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Wug Life

Jul 27 '14
Jul 20 '14


Maori pronunciation! Here are a few words that I hope will help you guys understand what I am trying to say, unfortunately writing it out is never quite as good as hearing the real thing!

Wow, my accent has changed o.O

So this is an EXCELLENT time to talk about how IPA is a tool, but not a fact.

The IPA for the word “Maori” is usually written [mɑ:ɔri], which would often be pronounced by American speakers as “mah-oree” or “maow-ree”. As flatbear mentioned in a slightly earlier post, those pronunciations aren’t accurate! (And she knows, she is Maori!) But isn’t that what the IPA basically says?

The way I would write flatbear’s pronunciation of Maori in IPA is [mɔ:ʊ.ri]. Similar, but definitely not the same. Am I wrong? Are the other ways of transcribing it wrong? No. They aren’t wrong. Since everyone has a slightly different experience with language and speech sounds, we all have slightly different perceptions of speech sounds. The category I would call [ɔ] overlaps with, but is not identical to, the category other people would call [ɑ]. This means I will make mistakes in pronunciation when I read other people’s transcriptions, if our categories don’t line up.

What can you take away from this? Speech sound perception is gradient, and everyone hears things slightly differently. A more extreme example is when L1 Japanese speakers have a hard time hearing and pronouncing the difference between [l] and [ɹ] in English, or when English speakers have a hard time hearing and pronouncing the difference between ه [h] ح [ħ] in Arabic.

Whenever you see someone else’s transcriptions, beware! Just because they have written speech sounds down in IPA doesn’t mean that those sounds are exactly the ones you would write down. Transcription is a very subjective activity.

Jul 17 '14

Anonymous asked:

I would love to know more about your thesis! It sounds really interesting :D

Aww, thanks!

My undergrad thesis was called The effect of linguistic environment on vowels sung at high pitches. I was interested in whether there was a solution for the physical and acoustic limitations of speech at high pitches. Here’s a little background.

When we say vowels, the first thing we do is get air flowing from our lungs. This vibrates the vocal folds and produces a weird buzzing sound. The reason we don’t hear it is as a buzzing sound, but rather as a vowel or other speech sound, is because the buzz is shaped by the vocal tract (the throat, mouth, tongue, lips, and nose). This is pretty much the way brass instruments work, too. You blow a raspberry into the mouthpiece, more or less, and the size and shape of the tube determines the instruments unique sound.


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Jul 14 '14


We received the above submission from t-o-t-o-r-i-a that really made us laugh and inspired us to hold the first ever LAH contest!!

Your challenge is to create the funniest combination of LAH cards.  Take a look through our archive — pick one black card, and then choose the appropriate number of white cards to answer the question or fill in the blanks, just like you’re playing CAH.

To enter, visit our submit page (NOT our ask page) and complete the form as follows:

  1. The words “contest submission” in the title section of the form
  2. YOU MUST BE LOGGED INTO TUMBLR TO ENTER.  Submissions are limited to ONE per person.  This way, we can keep track of usernames/url’s.  We won’t accept your submission if you’re not logged in.
  3. A real working e-mail address so we can contact you if you win (we won’t publish or share it, we promise)
  4. The full text of your chosen black card (e.g., “All linguistics students should learn about ______.”)
  5. The full text of your chosen white card(s).  If your submission involves more than one white card, please put the text of each on separate lines just to help us out.

We will accept submissions starting…. NOW!  Keep ‘em coming until midnight ET on Friday, July 18.  (Seriously, we won’t accept them after that.)  We’ll turn them into images, and post them on the morning of Saturday, July 19.  Voting will run through midnight ET on Tuesday, July 22.  Whichever submission receives the most notes will win!

PRIZES!  Nothing too exciting, since we’re just three broke college kids who run a Tumblr, but here’s what we’ve got:

  • Third prize: we’ll post a link to a (non-political, non-religious) nonprofit/charity of your choice
  • Second prize: third prize PLUS a T-shirt featuring an LAH card of your choice
  • First prize: third prize PLUS second prize PLUS the Chinese edition of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire signed by the three of us because we like to think we’re celebrities

Good luck!  Can’t wait to see what you guys come up with!

With love,

The LAH Team

Jul 13 '14
Jul 12 '14

Anonymous asked:

Hey! So I know this isn't an easy question to answer w/o knowing specifics, but what do you think about a high school student w/ an interesting ling going to the Linguistitute? Good idea? Bad idea? Better things to do w/ the future in mind? I know minors aren't allowed into CoLang, but I've heard they can go to the Linguistitute, so idk.

Unfortunately, I don’t know whether the LSA Institute allows minors to attend. It is definitely open to undergrads. Checking previous Institutes’ websites, they don’t explicitly state high school aged students may (or may not) attend. They do say undergrads, grads, and anyone engaged in the academic community.

