistical models, and the course of language
acquisition in children as observed by psychologists.


Entry is £1 and FREE to active members. Membership can be purchased on our EUSA profile ( or otherwise at that night.

The talk will start at 6:00 p.m. and last about 1 hour. It will be followed by a Q&A session (about half an hour). We will then go to a pub for food and drink with the speaker.

Our talks are public lectures open to all, regardless of whether you are a student or not or what or where you study if a student. We aim for all of our events to be accessible to all; please feel free to contact us beforehand if you require assistance or further information.

– See more at:

LangSoc Discussion Group on Revival Linguistics | Wed 23 Oct

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013 by jamiecroy27

19:30 in The Potting Shed, 32 Potterrow.

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Langsoc hasn’t done a reading group for a while, so we thought we’d do this as something a bit different.

Just have a look at the paper and come along for a relaxed discussion over a drink at the Potting Shed pub. You can contribute as much as little as you like, and don’t worry if you don’t have time to read the whole paper—you can just skim read it: all will be explained at the event. The discussion will be led by our Vice-President, who has a strong interest in the linguistics of language revival and personal experience of the subject.

Making sense of words that don’t exist

Sunday, November 18th, 2012 by Gina

Some days ago I had a sensation in my eyes which I referred to as ziepen (tweaking) when I told a (German) friend. She got what I meant even though she didn’t actually know the word and it would not normally be used in this way. I wondered:

How did I come up with ‘ziepen’ if it wasn’t meant to be used in such a context?

Ziepen describes ‘the brief pain through pulling of hair’. The meaning of ‘brief pulling pain’ can probably be transferred easily, e.g. in my situation to my eye.

How did she know what the word meant for me, i.e. what kind of sensation I was trying to describe, without actually knowing it?

New words are often deduced from words with similar meanings, giving them a similar sound pattern, which belongs to the study of phonesthemic patterns. A phonestheme is a sound (sequence) that suggests a certain meaning and has the tendency to show up in neologisms. Phonesthemes are often initial, but can also be final or even medial. The remainder of the word may not itself be a morpheme. (Waugh, 1994) Some examples:

  • fl- (often expresses movement): flick, fly, flip, flourish, flee, flop…
  • sn- (found in nose-related words): sniff, snore, snot, sneer, sneeze…

The German cluster zw (cf. tw in English) is generally related to the number two: zwei (two), zwischen (between), Zwilling (twin)… However, there are several exceptions, e.g. zwirbeln (twirl) and zucken (twitch). Although these don’t carry the specific meaning (two), they do seem to be somewhat semantically related.

Studies have shown that when asked to invent/interpret new words, participants look at phonesthemes in their language to follow a predictive pattern. This could explain why my friend was able to tell what I meant without actually knowing the word: She might have associated ziepen with zucken which describes a brief, usually involuntary movement.

In general, how do we agree on words for particular sensations while we can’t tell what they feel like for anyone else, and how do we learn them?

When we learn new words we understand their meanings by, for example, being pointed at the ‘thing’ or the ‘action’ they (nouns and verbs) describe. When it comes to internal experiences like perception it all gets a lot fussier.

How do you know that the pain I experience is actually painful? This touches upon linguistics, philosophy and biology. All our knowledge comes in through our senses which are subjective and unreliable (as revealed by the many ways in which they can be manipulated and deceived, e.g. hallucinations and optical illusions) and truth is defined by language which is more of an agreement than an objective state.

Pears (1971) explains that an empiricist view on sensations involves accepting that the general meaning of e.g. ‘pain’ involves two aspects: 1) the set of teaching links 2) the inner reference (private sensation). Only a primitive empiricist would think it only involves the latter – a language only about private sensation would be unteachable. He says that “our language of sensations is not really teachable, and we do not ever really communicate about such matters” (p.158). So, while we can ‘teach’ nouns and verbs that can be pointed at in the world, we cannot teach words that have their meaning lying within ourselves. We all live in our own worlds, we can never know for sure about other people’s sensations, so I guess instead of being ‘taught’ we can only infer such information from cues: When I bleed, I’m hurt and I’m in pain. So when you bleed, you are probably experiencing pain too.
Yet it is to note that pain comes in a whole lot of different forms, as you may notice when you see your doctor and try to find words to explain what’s hurting you. That’s where neologisms and phonesthemic patterns might come handy…

It is incredible how we manage to communicate things we don’t have words for, by using common words or inventing new ones. Life is miraculously mysterious and mysteriously miraculous!


  • Oxford handbook of Wittgenstein (2011). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Pears, D. (1971). Wittgenstein. London: Fontana.
  • Waugh, L. (1994). Degrees of Iconicity in the Lexicon. Journal of Pragmatics, 22(1), 55-70.


Monday, September 10th, 2012 by Gina

Correctly speaking, Gin ‘n Tonic. While most people probably know that the ‘n stands for ‘and’, eggcornishly it could also stand for ‘in’, after all, the gin end up in the tonic water, right!?

