Selections from Tumblr

I have a Tumblr blog which I use for writing short-form things that aren’t necessarily of any lasting value. But occasionally things do end up there that might be worth reading, so I intend to make an organized list of links to Tumblr posts that might be interesting to readers of this blog every year or so. The last time I did this was in December 2015 (here on WordPress and here on Tumblr), and I have been posting on Tumblr at a higher rate since then, so the list in this post is rather long, and I’ve organized it into subsections to make it more manageable. Only posts from December 2015 are included; for earlier posts, see the earlier lists.


Theoretical linguistics

  1. On where my interests lie in linguistics
  2. On some nonsense about “recursion”
  3. A defense of Chomsky

Phonetics and phonology

  1. On homophone-substitution errors in writing
  2. Nonce phonemes (phonemes that only appear in one morpheme) in Mako, Latin, Bintulu and Amuzgo
  3. On random word generation for conlanging
  4. On learning to pronounce foreign sounds
  5. On the alterability of idiolect phonology
  6. On liaison phenomena in languages other than French (more)
  7. On aspiration
  8. On breathy voice and voiced aspiration
  9. On word-initial sonorant-obstruent clusters
  10. On Mandarin tones

Morphology and syntax

  1. On the isolating-agglutinative-fusional cycle (more)
  2. On weather verbs
  3. On case-marking prefixes
  4. On verbal argument indexing
  5. On inflecting nouns for person (more)
  6. On marking the positive rather than the negative
  7. On overt coding of animacy


  1. On presupposition accommodation in St’át’imcets
  2. On mereologies (prompted by this)
  3. On the denotation of plural nouns (more, yet more)
  4. On affective adpositions

English phonology and grammar

  1. On grammatical gender in English
  2. On the pronunciation of television
  3. On checked vowels and yeah
  4. On the pronunciation of err
  5. On the pronunciation of one
  6. On contraction of let us
  7. On the superiority of northern English accents
  8. On final st-reduction in the Caribbean
  9. My pronunciation of anxiety
  10. On breaking before /l/
  11. On circumstances in which contraction is impossible (more, more)
  12. On double /t/ in eighteen
  13. On /k/ in length and /t/ in prince
  14. A complicated English syntax question to do with possessive NPs and number agreement
  15. On smew and English phonotactics
  16. On not all and all … not
  17. On weird pronunciations of interjections
  18. On English dual pronouns (more)
  19. My English spelling reform proposal, and various anonymous message-sender’s proposals: 1, 2, 3, amusing follow-up
  20. On reduced vowels in my accent of English
  21. On English’s one geminate consonant
  22. Tense and lax short a in American English
  23. On the most distinctive characteristic of American English
  24. A discussion on the pronunciation of English short a
  25. On the English voiced and voiceless dental fricatives

Historical linguistics

  1. On the evolution of the French reflexive
  2. On a possible Hurro-Urartian-Etruscan clade
  3. On the grammaticalization of pronouns as copulas (more)
  4. On the weirdness of the Proto-Indo-European stop system
  5. On the early development of the Indo-Aryan languages
  6. On fronting of postalveolar sibilants
  7. On fricativization of voiceless unaspirated stops (more)
  8. On regular sound change’s capability to produce apparent suppletion
  9. A discussion on various Proto-Indo-European topics
  10. On metathesis of clusters with sibilants
  11. On Lydian (more)
  12. On the conditioning of changes in vowel height
  13. On the Proto-Indo-European velar series
  14. On possible unidirectionality of OV to VO word order shifts (more, yet more)
  15. On resources on Iranian historical phonology
  16. On dl variation in Latin
  17. On the existence of Proto-Anatolian

English historical phonology

  1. On irregularity in English historical phonology
  2. On it’s and ’tis
  3. On there being no /t/ in the word moisten
  4. On the digraph wh pronounced /h/ in English


  1. On Geordie
  2. On Latin trahere
  3. English place names including OE wicga ‘beetle’ as an element
  4. On hang (erratum)
  5. On cuckold and cuckoo (more)
  6. On sibling (more)
  7. On cognacy of ‘food’ and ‘corpse’
  8. On prince
  9. Obscure English words beginning with gn- (more)
  10. On ostrich
  11. On the alleged cognacy of child with a word for ‘vulva’
  12. The meaning of race
  13. On the city Ur and the prefix ur-


  1. On language’s untidiness
  2. On the femininity and masculinity of linguistic varieties
  3. On sign languages interacting with spoken languages
  4. The lewdest language
  5. On linguistic prescriptivism


  1. The pumping lemma as a statement about integers
  2. On continued fractions
  3. A theorem on rational approximation
  4. On non-intersective adjectives in mathematical terminology
  5. On Big-O and little-o notation
  6. Why you can’t integrate 1/x from -1 to 1
  7. On bets and probabilities
  8. On Riemann-Stieltjes integration by parts
  9. On dividing by zero
  10. On two meanings of ‘the’ in mathematical writing
  11. On a binomial coefficient identity
  12. On continuous entropy
  13. On generating terrain

Sociology and anthropology

  1. On sacrifice
  2. “High gods” in various societies
  3. A defense of Jared Diamond
  4. On the Lengua’s conceptions of personality (not my own writing)
  5. On the origin of religion
  6. On agnosticism/atheism in ancient India (not my own writing)
  7. On the development of kinship systems
  8. The secret girdles of Ainu women
  9. On Dene-Yeniseian and the settlement of the Americas
  10. On lactase persistence
  11. On the Ashvamedha (more)
  12. On the Solubba
  13. On “guess culture”


