The Web of Language

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Dennis Baron's go-to site for language and technology in the news
Results for "January, 2012"

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  • Candidate barred from 'Running while Spanish' in Arizona

    For perhaps the first time ever, a candidate was struck from an Arizona ballot for poor English. Judge John Nelson, of the Yuma County Superior Court, ruled that Alejandrina Cabrera cannot run for city council in the border town of San Luis because she doesn’t know enough English to fulfill her duties. The State Supreme Court upheld Nelson's decision. But the voters, not the courts, should decide if she should be on the city council.

  • Dictionary droids write definitions untouched by human hands

    There’s a new breed of dictionary, untouched by human hands. The New York Times reports that teams of programmers have developed software that automates the making of dictionaries, eliminating the need for human lexicographers, who may favor some words and neglect others. These new dictionary droids comb the web, selecting words in context, defining them automatically based on that surrounding context, and tabulating the definitions and citations for subscribers to consult online. And they do it all faster than you can say Google.


    The web has made possible a democratizing of the dictionary. There are no editors with their annoying biases to stand in the way, so with just a couple of clicks users can see words in their natural habitat and choose exactly which one best suits their purpose. To paraphrase the old New Yorker cartoon, on the internet, everybody’s a lexicographer.