Fun Fact: Ask-a-Linguist Edition

Hey everyone!
Ken here with another fun fact for you. Last week, I talked about the usage numbers for the website. This week, I’m going to talk a little bit about one of the services we offer on our website: Ask-a-Linguist.

This site is a QA board for non-linguists to ask questions from linguists like you. However, I find that many of the questions asked appear to be from linguists who are interested in something that’s not their area of research or linguistics students.

We’ve had 33 questions posted so far this year that touch on a variety of different disciplines and the majority of these questions have answers. Some even have multiple responses and comments.

I invite all of you to check it out. There’s some great questions like <a href=>this question about what language is</a> and <a href=>this question about how affixes emerge in languages</a> .

What do you think about these questions? If you think they’re interesting or if you have questions of your own, please create an account <a href=>here</a> .

All posts are moderated (by me) so only questions that are related to Linguistics or language are allowed and all spam is filtered out.

If you appreciate services like Ask-a-Linguist, please donate to the <a href=>LINGUIST List funddrive</a>.

We are half of the way to our goal and time is running out. Please donate.

Take a cool picture somewhere on the planet, and you could help us win a prize!

Dear LINGUIST Listers,

Although we are located at Indiana University in the United States, we know that our 30,000+ readers are located in almost every country on the planet! We love that we get to foster connections between linguists all over the world! Now, wherever you are, we need YOUR help winning a photo contest!

As part of our host institution’s annual fundraising day, called IU Day, we need readers all over the world to find a unique or fun locale–the Grand Canyon, the Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower, or whatever fantastic sights are near you–and take a picture of yourself holding our sign! Download the picture above, print it out, and hold it proudly to show your support wherever you are!

When you have your picture, post it to social media with the hashtag #IUday! The IU Day team will choose a winner, and they’ll donate $2,000 to the organization of the winner’s choice. (We hope that if you win, you will choose the LINGUIST List!!)

The competition ends on April 18, so post your photo before that date! When you post it, use the hashtag #IUday to enter it in the contest, and then tag us or use the hashtag #whyilovethelinguistlist so we can see your photo and share it on our social media pages!

If you have any questions about this contest, email [email protected] for more info. We look forward to seeing the amazing places our readers live around the world!

Gratefully yours,

The LINGUIST List Team

We’re Almost Halfway There!

Hello everyone–following yesterday’s Day Without Linguist List event, we have reached 48% of our Fund Drive Goal. We’re so grateful to those who are there to support us. Returning to the light of day, we’re pleased to update the challenges standings–check out where your subfield or university is now!

Syntax has more than $1000 lead, with a total of $3285. We’re grateful to the syntacticians of the world!
Sociolinguistics now comes in second, with a total of $2230, overcoming Comp Ling at last!
Computational Linguistics is now in third with $2075 in donations–can they regain their top spot?

University of Washington is in first with $1665 from 27 donors.
Stanford University is in second with $1370 from 20 donors.
Indiana University (our host institution!) is in third with $1360 from 13 donors–and only $10 behind Stanford!
In the Universities Challenge, it’s also those below the top three who deserve recognition right now, as the bulk of the donations come from the dozens of institutions where only one or two donors have contributed only $10 or $20 each. There’s so many more universities and institutions on the contributor list today than there was when we started, and so many of them have a total donation amount that’s not high enough to put them in the top three, but it’s them who made the huge impact over the Day Without LL. Congratulations to you all, and thank you!

North America is still in first with 205 donors.
Europe is at almost half of that with 102 donors.
Asia is in third with 19 donors.

the USA comes in first with 186 donors.
Germany comes in second with 27 donors.
Canada comes in third with 19 donors–can they hold on to the spot?
And a new country is approaching the top 3 now–the UK has just surpassed Austria, with a total of 16 donors!
Additionally the following countries are represented by 1 donor: Trinidad and Tobago, Finland, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Iceland, South Korea, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Chile, Macau, and New Zealand–our global supporters deserve more recognition, and we are so pleased to be part of the global linguistics community.

Check out the full challenges standings here!

