Articles on Linguistics

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Is using a vast vocabulary such a good thing anyway? Candice Albach/ Raul Pacheco Vega

Shakespeare had fewer words, but doper rhymes, than rappers

New York-based data scientist and designer Matt Daniels recently noted Shakespeare’s much touted vast vocabulary and charted how many different words Shakespeare used in comparison to contemporary hip-hop…
The two most prolific meanings for wink are those referring to sleep and that thing Tony did. lintmachine

One man’s wink is another’s winken – what did Abbott do?

Tony Abbott isn’t the first pollie to get into trouble with a wink. He’s now in good company with American Tea Party darling Sarah Palin. Palin’s notorious winks left voters in the 2008 American campaign…
Joe Hockey’s budget speech forgot the age-old rules of rhetoric, which he needed to observe if he wanted to control ‘the narrative’. Lukas Coch/AAP

In government, a mantra is not enough to control the narrative

The annual federal budget speech is the one required speech of the Australian political calendar. And it goes all the way back to Federation. It’s Australia’s equivalent of the State of the Union address…
If we’re living in a golden age of television, we should pay attention to the dialogue that drives shows like Veep. Foxtel Movies

Five reasons we should listen more closely to TV dialogue

People often ask me why I study television dialogue. Behind such a question sometimes lie deep-seated assumptions about the low value of popular culture. Such underlying assumptions can extend not just…
What? I called you a ditch, Mike, a ditch … Courtesy of FOXTEL

What the f***‽ How much swearing is there on TV?

Warning: this article contains copious swearing. Let me start with a confession: I swear. Not gratuitously, but once in a while it’s nice to let off steam with a well-placed “damnit” or two, when running…
“Hey, where are u?” “Ummm, right next to you”. TonZ

Watch where you put that emoticon AND KEEP YOUR VOICE DOWN

Emoticons, punctuation and creative spelling have been debated, condemned, and regulated since the very beginning of online text-based communication. We’ve all seen “netiquettes” on how not to use ALL…
Is it ok to call your colleagues “mate”? What about “darl”? AAP Image/Alan Porritt

Hey mate, let’s talk about address terms

In 2005, Parliament House’s security guards were banned from using the address term mate. This decision was quickly rescinded when talkback got wind of the ban. The objection? “This is Australia, mate…
Frankie wants us to relax, but is he asking or telling? chrisjohnbeckett

Get Back, Light my Fire, Do it Again: why is pop so pushy?

Rock and roll has always been a great liberating force in our culture. For many it has provided the soundtrack for all manner of acts of political rebellion and personal liberation. This spirit is captured…
Granny, why are your eyes so big? Gustave Dore

As they spread, folktales evolve like biological species

We all know the story: Once upon a time there was a young girl who took a walk through the woods to visit her grandmother, carrying a basket of goodies. When she arrived she found her granny ill in bed…
With English rapidly becoming a ‘global’ language, should we begin to call it something different? EPA/Christopher Jue

Renaming English: does the world language need a new name?

English is rapidly becoming a lingua franca in international communication for commerce and trade, education, science, international relations and tourism. It is the fastest growing language in the world…
Steven Bird demonstrates the use of a smartphone for recording oral literature. Steven Bird

Emerging writers of the Amazon: putting vanishing voices in print

My team and I recently ventured into the Brazilian Amazon to record the Tembé language and preserve some of its stories for future generations. This built on earlier work with our mobile phone app that…
Linguistic controversy: could ultraconserved words point to deep language ancestry across Eurasia? Sharon Mollerus

Thinking the unthinkable: tracing language back 15,000 years

Just about everyone has a personal stake in language, and many people — expert and amateur — feel entitled to an opinion. But linguists care more than most people, and when linguistics hit the media, linguists…
Augustine, one of the few remaining speakers of Tembé, recording a story using an Android phone. Steven Bird

Androids in Amazonia: recording an endangered language

The village of Akazu’yw lies in the rainforest, a day’s drive from the state capital of Belém, deep in the Brazilian Amazon. Last week I went to Akazu’yw, carrying a dozen Android phones with a specialised…
Endangered languages are being preserved using cheap mobile phones. Steven Bird

Cyberlinguistics: recording the world’s vanishing voices

Of the 7,000 languages spoken on the planet, Tembé is at the small end with just 150 speakers left. In a few days, I will head into the Brazilian Amazon to record Tembé – via specially-designed technology…

Voters take candidates on face value

In modern politics, a candidate’s image is everything, linguistic anthropologists researching US presidential campaigns have…
Macquarie is changing its definition of misogyny… but it still applies to the leader of the opposition. AAP/Pan Macmillan

Tony Abbott is a misogynist, however the dictionary defines it

As an academic, I often become obsessed with the meaning of words. They lure me in with their conceptual promise, and then I get hooked and tangled on distinctions and disciplinary nuance. Perhaps unsurprisingly…

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