More on various types of whatever(s)

Yesterday, we saw that in the publications indexed by Google Scholar, phrases like "two types of hypothesis|hypotheses" and "three kinds of question|questions" run about 75% plural; and a search in the Google ngram viewer supports the opinion of some people that there may be a tendency for Brits to prefer the singular and Americans the plural ("Various types of whatever(s)").

I took a few minutes this morning to compare some similar phrases as indexed by an American newspaper (the New York Times) and a British newspaper (the Guardian). In both cases, the plural preference is much greater, and there's no sign of a British preference for singularity (93.5% overall for the NYT, and 96.5% overall for the Guardian).

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Mind your head

For some reason, the expression xiǎoxīn 小心 (lit., "little heart" –> "[be] careful") often throws Chinese translators into a tailspin.

"Crimes against English " (4/25/15)
"Free souvenirs " (8/15/15)
"Sandwiched in an escalator " (2/9/15)
"Signs from Kashgar to Delhi " (10/11/13)

and the classic, standard Chinglish

"Slip carefully " (5/6/14)

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Behind "The Humble Petition of WHO and WHICH"

A few days ago, I reprinted Richard Steele's "The Humble Petition of WHO and WHICH", where he voices their complaint that "We are descended of ancient families, and kept up our dignity and honour many years, till the jack-sprat THAT supplanted us". This item appeared in The Spectator for May 30, 1711, and Joan Maling emailed me to ask what we know about the relative frequency of various relative pronouns across time.

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More BS from George F. Will

George F. Will, "The havoc that Trump wreaks — on his own party", Washington Post 8/26/2015:

Trump, who uses the first-person singular pronoun even more than the previous world-record holder (Obama), promises that constitutional arrangements need be no impediment to the leader’s savvy, “management” brilliance and iron will.

As documented ad nauseam in earlier posts, Obama's rate of first-person singular usage is low relative to other recent presidents (see "Buzzfeed linguistics, presidential pronouns, and narcissism revisited", 10/21/2014). George F. Will has a long history of false statements and insinuations on this point ("Fact-checking George F. Will", 6/7/2009; "Fact-checking George F Will, one more time", 10/6/2009; "Another lie from George F. Will", 5/7/2012).

[And anyhow, according to a recent large study by Angela Cary et al.,"Narcissism and the Use of Personal Pronouns Revisited" (2014), "Overall (r = .02, 95% CI [-.02, .04]) and within the sampled contexts, narcissism was unrelated to use of first-person singular pronouns". But never mind that…]

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Various types of whatever(s)

Joan Maling writes:

The various co-authors on a neurolinguistics paper (I am one)  have different judgments about the following:

a.    two principal kinds of hypothesis  
b.    two principal kinds of hypotheses  

The two British co-authors prefer singular hypothesis; two Americans prefer plural hypotheses.  Curious. Has anyone looked at this variation, either as an idiolectal or a dialectal difference?

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Trump insults his rattle rivals

FML writes that a headline in this morning's WSJ print edition "totally garden-pathed me":

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His hemp-devoted head

So I was reading about the Alien Friends Act, and in James Morton Smith, "The Enforcement of the Alien Friends Act of 1798", The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 1954, I stumbled on a quotation from "The Political Green-House, for the year 1798", which with a bit of extra context runs like this:

Lo! now too dismal forms* draw nigh,
And cloud the Jacobinic sky,
While awful Justice lours around,
And Law's loud thunders rock the ground.
Each factious alien shrinks with dread,
And hides his hemp-devoted head;
While Slander's foul seditious crew,
With gnashing teeth retire from view.

* The Alien, and Sedition Law.

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The bearded barbarian

Ben Zimmer mentioned to me that he was on the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley talking about the origins of the word "gringo":

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Are we Americans, Donald and I?

Under current law, Donald Trump and I are both American citizens by right of birth. Donald was born in New York City in 1946, and I was born in Middletown, Connecticut in 1947. But if birthright citizenship were retroactively revoked, it would take some archival research to determine our status, and (as I understand Mr. Trump's proposals about immigration reform) we might both turn out to be undocumented aliens.

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LSA Emmon Bach Fellowship Fund fundraising launch

The LSA has recently established a new charitable contribution fund in memory of Emmon Bach (June 12, 1929 – November 28, 2014). The announcement, and a link for making donations (online or by mail) is here.

Quoting from the announcement page: This fund was established in consultation with Emmon’s families and close colleagues, and is to be used to support student fellowships at CoLang, the Institute for Collaborative Language Research. This will be the first named fellowship at CoLang; the founding donors are sure that Emmon would be pleased and honored to be helping to support the CoLang institutes, which offer an opportunity for practicing linguists, undergraduate and graduate students, and indigenous language community members to develop and refine skills and approaches to language documentation and revitalization.

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Another victim of oversimplified rules

On page 4 of the Metro newspaper today (it's distributed free on all the Edinburgh buses, so whatever its faults, the price is right) I read this sentence:

A record number of companies has been formed by Edinburgh University in the past 12 months, taking the total created over the past five years to 184.

A grammar tragedy. It's a verb agreement error. The writer recalls being told sternly that the verb must agree with the head noun of the subject noun phrase, and number seems to be the head noun, so common sense has been thrown to the winds, and the verb has wrongly been put into the singular agreement form—which, of course, is what the simplistic how-to-write books seem to demand.

In this case the correct agreement form happens to be the one that comports with the meaning: the University of Edinburgh has not been forming a number over the past year; it is the companies that have been formed, a record number of them. The singular agreement makes no sense. Lesson: verb agreement is not as mechanical and syntactic as the oversimplified handbook versions would have you believe.

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"Offhand impressions and grumpy peeves"

Steven Pinker, "On my radar", The Guardian 8/23/2015:

4|Website: Language Log.

Do you notice grammar gaffes, wonder about the speech styles of celebrities, find yourself curious about the origin of new words and constructions? Language Log is the place to go for commentary by people who actually know their stuff – linguists and other language scientists – as opposed to the pundits and scribblers who think that their standing as writers entitles them to present their offhand impressions and grumpy peeves as proven fact.

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Steampunk phonetics, continued

In Alexander J. Ellis's 1873 article "On the Physical Constituents of Accent and Emphasis", he asserted that there are "four principal matters to be considered in a sound-curve, which will be here called length, pitch, force, and form". Yesterday I quoted his oddly labored explanation of length, by which he means what we would now generally call "duration". We can skip his equally-labored explanation of pitch — it's correct, as we'd expect from the man who introduced and named the cent as a unit of measure for pitch intervals, but otherwise its main point of interest is his adherence to  the rarely-used "philosophical pitch" standard, which has middle C at 256 Hz, and therefore C in all other octaves at frequencies of powers of two. What Ellis has to say about force, however,  is an interesting mixture of science and error.

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