Now, when I heard the drink’s name for the first time, I thought it was ‘Gin a’ tonic’. Well, connected speech and perception (and maybe even ‘nativisation’ in my case, i.e. making it sound more like ‘the perfect drink for me’ (note my name)) can do wonderful things to word sequences, in this case even clarify that the connective is and, and not either and or in;)

(Urban Dictionary for ‘ginatonic’: This state of being is induced by drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, and becoming non-responsive to any external stimulus…)

{[(<‘«/...,.!? - ;»’>)]}

Saturday, August 11th, 2012 by Gina

Apostrophes, brackets, colons, commas, dashes, ellipses, exclamation marks, full stops, guillemets, hyphens, question marks, quotation marks, semicolons, slashes. In brief: Punctuation.

What would we do without those little symbols that organise our words on paper, that indicate intonation and thus meaning, essential to disambiguate sentences?

Earliest alphabetic writings had no capitalisation, no spaces, no vowels (i.e. today’s Abjad writing system) and very few punctuation. In ancient Greece and Rome, symbols were used to mark where speakers should pause; the longest section (the period) was divided by the ‘period’ pause – hence a ‘period’ mark –, the shortest section (“that which is cut off”) was divided by a ‘comma’.

When the Christian Bible started to be copied and translated (around 400AD), an early punctuation system was developed. Only when printing was introduced in the 15th century however, punctuation became more common and systematic.

Nowadays, punctuation varies across languages, register, and authors may (not) use it for a specific stylistic style.
While punctuation may facilitate comprehension, the lack of it may facilitate ambiguity – which must not be a bad thing at all.

Imagine you had a fight with your boy/girlfriend and you’re mad at them but don’t want to show it; you leave them a note saying ‘Have a good day’ without any punctuation. Many ways to read it:

Have a good day! – you fool
Have a good day… with me? Surprise me with some chocolate and apologise
Have a good day. There’s nothing more to say, just give me time to breathe.

Well, something along those lines. Makes the whole story much more interesting, don’t you think!?

Some readings:

Dale, R. 1991. The role of punctuation in discourse structure. In Proceedings of the AAAI Fall Symposium on Discourse Structure in Natural Language Understanding and Generation, 13 14. USA.

Lee, S. 1995. A syntax and semantics for text grammar. MPhil. Dissertation, Engineering Dept., Cambridge University.


Few consonants and mixed up vowels

Sunday, July 15th, 2012 by Gina

Kia ora!

On one of our first days here at the University of Auckland (NZ) we had a Maori welcome: a haka (war dance) and a Maori greeting us in Maori. It more or less sounded like “hakamuto…”, a string of just a few sounds. Indeed, Maori, an Eastern Polynesian language, has only 10 consonants: h, k, m, n, p, r (rolled), t, w, ng (velar nasal), wh (pronounced as f), and 5 vowels (vowel length is phonemic): a, e, i, o. u.

At the end of the 19th century, Maori became a minority language. Fewer people spoke and learnt to speak the language. Only at the end of the 20th century, the dangers of the language loss were recognised and recovery programmes were initiated, and Maori became New Zealand’s second official language in 1987. After a brief revival, however, the language has seen another decline in speakers – only about 9% of the Maori population is fluent in the language (about 4% of the population).

Maori words have their place within Kiwi-English. Many place names have not been translated into English and tell of the landscape’s properties, for example ‘Aotearoa’ means ‘cloud white long’ (land of the long white cloud, the Maori name for New Zealand). More examples can be found here.

Kiwi-English is similar to Australian English. What I notice most is the shift from ‘e’ to ‘i’. Further differences are that the short ‘i’ has centralised towards schwa, and the short ‘a’ sound has moved towards the short ‘e’. I was a bit scared I wouldn’t understand a thing, but I haven’t had any troubles yet.

So much for the linguistic side of down down under. I’ve been here for a week now, lectures start tomorrow, so there’ll be more to tell soon.


Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012 by Gina

(-wait for it-) If you haven’t heard of How I met your mother yet… you’re missing out. I’m not an addict of the series (as some of my friends) but I really enjoy watching it, it’s fun, a wide range of people can relate to the different characters and it even deals with more serious issues such as racism. But the main reason for a linguist to watch it is… the language, of course. Just take this scene – wouldn’t it be awesome if people came up with such an amazing wordplay in everyday life, rather than reading it off a script!?

Jerry: So, Saturday night? Time to cut loose, right? Who wants to split a beer?
Barney: Oh, we’re not drinking here. Tonight, we’re going big. Let’s see, what club should we hit first? There’s club Was, there’s Wrong…
Marshall: Um, those places shut down a long time ago.
Barney: Oh no…
Marshall: Oh No shut down too.
Ted: There’s Where.
Jerry: Where’s Where?
Lily: Where’s where Was was, isn’t it?
Barney: No, Was wasn’t where Where was, Was was where Wrong was, right?
Jerry: Ok…
Ted: Not OK, that place is lame.
Robin: OK is Lame? I thought Lame was a gay bar… or is that wrong?
Marshall: That’s Wrong. That’s not wrong.
Barney: Guys, focus.
Robin: Oh, I like Focus! Let’s go there.
Ted: Where?
Robin: Not Where. Focus!
Lily: I thought Focus was closed.
Barney: No, Was was Closed. Once Was shut down, it re-opened as Closed.
Marshall: So Closed is open.
Robin: No, Closed is closed.

Apart from scenes like that, the series has brought quotes into some of my friends’ lives that they could no longer live without ;) (mostly Barney-phrases)…

And more – find out for yourself! :)

therewith I conclude