Thanks again to all of our wonderful supporters–keeping up the LINGUIST List is very costly, and without your help, we wouldn’t be able to do it.
–The LL Team

Fund Drive Challenges: Where does your University Stand?

Dear Linguists and Subscribers:

It’s time for the regular challenges update!

In the Subfield Challange:
Syntax has cut itself a pretty wide lead with a total of $2485!
Computational Linguistics comes in second for now, with $2095.
Sociolinguistics brings up the third with $1660.
(And on a side note–Historical Linguistics is finally catching up with Semantics for 4th place. Hello my fellow historical linguists!)

In the University Challenge:
University of Washington has again surpassed Stanford University! With a total of $1665 from 27 donors, Washington is aiming to beat Stanford.
Stanford University is in second place with $1370 from 20 donors.
And in third place, our own host institution, Indiana University! $1340 from 11 donors places IU in the running!

In the Region Challenge:
North American leads with 159 donors!
Europe remains in second with 63 donors, but seems to be steadily catching up.
Asia is in third with 12 donors.

In the Country Challenge:
The US remains in the front–for now!–with 147 donors.
Germany remains in second with 21 donors.
And Canada has outstripped Austria at last with a total of 12 donors! Go Canada!

LINGUIST List has just passed 37% of our Fund Drive goal, thanks to all of you. We still have a ways to go, but we have made really good progress this last week. We appreciate you!
–The LL Team

Rising Stars: Meet Jennifer Hu!

Dear Readers,

For several years, we have featured linguists with established careers and interesting stories to tell. This year, we will also be highlighting “Rising Stars” throughout our Fund Drive, undergraduates who were nominated by their mentors for their exceptional interest in linguistics and eager participation in the global community of language researchers.

Selected nominees were asked to share their view of the field of linguistics: what topics they see emerging as important or especially interesting, what role they see the field filling in the coming decades, and how they plan to contribute. We hope you will enjoy the perspectives of these students, who represent the bright future of our field.

Today we are excited to share with you the perspective of Jennifer Hu, a senior at Harvard University. Jennifer studies Linguistics and Mathematics, and is highly involved in several research projects. Her own honors thesis focuses on cross-linguistic investigation of Bayesian models of pragmatics.


With the recent revolution in robotics and machine learning, linguistics is playing an increasingly important role as we develop and interact with systems of artificial intelligence. Just as we communicate with other humans through language, it is most natural for us to communicate with robots and other automated systems through speech, text, and sign. These new types of interactions will demand a robust understanding of linguistics, as language processing poses many unique challenges for machines.

We have already made significant progress in developing systems for speech recognition, question answering, and other language processing tasks. If one analyzes the errors produced by state-of-the-art systems, however, one finds that many of these models – while obtaining high performance on the tasks for which they are designed – are not fully capable of language understanding. For example, the Story Cloze Test requires a system to choose the correct ending to a simple four-sentence story as a way of approximating understanding of causal relationships between events. The best model achieves an impressive 75% accuracy on the Story Cloze Test, but is able to achieve 72% accuracy without even being exposed to the stories! These results suggest that the success of the model might not reflect genuine understanding of the events in the stories, but other confounds latent in the task. This should lead us to inquire whether other models have truly learned the linguistic abilities that their tasks were designed to measure. Similarly, the type of training data that these models require to achieve reasonable performance is cognitively implausible, given what we know about the input to which human learners are exposed. With very little exposure to negative data, children produce linguistic errors in a systematic, predictable way. These two issues in the design of current models suggest that knowledge of the theoretical underpinnings of language can help bring us closer to building systems that truly approximate human intelligence.

There is no better time for linguists to take advantage of and contribute to concurrent advances in the computer and cognitive sciences. With increasing large-scale datasets, computing power, and understanding of the human brain, linguists have more tools than ever to pursue the scientific study of language. In the coming years, I expect and hope to see growth in the subfields of computational linguistics and psycholinguistics. I am excited by the prospect of being able to reverse engineer our capacity for language, and through collaboration with computer science and cognitive science, I believe we can achieve this goal in the coming decades.

