Language Research, Recommended Reading

Updates on Previous Posts!

Recently a family member shared some passages from a book about Tolkien
(J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century by Tom Shippey) that talked about how he considered himself a “philologist” or someone who studies language in written historical sources (thanks, Wikipedia!). Although I haven’t read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings books, I am familiar with the fact that language plays a HUGE role in Tolkien’s works.

Then I found a few articles and links to pages that talked about Dothraki and Klingon—two languages created for works of fiction. I’ve already written about Dothraki in a post, but these new findings were too interesting to keep them to myself. So I’ve decided that this week’s post will be about some recent updates on past posts.

As I mentioned above, I found two great links that talk about Dothraki (and one also talks about Klingon).
The first is from Wired: How the Klingon and Dothraki Languages Conquered Hollywood. The link is about a podcast episode, where you can listen to a discussion with Lawrence M. Schoen, who is the director of the Klingon Language Institute, and David J. Peterson, co-founder of the Language Creation Society and the linguist who created Dothraki and Valyrian for the Game of Thrones TV series. Or you can just read the highlights of the podcast in the article.

The second link is a video of Peterson, along with a few other actors,  performing examples of Dothraki  to promote the new Dothraki language course offered by Living Language. I love the part where Peterson discusses what kind of conversations he thinks would occur during a boring day for a Dothraki horse lord.

Then there’s the link that offers another theory on the nationality of the ISIS member featured in a propaganda video. I’m not sure why “Inside Edition” decided to contact Phillip Carter, a linguistics professor at Florida International University, but since this article offers perspective on the ongoing investigation I first talked about in this post, I though I would share it. The article is short, but if you’re in a real hurry, the short version of Carter’s theory is: the terrorist is either Canadian-born or Canadian-educated.

Finally, here’s an update on an older post about the efforts of Jessie Little Doe Baird, a linguist at MIT, to revive the Wôpanâak language. Unfortunately, the charter school planned by the “Wôpanâak Reclamation Project (WLRP) was not one of five charter schools approved by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to advance to the next stage of the 2014-2015 charter school application process.” But as the article mentions, the WLRP can review the feedback they received on their proposal, make changes that will strengthen their case, and then decide if they want to resubmit a proposal next year.

Since seeing the PBS special on Baird’s efforts to revive Wampanoag culture and recreate a language that hasn’t had any native speakers in several generations, I’ve been interested in the project. I hope that this decision not to approve the charter school doesn’t deter the WLRP from their goal.

Language Research, Social Network Analysis

How the Twitterverse is Contributing to Language Research

I recently joined Twitter. I am beyond fashionably late to this party, but Twitter has been on my linguistics radar for several years, thanks to the fact that many researchers have used tweets as data sets to study various aspects of language change and use.

Personally, I love the idea of hashtags as meta-commentary or as a type of paralinguistic cue (#SorryNotSorry comes to mind), but I’ve also listened to presentations where hashtags were used to track the spread of breaking news, as well as how it was possible to tell the trending hashtags that evolved organically versus the hashtags that were purposefully created (like those shown at the bottom of your TV screen during your favorite television series)—for the organically evolved, there are differences in wording or spelling, where as created hashtags tend to all spring up at the same time and in the same format.

But one of the big draws is the sheer amount of data that Twitter can provide. Searching a hashtag brings up thousands of tweets, and it’s here that language researchers are looking for insights. Since August I’ve come across two articles about a study that turned to Twitter to investigate Spanish dialects and discovered the existence of two “superdialects” whose usage doesn’t depend on geographic region. Rather, one dialect appears to be used more often in cities, and the other in rural areas. You can read the first article I found, from the MIT Technology Review here, and/or a more recent write-up of the same article I found on here.

Another way that researchers are using tweets as data are to reveal the overall mood of Twitter users on different days of the week and at different times throughout the day. This Buzzfeed article has some fun color-coded (if a little confusing) charts showing just that. The study uses specific search phrases like “feeling happy” or “hungover.” And with a huge data set culled from these search terms, their findings are probably reliable….to a point.

But as we all know, the words we use aren’t always meant literally. The lack of paralinguistic cues like facial expressions, body positioning, and tone of voice in online communication, combined with the 140 character limit, means that taking a phrase out of context isn’t going to reveal a foolproof data set of mood indicators. The sentiment analysis of tweets and Facebook posts are a big challenge to computational linguists—just think of how many meanings the word “like” can have online, or how much difficulty Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory has with recognizing sarcasm, and you have an idea of the possible pitfalls.

Does anyone else have examples of Twitter being used as a data source for research?

If you’re on Twitter—let me know! I’m always looking for cool people to follow. And if you want to return the favor, you can follow me at @l_g_johnson


As a bonus, yesterday was National Punctuation Day! Check out this fun Mental Floss article about lesser-known punctuation—I think it pairs well with the above section on paralinguistic cues. They’re like less colorful emojis!