Archive for Dialects

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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The Festival are clear

One of the rare syntactic dialect differences between British and American English (there really aren't many) concerns verb agreement in present-tense clauses: British English strongly favors plural agreement with any singular subject noun phrase that denotes a collectivity of individuals rather than a unitary individual. And the extent to which it favors that plural agreement is likely to raise eyebrows with speakers of American English. This example, for example, from an email about a lecture at the Edinburgh International Book Festival:

The Festival are very clear that if you arrive after the start of the lecture you will not be admitted.

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The Egalitarian Appreciation of Strine in Microcosm

[This is a guest post by Matthew Robertson]

The 'Today' Interview With Oporto Robbery Heroes

In the United States, regional accents often carry with them negative stereotypes about class, status, intelligence, and more, making Southern versus Northern accents markers of division.

In Australia, it's largely the opposite. Regional vernacular and a broad accent (known as "Strine") is instead a unifier. Australia is, of course, much more culturally homogeneous than the United States — but the cross-class appreciation of the country's own manner of speech is another instance of a deeply entrenched ethos of egalitarianism. The comity and innocent enjoyment of all Australians with their own uneducated, unsophisticated working classes is clear in films like The Castle, or shows like Kath & Kim, among many others.

And it's also presented in microcosm in this video, an interview on the Australian morning program "Today," uploaded early this year.

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Obama and the end of the queue

Over the past few days the British media (newspapers and BBC news programs) have been talking about a crucially linguistic argument that President Obama is being manipulated, and literally told what to say, by the UK prime minister's office. (Links seem superfluous: the Google News UK edition will give you thousands of references.) The evidence comes from a single choice of lexical item.

During the two working days Obama spent in Britain, the main news-generating event was a news conference in which he directly addressed the issue of whether the UK should remain in the European Union or leave it. A key argument for those who believe in leaving the EU (the proponents of Brexit) has been that new trade agreements could readily be set up once the country was free from the shackles of EU membership. Specifically, a trade agreement could be readily set up with the USA. Not so fast, said Obama: the USA will continue its negotiating efforts aimed at setting up a trade agreement with the whole EU, and if the UK left that grouping (the largest single market in the world) it would "be in the back of the queue" if it applied to get a special UK/US trade agreement established.

The Brexit crew jumped on the use of the word queue. Americans talk about waiting in line, not waiting in a queue or queueing up. "The back of the queue" is characteristic British English, and no American would say any such thing, they insisted. Obama's remarks must have been prepared for him by British pro-EU politicians. Are the Brexiteers right?

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Accents, dialects, topolects, and languages — United Kingdom, Australia, and China

Normally I wouldn't want to call attention to a program as vapid as the one transcribed in the "quasi-blog" post linked to below, but the intelligent, critical comments that are interspersed by the blogger make it an instructive exercise after all.

"An interview about Chinese accents:  How cross-cultural differences led to a conversation conducted totally at cross-purposes" (3/23/16)

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Uyghur, Cantonese, and other valuable languages of China

In the Sinosphere section of yesterday's NYT, there's a thought-provoking article by Didi Kirsten Tatlow titled "Speak Uighur? Have Good Vision? China’s Security Services Want You" (2/19/16).

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Hissy fit

I am fond of this expression and have often wondered how it arose.  In my own mind, I have always associated it with the hissing of a cat and hysteria, but never took the time to try to figure out where it really came from.  Today someone directly asked me about the origins of this quaint expression and proposed a novel solution, which I will present at the end of this post.  First, however, let's look at current surmises concerning the problem.

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The country needs healed

In the latest GOP presidential debate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich used a regionalism not often heard in national politics. From the Washington Post transcript:

And as president of the United States, it's all about communication, folks. It's all about getting people to listen to one another's problems. And when you do that, you will be amazed at how much progress you can make, and how much healing we can have. Because, folks, at the end of the day, the country needs healed.

Video from Fox Business (skip to about 2 minutes in):


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