During my recent visit to Michigan, San Duanmu told me about some really neat work that he published last year as "Word-length preferences in Chinese: a corpus study", Journal of East Asian Linguistics 21.1: 89-114, 2012.
Archive for Variation
Betty Ann Bardell tweets:
— Betty Ann Bardell (@BettyAnnBardell) April 30, 2013
From the start of "What Can Doctors Learn by Admitting Their Mistakes?", Part 1 of the TED Radio Hour episode Making Mistakes:
|Guy Raz:||That's Brian|
|Brian Goldman:||I'm uh staff emergency physician
at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto, Canada
|Guy Raz:||That's [təˈɹɐn.toʊ]|
|Brian Goldman:||You know
about thirty years ago
it was- it was [ˈtɹɜ.ɾ̃ə]
because I used to say [təˈɹɐn.toʊ]
and Canadians would correct me
|Guy Raz:||and say [ˈtɹɐ.ɾ̃ə]|
There's no 't' in it
|Guy Raz:||Anyway, Brian
went to medical school in
that city …
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?
Aaron worked in my office as an intern, and had a quality that I found unnerving, which is that he could come up with better things for him to do than I could come up with for him to do.
And time and time again, I would give him something to do, and he'd say, "Is it OK if I also work on this other thing", and this other thing turned out to be much more important than anything I could come up with. And I learned to live with that.
I learned to live with that shortcoming, which I took to be a shortcoming of my own, not one of his.
The other unnerving quality that I found in him was the fact that when he would conjure these assignments, they actually came to fruition — an unusual phenomenon here on Capitol Hill. He'd give himself something to do, I recognized that it was very worthwhile, I let him do it, and it got done!
He was a remarkable human being.
The electric train that runs between the different parts of Terminal 5 at London's Heathrow Airport insists on referring to itself as a "transit".
What's more, the remarkably annoying female voice that tells you needlessly that the doors are closing and that the train is about to start moving says "Transit is departing."
Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
Victoria Ward, "Rowan Atkinson's McLaren car repair costs insurers almost £1 million", The Telegraph 2/7/2013:
The actor and comedian span off the road and crashed the high-powered vehicle into a tree in August 2011, suffering a fractured shoulder blade in the process.
"Span"? I've never seen or heard this before in my life. Is this a Britishism or just an error? It should be "spun," right?
In a comment on Geoff Nunberg's "The data are" post, Jo wryly reminds us that the data-is-plural-dammit peevers need to consider their position on the word agenda. The OED's (historically) first sense of agenda is
1. With pl. concord. Things to be done, viewed collectively; matters of practice, as distinguished from belief or theory. Sometimes opposed to credenda. Obs.
with citations like this:
1860 M. F. Maury Physical Geogr. Sea (ed. 8) i. §67 But notwithstanding all that has been done..for human progress, there still remain many agenda. There is both room and need for further research.
Plural agenda is of course etymologically correct:
< classical Latin agenda (neuter plural) business, affairs, in post-classical Latin also divine office (4th cent.), legal proceedings (12th cent. in British sources), plural of agendum thing which is to be done (usually in plural), neuter gerundive of agere to do
John McIntyre, "I said pound sand, sticklers", 12/27/2012:
Yesterday I sent out this tweet: "Just waved through a singular 'they.' Pound sand, sticklers."
The singular they was in a sentence on The Sun's editorial page: "Although experts say only a tiny proportion of seriously mentally ill people ever resort to acts of violence, the odds of someone doing so are greatly increased if they aren't in treatment or refuse to stay in it."
The "split verb rule" says that an adverb must not be placed between an auxiliary and the following verb. On this account, you should never write "you should never write", but rather "you never should write". In an earlier post, I followed (what I thought was) the lead of James Lindgren ("Fear of Writing", California Law Review 78(6):1677-1702, 1990) in attributing this bizarre idea to The Texas Law Review Manual on Style. But in a comment this evening, Jon Weinberg cited Allen Black, "Judge Wisdom, the Great Teacher and Careful Writer", 109 Yale L.J. 1267 (1999-2000):
He was death on split infinitives and split verbs. A sentence such as "The burdened vessel was slowly proceeding down river at the time of the collision" would never survive.
Since John Minor Wisdom would have learned his attitudes towards such things in the 1920s, and the Texas Law Review's Manual does not seem to have appeared until the 1950s, Jon suggested that we need to look elsewhere for the source of this peculiar prejudice. And indeed, a quick Google Books search turns up a more promising source – Henry Watson Fowler and Francis George Fowler, The King's English, 1908, section 46 on "'Split' Auxiliaries":
Some writers, holding that there is the same objection to split compound verbs as to split infinitives, prefer to place any adverb or qualifying phrase not between the auxiliary and the other component, but before both.