By studying linguistics, we can not only develop new insights into the structure of language, but also shape the way humans will interact with systems of artificial intelligence in the years to come. I plan to continue contributing to this exciting field by obtaining a PhD and ultimately pursuing a career focused on research, education, and outreach.


If you have a student who you believe is a “Rising Star” in linguistics, we would love to hear about them! We are still accepting nominations for exceptional young linguists. Please see the call for nominations for more information.

If you have not yet–please visit our Fund Drive page to learn more about us and why we need your help! The LINGUIST List relies on your generous donations to continue its support of linguists around the world.

The LINGUIST List Team

Featured Linguist: Wannie Carstens


I grew up in Namibia (in the 1950’s and 1960’s) where I was exposed to a real multilingual world: German (as Namibia is a former German protectorate, end of 19th and beginning of 20th century), Afrikaans (due to the historical connection to South Africa where Afrikaans at that stage was the primary language), English, and many indigenous languages: Oshiwambo, Otjiherero, Nama, Damara, Kavango, San, etc. My father worked for the government and he travelled a lot. During school holidays I accompanied him and experienced these languages and their speakers in their actual settings. It opened a multicultural and multilingual world to me, a world in which I felt comfortable, the world of languages.

But I had a very good Afrikaans teacher in my high school in Windhoek, and this eventually motivated me to take Afrikaans (in combination with Dutch) and German as my majors for my BA degree at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa. During my first year (1971) I took an extra course in General Linguistics (Algemene Taalwetenskap), taught by Prof Rudolph P Botha, one of South Africa’s best linguists ever. This where I really felt at home – hearing more about syntax, semantics, pragmatics, etc. But due to my interest in Afrikaans (and the possibility of becoming a teacher in Afrikaans) I continued with my study in Afrikaans and eventually obtained a MA degree in Afrikaans linguistics.

I was fortunate enough to be appointed as a temporary lecturer in Afrikaans linguistics at the University of Stellenbosch (SU), and it dawned upon me that I probably would not become a school teacher any more. (The fact the my girl friend of that time – now my wife of more than 40 years – was still studying at SU naturally had no effect on my decision to accept the position …) This also motivated me to enrol for a DLitt degree at SU under the guidance of Prof Fritz Ponelis, the foremost scholar in Afrikaans syntax. In my thesis I focussed on a combined semantic-syntactic study of Afrikaans definite pronouns and researched the influence the context of various written texts had on the use of these pronouns in Afrikaans.

At this time I already was a lecturer in Afrikaans linguistics at the University of Cape Town, where I eventually spend 11 and a half years before moving to the former Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education (since 2004 the Potchefstroom campus of the North-West University) where I retired (after a full career of 41 years) at the end of 2017 as professor in Afrikaans linguistics.

At UCT I wrote my first book, a book on normative linguistics for Afrikaans (Norme vir Afrikaans (“Norms for Afrikaans”)), as I had to develop material for my second and third language speakers of Afrikaans for one of my courses. When a publisher came around asking for manuscripts I told them about the work I was doing and I was invited to submit the manuscript. To my astonishment this book (published in 1989) became a best-seller in Afrikaans linguistics and it has been used since then as a handbook in many courses in South Africa. The 6th revised edition of this book was published in January 2018. It still amazes me that this book had this success!

Due to my interest in text linguistics, of which I took note while busy with my DLitt, and after meeting Prof Nils Erik Enkvist from Turku in Finland, and the great Robert de Beaugrande himself, who at that stage was teaching at the University of Botswana, in Gaborone, Botswana, I in due time completed the first book on text linguistics in Afrikaans in 1997 (Afrikaanse Tekslinguistiek (“Afrikaans Text Linguistics”)). This enabled me to combine my interest in syntax, semantics, pragmatics, discourse analysis and text linguistics into one book. This eventually led to my next book on text editing (Afrikaanse Teksredaksie (“Afrikaans text editing”)– together with Prof Kris van de Poel of the University of Antwerp in Belgium) where I was able to use the knowledge gained from normative grammar and text linguistics to develop a model – based upon Prof Jan Renkema of the University of Tilburg’s well-known CCC model – for the training of a new generation of copy/text editors in Afrikaans. Again a first for Afrikaans. Since then this book has been adapted for use in English (Text Editing, 2012), Sesotho (2016) and the IsiZulu version should be finalized this year and the IsiXhosa version next year. Versions in German and Dutch are also underway. (We are looking for candidates to adapt this book also for their own languages – scholars in Mandarin, Spanish, Hindi, Russian, etc. are more than welcome to contact me in this regard.) I am glad my work had this effect! This was an effort on my side to transfer my skills and knowledge to other languages.

