Archive for Morphology

Softy Calais goes ballistic…

Calais in north-western France, and Kent in south-eastern England, have been experiencing weeks of extraordinary chaos. Thousands of desperate migrants from Africa and the Middle East are fighting to get into the Eurotunnel depot where they think they might be able to stow away on trucks that will make the train journey through the tunnel to the immensely desirable destination of Great Britain. The British think the Calais local authorities and the French government have been making only desultory efforts to prevent the migrants from clogging the approach roads, breaching the security fences, delaying train departures, and causing side effects like 24-hour traffic jams on the M20 freeway in Kent. So the headline writers at The Sun went to work, with feghoot based on a song from Mary Poppins:

Softy Calais goes ballistic… Frenchies are atrocious!

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Prepositioning

Linguist reads the paper: First sentence in Friedman's column begins "Let’s see, America is prepositioning battle tanks …" and before I got to the battle tanks I was surprised and wondering how 'preposition' could be used as a verb and what it could mean. (I'm of course seeing the word that starts with 'prep', had to be garden-pathed before I backtracked and saw the verb pre-position.)

I won't be surprised if readers of this blog had a similar first parse of my header –  its occurrence in this blog will probably make that even more likely.

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Totes

Back in March, Lauren Spradlin gave a wonderful talk at PLC 39, under the title  "OMG the Word-Final Alveopalatals are Cray-Cray Prev: A Morphophonological Account of Totes Constructions in English". It's been on my to-blog list ever since.

Totes, of course, is a clipped form of totally, which can be found is exchanges like this one:

A: Yo, I'm totes starving. I could totes eat a horse right now.  
B: Yeah, totes feel you man. I'm totes hungry too.  
A: I totes know this totes pimp place we could eat.  
B: We should totes hit it up then.  
A: Totes.  
B: Totes.

This (I think simulated) example of "totestalatarianism" comes from a Totes Truncation site that Lauren set up to hold the appendices for a paper of the same name as her PLC talk.

But the point of her analysis is not the totes usage itself, as striking as it sometimes is, but rather the pattern of abbreviation that often spreads to other words in the totes phrase: "totes emosh", "totes adorb", "totes atrosh", "totes apprope", "totes unfortch". Mix in a final /s/ and maybe some expressive palatalization, and you've got "totes arbz" (< arbitrary), "totes inevs" (< inevitable), "totes awesh" (< awesome), "totes impresh" (< impressive).

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xie死

In "A Sino-English grammatical construction", I wrote about "笑CRY", which consists of a Chinese character and an English word.  Today I'll write about xie死, which consists of a Chinese morpheme spelled with Roman letters and a Chinese character, sǐ 死 ("die").

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A Sino-English grammatical construction

As I was preparing a recent post comparing Pekingese and Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) sentences, I encountered an unusual (to me) expression that, at first, I didn't know how to interpret, namely "笑CRY".  The two morphemes (pronounced "xiàoCRY", one Chinese and one English, mean "laugh" and "cry".

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Duang

In China (and around the world among China watchers), everybody's talking about this ungainly syllable.  "Duang" surfaced less than a week ago, but already it has been used millions and millions of times.

"The Word That Broke the Chinese Internet" (2/27/15) by Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian

"'Duang' is Everywhere on the Chinese Internets, Here’s What It Means" (2/27/15) by Charles Liu

"Chinese netizens just invented a new word, and it's going insanely viral" (2/28/15) by Ryan Kilpatrick (English text part of the way down the page)

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SERE

Michael Kaan writes:

I was looking up information on the SERE program after watching Zero Dark Thirty, and noticed the odd patch the program has for its insignia:

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"Not a verb" is not an argument

This morning, when I checked out the website of The Atlantic, I saw an article by Megan Garber with the headline, "Gifting Is Not a Verb":

Megan has written perceptively about language before, notably in her piece from last year, "English Has a New Preposition, Because Internet," which played a large role in bringing attention to the emerging use of "because" — shortly thereafter recognized as the American Dialect Society's 2013 Word of the Year. (Some might argue that the new "because" isn't a preposition; Geoff Pullum defends that classification here and here but says it actually was one all along.)

The article itself is a seasonally appropriate exercise in word aversion, and Megan quotes one of Mark Liberman's posts on the topic to try to understand the source of her intense dislike of "gift" as a verb. But the headline goes much further, declaring that it is not a verb, despite the fact that the article clearly demonstrates that it is a verb, even if it's one that many people don't care for.

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Ignoble-ass citation practices

"The intensifier 'ass', in snippets", Improbable Research 11/3/2014:

snippets journal publishes notes that contribute to the study of syntax and semantics in generative grammar. The notes are brief, self-contained and explicit. For an example of the content, can we recommend a 2011 paper by Professor Daniel Siddiqi (Carlton University, US) who examines the ‘ass’ intensifier. […]

See: 'The English intensifier ass' in: snippets, issue 23, May 2011.

But Daniel Siddiqi failed to cite a number of earlier (and more complete) publications, and Improbable Research misses a bunch more.

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I want to / two fish

In the comments to "slip(per)" (7/22/14), we have had a very lively discussion on whether or not people would pronounce these two sentences differently in Mandarin:

wǒ yào tuōxié
我要拖鞋
"I want slippers."

wǒ yào tuō xié
我要脫鞋
"I want to take off my shoes."

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Foul Meat-gate

In "Dead and alive: metaphors for (dis)obeying the law " (7/27/14), we discussed the food scandal that has rocked China in recent days.  Abe Sauer had earlier made this post to the brandchannel:  "China's Latest Meat Scandal Could Deal a Death Blow to Brands Like KFC " (7/23/14).  In it, Abe remarked, "Taking a note from America's Watergate-based nomenclature, the scandal is being called 'Foul Meat-gate' ('臭肉门')."  Ben Zimmer, who called Abe's post to my attention, asked, "Is '-gate' really working as a morpheme here?"

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Having it both ways

"Data is" or "data are"? "That data" or "those data"? Michael Calia, "EBay asks users to change passwords after cyberattack", WSJ 5/21/2014 [emphasis added]:

EBay Inc. on Wednesday asked the nearly 150 million active users of its namesake marketplace to change their passwords following a cyberattack that compromised a database containing encrypted passwords and other data.  

The database didn't include financial data, said the company, which owns its namesake marketplace business as well as online payments operation PayPal.  

The company said it had no evidence that personal or financial information for PayPal users was compromised. That data are stored on a separate, secure network.

The obligatory screenshot is here.

[Tip of the hat to Will Leben]

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Twitter mwitter

"'Mwitter' to replace Twitter in Turkey?", Hurriyet 3/20/2014:

Only minutes after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed to close down Twitter today, a new website was formed, either as a tribute from his followers or a mocking attempt from his critics: "Mwitter"

Erdoğan had earlier said in Turkish: "Twitter, mwitter kökünü kazıyacağız," translated into English as: "We’ll eradicate Twitter."

In colloquial Turkish, the "m" phrase cannot be translated easily into any language as it is not a regular lexical item. Its meaning (or the lack of meaning) depends on the intention of the speaker.

As one study explains:

"Semantically, reduplication with m-sound means 'and so on', 'such,' 'kind of,' 'sort of' depending on the meaning of the first part of the reduplicative form being ahead of m-insertion. [It] allows the speaker to give less than the amount of information requested, while still appearing cooperative. It indicates that the speaker does not wish to specify or elaborate, but instead appeals to the participant's common ground for inferring the intended meaning."

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