Archive for Dialects

Easy to Laugh

My friend James Cathey sent me an eyebrow-raiser this morning: “Here is a sentence that stopped me in my tracks: "Robinson, who has a warm voice and is easy to laugh, has a way of setting the record straight …"   (TIME: March 12, 2018, p. 50)"

Jim says he could never say "is easy to laugh" in any context that he can think of, and asks “What is going on here?”

I could never say that either, but then I was also surprised at some of the meanings Russian reflexives (and Polish, etc) can have — not only reflexive, reciprocal, and 'unaccusative' (the door opened, etc), but also transitives with missing object and a 'habitual' meaning — I heard it used standardly for 'that dog bites'.

So “easy to laugh” feels to me not totally impossible, and maybe related to the connection between 'These plates break easily' from a transitive and 'He laughs easily' from an intransitive. In the literature I've seen plenty of discussion of the 'break easily' cases and don't remember seeing any of the 'laugh easily' cases.

Maybe also relevant that “laughable” is one of the relatively few -able words formed from an intransitive? But the sense of “laughable” is very different, seems related to a transitive ‘laugh at’ sense, whereas this one is clearly based on intransitive ‘laugh’.

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Anti-MSM sentiment in Sichuan

Photograph of a slide shown during a lecture at a university in Sichuan:

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"Projects we need financed": Pittsburghian?

My Wall Street Journal column this week looks at the history of the word rider, inspired by Frances McDormand's cryptic use of the phrase "inclusion rider" at the end of her acceptance speech at the Oscars on Sunday, after she won the Best Actress award for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. (Link to WSJ column here — if paywalled, follow my Twitter link here.) But just before she got to "inclusion rider," McDormand offered another linguistically intriguing nugget. Here's how the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported it:

On Sunday, she asked all of the women nominees in Hollywood's Dolby Theatre to stand and reminded them to tell their stories.
Laughing, she said in the Pittsburgh vernacular, "Look around ladies and gentlemen, because we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed." 

You can hear the relevant bit at the end of this clip.

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Pitch in Korean dialects

From Krista Ryu:

Recently on the internet, there was an interesting photo posted that pointed out the unique feature of Southeastern dialect of Korean:  tones (some scholars call it pitch, as it is different from the tones of languages such as Mandarin).

The internet post had the following photo and a question: "is it true that Seoulites (people from Seoul / users of standard Korean) cannot pronounce these distinctly?"

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Stigmatization of dialects

[This is a guest post by Krista Ryu]

I was reading the book, Language Change in East Asia, and one of the articles, "Dialects versus the Standard Language in Japan," talked about the standardization of Japanese and its consequence on the many "hougen” (方言) of Japan. I thought it was very interesting and related to what we talked about in class regarding the various Chinese languages (topolects).

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Southern Ohioisms

During my recent trip to Ohio, I met a man named Don Slater from southeastern Ohio who regaled me with endless examples of how people from his neck of the woods (centered on Noble County, but down into eastern Kentucky and Tennessee) talk.

People from Noble County don't butcher a hog, they "burcher" it.

They don't say "ain't that awful" or "tain't that awful".  They say "hain't that awful".  Don said he thought that pronunciation might have some Irish influence behind it.

One of the most amazing expressions Don taught me was one he said is used around Gatlinburg, Tennessee:  "beyall".  See if you can figure out what it means before you turn to the next page.  HINT:  this expression is often used by waiters and waitresses in restaurants.

Try again.  SECOND HINT:  it is a question — "beyall?"

THIRD HINT:  it is equal to four words in standard English".  NO MORE HINTS.

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Dialect maps get surreal

Everybody seems to enjoy sharing dialect maps displaying the boundaries of different American regionalisms. So it was only a matter of time before this enticing form of data visualization got satirized. On Twitter, Josh Cagan takes it in an absurdist direction.

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Attribution of the WannaCry ransomware to Chinese speakers

The notorious WannaCry malware infestation began on Friday, May 12, 2017 and spread rapidly throughout the world, infecting hundreds of thousands of computers and causing major damage.  Speculation concerning the identity of the perpetrators focused on North Korea, but the supposed connection was never convincingly demonstrated, and there were no other serious suspects.

Yesterday, Jon Condra, John Costello, and Sherman Chu published a stunning report which suggests that the authors of WannaCry — or someone they hired — spoke fluent Chinese:

"Linguistic Analysis of WannaCry Ransomware Messages Suggests Chinese-Speaking Authors" (Flashpoint [5/25/17])

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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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