Spectacular Vernacular

The Wide World of Language Diversity

Exploring Black American Sign Language and regional grammar.


Episode Notes

Nicole Holliday and Ben Zimmer discuss a regional grammatical construction that is most commonly associated with the Philadelphia area, though it’s also found in Canada and Vermont. Then they talk with journalist Allyson Waller about Black American Sign Language. Waller won the Linguistics Journalism Award from the Linguistic Society of America for her New York Times piece “Black, Deaf, and Extremely Online.” Finally, we invite listener Ben Snitkoff to take part in some word play with an improv-comedy theme.

Do you have any language questions or fun facts to share? Email us at spectacular@slate.com.

Produced by Jasmine Ellis and June Thomas.

Here are some notes and references from this episode:

The Yale Grammatical Diversity Project page for the “done my homework” construction

The Facebook Live video of a conversation between Britney Trumpy and Patsy Kelly

Black, Deaf, and Extremely Online,” by Allyson Waller for the New York Times

The Linguistics Society of America’s announcement of the 2021 Linguistics Journalism Award

Nakia Smith’s TikTok page

The documentary Signing Black in America

Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed, by Carl Zimmer


About the Show

Linguist Nicole Holliday and Wall Street Journal language columnist Ben Zimmer discuss the ways language is changing, talk to scholars and writers, and set and solve word puzzles.

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  • Ben Zimmer is a linguist, lexicographer, and all-around word nut. He is the language columnist for the Wall Street Journal and a contributing writer for the Atlantic.

  • Nicole Holliday is an assistant professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on variation, intonation, and language in society.