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In which she gets emotional.

December 4, 2010

You know what’s funny? I used to work in linguistics.

I don’t talk about that much. But google me under “Elizabeth Medvedovsky” and you might get some results for me as an English checker on a couple of linguistics papers. It was interesting there, but I wasn’t super into it; I couldn’t figure out why necessarily.

You know what the lab I worked at focused in? Information structure. That’s the metajunk that we use to mark what’s important, what’s new when we’re speaking. In English it’s mostly stress. So for example, “SHE threw the ball” is different than “She threw the BALL.” If I asked you, “Who threw that ball?!?” and you answered “She threw the BALL.” that would actually be an ungrammatical answer, in the sense that a native English speaker would never place emphasis on BALL in that context. Different languages might have other tools; German and Russian, for example, might place the most important stuff at the front of the sentence.

I didn’t know anything about it when I got a job there. It was just plain old dumb luck.


I am reading a book by Kevin Smith now, Structure of the Visual Book. I suspect it’s a book I should have read a long time ago. To be more specific, I am just now reading the introduction, to see if this thing is worth my attention, and I read:

“The mechanics of creating order is not the end, but the means of self-expression. Structuring books, as with any artisti techniques, must be mastered so that it becomes second nature.

In conversation, I am concerned with what I am saying, not how. Yet, without any conscious effort, the human voice speaking a simple sentence has structure. The voice gradually increases in pitch and volume, uses inflection, builds to a climax near the end of a sentence, falls in pitch and volume to rest. The most commonplace structure, speaking a sentence, is the essence of what must become second nature to the bookmaker, and, to the viewer.”

Amazingly this is the first time I made the connection between my job there and design. And perhaps, more specifically, my thesis. But the stuff I love most in design is about this structuring, this meta marking…

When I realized this, I got chills. This happens too at the end of the best projects; when everything connects and some strand of an idea I’d had became full-fleshed and connected quite powerfully with another random strand that had been on my mind. And the whole time I haven’t known the connection but have continued working with these strands if only because I can’t stop thinking about them. And it’s only at the end–of very good projects–when I see the connection and its quite real and realize it all made sense all along.

So it’s like that now. From linguistics to design. From language to the visual. From the Sonderforschungsbereich to Pratt. What’s the connection? And I realize now it’s made sense all along…

I am going to take this aha moment as a sign that I am either doing something quite good or that this book is indeed worth reading further.

“Pictures are a separate reality, another way to knowledge. I am not against words but I believe in pictures.”

“Developing the idea came by doing.”


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