  1. The curious story of the inquisitive shrew-mole and roving economist Hayden Castagno
  2. On the Orkney vole (more)
  3. Comparison of the wild mammal fauna of Britain and America (plus responses to replies: 1, 2, 3, 4)


  1. On human nature and morality
  2. On Gongsun Long’s argument that people have three ears


  1. My (wrong) prediction on the EU referendum
  2. On the horribleness of American universities
  3. On the acceptability of not voting
  4. On Labor, the Conversatives and the Literal Democrats
  5. On the House of Lords
  6. Highlights from Wikipedia’s list of incidents of grave disorder in the House of Commons
  7. On British and European identity (more)


  1. On sea silk
  2. List of phrases of the form numeral-noun in Chinese history
  3. On Robert Tombs’ The English and their History
  4. YouTube videos on historical figures or events with Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” as the background music

Art and literature

  1. On the meaning of songs
  2. On surrealism in art
  3. On V. S. Naipaul

Personal history

  1. On religious education in the UK
  2. On my local identity
  3. Dreams: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
  4. On memories of dreams
  5. On historical events in my lifetime
  6. An important life update
  7. What I learnt from school history classes


  1. German folktales: 1, 2 (reply 1, reply 2), 3
  2. Tang Yang’s advice to the Song Emperor
  3. On dreams (notes from a lecture)
  4. On an interestingly bad joke
  5. On “anischerality”

7 responses to “Selections from Tumblr

  1. David Marjanović

    Yay! So much to read! ^_^

    On the horribleness of American universities, rest assured that America is the odd one out there.

    From “On Latin trahere“:

    NE throw < OE þrāwan, with -w- already (unlike draw and drag, which < dragan), […] Actually, it turns out the -w- is a hiatus-breaking consonant—the PGmc form was *þrēaną, which would have become*þrāaną in Northwest Germanic. I don’t know why it becomes drehen in German, but I don’t know the German vowel developments. It was still drāen in Old High German, so it looks like there was no w-epenthesis in that language.

    *lightbulb moment*

    In southeastern German dialects like mine, dreh- is /dra/-. I’ve been wondering why for most of my life until now. Behold the almost complete solution:

    First, drehen has two meanings, transitive and intransitive, just like English turn or indeed French tourner. What if the transitive one is the causative of the intransitive one? Then we’d be looking at one of many, many other instances where a verb has merged with its own causative, and if dreh- were spelled etymologically, it would be drä-. In the dialects in question, /a/ is the umlaut of *a & (which in turn are now both /ɒ/) maybe half of the time; I have no idea of the conditioning factors.

    This would imply that the word has either been lost in those western dialects that haven’t merged /æː/ into /eː/, or that whoever fixed the spelling happened not to know such a dialect. That happens sometimes; the clearest example I know of a word entering Standard German with an etymologically wrong phoneme in it is jäh “suddenly”, which is /gax/ in dialects like mine, showing that the word got into the standard from one of the Central German dialects that turned into /j/ instead of /g/.

    • David Marjanović

      Clarification: “one of the Central German dialects” like those of Cologne or Berlin; most have had different developments of .

      Also, it’s funny how the h is wholly spurious in dreh-, but etymological in jäh.

  2. David Marjanović

    I’m cited in “On the Proto-Indo-European velar series”. 🙂 My sources were probably Wikipedia and/or the preface of the North Caucasian Etymological Dictionary; I’ll try to look stuff up at some point.

    The difference between palatalized velars and actual palatals has confused a lot of people, which surprises me, because they’re easy to tell apart even though they tend not to occur in the same language. Russian is full of [kʲ gʲ], Polish has them too, and so do mainstream Greek ([kʲ] anyway) and some Turkish accents. Actual palatals sound much more like palatalized alveolars; in Europe they occur in Hungarian (ty gy ny, and apparently still ly in very conservative accents) and Latvian (ķ ģ ņ ļ), not to mention that [ɲ ~ ɲj] is all over Romance and [ʎ ~ ʎj] persists in Catalan, Portuguese and a few others.

    I do wonder if the kentum merger is a recurring substrate effect that happened independently in Hittite, Tocharian, Greek, and once or twice in “West IE” (Germanic + Italo-Celtic) depending on where Albanian belongs.

  3. David Marjanović

    Concerning “On the early development of the Indo-Aryan languages”, it has apparently become mainstream that even the earliest stage of Rgvedic is not Proto-Indo-Aryan. Where Vedic has a megamerger of, like, six different clusters into kṣ, various Prakrits and later stages keep some of its sources apart, notably the voiced and voiceless ones.

    The idea exists that Vedic is actually ancestral to Dardic and only Dardic. I have no idea.

    Catalan, Portuguese and a few others

    Notably Italian.

  4. David Marjanović

    “On cognacy of ‘food’ and ‘corpse'”: German Aas – “carrion” < “food”.

  5. David Marjanović

    “On ostrich“:

    The French word is supposed to have been formed from classical Latin avis ‘bird’ + strūthiō ‘ostrich’. This looks like a head-initial compound (in English it would probably have to be ostrichbird), but maybe head-initial compounds were common in Old French, I don’t know (it wouldn’t be surprising since it shifted from adjective-noun to noun-adjective order).

    Are you sure about adjective-noun order? Latin had noun-adjective order as a default, though the slightest amount of emphasis was enough to override the default, and poetry didn’t care about word order at all as long as the prepositions didn’t become postpositions.

    The few compounds found in modern French are all head-initial, and the pattern is mildly productive.

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