Archive for Variation
Last night at dinner, several Americans and a Canadian got into a discussion with an Irishman and an Australian about weekends. Since all of the participants were linguists, the discussion centered on prepositions: Were we having dinner on a weekend in February or at a weekend in February? The North Americans voted for "on", a choice that the Irishman found preposterous. "A weekend," he observed, "is not a surface."
Yesterday, Bert Vaux got some well-deserved kudos on the NPR radio program Here & Now, as"The Man Behind The Dialect Quiz":
With just 11 days before the end of 2013, The New York Times posted a dialect quiz on its website that drew in millions of readers, making it the site’s most popular page for the year. The quiz is designed to pinpoint the quiz-taker’s exact region, based on the words he or she uses.
The graphics intern who created the mapping algorithm, Josh Katz, was hired for a full-time position and Bert Vaux, the linguist who created the data for the test, began to see an uptick in the activity on his website.
Vaux, a linguistics professor at Cambridge University in England, says when he started teaching at Harvard University in the early 1990s, he noticed a gradual change in the way his students spoke.
He says that for the first couple of weeks, students displayed accents and used words that originated in certain parts of the country, but within several weeks’ time they had all adopted a standard form of American English that made it hard to identify what region they were from.
So Vaux created a dialect survey that he distributed to his students where they would identify words they used in their native regions. He joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss his research.
A recent Twitter exchange between William Gibson and Simon Max Hill:
— simonmaxhill (@simonmaxhill) February 3, 2014
Wouldn't it be wonderful if a term from high philosophy had really penetrated the street slang of Oakland? Alas, it looks like a case of false cognates.
[During the last week or so of December, we had a vigorous, extended discussion on "Cantonese as Mother Tongue, with a note on Norwegian Bokmål". The following is a guest post by Håvard Hjulstad that takes up many of the issues that were raised in that earlier post and and attempts to situate them in a more systematic and comprehensive framework.]
It isn’t simple to explain the Norwegian language situation in a few words, but I shall try.
The word “mål” means “tongue” (or “language”; it also means “voice”) in the case of “bokmål”. It is very close to synonymous with “språk”, and it is used both for spoken and written languages. The word “mål” = “goal” and “measure” is a homograph. So “bokmål” could be translated as “book language”. Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
The interactive dialect quiz on the New York Times website, developed by Josh Katz from Bert Vaux and Scott Golder's Harvard Dialect Survey, has proved to be immensely popular. It's been a viral sensation on social media, much like the original Business Insider article on Katz's heat maps back in June (currently at 36 million pageviews and counting). And as in June, Katz's work is attracting plenty of mainstream media attention, too. This morning, I was on a panel discussion talking about the dialect quiz, and regional dialects in general, on MSNBC's "Up With Steve Kornacki" (segment 1, segment 2).
A cute interactive feature: "How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk" ("What does the way you speak say about where you’re from? Answer all the questions below to see your personal dialect map"), NYT 12/21/2013. The description:
Most of the questions used in this quiz are based on those in the Harvard Dialect Survey, a linguistics project begun in 2002 by Bert Vaux and Scott Golder. The original questions and results for that survey can be found on Dr. Vaux's current website.
The data for the quiz and maps shown here come from over 350,000 survey responses collected from August to October 2013 by Josh Katz, a graphics editor for the New York Times who developed this quiz. The colors on the large heat map correspond to the probability that a randomly selected person in that location would respond to a randomly selected survey question the same way that you did. The three smaller maps show which answer most contributed to those cities being named the most (or least) similar to you.
For more about the background, see Ben Zimmer's post "About those dialect maps making the rounds", 6/6/2013.
Reader SN writes:
One of my students has just received extensive comments on a MS. Some were extremely helpful, others less so. Two in the latter category were:
The plural of behaviour is not necessary.
The term ‘variation’ subsumes the plural. Eliminate the ‘s’ here and throughout.
“Behaviours” troubled me the first few times I came across it, but I am now happy that there is a difference between saying an animal shows a range of behaviour and saying it has a range of behaviours. I had never come across this attitude to variation though. Do you think Elgar was aware of his solecism when he named his "Variations on an Original Theme for Orchestra ("Enigma”)",?
