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Sunday, September 3, 2017


Martha Barnette & Grant Barrett
co-hosts of A Way with Words
Good news: a new season of San Diego’s own A Way with Words radio episodes is ready to go in September.

Interesting tidbit: Like television and old-time radio before it, new public radio seasons traditionally start in the fall after everyone is back from summer vacations, although summer is now pretty much its own season for short-run shows across all media. And we don’t have Phil Harris and Alice Faye filling in for us during the warm months.

Besides new episodes, the series has a series of events planned.

In October, there will be a special party in San Diego to celebrate ten years of an independent A Way with Words. This fundraiser is a chance for us to honor some of San Diego’s bright lights: people whose work promotes better communication and understanding. Find out more and get tickets here. We’d love to meet you there!

Then, in November, there will be a part of a set of events in Indiana. Look for more information on those in future A Way With Words newsletters.

This summer, program hosts Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett have come up with some real gems to share.

Wired magazine has a lovely story about University of Michigan linguist Robin Queen and her work with border collies. Queen finds the communication methods used between shepherds and their dogs to have a nuance and language-ness that she hadn’t at first expected.

‘The collie lexicon—the ‘words’ available for use—is small (maybe a dozen commands). But, Queen says, the whistles have what are called sign relations. They can be symbolic, where the sound doesn't have any connection to its meaning. But they can also be iconic (where you can sort of tell what they mean from their form). And even more language-like, they can also be indexical, where the meaning changes depending on how you use them. But here’s the really cool part: Shepherds vary the whistles’ rhythms, pitches, speed, and volume, and ‘each of those variations provides different kinds of information about what the dog should do,’ Queen says. That’s called ‘prosody,’ and it’s a key part of human language.”

• Even if you don’t work in a tech field, this story about choosing pronouns for computer user interfaces is interesting. Is it my stuff or your stuff?

• What the hay, let’s double-down on the nerd level: Have you seen this cool chart of next-letter frequencies in English? It shows you the frequency with which one letter is like to follow another. It’s purty!

And why not triple-down? Merriam-Webster launched a new tool that lets you pick a year and see which words first show up in that year. Don’t get too hung up on the dates, though, as lexicographers are constantly finding older uses of words.

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