Archive for Morphology

Word, syllable, morpheme, phoneme

What is the basic unit of discursive, communicative language — word, syllable, morpheme, or phoneme?

This topic came up in the comments to the following posts:

"The concept of word in Sinitic" (10/3/18)

"Words in Vietnamese" (10/2/18)

"Diacriticless Vietnamese on a sign in San Francisco" (9/30/18)

"Words in Mandarin: twin kle twin kle lit tle star" (8/14/12)

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The concept of word in Sinitic

In the following posts, we've been tackling the thorny, multifaceted question of whether Vietnamese has words and lexemes, as opposed to having syllables and morphemes:

During the course of our discussions, the parallel question of whether Sinitic had words or not also came up.  Let me put it this way:  although there was no concept of "word" in Sinitic before the 20th century, there were Sinitic words, going all the way back to the oracle bone inscriptions (the first stage of Chinese writing) more than three thousand years ago, as documented in these posts and dozens of others:

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Words in Vietnamese

In "Diacriticless Vietnamese on a sign in San Francisco" (9/30/18), we discussed the advisability of joining syllables into words or separating all syllables.  The ensuing string of comments revealed that there is a correlation between linking syllables and word spacing on the one hand and the necessity for diacritical marks on the other hand.

This prompted me to ask the following questions of several colleagues who are specialists on Vietnamese:

Roughly what percentage of Vietnamese lexemes (words) are monosyllabic? Disyllabic? Any trisyllabic or higher?

The average length of a word in Mandarin is almost exactly two syllables.

Can you think of examples in Vietnamese parsing where it would be clearer or more helpful to have the syllables of words joined together?

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Poster childs

A reader sent in a link to this article, with the note "I know LL sometimes publishes examples of unusual usages of language; I came across this in an article on climate change. It’s a regularization I’ve never seen before" — Joshua Bowling, "Study: Climate change could transform Arizona's forests, deserts, worsening drought and fire", Arizona Republic 9/1/2018:

Ecosystems across the world will dramatically transform as climate change's effects increase, a new study warns. Arizona's forests could retreat with rising temperatures and its deserts could turn hotter and more volatile in the coming century.[…]

Those trees are slow growers, so experts at the time predicted it would be years before there were woodlands in the area again. And when something does grow, it's something better suited for the changing climate.

"That was really one of the first poster childs of the forest dieback that we're seeing in the Southwest and around the world," Overpeck said. "Where it's occurred in Arizona, it's essentially grown new vegetation that is in equilibrium with the warming climate."

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Annals of English verbing

From Dana Loesch, Relentless, NRATV 8/22/2018:

Th- they’re trying to Al Capone the president. I mean, you remember. Capone didn’t go down for murder. Elliot Ness didn’t put him in for murder. He went in for tax fraud. Prosecutors didn’t care how he went down as long as he went down.

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"Bāphre bāph!" — my favorite Nepali expression

As a Peace Corps volunteer in eastern Nepal (Bhojpur) from 1965-67, I became highly fluent in spoken Nepali.  I even dreamed in Nepali.

My Peace Corps buddies and I learned Nepali in Columbia, Missouri by the total immersion method, which I describe and demonstrate in this post:  "Learn Nepali" (9/21/16).

See also my comments to "Alien encounters" (9/15/16), especially this one, #7-8, and the links embedded therein.

I became enamored of many Nepali words and phrases, but my favorite of all is "bāphre bāph!", which corresponds roughly to "Wow", "OMG", etc. in English.

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"Bigfeet"?

Dana Millbank, "Goodbye, Republican Party. Hello, Bigfoot Party.", WaPo 7/31/2018:

By now, there are few in the political world who have not yeti heard about what’s going on in the 5th Congressional District of Virginia.

The Republican candidate in the race, Denver Riggleman, was discovered to have posted images of “Bigfoot erotica” on Instagram, with the furry fellow’s ample nether regions obscured. The candidate is also co-author of a 2006 book about Bigfoot hunting in which he describes “serious Bigfoot research” and includes an assertion that “Bigfoots like sex, too.”

Shouldn’t that be “Bigfeet”?

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Writing topolects with Chinese characters

While Chinese characters are inimical to the full writing of the topolects, they occasionally can be used to convey a sense of certain aspects of various local or regional forms of speech.

Here are some examples from the Northeast / Dongbei:

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Justin Bieber OK infix

What's going on here?  How did Justin Bieber become an infix (more precisely tmesis) inserted between the "O" and the "K" of "OK"? 

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A productive-ass suffix

Currently making the rounds is a video from Conan showing a standup appearance by the Finnish comedian Ismo Leikola. In his experience of learning English as a second language, he says, "I think the hardest word to truly master has been the word ass." He muses on the peculiar application of -ass as a slangy suffix in words like lazy-ass, long-ass, grown-ass, bad-ass, and dumb-ass.

Stan Carey discussed the video on the Strong Language blog ("A paradoxical-ass word"), and he links to Mark Liberman's 2014 roundup of scholarship on -ass (on Language Log and elsewhere), "Ignoble-ass citation practices."

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Language vigilantism

In "The Eagle-Eyed Vigilantes Defending the Chinese Language:  As new lingo springs up and grammatical errors persist, one magazine is battling to maintain linguistic standards", Yin Yijun (Sixth Tone [1/19/18]) describes an unusual PRC journal:

Shanghai-based Yaowen Jiaozi — whose name literally translates as “biting phrases and chewing characters” — was established in 1995 and operates under the slogan: “Bite every mistake that deserves to be bitten, and chew every article worth chewing.” The monthly magazine’s mission is to attack every grammatical error it encounters — and the staff take the job seriously. Over the past 20 years, the magazine has amassed a long list of mistakes, from a nearly unnoticeable Chinese character error on a chopstick wrapper, to a series of mistakes author and Nobel laureate Mo Yan made in his award-winning works.

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Chinese pentaglot rap

A Shanghainese friend of a friend just sent him a link to a curious video, and he forwarded it to me.  It looks like a Nike-sponsored rap song with five different fāngyán 方言 ("topolects") and lots of English.

My friend asked, "I wonder to what degree the Hànzì 汉字 ("Chinese characters") in the subtitles match the actual lyrics."

The video comes via Bilibili, which sometimes seems to load very slowly.  It is also available on iQIYI and DigitaLing.  Subtitles are more clearly visible in the Bilibili and DigitaLing (last one) versions.

The main questions, at least for me, are which topolects are presented, how faithful the presentations are, and how well the subtitles represent what is being said.

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Morphological creativity: Shoedrobe

Forwarded by Alex Baumans, an email advertisement from Legend Footwear in London — "RESTOCK YOUR SHOEDROBE FOR WINTER!"

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