Archive for Morphology

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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Written Cantonese on a "Democracy Wall" at a University in Hong Kong

A Language Log reader in Hong Kong sent in the following photograph:

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Once more on the present continuative ending -ing in Chinese

On "Savage Minds", Kerim has a new post entitled "How do you pronounce '革命ing'?", which features this initially enigmatic photograph:

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Taking a selfie

In front of the window of a candy store in Peebles, a small town about an hour's drive south of Edinburgh, an elderly American woman approached a gentleman she didn't know and, holding out a cell phone, asked:

"Would you please take a selfie of my friend and I in front of this window?"

She was not aware that she had approached a linguist.

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Whom loves ya?

What a fool I've been, thinking all the time that the important stuff was about evidence and structure and the search for genuine syntactic principles — trying to find out through study of competent speakers' usage what are the actual principles that define (say) marking of accusative case on pronouns in Standard English. God, I've been wasting my life.

Wired magazine has published (just in time for Valentine's Day) a large-scale statistical study of what correlates with numbers of responses to online dating ads (and let me say here that I am deeply grateful to Charles Hallinan for pointing it out to me). Much of the survey relates to the words used in the ad. For example, mentioning yoga or surfing in your ad has a positive influence on the number of contacts that will result. Some of the discoveries are curious: for men, it is much better to refer to a woman using the word "woman", but a woman's ad will do better if she refers to herself as a "girl". And (the point that has turned my life around, made on the infographic here), it turns out that men who use "whom" get 31% more contacts from opposite-sex respondents.

This changes everything! It's not just about the inflectional marking of relative and interrogative pronouns any more, people; it's about getting more sex!

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Plurals

Philip Spaelti wrote:

I was struck today by a *plural* s in a headline in Slate: "A tale of two Flint, Michigans"

I agree that "Flints, Michigan" sounds strange (stranger?), but it's still striking. One might argue that Flint, Michigan is a single name, but I'm wondering about the prosodic shape of the phrase. I feel that I pronounce this as two phrases.

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Stupid FBI threat scam email

I recently heard of another friend-of-a-friend case in which people were taken in by one of the false email help-I'm-stranded scams, and actually sent money overseas in what they thought was a rescue for a relative who had been mugged in Spain. People really do respond to these scam emails, and they lose money, bigtime. Today I received the first Nigerian spam I have seen in which I am (purportedly) threatened by the FBI and Patriot Act government if I don't get in touch and hand over personal details that will permit the FBI to release my $3,500,000.

I wish there was more that people with basic common sense could do to spread the word about scamming detection to those who are somewhat lacking in it. The best I have been able to do is to write occasional Language Log posts pointing out the almost unbelievable degree of grammatical and orthographic incompetence in most scam emails. Sure, everyone makes the odd spelling mistake (childrens' for children's and the like), but it is simply astonishing that literate people do not notice the implausibility of customs officials or bank officers or police employees being as inarticulate as the typical scam email.

The one I just received is almost beyond belief (though see my afterthought at the end of this post). The worst thing I can think of to do to the senders is to publish the message here on Language Log, to warn the unwary, and perhaps permit those who are interested to track the culprit down. I reproduce the full content of the message source below, with nothing expurgated except for the x-ing out of my email address and local server names. I mark in red font the major errors in grammar and punctuation, plus a few nonlinguistic suspicious features.

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Australian hypocoristics

I was surprised that someone of Victor Mair's broad and deep erudition was unfamiliar with mozzie ("Magic grass of queerness", 7/26/2013). So for other Americans who have not been following the adventures of our Commonwealth cousins in developing the nickname-like vocabulary items known technically as hypocoristics, here's an attempt by the Australian branch of McDonald's to join the club:

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Morphosyntactic variation: Hamlet, Gertrude, Marshall, Bachmann

Over the past few days, I've come across two attempts at antique English verb inflection in a modern political context. One of them is from Josh Marshall, "Godzilla vs. Mothra", TPM 4/29/2013:

This is wild. Bilious WaPo blogger Jennifer Rubin lashes out at “jerk” Sen. Ted Cruz, says he must apologize to GOP colleagues.

And the popcorn shall passeth.

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Ask Language Log: There's cookies involved

T.L. writes:

One of my wife's pet peeves is the use of "there's" instead of "there are," as in the last line here. What's up with this? It's very common. Is it simply easier to articulate?

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Disinsectioning

I'm about to leave for Hong Kong, and the travel agency that arranged my tickets sent me an email with reservation details that contained various other helpful notes, including this one:

DOT Announcement Regarding Aircraft Disinsection

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Sometimes there's no unitary rule

Some Language Log readers may feel that the two rules I discuss in my latest post on Lingua Franca, "One Rule to Ring Them All," are stated too loosely for their consequences to be clear. Let me explain here just a little more carefully. The topic under discussion is whether who should be in the nominative form (who) or the accusative form (whom) in sentences with structures broadly like [1]:

[1] He's the man who(m) everyone says will one day be king.

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