Reading other people’s letters for the good of science. What the ‘early years of phonology’ can teach us now

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In order to trace the history of ideas, we can turn to a number of resources. Sometimes, it is through a scholar’s public words: acknowledgements or references. The latter – in the form of footnotes (Grafton 1997) or indices (Duncan 2021) – have been argued to be where the true academic allegiances and challenges are set out and displayed. However, sometimes the networks of information exchange and influence can be searched for fruitfully in private documents. It is precisely such private documents which make up the resource used in the book From the early years of Phonology. The Roman Jakobson – Eli Fischer-Jørgensen correspondence 1949-1982, edited by Viggo Bank Jensen and Giuseppe D’Ottavi.

From the early years of Phonology

The introduction opens with the question …

Experimental and Edgy Linguistics Somethingness: Sexy Syntax, Phenomenal Phonology, Phonetic Phenomenology, and Not Giving a Fuck

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 When Peter Bakker approached me to write a review of the first issue of Some Islands. A Journal of Linguistics and Art , edited by Joshua Nash, he made it quite clear why he approached me, of all people: “you do art and linguistics. Would you like to review this for Lingoblog? It is about art and linguistics”. When I saw the title page of this new experimental journal, it was difficult to say no. But little did I know what I was letting myself in for.  

Why islands? Why a chair? Why some islands? And why this sort of chair?  

 As I read on, I decided to stay open-minded, sit in it for a while and

Shaetlan. A contact language in the North Sea.


Shetland is the northernmost part of the UK, an archipelago straddling the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the North Sea to the east between Scotland, Norway and Faroe. The strategic location, smack in the middle of maritime trade and migration routes, means that the islands have been a place of contact for centuries, if not millennia.

Shetland has been inhabited for at least 6,000 years: the earliest evidence of human settlement in Shetland is the shell midden of West Voe dated 4200-3600 BC. These settlers were hunter-gatherers/fishers, but we don’t know when they came to Shetland or from where .

At some point around 3700-3600 BC we see evidence of a farming lifestyle in West Voe, for example that …

Lang Belta: the Belter language from SYFY/Amazon’s The Expanse

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The Belter language, which in the TV show is referred to as Lang Belta, is a Creole language spoken by the Belter people in the The Expanse universe. A creole language can be characterized as a new language, based on the vocabulary of an existing language, but with an innovated grammatical system.

The Expanse takes place 200 years from now, in a future in which Earth has colonized the solar system. In this world, people emigrated to the Asteroid Belt from Earth looking for work, and now survive by scavenging materials in the Belt. In this contribution I will outline the construction and general characteristics of this very complex and interesting Creole and discuss some of its grammatical characteristics.

Languages in and around Armenia

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As of November 2020, the territories where native Armenian speakers live have become smaller. Azerbaijan, backed by Turkey, launched a war against the unrecognized territory of Artsakh (also known as Nagorno Karabakh), inhabited by ethnic Armenians. As a result, a large part of Artsakh was given to Azerbaijan, and ethnic Armenians had to leave their homes. Many of those displaced families had roots in the area reaching back centuries.

Being displaced from ancestral homelands is no news to Armenians. Within the past two hundred years Armenians have been through a genocide, various massacres and pogroms by Turkey and Azerbaijan. There is even a word for “eviction of Armenians” in Armenian  – հայաթափում (“hayatapum”), where հայ (“hay”) means “Armenian” and թափում …

The Story of Speech Synthesis: From Talking Tubes to Neural Networks, Part 1/3


What would we do without the helpful voices in our GPS systems guiding us to our destinations? How would we look up esoteric facts without the silky voices of the virtual assistants on our phones? And how would we remember our belongings as we leave the train without a considerate voice reminding us to do so? Artificial voices suffuse our day-to-day worlds and fulfill practical functions, but where do these voices come from, and how do you ‘synthesise’ speech?

    The first stones of the story of speech synthesis were laid over 200 years ago where mechanical devices produced speech sounds by emulating the complex structure of the human articulatory system. Technological innovations in the early 20th century then allowed for

Can sounds have meaning? The peculiar case of West-Flemish tj and dj

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As linguists, we investigate all sorts of building bocks of language, such as sentences, predicates, prefixes and suffixes, and even individual sounds like p and z. Most of these building blocks have some kind of meaning. For example, a sentence like The cat sat on the mat means something, a predicate like is crazy in John is crazy means something, and even prefixes and suffixes mean something, such as pre- in pre-heated, which means something like ‘done in advance’, so that pre-heated means ‘heated in advance’. But, you may ask, do sounds like p and z also have meaning?

We know that sounds may distinguish meaning, but it is not so obvious that they have meaning. For example, …