Archive for Variation

Accent elimination class

In a better world, the speakers of the "standard" variety would take a prejudice elimination class instead.

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UM / UH map in the media

Jack Grieve's map ("UM / UH geography", 8/13/2014) has been featured in an article by Nikhil Sonnad, "Um, here’s an, uh, map that shows where Americans use 'um' vs. 'uh'", Quartz 9/15/2014. Unfortunately, the lovely map in the article reverses the UM and UH areas  (just as I did in the first version of the 8/13 post):

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Um and Uh in Dutch

Below is a guest post by Martijn Wieling, following up on a series of LLOG postings over the years on the effects of sex, age, geography and other factors on the relative frequency of the filler words um and uh: "Young men talk like old women", 11/6/2005; "Fillers: Autism, gender, and age", 7/30/2014; "More on UM and UH", 8/3/2014; "UM UH 3", 8/4/2014; "Educational UM / UH", 8/13/2014; "UM / UH geography", 8/13/2014; "UM / UH: Life-cycle effects vs. language change", 8/15/2014; "Filled pauses in Glasgow", 8/17/2014.

I was surprised to see this effect in the first place; and more surprised to see it robustly replicated in a variety of American English datasets; and even more surprised to see the same pattern in Glasgow. The fact that the same pattern is also found in Dutch raises some interesting questions, about which more later.

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Transitive marvel wonders reader

From J.M.:

Am I misreading this cryptic headline (I do confess my severe deficiency of "urban cool"), or has "marvel" become a transitive verb, a synonym for "amaze"? "Rihanna front row as Wang urban cool marvels New York", AFP 9/7/2014.

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More on tonal variation in Sinitic

In a number of posts, we have discussed departure from stipulated tonal configurations in speech, e.g.:

"Dissimilation, stress, sandhi, and other tonal variations in Mandarin "

"When intonation overrides tone"

"Where did Chinese tones come from and where are they going?"

In this post, we will focus on the wide variation of tone in names for some family relationships.

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Dissimilation, stress, sandhi, and other tonal variations in Mandarin

A few months ago on the Penn campus I heard a Chinese guy and a girl having a conversation in Mandarin, and I was surprised when he twice said, "Wo3 ming2bai4 le."  The rest of his speech was standard, but then he came out with this strange transformation of "Wo3 ming2bai le".  Of course, I shouldn't have been surprised, because I've heard the exact same thing before.  Nonetheless, it still sounded odd to me, since from first-year Mandarin on I've had it drilled into me that this sentence should be pronounced "Wo3 ming2bai le" and that any other pronunciation of ming2bai was wrong.  This was reinforced by the canonical pronunciation ming2bai given in dictionaries and other authoritative sources.

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ER and ERM in the spoken BNC

From John Coleman:

Inspired by your recent Language Log pieces, I tried an analysis of "er" vs "erm" in the Spoken BNC. These are the two main transcriptions for filled pauses labelled as "UNC" in the Claws-5 tagset and also "UNC" in the richer set of pos labels used in BNC. I.e. they are distinguished from items labelled as ITJ / INTERJ, in which the few tokens of "uh" and "um" are classified. These "uh"s are almost all in "uh huh" meaning "yes", and many of the "um"s and "mm"s are also in contexts where the "yes" sense is clear. So I disregarded the ITJs and restricted the analysis to UNC "er" and "erm", which are far more numerous in any case. As these are mostly nonrhotic dialects one can interpret "erm" as just schwa + nasality, with no implication of rhoticity; ditto for "er".

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UM / UH: Life-cycle effects vs. language change

In English-language conversations, older people tend to use UH more often and UM less often. And at every age, men tend to use UH more than women, and women tend to use UM more than men.  These effects are large and robust – they've been documented in at least five independent datasets, from both North American and Great Britain — for details, see the links at the end of this post.

The cited patterns are consistent with two quite different classes of explanation:

  • There might be a language change in progress, with older people reflecting the patterns of an earlier time and younger people showing the language of the future, while women are leading the change, as they often do.
  • There might be stable gender and life-cycle effects, so that the UM and UH sex and age associations looked the same a few decades in the past, and will look the same a few decades in the future.

