Archive for Variation

对 (duì)

Listening to people around Beijing over the past few days, I've noticed a couple of things about a common Chinese word. The Wiktionary gloss for 对 (dui4) suggests the pattern:

Yes! Correct! I agree!; The word is used often in spoken language. It is common to repeat the word three times when you want to make clear that you understand and agree.

My impression is that a single duì is common, and three-fold repetition is also common, and sometimes even five in a row (grouped 3+2?), but not two or four. (I think I heard a double duì once, but it was more like two phrases "duì, duì".)

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It begs the way we see the world

Brad Plumer, "Two Degrees: How the World Failed on Climate Change", Vox 4/22/2014:

"If you’re serious about 2°C, the rates of change are so significant that it begs the way we see the world. That’s what people aren’t prepared to embrace," says Kevin Anderson, a climate scientist at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research. "Essentially you’d have to start asking questions about our current society and how we develop and grow."

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"Want PRO should"

Aaron sent in a question about a usage that he first noticed at the age of nine, learning Allan Sherman's "hello mudda hello fadda" for an elementary school assembly:

Now I don't want / this should  scare ya,
But my bunk mate / has malaria.

He has also seen a similar use of irrealis should from time to time in old jokes:

Q: Mom! You haven't eaten in three weeks? Why not?
A: I didn't want my mouth to be full you should call.

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bus v. buzz

In a post a couple of days ago ("PSDS", 3/30/2014), I observed that in English, "Syllable-final (and especially phrase-final) /z/ is usually voiceless". In a comment, Mark F. asked

[A]re "buzz" and "biz" just isolated counterexamples to the generalization about syllable-final /z/, or is it generally false for accented syllables? Or do I just think I pronounce the /z/?

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Linguists are generally scornful of "eye dialect", in both of the common meanings of that term:

  1. As an "unusual spelling intended to represent dialectal or colloquial idiosyncrasies of speech", like roight for right or yahd for yard;
  2. As a "the use of non-standard spellings such as enuff for enough or wuz for was, to indicate that the speaker is uneducated".

The first kind of eye-dialect is seen as inexact ("you should use IPA") and the second kind is seen as snobbish.  I'm generally more curious than censorious about both of these practices; but in any case, I recently saw a case of the first kind that struck me as especially interesting.

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From Breffni O'Rourke — David Alexander and Phil Stewart, "Nine officers removed, one resigns in Air Force cheating probe", Reuters 3/27/2014:

Nuclear critics say the problem is deeply rooted and has been going on for years, becoming increasingly acute since the end of the Cold War as the nuclear mission has increasingly come to be seen as a dead-end career that's relevance is in decline.

Breffni comments "I don't think I've come across that before. Maybe the writer was trying to avoid 'whose' with a non-human head?"

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Not So Fast with the Funny Fading Dialect Stuff

This is a guest post by Josef Fruehwald, commenting on Daniel Nester, "The Sound of Philadelphia Fades Out", NYT 3/1/2014.

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A weekend is not a surface

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."

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Bert Vaux on Here & Now

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.


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Medieval ontology on the streets of Oakland?

A recent Twitter exchange between William Gibson and Simon Max Hill:

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.

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More on Bokmål

[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”.

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Dialect chat on MSNBC

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).

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Interactive dialect map

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.

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Plural problems

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”)",?

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Prepositional identity

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:

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