Archive for Dialects

Dialect readers redux?

In a recent article Patriann Smith, a professor of Language, Diversity and Literacy Studies at Texas Tech, makes a bold proposal: that “nonstandard Englishes” such as African American English (AAE) and Hawai’i Creole English be used as the primary language of instruction in educating children who speak them. (“A Distinctly American Opportunity: Exploring Non-Standardized English(es) in Literacy Policy and Practice“, Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 9/12/2016) Smith reviews evidence that speaking “nonstandard English” (her term) as a first language interferes with children’s educational progress, given the way children are taught and progress is assessed. She also questions the privileged status accorded to the “standard” (aka mainstream, higher status) dialect of English (SAE) used in education, business, government, and other institutions, and the traditional view of literacy as the ability to read that dialect. Hence the proposal that children be taught in their native dialect whether “standard” or not.

In this post I’ll look at some implications of this proposal for learning to read. The idea that children who speak AAE (or another nonstandard dialect) might benefit from being taught to read using materials written in their dialect isn’t new.  Some 40 years ago there was a brief, a mostly-forgotten educational experiment with “dialect readers”.  They weren’t widely accepted then.  Has their time finally come?

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Grammatical diversity in the New York Times crossword

Monday’s New York Times crossword is the handiwork of Tom McCoy, an undergraduate member of the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project. I wouldn’t’ve thought it possible, but he’s managed to make a coherent theme out of a nonstandard grammatical variant in American English.

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“Look, the bill needs fixed”

Ohio Gov. John Kasich grew up in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, just down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh, and has retained many dialect features from the Pittsburgh region. Notably, Kasich, like others from the area, would say “The car needs washed” rather than “The car needs to be washed” or “The car needs washing.” (The Yale Grammatical Diversity Project calls this the “needs washed” construction; it’s also been called the “need + V-en” construction.) Last year, Kasich demonstrated this feature in a Republican presidential debate, when he said “The country needs healed.” On Sunday, Kasich gave us another example of the construction on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Discussing the healthcare legislation proposed by congressional Republicans, Kasich told Chuck Todd, “Look, the bill needs fixed” (at 1:35 in the video).


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Dialectology of Japanese reflexive exclamations

Fascinating episode of a Japanese TV program called Detective Knight Scoop (Tantei Knight Scoop):


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He comfortable! He quickly dry!

A neighbor of mine, a respectable woman retired from medical practice, set a number of friends of hers a one-question quiz this week. The puzzle was to identify an item she recently purchased, based solely on what was stated on the tag attached to it. The tag said this (I reproduce it carefully, preserving the strange punctuation, line breaks, capitalization, and grammar, but replacing two searchable proper nouns by xxxxxxxx because they might provide clues):

ABOUT xxxxxxxx
He comfortable
He elastic
He quickly dry
He let you unfettered experience and indulgence. Please! Hurry up
No matter where you are. No matter what you do.
Let xxxxxxxx Change your life,
Become your friends, Partner,
Part of life

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It was taking photos

This sentence is from a report in The Guardian, a UK paper, but I suspect it was written in the USA, where the (fictive) rule that a pronoun must agree in number with its antecedent noun is often taken very seriously:

One person was killed and five others were injured when a large eucalyptus tree fell on a wedding party while it took photographs at a southern California park on Saturday, authorities said.

I have seldom seen a case where a noun denoting a collection of people acting jointly felt so much in need of being allowed to be the antecedent of the plural pronoun they. But under the strict syntactic rule that some people wrongly imagine they should apply, they needs a plural antecedent, and party is singular (and non-human).

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Twitter-based word mapper is your new favorite toy

At the beginning of 2016, Jack Grieve shared the first iteration of the Word Mapper app he had developed with Andrea Nini and Diansheng Guo, which let users map the relative frequencies of the 10,000 most common words in a big Twitter-based corpus covering the contiguous United States. (See: “Geolexicography,” “Totally Word Mapper.”) Now as the year comes to a close, Quartz is hosting a bigger, better version of the app, now including 97,246 words (all occurring at least 500 times in the corpus). It’s appropriately dubbed “The great American word mapper,” and it’s hella fun (or wicked fun, if you prefer).

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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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Dialect death

Reports of the death of languages and the extinction of languages are alarmingly routine, but before a language dies out entirely, when it is endangered, its dialects die off one by one.

Last native speaker of Scots dialect dies” (10/6/12)

Dialect Death:  The case of Brule Spanish (1997)

The list of publications documenting the dead and dying dialects could go on for many pages:  I lament each and every one of them.

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Language vs. script

Many of the debates over Chinese language issues that keep coming up on Language Log and elsewhere may be attributed to a small number of basic misunderstandings and disagreements concerning the relationship between speech and writing.

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Ask Ricky the Dialect Dog

Amy Stoller is a dialect coach operating out of New York City, known among many other things for her work with Anna Deavere Smith.

This valuable advice is from her November newsletter — reprinted with permission.

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Dialectal interference in Shanghai

Here’s a photo of a warehouse on Chongming Island, at the northern edge of Shanghai, which deals in various agricultural products, as listed on the two signs:


(Source)

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Clueless Microsoft language processing

A rather poetic and imaginative abstract I received in my email this morning (it’s about a talk on computational aids for composers), contains the following sentence:

We will metaphorically drop in on Wolfgang composing at home in the morning, at an orchestra rehearsal in the afternoon, and find him unwinding in the evening playing a spot of the new game Piano Hero which is (in my fictional narrative) all the rage in the Viennese coffee shops.

There’s nothing wrong with the sentence. What makes me bring it to your notice is the extraordinary modification that my Microsoft mail system performed on it. I wonder if you can see the part of the message that it felt it should mess with, in a vain and unwanted effort at helping me do my job more efficiently?

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