Tim Parks, "Learning to Speak American", NYR:
In 1993 I translated all 450 pages of Roberto Calasso’s The Marriage of Cadmus & Harmony without ever using the past participle of the verb “get.” The book was to be published simultaneously by Knopf in New York and Jonathan Cape in London; to save money both editions were to be printed from the same galleys; so it would be important, I was told, to avoid any usages that might strike American readers as distractingly English or English readers as distractingly American. To my English ear “gotten” yells America and alters the whole feel of a sentence. I presumed it would be the same the other way round for Americans. Fortunately, given the high register of Calasso’s prose, “get” was not difficult to avoid.
Now in 2012 I am obliged to sign up to “gotten.” Commissioned by an American publisher to write a book that explores the Italian national character through an account of thirty years’ commuting and traveling on the country’s rail network, I am looking at an edit that transforms my English prose into American. […]
Or again, does a “newsagent” really need to become a “news dealer,” a “flyover” an “overpass,” a “parcel” a “package,” or in certain circumstances “between” “among” and “like” “such as”? Does the position of “also” really need to be moved in front of the verb “to be” in sentences like “Trains also were useful during the 1908 earthquake in Catania,” when to me it looked much better after it?
Neetzan Zimmerman, "Pronunciation Nazi Pat Sajak Steals Thousands of Dollars from Wheel of Fortune Contestant Over Dropped ‘G’", Gawker 12/21/2012:
A failure to enunciate to Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak's liking cost a contestant a bundle of money earlier this week along with the rest of the game.
Renee Durette, a Navy Intel Specialist from Merritt Island, Florida, thought she had the puzzle in the bag.
In fact, she did: Durette correctly answered "seven swans a-swimming" with seven missing letters. Except that, in her twang, swimming became "swimmin'," a pronunciation Sajak found unacceptable.
Durette subsequently lost her turn as well as $3,850, and the puzzle was turned over to the next contestant, Amy Vincenti, who promptly solved it.
Anthony Gardner, "Absurd Persons Plural", The Economist 12/12/2012:
Earlier this month I went to a lecture by the American novelist Richard Ford. Called "Why novels are smart", it was brilliant and thought-provoking. But my thoughts were also provoked by the British academic who introduced him, commending—among other things—his "prose styles".
Now, Richard Ford is without doubt a great stylist; but he only has one style. He has honed it over many years, and having brought it pretty much to perfection, he very sensibly sticks to it. So why this mysterious use of the plural?
The same question might have occurred to those listening that morning to BBC Radio 4’s "Start the Week". In the course of a discussion about Germany, one panelist referred to the country’s "pasts". I suppose you could argue that, since the country was divided for 40 years into East and West, it has two pasts—but that strikes me as sophistry. The sorry truth is that we are facing a new linguistic fad: the use of the plural where the singular has always been used before, and indeed would make much more sense.
Specifically, we’re talking about abstract nouns. I first noticed the shift a few months ago when another speaker on Radio 4 came out with "geographies". For a while I thought it might be confined to academia; then I realised that it was creeping into the high-faluting vocabulary beloved of arts organisations. One spoke proudly of its "artistic outputs" and what the public wanted "in terms of outcomes".
Here in Macau, a few people still speak Portuguese. (And even fewer speak Macanese Patuá, which mixes Portuguese with Cantonese, Malay, Sinhalese, and a few other linguistic ingredients.) But according to Isabel Trancoso, who is attending the same conference here that I am, the local variety of Portuguese lacks the extreme reductions that are transforming the Iberian version.
On both sides of the War of the Iptivists, many people seem to believe that opinions about linguistic usage reflect attitudes towards innovation. The story goes like this: A new word, a new form, or a new construction is invented; at first, most people reject the innovation and deprecate the innovators; but the innovation spreads all the same; eventually it becomes normal and accepted, and no one even remembers that there was a problem. While this process is underway, one side supports tradition, insists on standards, and mutters about Kids Today; the other side supports innovation, points out that many of the Best People Are Doing It, and mutters about peevish old snoots.
Historical processes of that kind certainly do happen — see "In this day of slack style…", 9/2/2012, for a couple of examples. But overall, as an explanation of attitudes towards linguistic variation, this story is a failure. Usage peeving, though usually claiming to protect traditional usage, in fact aims to eliminate older forms at least as often as it tries to hold the line against newer ones. We've documented many examples of this over the years — see "At a loss for lexicons" (2/9/2004), "'Singular they': God said it, I believe it, that settles it" (9/13/2006), "Hot Dryden-on-Jonson action" (5/1/2007), "Preaching the incontrovertible to the unconvertible" (12/6/2012).
In the third edition of Garner's Modern American Usage, Bryan Garner has adopted a form of the linguistic rags-to-riches story as the basis of his five-step "Language-Change Index", whose "purpose is to measure how widely accepted various linguistic innovations have become". And unfortunately, he sometimes applies this scale to characterize the status of cases where the innovation-to-acceptance history just doesn't apply.