However, I know that there are many summer schools for high school students at which you can take linguistics courses. (That’s actually the type of place where I took my first linguistics course!)

Here are some programs that are designed specifically for pre-college students:

So do any of you have a definitive answer on what the LSA Institute’s policy on pre-college (or minor) attendees is?

Jul 11 '14

It’s not sopranos’ fault that they’re impossible to understand. But maybe it is.


Linguistics, Boston University

The effect of linguistic environment on vowels sung at high pitches

I submitted my undergrad thesis to lolmythesis! If you want to talk about it, hit me up. :D

If you are writing a big paper like a thesis, dissertation, or even a big term paper, trying to create a “lolmythesis” type summary is actually a really great activity. By doing so, you help cement your understanding of the topic, figure out what the most important aspect of the manuscript is to you, and do so in such a way that is clear and uses simple words. It’s a bit of a challenge sometimes, but it’s an important skill to develop!

Short version of my UG thesis:

Basically, I was looking at transitions between vowels and consonants in low and high pitched sung syllables, but it looked like transitions didn’t help because there was too much silence between the articulation of the consonant and the articulation of the vowel. And the vowel is unintelligible because of the sparseness of harmonic partials at high pitches. There’s just appropriate frequencies available to resonate the crucial oral cavities that create the identifying formants of the vowels. Anyway, I was curious whether consonant transitions would add crucial information, but I was young and inexperienced and my stimuli probably didn’t have transition information. If I do it again, I’ll synthesize the transitions instead of trying to elicit them organically.

Jul 8 '14

Blog Update

I know I haven’t been posting very much lately. I’m currently working on my dissertation and two other manuscripts, so it’s hard to find time for writing for fun. I think I’ll be posting on small topics tangentially related to my dissertation. I’m not exactly sure what that will look like, so bare with me while I sort through where I want to take Wug Life in the future.

Don’t worry — I’ll definitely keep posting about linguistics and cognitive science! I just need to figure out how I can bring you the most interesting, informative, and accurate posts possible, without this being a paying job. Thanks for your patience, and I promise I’ll be bringing my content A-game soon.

One thing I have determined is that I will need to limit the type of linguistics I write about. I will still reblog all sorts of stuff if I think it’s cool enough for you cats. But I am in the process of becoming a specialist (that’s what a PhD program is for), so I think that more generalist blogs like allthingslinguistic, tumblinguists, and superlinguo (among MANY others) have that covered. I’m going to concentrate more on the topics I feel really in touch with, like sentence processing, syntax, phonology, and acoustics. I really love the sociolinguistics and historical linguistics discussions that make up the bulk of linguistics I see on tumblr, but I don’t think it’s my place to create content in those areas. To that end, I’ll be keeping posts on those topics to a minimum.

Please feel free to send asks on any topic though! Even if I don’t know, I can search out someone who might have a better idea.

Jun 29 '14


Hey sports fans - seen this video doing the rounds of the interpipes?

Deafblind soccer fan Carlos and his friend Hélio have developed a system to help Carlos experience the World Cup, shown here with interpreter Regiane.

This is the first time I’d seen this type of communication in action, so I dug around to find out more about it. In his video description, Hélio references haptic communication as the method being used. This type of communication is also known as tactile signing.

On this Australian Deafblind Information site, haptic communication is described like this:

Social Haptic Communication is broadly defined as the interaction of two or more people in a social context where messages are conveyed using the sense of touch. These messages (or haptices) may contain, but are not limited to information about emotion, facial expression, to map out the environment or a room layout and describing other visual or auditory information such as art or music. 

As another reference point, the Danish Association of the Deafblind has produced an English translation of their handbook 103 Haptic Signals - A Reference Book (PDF).

There are a range of ways that a deafblind person might communicate, adapted depending on factors like whether the individual is congenitally deafblind or they have acquired dual sensory loss, and the extent to which the person’s vision and/or hearing is affected:

  • Speech
  • Lip reading
  • Sign Language, e.g. Auslan
  • Signed English
  • Key Word Sign (formerly known as Makaton)
  • Tactile Signing
  • Tracking
  • Signs used on the body
  • Co-active signing
  • Visual frame signing
  • Deafblind manual alphabet
  • Printing on palm
  • Tadoma
  • Social Haptics
  • Gestures
  • Body language
  • Facial expressions
  • Behaviour/Routines
  • Pictures/photos
  • Object symbols
  • Written (large print writing or typed information)
  • Braille
  • Use of communication devices

Thanks to Hélio and Carlos for posting the video and showing us this great example of haptic communication in action. 

- Georgia

An excellent list.

It’s also worth noting that in this video, the deaf-blind man was deaf from birth, but not blind from birth. Additionally, he retained enough light sensitivity to see light/shadow distinctions. These are things that contribute to his personal methods of communication.

