All posts in language

Do you creak?

From Slate’s Lexicon Valley, an episode about a vocal affection in young, “upwardly mobile” American women. It’s called creaky voice, and it describes a speaker using staccato bursts in the back of the throat. It’s raspy, deep and quite familiar.

The “creaking” sound grates on the ears of NPR veteran, Bob Garfield. But when played to American college women, it conveys professionalism, urbanism and a woman whose career is on the rise.

Listen to this example from a Deutsche Bank interview series, especially the first speaker, a managing director named Jane. Nearly all the women in this video creak.

(via CNBC)

The explanation given in Lexicon Valley is that the creaky affection lowers the voice’s pitch, making it sound deeper. And a deeper voice can be beneficial, especially in the workplace.

Take for example Marget Thatcher. Her high notes were “dangerous to passing sparrows”. Upon the recommendation of her advisers, she lowered her pitch and moved up the ranks to eventually become prime minister.

Soooooo maaaaaybe there is something to aaaaaall this creaking?

If wishes were zorses

Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction. Peter is reading Game of Thrones, and the constant mention of “zorses” piqued our curiosity. And what do you know, a zorse is the offspring of a male zebra and a female horse.

Turns out there is lots to zebroid nomenclature. Depending on the species of the sire and dame, you’ll either get a zonkey, a zorse, a zony and so on.

On the search for more remix animals, imagine my excitement upon discovering the honest-to-God existence of Napoleon Dynamite’s famed creature, the liger.

Bred for its skills in magic:

More animal portmanteaus.

Images: “Zeedonk” by sannse / CC BY SA 3.0 Unported and “Ligertrainer” by Andy Carvin / CC BY SA 2.5 Generic via Wikimedia Commons.

In Unicode


Card-carrying members of Working Together For Interrobangs (WTF‽), the talented and launched a few months back. I’m slow to share the news, but it’s a really handy site.

Until I get a dedicated interrobang key, I can go straight to my bookmarked inverted and upright interros. If your font library is missing some funny characters (like

Globish for Arabic: Fluency in 1500 words?

I’ve been thinking recently about my pledge to learn a new language every decade. Time is ticking on my next one, Arabic, and although I’ve done a few introductory courses and can manage a few sentences, I’ve got a long way to go before properly holding a conversation.

Mastering a languages takes a considerable amount of practice and exposure to common sounds and phrases. And learning a non-European language like Arabic can feel incredibly daunting. So many foreign sounds and constructions; at times, it offers a completely new way of thinking and expressing yourself.

As I attempt to improve my petty vocabulary, one reasonable and inspiring goal has emerged. Rather than being intimidated by the seemingly insurmountable language and all of its dialectic shades and nuances, I will learn 1500 words. I’d like to become fluent in a Globish for Arabic.

Globish is a concept I learned about indirectly during the Free Culture Research Conference thanks to a post by iberty. It is a subset of the English language formalized by Jean-Paul Nerriere using a portion of standard English grammar and a list of 1500 English words. It functions not as a language in itself, but rather as a common ground for non-native speakers.

A vocabulary of 1500 words seems like a modest yet generative collection towards a conversational mastery of a language. You can correctly use past, present, and future tenses and express many of the ideas and needs required for daily living and thoughtful discussions. In other words, this might be a satisfactory and achievable level of language competence one can attain within a decade (ok, now half a decade for me). And especially for a language like Arabic that suffers from enjoys huge regional and dialectic variety, a unified Globish of Modern Standard Arabic (al-fus-ha) can be particularly effective.

I’d like to start writing up my vocab lists and target learning a 100 words every month. The first half of the month is for exposure and memorization, perhaps even recording the lists and repeating the pronunciation over and over. The second half is for building sentences with the new words and integrating them into my existing vocabulary, plus small grammar lessons. In that manner, over the course of 15 months, aka just little over one year, one could realistically reach a vocabulary of 1500 words. !لغة واحدة لا تكفي