The Mysterious History of the Ellipsis, From Medieval Subpuncting to Irrational Numbers

May 22nd, 2017 by The punctuation mark of the ellipsis is perhaps the most unusual mark in the English language, for punctuation marks are designed to convey meaning by indicating relationships between ideas, but the ellipsis does the exact opposite. It simply indicates that something has been omitted. Sometimes, this omission is poignant, as in J. Alfred Prufrock’s lament “I grow old...I grow old…” which invites the reader to imagine what has happened to the him in the spaces between him growing old. Sometimes, it is simply a placeholder, as happens when a fellow messager is typing on the other end of the line. (Personally, my favorite example of the ellipsis is Seinfeld’s infamous “yada yada yada,” but I digress.) But where did the ellipsis come from and how did it end up being so unusual? The Guardian’s article on the history of the ellipsis draws on Anne Toner’s fascinating book Ellipsis in English Literature: Signs of Omission to explore ellipses all the way back to the drama of the 16th century. Both the article and the book do an excellent job of analyzing these earliest print records of the modern ellipsis. But that story may not be the whole story, for the dot dot dot of an ellipsis was no stranger to English texts before the plays of Shakespeare and Jonson. It might have just been serving a slightly different function. Read more: Slate

Stanford research explores novel perspectives on the evolution of Spanish

November 15th, 2016 by How has the Spanish language evolved in the hundreds of years it has been spoken on multiple continents? To answer the question, Cuauhtémoc García-García, a graduate student in Iberian and Latin American cultures, analyzed 900 years’ worth of texts in over a quarter of a million volumes. “I wanted to study language evolution through data found in written work to add historical depth to how, where and when languages changed,” he said. “My new data show that Spanish on the Iberian Peninsula was much more resistant to change over time when compared to Spanish in the Americas, where – since colonization – Spanish from Spain has come into contact with local, indigenous and hybrid influences.” That process, he noted, has led to a Spanish that has progressively changed ever since the language first arrived in the Americas. The changes, however, are not uniform across the Spanish-speaking Americas, and instead he found that the “hybridization” and evolution of language varied from place to place. Read more: Stanford University

What’s A Woggin? A Bird, a Word, and a Linguistic Mystery

November 14th, 2016 by On December 20, 1792, the whaling ship Asia was making its way through the Desolation Islands, in the Indian Ocean, when the crew decided to stop for lunch. According to the log keeper, the meal was a great success: “At 1 PM Sent our Boat on Shore After Some refreshments,” he wrote. “She returned with A Plenty of Woggins we Cooked Some for Supper.” Right about now, you may be feeling peckish. But you may also be wondering: What in the world is a woggin? New species are discovered all the time. Unknown old species—extinct ones, found as fossils and then plugged into our historical understanding of the world—turn up a lot, too. But every once in a while, all we have to go on is a word. New or old, known or unknown, no one knew what a woggin was until Judith Lund, whaling historian, decided to find out. Read more: Atlas Obscura

New book about the early history of the Welsh language finally published – in Welsh

March 9th, 2016 by It’s ironic, but until now, books about the early history of the Welsh language have not been available to read in Welsh. Students often have to turn to English resources if they want to benefit from the latest research in the field. Now a new e-book, published last week by a Russian academic sheds new light on the subject. Llawlyfr Hen Gymraeg (‘Old Welsh Handbook’) by Dr Alexander Falileyev is the first comprehensive description of Old Welsh to be published in the Welsh language. Old Welsh refers to the period between the ninth century and the early twelfth century in the history of the language. Read more: Wales Online‎

Reviving Indigenous languages through old novels, dictionaries and documents

March 4th, 2016 by Professor Jane Simpson loves dictionaries and the gateway to the past that they can unlock. She is part of the Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language at Australian National University (ANU), which is currently documenting Indigenous languages in the Pacific region. Indigenous languages in Australia could number between 300 and 700, depending on the definition of language versus dialect, she said. However, only 13 languages are believed to be still spoken by children. "If a language isn't spoken by children, then its chances of surviving are pretty grave," Professor Simpson said. Read more: ABC News‎