Friday, February 27, 2009

evolutionary biologists get curious about the lexicon

One thing that's exciting about the application of evolutionary biology methods to linguistics is that we can sharpen our understanding of just how the language has changed through time--and will continue changing tomorrow. This recent piece from England describes how some of the Oldest English words have been identified, thanks to the use of computational analysis of ancient texts, and this group from Harvard made a splash in '07 by coming up with a way to predict the future of past-tense verbs. That is, the past tense of go and have won't become goed and haved anytime soon, whereas the past tense of wed will likely become regularized (wedded) sooner rather than later.

If descriptivist takes on language clash with your sense of certainty about what is and isn't correct English, I recommend a visit to a website like It's an effective reminder of one's small and temporary place in the world. In a global society that's changing this fast, notions of a language locked in time and form seem especially quaint, if not absurd.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

firing a bird (I think) into an aircraft engine, and iceland's woes


And on a completely different note, here's a note from a good friend in Iceland. If you think the US economy is in trouble... And this friend isn't even hurting as badly as many others in Iceland, Ireland and other countries of Europe that don't begin with i.

We're hanging on just now thank you. S and her husband are moving to the US at the end of February. F (hubby) was born there--American father, Icelandic mother. He is a waiter, lived in Florida until he was 35 and now can't find work here. S just finished a course in accounting and one of her professors gave her some letters of recommendation to firms in New Hampshire. They got into difficulties when they bought an apartment near us before they sold their little apartment down town. When the markets collapsed, so did the housing sales and nothing has happened since. It is very difficult to pay two mortgages while F is unemployed.

E and her hubby O have 3 gorgeous daughters and she manages a big supermarket. He worked as a translator for a TV station, but today is his last day at work.They live in an apartment which we own so they are OK. Life is not dull here! The coalition government collapsed yesterday, heads of two parties are retiring, one because of cancer, the other had a brain tumor. We don't know from day to day what's happening--we just go to work and hope our desks have not been removed in the night.

I have heard that things are not great anywhere just now. Maybe because our micro-economy has been under the world's microscope, we are the first western economy to topple. How are things with you?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

for np

By what magic does she softly say my name and in so doing restore me to myself?

-- from Straight Man, by Richard Russo