Monday, 2015 November 9, 23:54 — fandom, language, prose

pseudohistorical linguistics

I can’t remember how much I knew of Elvish languages before The Silmarillion, with a glossary, appeared in 1978. Can you tell from the text of The Lord of the Rings (not counting the Appendices) that Quenya and Sindarin are related? Are any words explicitly given in both?

Sunday, 2015 May 3, 13:24 — language

place-names and personal-names

In my county there’s a village named Van —–. I think that if my name had a Van or equivalent, and someone proposed to name a town for me, I’d prefer they drop the particle.

On another hand, Jan van Steenbergen has said he finds it odd to be referred to as “Steenbergen”.

An old book on place-names mentions a patch of London that has (or had) a street for every word of the former owner’s peerage title(s), including Of Alley.

(Websearch for “Couver” turns up only the French verb.)

Saturday, 2013 October 26, 14:41 — language, spam, technology

limited voice recognition?

When I answer the ’phone, I generally say either “Yes?” or “Good day/evening, Sherwoods” rather than “Hello.” With cold-callers I often don’t get a response to that; I pause and try a variation or two of “Is someone there?” before the caller speaks up with a bewildered “Hello?”.

Does their robo-dialer wait for a “Hello” before prompting the human that it has found a live line?

Saturday, 2013 October 12, 01:02 — cinema, language

a shifting role

The original Nikita (1990) and the American remake Point of No Return (1993) had a minor character called Victor the Cleaner — played by Jean Reno and Harvey Keitel respectively — whose specialty was making evidence, such as bodies, disappear.

Reno returned in Léon (1994), again as a “cleaner”, but this time “cleaner” meant assassin.

In the current TV series Nikita, “cleaner” again means assassin. I wonder how far this usage has spread.

Thursday, 2013 July 4, 23:12 — language

how adolescent boys talked

If you don’t remember George Carlin’s speech that contains the phrase “six sins for one feel”, go ahead and look it up.

When I first heard it, the phrase “feel her up” was new to me, but its meaning was obvious. Thirty-some years later, I reckon I must have known some synonymous expression, but cannot recall what it was!

Saturday, 2012 December 1, 19:11 — language

Russian runes?

Backtracking a search that led to my runes, I found this page that seems to claim that the futhark descended from a Russian system based on segments selected from the wheel graph W6. One needn’t accept the claim to find the system at least a little bit interesting.

Thursday, 2012 August 23, 23:11 — language


Got an idea for a transhuman story element.

Assume that the technology exists to let you acquire fluency in a language of your choice as easily as you install a font on your computer. (Such technology figures in When Gravity Fails and probably bunches of other fiction.)

My idea is a Private Language Generator, which uses some source of true random noise to generate a language — syntax, phonology, morphology, lexicon — from the ground up, and install it using the interface assumed above. When two or more people use the device together, they acquire the ability to communicate ‘naturally’ in a language that no eavesdropper can interpret.

This leads to a new kind of traffic analysis. Any two people who Tweet in the same unknown language thereby expose their association. So maybe the PLG is not all that useful for secrecy. But lovers, for example, might use it for fun. (See also The Languages of Pao.)

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