Heidi Harley

Website: http://dingo.sbs.arizona.edu/~hharley/

Posts by Heidi Harley:

    Scarf 'em up!

    Is there a linguist in your life? Puzzled for a present that might really shiver their timbers? I know it seems like we're all living on a higher plane, laser-focused on abstractions beyond the merely corporeal, but we do enjoy a worldly indulgence now and then. Consider, for example, these beautiful IPA-print scarves (and other merch) available on Redbubble from the inimitable Lingthusiam podcast team, Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne. Just the thing for keeping one's neck cozy at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America in January in Salt Lake City. All the cool kids will be wearing them!

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    Subsective adjectives and immigration

    An important rallying cry and usage distinction made by allies of undocumented workers in the current cultural battle over immigration in the United States is Elie Wiesel's assertion above: "No human being is illegal." In the quote, Wiesel gives examples of the kinds of adjectives that he feels can denote properties of people (fat, skinny, beautiful, right, and wrong). On the other hand, calling a person 'illegal', he says, is a contradiction in terms.

    Here's a more elaborated statement of the idea, quoted from this website 

    When one refers to an immigrant as an "illegal alien," they are using the term as a noun.  They are effectively saying that the individual, as opposed to any actions that the individual has taken, is illegal.  The term “illegal alien” implies that a person’s existence is criminal.  I’m not aware of any other circumstance in our common vernacular where a crime is considered to render the individual – as opposed to the individual’s actions – as being illegal.  We don’t even refer to our most dangerous and vile criminals as being “illegal.” 

    Now because syntax is my actual job, I am honor-bound to point out that the term 'illegal alien' is a noun phrase, not a noun, and furthermore, that "using a term as a noun" does not mean "using it to refer to a person, place or thing," which I think is what the author above may be trying to say. But that quibble aside, we can see the idea. Laws criminalize actions, not people. Hence only someone's actions, not their very existence, can be illegal.

    What are the linguistic underpinnings of the intuition that using the term illegal alien implies that a person's existence is illegal? I think it derives from an important distinction in types of adjectival meanings that I've learned about from the work of my Language Log colleague Barbara Partee. Different types of adjectives license different patterns of inferential reasoning.

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    Trevor Noah reflects on language and identity

    In my introductory undergraduate course on English words, and in most undergraduate introductory courses on linguistics, students are invited to reflect on language and identity—how the way you speak communicates information about who you are—which they are typically very interested in. This isn't my beat, professionally speaking, but as a linguist I have a duty to help my students think through some of these issues (and, if they get interested, point them in the right direction to get really educated). To get started, I often play this one-minute clip of a Meshach Taylor Fresh Air interview from 1990, which is usually a good starting point for some discussion.

    But Fresh Air (yes I'm a Terry Gross fangirl) also recently ran an interview with the biracial South African host of the Daily Show, Trevor Noah, which contained this ten-minute motherlode of a reflection on multilingualism, language choice, racism, acceptable targets of mimicry, vocabulary size, Trump's communicative abilities, resentment of accented speech… whew. I'm just going to leave it here for your edification and enjoyment. Maybe one of our more sociolinguistically expert Language Loggers will provide some more detailed commentary later. For my part — well, I just invite you to think about what kind of 500-word essay you'd write for a Ling 101 class with this 10-minute clip as your prompt.

    To hear the whole interview, or read the transcript, visit the NPR Fresh Air page.

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    Open Access Handbooks in Linguistics!

    A couple of weeks ago, I wrung my hands on Facebook over the proliferation of commercial publishers' Handbooks of Linguistics. These are usually priced out of individuals' budgets, being sold mostly to university libraries, and the thousands of hours of work poured into them by dedicated linguists are often lost behind a paywall, inaccessible to many of the people who would most like to read them.

    That post prompted a flood of urgent discussion; it seemed like this was a thought that was being simultaneously had around the world. (Indeed, Kai von Fintel had posted the identical thought about six months prior; probably that butterfly was the ultimate cause of the veritable hurricane  that erupted on my feed.)

    Long story short, a few weeks later we now have a proto-editorial board and are on to the next steps of identifying a venue and a business model for the series. Please check out our announcement below the fold, and follow along on our blog for updates as the series develops!

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    Wondering who did Frank think he was talking to?

    Biking home listening to an old Fresh Air podcast from my backlog, I was amused to hear the story of Frank Sinatra giving a grammaticality judgment. Sammy Cahn describes how Sinatra objected to his lyric for the song "The Last Dance."

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    Here's the relevant bit of the transcript from the Fresh Air site:

    CAHN: So when you speak, you would say they're wondering just when we will leave. You wouldn't say, they're wondering just when will we leave. So he said that one, just when we will leave. I said no, it isn't – hold it. I said they're wondering just when will we leave. But till we leave. He said what kind of cockamamie word is…


    CAHN: I said no one speaks like that. I said no. I said no one speaks like that, but we aren't speaking, Frank, are we? We're singing, aren't we, Frank? And that's the only time we ever kind of good-naturedly quarreled about a line.