Jun 21 '14

Cat Scratcher 2: An Update


Couple of weeks ago I asked the internet (well, not very thoroughly) what they thought of when they heard or read the phrase “cat scratcher”. In retrospect, I should have guessed what the answers would be. I think I got about 10 answers in total and except for I think three people (1 on tumblr, 1 on Facebook, and 1 in real life (Mr Cu TH, bless him, I don’t think I ever loved him as much as I did in that moment)), everyone said a cat scratcher is something that cats scratch, rather than something that scratches cats (e.g. in the same way that a lawn mower is something that mows lawns).


  • I couldn’t spot any regional variation - obvs because of such a small sample size - but two of the “cat scratchers are scratched by cats” people went as far as to say that is the ONLY way they’d ever heard this object being described - one being from the South of the UK (or South-West? I dunno. Their accent sounded pretty general Southern UK to me, but then I am TERRIBLE with accents) and the other from Southern US. Both native speakers.
  • Out of the “cat scratchers scratch cats” people, one is Canadian, one is Southern British, the other is tumblr user wuglife who I think ??? is American. Again, all native speakers.
  • Someone pointed out - if I understood them correctly - that there is a similar ambiguity in German, a language which arguably has more noun compounds than English and is more productive that way; I couldn’t figure out if they are native English or German speakers (or perhaps bilingual).
  • An interesting interpretation came from a native Dutch speaker, who is otherwise quite native-like in English, who said the first thing they thought of was a back-scratcher shaped like a cat; in this case too, however, the Y-er (scratcher) is the one doing the Y-ing (scratching), rather than have Y done to them.
  • Another interesting interpretation came from a native English speaker (can’t place him for the life of me, also has been in the army so I suspect moved around a bit) who said that because of his familiarity with army slang where “scratcher” = “sleeping bag”, his first thought was a sleeping bag for cats. In this one, I guess you could argue that the Y-er has Y done to them, but that would obviously be quite a stretch because “to sleep” can’t be transitive like “to scratch” is (even though they share the common feature of zero derivation: you can scratch or have a scratch; you can sleep or get (some) sleep - unlike in “lawn mower” where AFAIK you cannot have a mow (though you can have a mower, but that’s different)).
The overwhelming preference for “thing that cats scratch" is all probably due to a pretty obvious flaw in my ‘experiment’: as much as I tried to phrase the question in as non-leading a way as possible, I couldn’t over-ride the fact that (1) "cat scratcher" as a thing that scratches cats is pretty nonsensical and (2) most people, especially cat owners, of which there were quite a few in my sample, are so familiar with scratching posts that even if they’ve never heard the phrase "cat scratcher" the ‘first thing they think of’ will inevitably be a scratching post. Constraints of real-world logic win in their heads. (It’s probably not a coincidence that out of the 3 people who said, or suggested, that a cat scratcher would scratch cats, 2 are linguists or have studied linguistics and are therefore more used to thinking outside the real-world logic box than the average Muggle… I mean non-linguist.)

I can’t think of a bias-free way of asking this question. I don’t think replacing “cat” and “scratcher” with non-words would have worked, because I think “cat scratcher” is quite unique as a phrase (based on the very scientific criteria of “I can’t think of any other examples”) in that the root of Y-er, here scratch- can form two nouns, one by zero derivation (a scratch) and another by suffixation (scratcher). So, we would have to find non-words with the same properties - but that means we’d have to *verify* those properties - which would bring us where we started. If it’s true* that, in the English language, we have more cases of XY-ers which mean the Y-ers Y the X-es (“lawn mower” = the mower mow the lawns), that probably means people will pick that meaning over the “lawn mower” = the lawns are mowing [something else] meaning. Which means that no matter what nonsense words we throw at them they will prefer the VERBer VERBing the NOUN meaning. Which still wouldn’t explain “cat scratcher”. 

So, I think I’m finally getting why tumblr user jazzmoth said this was a great find. It’s cos it’s WEIRD AS!

*Well, I guess we could find that out through some corpus analysis. And then use the non-words scenario to find out how biased speakers really are. But I suspect they are pretty biased towards VERBer VERBing the NOUN… And that’s even before we get into potential differences between native and non-/near-native speakers!

I am American, indeed!

I did my own miniature study (asking my brother), and his linguistically naive response was that it clearly meant was something a cat scratches, but he knew that if it were any other word combination he would expect it to be something that scratches a cat.

So I think you’re on to something with this particular lexical pair.

I stand by my previous analysis in which it is more common for noun-noun compounds to have the head of the compound be the second noun. But that’s not always the case.

Maybe this particular compound is or is becoming idiomatic. If this is the case, it would explain the wide-spread understanding that it means the thing a cat scratches. Since idioms are not always derivable (meaning they must be learned specifically), people who haven’t encountered this meaning may have different intuitions than those who have.

If anyone has more feedback, or has ideas for how to isolate the two relevant meanings of “cat scratcher” for an experimental design, send it our way!