Archive for Variation

Like thanks

In addition to the evergreen list of things to be thankful for — family, friends, health, worlds full of wonder — I'd like to make a plug for the internet, that connects us to all of them. Less directly than we might sometimes wish, but much more easily.

And for anyone interested in speech, language, and communication, the internet and the virtual universe behind it offer an extraordinary opportunity to make voyages of discovery, and to share what we find.

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UM/UH accommodation

Over the years, we've presented some surprisingly consistent evidence about age and gender differences in the rates of use of different hesitation markers in various Germanic languages and dialects. See the end of this post for a list; or see Martijn Wieling et al., "Variation and change in the use of hesitation markers in Germanic languages", forthcoming:

In this study, we investigate cross-linguistic patterns in the alternation between UM, a hesitation marker consisting of a neutral vowel followed by a final labial nasal, and UH, a hesitation marker consisting of a neutral vowel in an open syllable. Based on a quantitative analysis of a range of spoken and written corpora, we identify clear and consistent patterns of change in the use of these forms in various Germanic languages (English, Dutch, German, Norwegian, Danish, Faroese) and dialects (American English, British English), with the use of UM increasing over time relative to the use of UH. We also find that this pattern of change is generally led by women and more educated speakers.

For other reasons, I've done careful transcriptions (including disfluencies) of several radio and television interview programs, and it occurred to me to wonder whether such interviews show accommodation effects in UM/UH usage. As a first exploration of the question, I took a quick look at four interviews by Terry Gross of the NPR radio show Fresh Air: with Willie Nelson, Stephen KingJill Soloway, and Lena Dunham.

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Dan Nosowitz — "How capicola became gabagool: The Italian New Jersey accent, explained", Atlas Obscura 11/5/2015 — explains the backstory of this video clip:

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Shooting dead as NP?

Mark Mandel was surprised to see "shooting dead" apparently used as a noun phrase in a Guardian headline: "Two officers arrested over shooting dead of six-year-old Louisiana boy",11/7/2015. The obligatory screenshot:

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Latin American Spanish accents

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Looking over pronouns

Henry Thompson wonders (by email) whether something is changing in English syntax:

This from a 30ish native speaker of American English, with a PhD, definitely literate.

"I had a quick glance at sections of the [xxx], and it does have
some good tips, so I'd encourage you to look over it:"

The issue is whether  a verb-associated intransitive preposition goes before or after a direct object. The standard view is that either order is possible with full noun-phrase objects, while unstressed pronominal objects can only precede the preposition:

Kim pointed out the mistake.
Kim pointed the mistake out.
*Kim pointed out it.
Kim pointed it out.

Henry has noticed (he thinks) an increasing number of violations of this pattern:

I first noticed this is spoken English, e.g. ripped off them, fucked over me, picked up it, in the 1970s, and I feel like it's been steadily occurring in my hearing since then.

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Beauty-protecting box

Nathan Hopson sent in this photograph of a trash can / rubbish bin in Nagoya, Japan:

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English transcription quiz

Can you understand this variety of English?

How about this clip?

Or this?

For the answers, look beyond…

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More on various types of whatever(s)

Yesterday, we saw that in the publications indexed by Google Scholar, phrases like "two types of hypothesis|hypotheses" and "three kinds of question|questions" run about 75% plural; and a search in the Google ngram viewer supports the opinion of some people that there may be a tendency for Brits to prefer the singular and Americans the plural ("Various types of whatever(s)").

I took a few minutes this morning to compare some similar phrases as indexed by an American newspaper (the New York Times) and a British newspaper (the Guardian). In both cases, the plural preference is much greater, and there's no sign of a British preference for singularity (93.5% overall for the NYT, and 96.5% overall for the Guardian).

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Behind "The Humble Petition of WHO and WHICH"

A few days ago, I reprinted Richard Steele's "The Humble Petition of WHO and WHICH", where he voices their complaint that "We are descended of ancient families, and kept up our dignity and honour many years, till the jack-sprat THAT supplanted us". This item appeared in The Spectator for May 30, 1711, and Joan Maling emailed me to ask what we know about the relative frequency of various relative pronouns across time.

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Where the curses are

Jack Grieve on cussing GIS (Lorenzo Ligato, "Which Curse Words Are Popular In Your State?", HuffPost 7/17/2015) — it's not a big surprise that darn is popular in the upper midwest:

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Emily Landau, "Why Person-First Language Doesn’t Always Put the Person First", Think Inclusive 7/20/2015:

There are two main types of language used to refer disability: person-first language and what is known as identity-first language (IFL). PFL as a concept originated among people who wanted to fight back against stigma. In a society that perceived disability as dehumanizing, advocates wanted those around them to remember that having a disability does not, in fact, lessen your personhood. As such, the PFL movement encouraged the use of phrases like “person with disability,” “girl with autism” or “boy who is deaf.” In speaking this way and putting the person first, it was considered a show of respect.  

PFL was adopted as a general linguistic rule, moving from use by the people who initiated the movement towards heavy use by those in professional spheres. It essentially became the law of the land. Teachers, doctors, nurses, social service professionals, government officials… everyone was told that they should use only PFL. Using a term such as “disabled person?” A cardinal sin.  

However, as with almost any major activism movement, PFL sparked a countermovement, known as identity-first. IFL is a linguistic concept embraced and actually preferred by countless people within the disability community. In the ideology of identity-first, “disabled” is a perfectly acceptable way for a person to identify. Instead of going out of your way to say “person with a disability,” when using IFL you would instead say “disabled person.” This is how I personally choose to identify myself. I am a disabled person.

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Tempest in a cuppa

Olivia Rudgard, "Why you put on an American accent when you sing", The Telegraph :

Even while singing that most British of songs, her own country's national anthem, it seems Hertfordshire-born Alesha Dixon couldn't resist the temptation to slip into an American accent.

The pop star was ridiculed after performing God Save the Queen at the British Grand Prix on Sunday with a distinctly US twang.

She claimed it was 'soul', and deliberately done. But she wouldn't be the first to fall foul of an urge to put on the voice. It's pretty common for non-American singers to sound like they're from across the pond while singing.

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