Linguistics, Chipotle, Murder In Texas, Quotative Like, Gut Renovation, Germany & Russia

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Daniel Everett On Language and Thought

Nigel Warburton | Five Books | 27th January 2015

Linguist talks about his favourite books on language, his eight years in the Amazon with the Pirahã, and the challenge they pose to Chomsky. "Recursion is the crucial proponent of grammar proposed by Chomsky to distinguish human communications from other communications. The language of the Pirahã not only lacks recursion but is what was considered to be an impossible human language: a finite state language" (5,550 words)

Chipotle: The Oral History

Kyle Stock & Venessa Wong | Bloomberg Business | 2nd February 2015

How a Denver student called Steve Ells learned to cook Mexican, started a fast-food chain, got bought and sold by McDonald's, and ended up with a $22 billion business. His crucial innovation was not the choice of cuisine, but the service model. At Chipotle you can customise your order without slowing the line down. "If you want a little bit more salsa or a little bit less rice, nobody ever says no to you" (6,200 words)

Occurrence At Deep Ellum

Christopher King | Oxford American | 15th January 2015

A good story, marvellously well told, from 1930s Texas. A fiddler called Prince Albert Hunt runs off with a married woman. The offended husband shoots Hunt dead, and walks free. "If a wolf stalks your sheep then the wolf must be eliminated. If a musician runs off with your woman then the musician must be eliminated. You can blame neither a wolf nor a musician for his behaviour, but when they are eliminated, stasis is restored" (3,100 words)

Linguists Are Like, “Get used to it!”

Britt Peterson | Boston Globe | 25th January 2015

The quotative like has been with us for at least 25 years. Its earliest recorded use was in the first person, reporting inner states: “I was like, Oh my god”, as in Frank Zappa's 1982 song Valley Girl. Now "like" is widely used to introduce reported speech, often taking the unconjugated verb "be": "My mama be like, Clean your room". Some still consider the usage incorrect, but it is so "brilliantly functional" that it will surely endure (1,000 words)

Home Sweet Homewreck

Richard Warnica | National Post | 30th January 2015

This is the worst home renovation story you will ever hear. Building work forces a Canadian couple into three years of homelessness, the ruin of their marriage, and suicide. The work isn't even in their own house, but in the one next door, which is torn down and rebuilt without regard for the foundations and load-bearing walls which the two properties share. Moral: Do a lot of homework before you buy a house with a party wall (4,680 words)

Battle For Ukraine: How The West Lost Putin

Neil Buckley et al | Financial Times | 2nd February 2015 | Metered paywall

Big dig into the causes of the Ukraine war; first of two parts, focused on relations between Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin. Merkel was trying to find common ground with Putin right up until a final meeting at a G20 summit in November 2014. Then, "something snapped". Merkel decided that Putin was as a liar bent on wrecking Europe. The feeling was mutual, apparently: “Putin and Merkel could never stand each other” (4,000 words)

Video of the day: Brené Brown On Blame

What to expect: Cartoon. Extract from RSA talk. We are too quick to blame others (3'25")

Thought for the day

A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small parcel
John Ruskin (

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