My last project was just concluded when I submitted the final manuscript for Part 2 of a book on the history of Afrikaans (together with Prof Edith Raidt). This book, titled Die storie van Afrikaans: uit Europa en van Afrika. Biografie van ‘n taal (“The story of Afrikaans: Out of Europe and from Africa. Biography of a language”) is the result of the last five years of my career. I had the privilege to be part of the last 48 years of the history of Afrikaans (and the way it developed) and I recorded this for the next generation. There is a good possibility that the last two books (Part 1 and 2 of STORIE) will be translated into English in the near future.

My whole career was in and about Afrikaans. It was a decision I made early on in my career. Rather than trying to be a scholar in a language I am not fluent in (English) my choice was to make a contribution to my home language, Afrikaans – despite what so many people said about this language and its complex history. Looking back I think I made a small contribution in developing Afrikaans linguistics as a discipline in a few fields: normative grammar, text linguistics, text editing, language politics, the history of Afrikaans. At least I do hope it is experienced as such by colleagues in South Africa!


  1. Do not be afraid to follow your passion. (It worked for me.)
  2. Read, read and read as wide as possible at the beginning of your career. It helps you to make an informed choice regarding the field you want to specialize in, whatever it may be.
  3. Look for the gaps in your selected field and then make yourself the expert regarding that specific gap.
  4. Never be afraid to tackle something new. Be bold. (All the famous linguists followed this route.) You might become the real expert in that field. (And eventually a famous linguist …)
  5. Do not be afraid to follow your gut. (It will not always work out but how will you know if you do not experiment with something?)
  6. It makes no sense to do exactly what someone else already did. It is just repetition and not something new. When you look back over your career, can you say: “I think I really made a difference”? This is the real test.
  7. Remember that every generation stands on the shoulders of the previous generation(s). This means that you can and may (!) use the work of a previous generation(s) as point of departure for your own work. Therefore do not be afraid to criticise the work of the previous generation. (It happened that some of my former students criticized some of my earlier work and it meant a lot to me: as (a) it meant they found it worthwhile enough to criticize and (b) I thoroughly enjoyed it as it helped to sharpen the knowledge on the specific topic. (c) It even ‘gave me a kick’ to know that my students were not afraid to be critical of their former teacher.)
  8. Make a serious effort to establish a good and wide network (friends, contacts) in your discipline and specific field. No academic / linguist can survive without a network. (Hi! to Bob at UCLA, Gary at UNLV in Las Vegas, Paul at UNC Chapel Hill, Jacques at Univ Ghent, Kris at Univ of Antwerp, Marijke and Gijsbert at Leiden, Rina in Vienna, Sanna in Turku, Eric in Aruba, etc.)
  9. If you get an opportunity to spend time in other countries (as post doc, visiting scholar) make use of this opportunity as it will broaden your horizon as academic. Networks make this possible and feasible.
  10. Share information (new books, an article they/he/she might be interested in, information on a possible relevant conference or event, etc.) with your network. Because of this someone in your network might be willing to read your first draft of papers and even give critical feedback. This is priceless!
  11. Attend conferences nationally and internationally. Otherwise no one will know about your work. You do not always have to read a paper, as attendance of these conferences is part of experiencing the world of linguistics.
  12. Publish in good international journals as much as possible, but also do not be afraid to publish in local journals as the local linguistics’ industry of your country must also be maintained.
  13. Remember that you have a responsibility to develop the field and discipline in your own country and in your own language.
  14. Do not be afraid to publish in your own language. English is NOT the only language of science. But also publish in English if it is possible for you as it probably will be read wider.
  15. You really do not have to be the most important international scholar. It is a bonus if it is the case. But it is important to be a recognized scholar in your own context because this is where you work and stay and function.
  16. If your work is regarded as good/exceptional translate it in English if you are a scholar in another language.
  17. Take a business card (linked to your institution) to conferences and hand it out if there is an opportunity. And when you get back home keep the cards you got and make contact with persons in your field. (It takes time and effort, but trust me: it really is worthwhile!)
  18. Attend at least one LSA. Two will be even better. This is very important! This will make a difference to the way you approach what you do and the way you think about language and linguistics. (And take a picture of yourself with some of the ‘big names’ and put it against your wall to look at when you feel discouraged and tired.)
  19. Make provision in your annual research budget for a financial contribution to the LinguistList (LL). Or make certain that your institution makes an annual (worthwhile!) contribution to the List. Without it you will be in ‘linguistic darkness’. We talk about pre- and current LL. You are lucky that you are in the current LL period. Enjoy the benefits of this.


