Interesting Language Stories in the News

Mignon and Neal talk about how language can influence memory, a concept called "one form, one meaning," university language programs, and more.

Mignon Fogarty
2-minute read
Episode #665
News chat with Mignon Fogarty and Neal Whitman


Click the player to hear the interview. This is a summary of the topics we discussed.

Language Influences Memory

We talked about two new studies suggesting that language can influence people, at least in small ways, and we talk about Neal's previous article that includes an anecdote about how people in some cultures have an east arm and a west arm instead of a right and left arm.

Word order predicts a native speakers' working memory. The language we speak affects the way we process, store, and retrieve information. via "Science Daily"

Our language affects what we see. A new look at “the Russian Blues” demonstrates the power of words to shape perception. via "Scientific American"

One Form, One Meaning (OFOM)

Neal and Mignon have both noticed that when there are two spellings of a word (such as "gray" and "grey" and "whoa" and "woah"), some people will assign different meanings to them. For example, people have repeatedly commented that they think "gray" and "grey" are different colors. Neal says linguists know this as the "one form, one meaning" concept, a name given to it by Arnold Zwicky. To paraphrase another linguist, Dwight Bolinger, if two words seem to be synonyms, speakers are drawn to make up stuff in order to preserve OFOM.

Neal explains why he thought suckers and lollipops are different when he was young

Universities Are Cutting Foreign Language Programs

Foreign language programs are being cut at an alarming rate. According to CNN, citing a report by the Modern Language Association, "651 foreign language offerings had been terminated between 2013 and 2016," and we find that discouraging because learning foreign languages helped both of us develope a better understanding of English grammar.

Squiggly, Aardvark, and Fenster

We reveal the origins of the characters you often hear in Grammar Girl examples sentences.

You can find Mignon on Twitter and Facebook.

You can find Neal on Twitter and his blog, Literal Minded.

300 Million Download Contest

Enter to win a one-on-one web call with Mignon to celebrate Quick and Dirty Tips reaching 300 million downloads.

Listen to the Podcast

Click the player to listen to the interview. You can also read a complete (rough) transcript.


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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