June 26, 2015


What is marriage? Who gets to marry -- in the very practical enjoying-the-benefits-of-marital-status sense, especially with regard to "taxation; inheritance and property rights; rules of intestate succession; spousal privilege in the law of evidence; hospital access; medical decisionmaking authority; adoption rights; the rights and benefits of survivors; birth and death certificates; professional ethics rules; campaign finance restrictions; workers’ compensation benefits; health insurance; and child custody, support, and visitation rules?"

The Supreme Court wrote history today by coming to the conclusion that "the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry" and that there is "no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character."

Let's see if Merriam-Webster will change its definition of "marriage" by striking the passage referring to "the opposite sex" or by expanding it to refer to "the opposite or same sex."

(1) :  the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law (2) :  the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage marriage

[In case you are wondering how the rainbow became a symbol of the gay pride movement, check out this article on Wikipedia.]

Oh, just cope already!

The NY Times reported yesterday that 12,000 out of 350,000 students in France who took the national high school exam in English had signed a petition that argued that the exam had been too difficult. On reason that was given was that the exam included the verb "cope," for which, so the argument, there is no equivalent in French. (The question was about Ian McEwan's "Atonement," and it was phrased rather straightforwardly: "How is Turner coping with the situation?")


Even if it were true that there is no direct translation for "cope" in French, how does that make the exam question, which is based on rather common words in English and which itself is a rather common question to ask about a character in a novel, difficult?

Is "sibling" a difficult word for French learners of English because French has no direct equivalent (one has to use the expression "frères et sœurs," 'brothers and sisters')?

If you spin this argument further, would it mean that oral proficiency exams should not include dental fricatives (the /th/ sounds, as in "the" or "mouth") because they don't exist in French? (Good luck with finding a text that doesn't include definite articles or demonstratives.)

Does it mean that sentences that include grammatical constructions that do not exist in Standard French, such as preposition stranding ("Is this the man you told me about?"), may not occur in exams?

Puleeze! (Oops, another sibling word.)

June 02, 2015

Spellbound: Where are they now, part 2

“Having watched Spellbound, I realized that several of my competitors weren’t any worse than me ability-wise, but they didn’t have the same advantages—economic privilege, educational background, family dynamics,” she says. “I know that played a big, big role in my success. As a 14-year-old, I really thought I was one of the best spellers out there. In hindsight, I think, yeah, I was a very good speller, but I also had some of the best preparation and resources out there. I had a mom who had a graduate degree in linguistics. Parents who have literally hundreds of books in the house, and who were very motivated to help me succeed.” (Nupur Lapa, Spellbound)
The most popular entry on this blog is a "Where are they now?" post I wrote 5 years ago about the Spellbound kids. The Smithsonian Magazine has a recent update. (Surprise fact: Nupur's mother is a linguist!)