Linguistics: Speech Accent Archive

Great source!

Everyone who speaks a language, speaks it with an accent. A particular accent essentially reflects a person's linguistic background. When people listen to someone speak with a different accent from their own, they notice the difference, and they may even make certain biased social judgments about the speaker.

The speech accent archive is established to uniformly exhibit a large set of speech accents from a variety of language backgrounds. 

Speech Accent Archive

Zu etwas (ein-)laden

I am a bit surprised that I have not found a lot of discussion regarding the difference of the German expressions "jemanden zu einer Veranstaltung einladen" vs. "jemanden zu einer Veranstaltung laden" (both: inviting someone to an event). Recently, I was asked by a non-native speaker if there is an "ein" missing in a sentence and I said "No, you can also say 'wir laden zu der Eröffnung'" but while explaining the difference I began to struggle. In general, it is sufficient to google something like "selbst selber" in order to find a bunch of blogs and forums discussing the appropriate use and understanding of such similar but not equivalent words (whether from language learners or from a ordo-linguistical view). But in this case: Nothing. Just a small article in the German standard ortography dictionary Duden, stating that "laden" is exalted. This is certainly the case, but is this anything to say about this pair of words, especially if you are learning German?

Modern Times Corpus

Charlie Chaplin.jpgIn 2012 and 2013 at the Hamburg Center for Language Corpora (HZSK) I compiled the Hamburg Modern Times Corpus (HaMoTiC). It consists of transcribed audio recordings of learners of German at different proficiency levels who renarrate a few scenes from the silent film “Modern Times” (USA 1936, Charles Chaplin). The main objective was to create a linguistic resource that is both based on and comparative to previous Modern Times corpora (esp. Perdue 1993), and makes use of the tools and methods for transcription, annotation and analysis of spoken language corpora that were implemented at the HZSK, in order to demonstrate their functionality (EXMARaLDA). In terms of their content, the Hamburg Map Task Corpus (HAMATAC) and HaMoTiC complement each other in reference to their authenticity and controllability of learner language. See more details on HaMoTiC at the Virtual Language Observatory by CLARIN.

Image: „Charlie Chaplin“ by P.D Jankens - Fred Chess. Wikimedia Commons.

Rhetoric: Cicero, Fischer and Obama

Maccari-Cicero“ by Cesare Maccari - [1]. License via Wikimedia Commons.

In his new book Mythos Redemacht (Fischerverlag), the German linguist Karl-Heinz Göttert compared speakers from the last two thousand years. Surprisingly, he discovered that great modern speeches have very similar characteristics to the classic ones in regards of stylistic devices, form and effect. For example, he recognizes that Obama speeches use a high grade of example based argument structures while former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has a lot of similarities with Cicero who is to be considered as the outstanding speaker of the ancient world.

Dem ehemaligen deutschen Außenminister Joschka Fischer etwa bescheinigt Göttert „ciceronianische Sprachkunst“ [...] Cicero nahe sei Fischer etwa im frechen Sprachwitz, in den klaren Antithesen, in der augenblicklichen Wortschöpfung, im meist ironisch angewendeten Pathos.

Source: Die Presse: "Mythos Redemacht": Goldmund Obama und Cicero Fischer

Spiegel Online postet an interesting interview with Göttert (in German as well): "Brüllerei stößt uns heute nur noch ab"



This headline is no palindrom e mordnilap on si enildaeh siht

As the end of the year is coming closer I wanted to share my new favorite palindrome with you. As you may know, a palindrome is a word or a sentence (or "string of characters ") which reads the same backward or forward. Unfortunatley, it is in German. But if you are not able to understand it, at least be impressed by this very special palindrome. I provide a translation afterwards so you might see, that it is not totally foolish text. And yes, my favorite English palindrome stays "A man, a plan, a canal - Panama"...

So here it is:

Geist ziert Leben, Mut hegt Siege, Beileid trägt belegbare Reue, Neid dient nie,
nun eint Neid die Neuerer, abgelebt gärt die Liebe, Geist geht, umnebelt reizt Sieg.

or, if you prefer it backwards:

.geiS tzier tlebenmu, theg tsieG, ebeiL eid träg tbelegba, rereueN eid dieN tnie
nun, ein tneid dieN, eueR erabgeleb tgärt dielieb, egeis tgeh tuM, nebeL treiz tsieG

("Spirit graces life, courage nourishes victories, commiseration includes provable remorse, envy never serves,
now envy unites the innovators, deceased love ferments, spirit goes, befogged victory is tantalizing.")

