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Of Interest:
language change

Linkfest the First

As promised earlier, here’s a quick rundown of some of the stories that caught our eye over the past week:

One of the features that we humans had held as self-defining
has now been observed in monkeys, namely, the ability to recall qualities and positions of objects that are not present. The more we learn about what our primate relatives can do, the more alike we seem...

A new study claims to show a link between personalities and language in multilingual individuals, with different perceptions and ways of behaving when using different languages. We’re not so sure about this one...

Uhhh, like, y’know...
Hesitation particles are an important part of a child’s first language acquisition, as they serve as verbal cues that the upcoming word is potentially important or, ummm, new...

After 120 years, Oscar Wilde’s
The Picture of Dorian Gray will finally be issued in its uncensored form. Huzzah for freedom of speech, boo to censorship...

We noted
a fantastic introductory guide to the field of Historical Linguistics, with great comments worth reading through...

Well, if we thought we could stop Skynet from becoming self-aware using humor, we’re out of luck, as
a program has been developed which allows computers to recognize and produce dirty jokes of the “that’s what she said” variety.

We think we’re going to love
this book by Arthur Phillips, a novel about the purported discovery of a lost play by Shakespeare. The final third of the book features the manuscript in question, and the reviewers are crowing about the fantastic faux-Shakespeare presented therein.

We have a soft spot for Ludwig Wittgenstein, the Viennese philosopher of language who changed the way we think about the world, and the role of language in thought and perception. Having published only one volume in his lifetime -
the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus - it is beyond amazing to learn of a discovery of a trunkful of his notes and writings that will revolutionize our understanding of the man and his mind.

The New York Times
bemoans the incipient loss of cursive, or script, writing. We’re right there with ‘em.

A seventeenth-century book, whose popularity was rife but which seemed to be unremarkable, turns out to be a very discreet sex manual of sorts, with enough metaphors to make it past the censors of the day...

Well, that should do for now... Stay tuned for more soon.


The Monkey's Eyebrows

We’ve just come across a delightful bit of linguistic history in the form of a dictionary [or perhaps more accurately a phrasebook] of slang from the 1920s taken from an issue of Flapper magazine.

One function of slang is to define group boundaries - you either understand and you’re “in,” or you don’t, and you’re “out” - and we are made privy to the concerns and mindset of the cool kids of our (great-) grampa’s generation with this peek. While the number of terms relating to dancing as a social function seems outsized to the contemporary reader, there are an awful lot of entries dealing with sex and drugs.
Plus ça change... Some of the definitions themselves seem to be wink-wink end runs around the censor - or the disapproving parent. This all makes for entertaining reading.

We note the number of phrases that still pepper contemporary English: a swan, a grubber, ‘the bee’s knees,’ and those whose usage is lost to time, even if the topic is still regularly broached: “Mustard Plaster”? An “unwelcome guy who sticks around.” These days, actual mustard plasters have been replaced by adhesive bandages, which we usually call “bandaids” - but we’ll address that whole brand dilution kettle of fish some other time.

Like any window to another world, we enjoy this article for opening our eyes and teaching us something about our recent past. As a snapshot of the ever-changing river that is language, we’re grateful for the wisdom we can glean from this find.