    Apparently Cahn shared the judgment but justified the inversion on artistic grounds. Sinatra subsequently did it Cahn's way, not his way.

    I also love Cahn's bisyllabic pronunciation of "aren't" here.

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    Grid takes off her derpants

    I'm going to play this for my morphology class next week when we start talking about affixation… but there's no reason why you all shouldn't enjoy it now, now, now!

    Thanks to Alex Trueman.

    If you enjoyed this, you may also want to check out this oldie but goodie: How I met my wife. Happy Valentine's, if you're into that sort of thing!

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    Fifth annual Simpsons linguafest blowout!

    Hello, blogosphere — the fifth collection of Simpsons linguistic humor is up, here. Enjoy!

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    High Five((')s) for Science

    Ten days ago I was returning to the US from Europe, and the first and main leg of the trip was a flight from Amsterdam to Houston. After passing through customs and immigration in Houston, I was stripping off shoes, belt, wallet, fillings, etc. to walk through the security scanners and re-enter the gate areas for my connecting flight. The scanners were being worked by a few twenty-somethings, and one of them was enthusiastically telling the others, "You know, today's Darwin's 200th birthday! High five for science!"

    He was given a slightly bemused high-five by one of his coworkers, and then he turned to another with the same celebratory request, but sadly the other coworker, conforming more to my mental Texan stereotype, wouldn't meet his eyes and wouldn't high five him.

    "I'll give you a high five for science!" I called out happily. "That's what I'm talkin' about!" he said, and so after exchanging a high five for science with a perfect, if slightly goofy, stranger, I trotted off to my next five hours of travel feeling all warm and fuzzy. I didn't have the heart to tell him he was off on the birthday by ten days; hopefully he's exchanging high-fives today as well. Maybe he's exchanging high-fives for emancipation today instead.

    To give this post some mildly linguistic content, I refer you back to its header, which I assert would be a perfectly grammatical headline in any of its permutations: with or without the -s, and with or without the apostrophe…

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    Linguists on the job market

    Chris's post on the job market for linguists circulated instantly here at the University of Arizona, and one of our enterprising recent grads, Shannon Bischoff, thought of comparing Chris's job posting numbers, sorted by area, to numbers of dissertations produced in each area. I post his revised table of figures including the diss numbers below the jump.

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    Androids, electric sheep, plastic tongues…

    For your edification and amusement: An articulator-based, rather than acoustic, speech synthesis device.

    The original context, here on Botjunkie, says that the ultimate goal is a voice compression system for cellphones. I'm a bit confused about this — I *think* that the idea is that representing speech articulatorily will be less data-intensive than representing it acoustically, but that seems wildly improbable to me.

    Here's the description of the system on the Takanishi Labs page. Amazingly, they even have a rubber set of vocal cords at work! (scroll down to see them in action).

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    From lax to tense

    The complexity of the English vowel system, specifically the tense/lax distinction, in nefarious conspiracy with our phonemic word-initial glottal fricatives, strikes again: France's foreign minister was quoted as saying that he wasn't too worried about Iran potentially developing nulcear weapons, because Israel would eat them before that could happen.

    Perhaps M. Kouchner might consider a quick burst of training in the HPVT method.

    Hat tip to Andrew Carnie.

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    Grammar: Carrot or stick?

    On my recent trip to Paris, I took time out Wednesday evening to go to the Louvre, which is open until 10 (that's 22h for those unambiguous Europeans) on Wednesdays. My eyes happened to encounter Un jeune homme présenté par Venus (?) aux sept Arts libéraux, which reminded me that one of these lovely young ladies would represent Grammar. Here they are, with Venus (whose question mark is in the Louvre label — that's not my editorial addition1); I've omitted to photograph the young man.

    Since it's clear that the top middle one is Logic (aka Dialectic), with her scorpion, and since Logic is one of the three liberal arts in the Trivium, I assume that one of the women on either side of her is Grammar — let's say the lady to her left holding a scroll.2 Here she is in close-up (you can click on this or the above image for a bigger version):

    Quite a charming-looking person, perhaps a little shy and young, but not at all offensive, right?

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    Phrasebook pronunciation, or, kawnbyang der tahng dewr ler vwahyazh

    Apparently Mark and I overlapped in Paris! Who knew. I was there for une journée d'études for the CNRS project Temptypac, which was fun and interesting, plus of course being in Paris is always superbe…

    My French is up to most basic communication needs, but my husband's isn't, so we shopped around a bit for a phrasebook to help him maximize touristic enjoyment while I linguistified. We found four suitable candidate pocket phrasebooks. One cost 5 euros rather than 7. It also happened to be the one that included the all-important phrase, "Je voudrais cinq tranches de jambon, s'il vous plaît", without which phrase one cannot navigate Paris at all. But the main deciding factor for us, besides the extremely valuable euros, was the pronunciation guides.

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