Jargon, Homophones, and Language Change (September 2014)

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It's time for our end-of-month roundup of language-related items in the news--from the linguistically profound to the lexically ridiculous.
  • Politics and the English Language in 2014
    [I]t would help us to think through the . . . euphemisms and propagandistic jargon that American journalists have employed during the War on Terrorism, often out of sheer familiarity. . . . Read more
    (Conor Friedersdorf, "Counterterrorism and the English Language." The Atlantic, August 11, 2014)

  • Homophones Can Cost You Your Job in Utah
    Homophones, as any English grammarian can tell you, are words that sound the same but have different meanings and often different spellings. . . . But when the social-media specialist for a private Provo-based English language learning center wrote a blog explaining homophones, he was let go for creating the perception that the school promoted a gay agenda. . . . Read more
    (Paul Rolly, "Blogger Fired From Language School Over 'Homophonia.'" The Salt Lake Tribune, July 29, 2014)
  • 10 'Grammar Rules' It's OK to Break (Sometimes)
    Many prescriptive rules originated for screwball reasons, impede clear and graceful prose, and have been flouted by the best writers for centuries. . . . Read more
    (Steven Pinker, "10 'Grammar Rules' It's OK to Break [Sometimes]." The Guardian [UK], August 15, 2014)
  • The Disappearing Art of Sentence Diagramming
    If you weren't taught to diagram a sentence, this might sound a little zany. But the practice has a long—and controversial—history in U.S. schools. And while it was once commonplace, many people today don't even know what it is. . . . Read more
    (Juana Summers, "A Picture Of Language: The Fading Art Of Diagramming Sentences." NPR, August 22, 2014)

  • In Defense of Language Change
    The fact that we are creating new words, and adding meanings to existing ones, indicates that English is flourishing. Think of that the next time you bristle at the word “friend” being used as a verb or “selfie” used to mean a self-portrait taken with a phone. . . . Read more
    (Ammon Shea, "Is English Getting Dissed?" Los Angeles Times, July 26, 2014)
  • The Most Commonly Spoken Non-English Languages in New York City
    The American Community Survey is a massive annual effort by the Census Bureau to measure various aspects of American life. Among many other things, respondents are asked if they speak a language other than English at home . . .. Using this data, . . . Business Insider was able to map out New York City’s most popular non-English languages. . . . Read more
    (Andy Kiersz, "Here's the Most Commonly Spoken Language in Every New York Neighbourhood That Isn't English or Spanish." Business Insider [Australia], August 7, 2014)
  • The Most Commonly Spoken Non-English Languages in London
    A map of the most commonly spoken languages other than English in London’s boroughs has been published. Information from the most recent census in 2011 was used to construct the map, which shows Redbridge and Waltham Forest as the two boroughs where Urdu is the most widely spoken second language. . . . Read more
    (David Eggboro, "Waltham Forest and Redbridge Have Urdu as Second Language." Newsquest [London], August 7, 2014)
  • Learning From Paper vs. Learning From Screens
    A new study which found that readers using a Kindle were "significantly" worse than paperback readers at recalling when events occurred in a mystery story is part of major new Europe-wide research looking at the impact of digitisation on the reading experience. . . . Read more
    (Alison Flood, "Readers Absorb Less on Kindles Than on Paper, Study Finds." The Guardian [UK], August 19, 2014)
  • Is Hindi Making a Comeback in India?
    Many observers assumed that India had settled its language divide decades ago when it allowed each state to have its own official language and made Hindi the official language of the national government. English is also allowed to be used for official business. But in recent weeks, Indians’ deep anxieties over language have resurfaced, ironically at a time when the newly elected prime minister, Narendra Modi, 63, has unambiguously declared his preference to use Hindi instead of English. . . . Read more
    (Rama Lakshmi, "Is Hindi Making a Comeback in India After Years of Pursuit of English?" The Washington Post, August 3, 2014)

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