I think I am actually one of the first linguists in South Africa who started to make use of the List. Even in the early days of email in South Africa (1992!) I was a member of earlier versions of the list. And to be honest – I am proud that I realised the enormous potential of the List. It opened a world wide network of linguists (wwnl) to me. I could read their informal thoughts about topics in linguistics, and I learned about new publications. It also opened linguistics as an international discipline to me, and it helped me immensely in my own career in various ways:

  1. It helped me to sharpen my own thinking about linguistics as a discipline, and also specific issues in linguistics.
  2. It informed me about conferences of which I would not have known otherwise. It made it possible for me to attend conferences all over the world (such as in the USA, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Finland, Russia).
  3. It informed me about publications I would not have seen otherwise. (Due to the cultural and academic boycott in the 1970’s and 1980’s we in South Africa could not always get the books we wanted but at least we could take note of it and get copies through other means.) I ordered it for our university library and in this way it helped to build a trusted and respected library for the field.
  4. This library enabled me to read more then would have otherwise been the case.
  5. It enabled me to share information from the List (about conferences, workshops, books, etc.) with colleagues all over the country, and even in other parts of the world. In this way my own network grew. And then colleagues again started to share their ideas, publications, etc. with me. Therefore beneficial to both parties.
  6. For many years I was a manager and had to establish a new generations of linguists in South Africa, not only in Afrikaans, but in general – the information I got from the List helped me to shape their careers (send them to conferences, order books for them, help them to select topics for further study, etc.).


Lastly. When I became a manager (some of us get to be managers…) and the List asked for funding to support the various services of the LL, I was in a position to start a funding campaign in my own institution (money from the institution itself but also from individual researchers) and it enabled us as group to make a contribution. For many years the NWU was the Africa and South African champion regarding our contributions! The exchange rate of the SA rand unfortunately had an effect on the actual amount in US dollar bit at least we tried. I also tried to get other South African institutions to buy in regarding fun ding support but I was not too successful in this regard. A pity.

Now that I have retired there is no guarantee that the linguists at my institution will continue to contribute, but I did my best to convince the new managers to continue with the project. I also requested the Linguistic Society of Southern Africa (LSSA) to become more involved in the funding campaign. Let us hold thumbs that there will be success in both cases.

I find it really strange that the LL have to actually plead for support! There are so many benefits for linguists that even an annual contribution equivalent to $20 from ALL linguists around the world should just be a formality. There are 10 000 people regularly using the List and I think $200 000 will enable the staff to even add more services. Therefore: help to keep the LL going at all costs! As long as I as retired linguist have access to research funding I certainly will make a contribution, every year, even if it is a small amount. The LL should maybe consider asking a fee for enrolment – I know it will take a lot of effort but it might just be the solution to the problems.

I thank the staff maintaining the List for enabling me to be part of an international network and this over a long time. I do wish you the best and I will continue consulting the List as long as I am still active as linguist. I am and will remain a true supporter of the List!