It is attributed to Oscar Herbert Pfeiffer and I found it on Gnudung.

Some additional remarks:
1) As a German I seem to be obliged to mention that "Reliefpfeiler" is a) one of the longest German one word-palindromes and was b) "invented" by Goethe (although Wikipedia states I) it was Schopenhauer and II) that this is not the truth). I am not sure if this is true or interesting but several teachers in my life seem to care about this.

2) Weird Al Yankovich made a song out of Palindromes. It goes something like this:

Weird Al Yankovic: Bob from ding dong on Vimeo.

3) There are also Palindrome novelles. According to Wikipedia, there is e.g. the novel "Dr Awkward & Olson in Oslo" by Lawrence Levine from 1986 containing 31,954 bidirectional words, take a look at it here at DigitalCommons.

4) Regarding palindromic dates, according to Gnudung the next one we will encounter is 21.12.2112 at 21.12.

How Linguists try to Decipher the Monkey Language

Campell Monkey

It was pretty clear that "krak" ist the Campell Monkey term for "Leopard in sight", as scientists determined it by observing them in their home forests of Ivory Coast. Research revealed: The Campell Monkey vocabulary differenciates in this regard between hawks, leopards, and other but minor potential sources of danger. You need to know by here that those monkeys are famous for their advanced communication forms with rudiment syntax. Ok, so the assumption, "krak" means "Leopard" was stable until they found recently Campell Monkeys on Tiwai Island in Sierra Leone, that use the same vocabulary but obviuosly with a different meaning - as there are no leopards on this island. As they failed to get a plausible explanation they with their current approach, they startet to think in more linguistic patterns and to apply linguistic methodology - and finally encountered a solution that seems to be rather promising:

Here’s where it gets tricky: word meanings tend to be contextual. In human language, we choose the most specific term available and, when we don’t, the listener infers that there is a special reason why we opted for a relatively vague word. Simply put, “words compete with each other,” Schlenker says. “And you use the more informative one.”


See the article on the Scientific American: Monkey See, Monkey Speak

Or read the paper by Philippe Schlenker et al.: Monkey semantics: two ‘dialects’ of Campbell’s monkey alarm calls

Image: "Cercopithecus campbelli lowei“ von Badgernet - Eigenes Werk. Lizenziert unter CC BY-SA 3.0 über Wikimedia Commons.

Lions, cats, buffaloes, flies and orang-utans

Natural languages (and some planned languages as well) bring forth strange flowers from time to time. For example, in many languages there exist sentences that are built of the same word or syllable all over. Let's call it a "repetion play" and take a closer look:


The following is a Chinese poem that tells the story of a poet who is craving for lion flesh while living in a cavern. This is an incredible example of those repetition plays and only possible due to the Chinese distinguishment of word by tone pitch. The following table shows the poem in Traditional Chinese, in Pinyin transliteration and as a translation, on the Wikipedia page you can also hear a native speaker reading it out.












« Shī Shì shí shī shǐ »

Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.

Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.

Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.

Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.

Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì.

Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.

Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.

Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.

Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī shī, shí shí shí shī shī.

Shì shì shì shì.

« Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den »

In a stone den was a poet called Shi Shi, who was a lion addict, and had resolved to eat ten lions.

He often went to the market to look for lions.

At ten o'clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market.

At that time, Shi had just arrived at the market.

He saw those ten lions, and using his trusty arrows, caused the ten lions to die.

He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.

The stone den was damp. He asked his servants to wipe it.

After the stone den was wiped, he tried to eat those ten lions.

When he ate, he realized that these ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.

Try to explain this matter.


In contrast, the Japanese example works not due to same syllables with different pitch but with different ways to read the same Kanji . There is a story around this sentence and the scholar Ono no Takamura meeting the emperor Saga Tennō. Here you can see the sentence as a seemingly meaningless repetition of the Kanji, the way to pronounce it correctly next to the way to write it normally as well as the translation.

子子子子子子子子子子子子 neko no ko no koneko, shishi no ko no kojishi (猫の子の子猫、獅子の子の子獅子) The young of cat, kitten, and the young of lion, cub.


My favorite blog on nerdy things io9 came up with this some days ago with the english-centric title The most confusing sentence in the world uses just one word. But I have to admit: It is really confusing. Here, neither graphemes nor sounds are the source of confusion, but classical homonymy, i.e. the same word bears several meanings. This special sentence has its own website hosted by its inventor, linguist William J. Rapaport from the State University of New York at Buffalo with a complete history, many examples and discussions. Here you see the sentence, a (shortened) parse tree visualization of its parts of speech and a "translation" to understand the somewhat constructed meaning.

