Word frequencies and Zipf’s law

There is a well-known relationship between the frequency of words in a text and the ranking of those frequencies. The relationship is known as Zipf’s law and is one example of a relationship called a power law. Power laws crop up in many other settings. For example, they arise in investigating the distribution of populations…… Continue reading Word frequencies and Zipf’s law

Unneeded plural for a document title

When I worked for the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), we had an internal debate about the best way to create the plural form of the name for one type of document. The IASB publishes with each of its Standards a document called a ‘Basis for Conclusions’. This document explains conclusions the IASB reached in…… Continue reading Unneeded plural for a document title

Nynorsk writer wins Nobel literature prize

The winner of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Literature was someone who writes in Norwegian, Jon Fosse. That award is notable not just because Fosse is the first winner known best for his plays since Harold Pinter (2005). And not just because he is the first winner who writes in Norwegian since Sigrid Undset (1928).…… Continue reading Nynorsk writer wins Nobel literature prize

Take me to the Hotel War Wick

I once stayed in Manhattan in the Hotel Warwick. The cab-driver who took me there didn’t understand where I said I wanted to go. When I showed him my confirmation, he said ‘Oh, the hotel War Wick’. And at the hotel, the staff also called it the ‘War Wick’, though of course the name was…… Continue reading Take me to the Hotel War Wick

English Grammar Day

I went along yesterday to an event at University College London (UCL) called English Grammar Day. This was the first time I have been, though it has been held for the last 10 years. The event seems to be aimed mainly at school teachers and academics. I give below summaries of the 6 talks, which…… Continue reading English Grammar Day

Another error in spaceflight

‘This is another error in spaceflight’. This is what I heard a NASA Planetary Scientist saying on the radio one morning recently. She was talking about the previous day’s unexpectedly short maiden flight by SpaceX’s new rocket Starship.   The rocket exploded just a few minutes into the flight, so ‘error’ might seem like the…… Continue reading Another error in spaceflight

Brighthelmstone by the sea

We aren’t usually surprised if the spelling of a place name diverges from how we pronounce the name today. This often happens  because of major sound changes long ago. But I recently came across a spelling that shortened radically less than 200 years ago. The name of the southern English seaside town Brighton was still…… Continue reading Brighthelmstone by the sea

Another error

This morning, I heard a BBC reporter saying on Radio 4’s Today programme that: “Americans are now preparing for another error of divided government.” At first, I thought I understood what the reporter was saying. But then I remembered that some Americans pronounce era in the same way that British speakers pronounce error. The reporter—speaking…… Continue reading Another error

Cross-language blues’

I found this week an odd blend of English pronunciation and spelling with French pronunciation and spelling. Writing about last Saturday’s Football World Cup match between England and France, a journalist wrote the following:   Philippe Auclair, the French writer, calls him Les Bleus’ “beat-giver”. The Times, 12 December 2022(‘him’ refers to the French footballer…… Continue reading Cross-language blues’

Accents and Social Mobility in Britain

A recent report shows that accent bias still exists in the UK and is a barrier to social mobility. The report is Speaking Up: Accents and Social Mobility, issued by the Sutton Trust in November 2022. https://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/Accents-and-social-mobility.pdf Accent bias is rating people less favourably just because they speak with an accent that is not ‘standard’…… Continue reading Accents and Social Mobility in Britain