Archive for Morphology

English in Chinese: over了, out了, 太low了, 太out了

Note from Gábor Ugray:

I just came across a hugely exciting conversation on Twitter, about English words mixed in with Chinese / adopted into Chinese speech – as seen in the subject line. There’s no easy way to extract conversations from Twitter, but it’s all in Liz Carter's feed today:

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Gun oil

In "The Stress and Structure of Modified Noun  Phrases in English" (Sag & Szabolsci, Eds., Lexical Matters, 1992), Richard Sproat and I discussed the semantic ambiguity or vagueness of English noun compounds:

We now turn to N0 compounds where a paraphrase links the two words in the compound with a predicate not implicit in either one. We are limiting this category to endocentric compounds, so that their English paraphrase will be something like 'an N1 N2 is an N2 relative-clause-containing-N1,' e.g., 'an ankle bracelet is a bracelet that is worn on the ankle,' or 'rubbing alcohol is alcohol that is used for rubbing'. The range of predicates implied by such paraphrases is very large. Since this type of compound-formation can be used for new coinages, any particular compound will in principle be multiply ambiguous (or vague) among a set of possible predicates.

Consider hair oil versus olive oil. Ordinarily hair oil is oil for use on hair, and olive oil is oil derived from olives. But if the world were a different way, olive oil might be a petroleum derivative used to shine olives for added consumer appeal, and hair oil might be a lubricant produced by recycling barbershop floor sweepings.

We go on to discuss the wide range of relationships involved in such cases, and the difficulty of automating their analysis.

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Grammarians, Whores, Buffoons

From an anonymous colleague:

I'm currently auditing Jennifer Houseman Wegner's class on Cleopatra. Today, in a Powerpoint lecture on Ptolemy IV, she showed the following quote from Edwyn Bevan's "A History of Egpyt under the Ptolemaic Dynasty": (Metheun, 1927, p.233)

"Agathocles and Agathoclea still, as before, ruled the king's [Ptolemy IV] corrupt affections. The palace swarmed with literary pretenders, poets, grammarians, whores, buffoons, philosophers."

Somehow put me in mind of Language Log.

Heavens!  What a motley crew!

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Japanesey Chinese

A new wave of Sino-Japanese borrowings?

During the last century and a quarter or so, Chinese has absorbed a large number of borrowings from Japanese:

"Recent Japanese loanwords in Chinese" (7/22/13)

"'And the greatest Japanese export to China is…'" (8/21/12)

"Sino-Nipponica " (7/26/15)

"Metaphysics has ruined Chinese" (5/27/15)

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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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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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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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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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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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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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