From Tim Leonard:
I read here that Arthur C. Clarke wrote in his diary, "… are virtually identical with us." I was surprised that he would use "identical with" rather than "identical to," since I find it ungrammatical. So I checked Google Ngram Viewer, and was delighted to discover that the preposition that goes with "identical" appears to be a previously fixed choice that's in the process of changing:
Sufjan Stevens has posted an interesting comment on Miley Cyrus's "Get It Right". You should go read it on his blog, but since I've noticed that LL commenters often don't follow links, here's the text:
Dear Miley. I can’t stop listening to #GetItRight (great song, great message, great body), but maybe you need a quick grammar lesson. One particular line causes concern: “I been laying in this bed all night long.” Miley, technically speaking, you’ve been LYING, not LAYING, an irregular verb form that should only be used when there’s an object, i.e. “I been laying my tired booty on this bed all night long.” Whatever. I’m not the best lyricist, but you know what I mean. #Get It Right The Next Time. But don’t worry, even Faulkner messed it up. We all make mistakes, and surely this isn’t your worst misdemeanor. But also, Miley, did you know the tense here is also totally wrong. Surely you’ve heard of Present Perfect Continuous Tense (I HAVE BEEN LYING in this bed all night long [hopefully getting some beauty sleep?]). It’s a weird, equivocal, almost purgatorial tense, not quite present, not quite past, not quite here, not quite there. Somewhere in between. I feel that way all the time. It kind of sucks. But I have a feeling your “present perfect continuous” involves a lot more excitement than mine. Anyway, doesn’t that also sum up your career right now? Present. Perfect. Continuous. And Tense. Intense? Girl, you work it like Mike Tyson. Miley, I love you because you’re the Queen, grammatically and anatomically speaking. And you’re the hottest cake in the pan. Don’t ever grow old. Live brightly before your fire fades into total darkness. XXOO Sufjan
Yesterday, listening to the radio in my car, I heard this song on the local Country station:
Somebody truck in a farmer's field
A no trespass sign and time to kill
Nobody's gonna get hurt, so what's the big deal?
Somebody truck in a farmer's field
When an individual Quaker feels led to speak, he or she will rise to their feet and share a spoken message ("vocal ministry") in front of others.
Keith "Rip van" Humphries awoke from a couple of decades of sleep and asked "This is a Declarative Statement?" (9/28/2013):
I have been noticing something lately about the way many people are speaking? It seems more common among women than men, but they both do it? It involves making statements in a rising tone that suggests the statement is a question? I keep thinking I am expected to answer even when someone says something simple and declarative, like “Hi my name is Bob”? It’s driving me crazy?
Is anyone else noticing more of this style of speech, and, if so, how in the name all that’s sacred can we stamp it out? (That really IS a question and not a statement phrased as one).
From "Got English English and "Scientific" English one meh?", mrbrown.com 9/18/2013:
"This P6 science question is taken from a paper that is set by a local brand name primary school. The majority of the students who took this test gave the answer as (4). The science teacher insisted that the answer is (2). The reason given was that sentence D should be interpreted to mean that only light energy is given off when an electric current passes through it."
Katie J.M. Baker, "Ladies, What's Up With the 'I Feel Like' Verbal Tic?", Jezebel 8/23/2013
When I search my Gmail inbox for the phrase "I feel like," infinity results come up. "I feel like this particular story's very up your alley," a professional acquaintance wrote. "I feel like this might be the transitional stage to Federici's utopia," a woman in my book group joked. "I feel like I look too meek in my new profile pic," I worried to a friend. "I feel like I've done nothing of worth lately," another friend confided in me. "I feel like I'm being unhelpful." "I feel like it was important." "I feel like I have to reconcile my expectations."
We are feeling so many feelings, and we are very aware that we are feeling these feelings. But most young women I know are self-conscious about how often they qualify their emotions with "I feel like." If it's how we feel, do we need to drop an "I feel like" as a prelude to our feelings?
Here's what I don't like about "I feel like," a phrase I use constantly:
* It sounds a little indulgent, verging on narcissistic; when I say "I feel like" I feel like (ha) a touchy-feely liberal girl who learned to talk about her feelings in school.
* It evokes Carrie Bradshaw's pseudo-pensive "I couldn't help but wonder…"
* "I feel like" seems sheepish. I don't want to apologize for my feelings!