Please support the LINGUIST List student editors and operations with a donation during the 2018 Fund Drive! The LINGUIST List needs your support!

Linguistics and Pop Culture: Language, Culture, and Black Panther

Black Panther has been a phenomenon in the box office. Since its release in the middle of February, the movie has been vaulted to the 10th biggest movie in history by ticket sales grossing over $1.28 Billion worldwide. The film’s stunning depiction of the fictional country of Wakanda wouldn’t be the same without the cultural elements introduced. The religion of Wakanda, which borrows heavily from the pantheon of ancient Egypt, the surrounding landscape, and the material culture depicted bring afrofuturism to the silver screen. The linguistic elements of the film are perhaps the most striking part of Wakanda (perhaps we’re biased though).


If you’re really worried about Spoilers, don’t keep reading. Key plot points are not divulged but you could maybe piece something together if you tried hard enough.


Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER..Black Panther/T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman)..Ph: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2018

Continue reading

LINGUIST List, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…..

Help us share all the great reasons to support the LINGUIST List! We want to know about the time you found your first job through our Jobs board, the time you organized your conference with EasyAbs, the time you got feedback for your research through a Query post… whatever your success story, we would love to hear about it!

Post with the hashtag #whyilovetheLINGUISTlist to share it with the world, and help us get the message out about our Fund Drive! And if you haven’t yet, visit our Fund Drive homepage to read more about what we do and to donate today!

Gratefully yours,

Fun Fact: Website Edition

Hey everyone,

Ken here with another fun fact for all of you. I imagine you’re acquainted with our website ( Our featured staff this week, Paige Goulding has been hard at work getting our new website up and running. A large part of the challenge with this is that our website receives a large amount of traffic. Here are some figures to show the volume of visitors we receive:

For the main site there are nearly 600,000 page hits per day and nearly 20,000 unique visitors. Over the course of a week, we receive about 83,000 unique visitors.

As we design the new site, we want to ensure that we can improve load times as well as reducing the load on our current systems.

Now for the fun part.

Some of you are using some wild browsers. One of you is using version 0 of firefox (the latest release is version 59), there’s some netscapes and mosaics out there.
Someone (probably me) used the blackberry browser.

Our visitors represent almost every operating system from amiga to BeOS (unfortunately, there wasn’t one ending in z). 15% of our users are using Linux (woot!). Someone out there is visiting us using Windows XP… interesting stuff.

To help pay for this traffic and the content that drives this traffic, please donate to the linguist list on our fund drive page.

Syntax is in the lead in the Subfield Challenge!

Hello there LINGUIST List subscribers! Today we have another update on the Fund Drive challenges. Check out the standings below to see where your university, subfield, or region is!

Syntax has shot to the lead, surpassing Computational Linguistics at last! Syntax now stands in first with $1905 in donations.
Computational Linguistics, longtime frontrunner, is now in second place with $1775. Can they take their position back from Syntax?
Sociolinguistics remains in third with $1300 in donations, putting it $180 ahead of Semantics.

Things are pretty calm in the University challenge… for now. Stanford University remains in the lead with $1370 from 20 donors, but University of Washington, last year’s winner, is not far behind.
University of Washington is currently in second with $1285 from 15 donors… creeping up on Stanford. Will they be able to repeat last year’s win?
Arizona State University is in third with $500 from 1 donor.

North America continues to improve its lead, with a total of 122 donors.
Europe has steadily approached, but not fast enough to catch up–yet–with a total of 49 European donors.
Asia comes third with 11 total donors.

The standings in the country challenge look steady for now too, with the US in the lead with a total of 116 donors.
Germany comes in second with 15 donors.
Austria comes in third with 9 donors… but many other regions have been climbing the ranks, and soon one of them may take Canada’s spot–the UK is only 2 behind!

Thanks again for participating in our yearly fund drive, and for supporting us all these years–we are approaching 30% of our Fund Drive goal, thanks to all of you! Check out the full standings at
–The LL Team