And there's an independent question about the functions of the classes of vocalizations that we transcribe as UM and UH:

  • Perhaps UM and UH are simply alternative expressions of the same compositional or communicative function — say, two different (classes of) ways of stalling for time in the process of speaking — or alternatively
  • perhaps UM and UH have partly or entirely different functions, and it's differences in the frequency of these functions that are associated with age, sex, and so on.

In neither case are the alternatives mutually exclusive — the truth might be some mixture of the two.

Yesterday, Joe Fruehwald looked at UM and UH usage in a dataset with enough time depth that we can tell the difference between a change in progress and a stable life-cycle effect. And he found that the truth seems to be a bit of both.

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Email yesterday from Bill Benzon:

Here's a blog post about a little bit of linguistic detail in a VERY interesting book: Matthew Jockers, Macroanalysis: Digital Methods & Literary History.

Do you have any thoughts on that detail?

The post in question is "Reading Macroanalysis 4: On the matter of 'the'", New Savanna 8/13/2014, and the "detail" in question is a cited difference in the frequency of the word the  between a collection of of 19th century British novels and a comparable collection of 19th-century American novels:

Chapter 7, “Nationality” is pretty straightforward. I don’t have much to say about it except for a puzzle that Jockers presents at the beginning. He points out that, because British and American writers have different practices concerning the word the, that word is about 5 percent of the word tokens in his corpus of 19th Century British novels, while it is about 6 percent of the tokens in the American novels.

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Educational UM / UH

Apologies for temporarily turning this into Conversational Filler Log — but I realized that my assertion in this morning's post ("UM / UH geography") about the effects of years of education was based on some analyses that I'd done but never posted.

So here they are: the basic effect is that people with a 4-year college degree or better have a higher UM / (UM+UH) proportion, on average, than people with only a high school education. This interacts as expected with sex and age: at every educational level, women have a higher UM proportion than men do; and in general, younger people of whatever age and educational level have a higher UM proportion than older people (though the number are small for some of the intersected categories, so that the patterns are a bit messier).

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UM / UH geography

From Jack Grieve, a few minutes after we discussed this issue at the 10.30 coffee break here at Methods in Dialectology XV in Groningen:

Attached is a locally autocorrelated map based on the percent of um vs uh (i.e. um/(um+uh)) in a few billion word of geocoded tweets of 2013 (about 40,000 tokens each). Red are areas where "uh" is relatively more common and blue are areas where "um" is more common. quite a clear pattern, and probably the clearest Midland (only?) lexical pattern I've ever found.

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Uptalk in Devon

"The unstoppable march of the upward inflection?", BBC News Magazine 8/11/2014, quoted me referencing Daniel Hirst's idea about a possible Scandinavian origin for the long-standing pattern of default rising intonations in northern England, Scotland, and northern Ireland. In response, Dave Goodwin sent me this interesting note about rising intonations in Devon:

I am a born & bred Devonian in the westcountry of the UK, though neither side of my family are from these parts.  I do not have a traditional Devon accent by when I went off up country to University (over 20 years ago now) one friend there picked me as being from Devon, whilst everyone else was at a loss as to where I was from, other than somewhere in the south.

Having asked how she guessed she said her older brother had been studying at the University of Exeter (in Devon) & she had often visited him, then gave her reason as having noticed the locals round these parts had the inflection, albeit not as over emphasised as the Australians, for example, do.  I had never really noticed it before but started hearing all my friends back home using it as well as a great many of their parents/siblings etc.

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"Cladly dressed"

From reader BKS:

Someone used "cladly dressed" in a comment to The Guardian, and it appears to be an up and coming 21st Century phrase.

A search of didn't turn up any instances of "cladly".[Update — but thanks to Mark Meckes in the comments below, here it is:]

And as BKS noted, there are a few examples in recent books:

With nakedness we find quite often the opposite of what the revealer expects to accomplish: the girl cladly dressed receives attention she is seeking but at cost to how she is perceived
Some of the elders heard rumors that Nathaniel was watching television by himself and paying specific attention to programs that featured females who were cladly dressed.
Meanwhile it is thirty eight degrees outside and Pastor Angie is cladly dressed walking down Gordon Parks Avenue.
My son was making out with this cladly dressed girl — I didn't even know who she was!

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