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. Buffalo sentence 1 parse tree.svg Buffalo who live in Buffalo, and who are buffaloed (in a way unique to Buffalo) by other buffalo from Buffalo, themselves buffalo (in the way unique to Buffalo) still other buffalo from Buffalo.


In most cases, German needs a small introduction in order to get a repetition play working, as in "Wenn Fliegen hinter Fliegen fliegen fliegen Fliegen Fliegen nach." which means thas flies flying behind other flies are flying behind other flies. But I have also found an example that comes without other words and makes also use of the homonymy. The content, however, is even weirder than in the English example...

Weichen Weichen weichen Weichen, weichen Weichen weichen Weichen Weichen [V] Weichen [S] weichen [Adj] Weichen [S], weichen [V] Weichen [S] weichen [Adj] Weichen [S]. If switch points avoid soft switch points, than  switch points avoid soft switch points.

I invented such a repetition play by myself. It is based on the nesting of clauses and the use of similar light verbs, so it is a bit different from the others:

Der Mann, der die Aufsicht über den Bau der Brücke, die über den Fluss, der stets kaltes Wasser führte, führte, führte, führte ein aufregendes Leben. [Aufsicht führen], [über einen Fluss führen], [kaltes Wasser führen], [ein aufregendes Leben führen] The man, who leads the construction of the bridge that is going over the river that conducts cold water, has an exciting life.


Ook! is a so called esoteric programming language and is a derivate of another one called (rightly) brainfuck. As programming languages can be understand as planned languages and as Ook! was designed in order to be understood at least by orang-utans I think it is only fair to consider it here. I present an example code to write the famous "Hello World" program next to the basic programming cocepts and the omitted output:

Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook! Ook? Ook? Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook? Ook! Ook! Ook? Ook! Ook? Ook. Ook! Ook. Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook! Ook? Ook? Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook? Ook! Ook! Ook? Ook! Ook? Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook! Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook! Ook. Ook! Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook! Ook. Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook! Ook? Ook? Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook? Ook! Ook! Ook? Ook! Ook? Ook. Ook! Ook. Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook! Ook? Ook? Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook? Ook! Ook! Ook? Ook! Ook? Ook. Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook! Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook. Ook! Ook. Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook. Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook! Ook. Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook? Ook. Ook. Ook! Ook.
  • Ook. Ook?
    Move the Memory Pointer to the next array cell.
  • Ook? Ook.
    Move the Memory Pointer to the previous array cell.
  • Ook. Ook.
    Increment the array cell pointed at by the Memory Pointer.
  • Ook! Ook!
    Decrement the array cell pointed at by the Memory Pointer.
  • Ook. Ook!
    Read a character from STDIN and put its ASCII value into the cell pointed at by the Memory Pointer.
  • Ook! Ook.
    Print the character with ASCII value equal to the value in the cell pointed at by the Memory Pointer.
  • Ook! Ook?
    Move to the command following the matching Ook? Ook! if the value in the cell pointed at by the Memory Pointer is zero. Note that Ook! Ook? and Ook? Ook! commands nest like pairs of parentheses, and matching pairs are defined in the same way as for parentheses.
  • Ook? Ook!
    Move to the command following the matching Ook! Ook? if the value in the cell pointed at by the Memory Pointer is non-zero.
Hello World

One question remains: Why are so many animals involved in this...?

Image Credits:
"Buffalo sentence 1 parse tree" by Johndburger (SVG by King of Hearts) - w:Image:Buffalo sentence 1 parse tree.png. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.


Almost all examples are extracted from Wikipedia and I have placed the respective links in the text before.

What is your lexical fingerprint?

There are a lot of words, I guess, that I am using more often than others (or necessary). The german expression "dergestalt" (a very oldfashioned way to express "in such an extent" or "in such a way"), for example, is a pretty good indicator for my authorship as I never heard anybody else saying it at all (as far as I remember).

Slate autor Matthew J.X. Mallady found himself saying "iteration" "more than any human being should" which results in his amusing article on "fingerprint words":

I’m not proud of this. I’d prefer to be a guy who can refer to a version or edition or plain old instance of something, and who doesn’t go around saying iteration over and over again. Alas, that is not me.

Slate - Lexicon Valley: Fingerprint Words - The verbal tics that make up who we are—and how they spread to others.