Archive for Variation

Toe-ly gumby a sound change

On Sunday 9/10/2017, Steve Bannon was interviewed on 60 Minutes. Looking at the interview from the perspective of a phonetician, I was struck by pervasive evidence of a little-studied sound change in progress. Word-internal intervocalic coronal consonants — /t/, /d/, /n/ — in weak positions (i.e. not followed by a stressed vowel) are deleted, and the surrounding vowels are merged. This process is increasingly common in American English, and is frequently exemplified in Steve Bannon's speech, at least in this sample.

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Siri can you hear me?

Wired.com has some perfect linguaphile clickbait: “Watch People With Accents Confuse the Hell Out of AI Assistants.”  By “accents” they mean, non-American ones (e.g., Irish English). The AI Assistants were Siri, Amazon Echo, and Google Home. I’m curious about how well the voice recognition systems in these devices work with varieties of spoken English, so I clicked. Sucker! Can’t tell anything from the video except that it’s fun to say “Add Worcestershire sauce to my shopping list” to a machine.  This definitely beats asking Siri “What is the meaning of life?”

Mainly I was impressed by how poorly I understood the speakers.  I have a bad time understanding other people’s accents  but that’s only one data point.  How well do people understand speech that is in the same language as their own but spoken with a different accent?

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"Fli??ed me off"

Sent in with the comment "Who the hell says 'flicked off' instead of 'flipped off'??"

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Which, close enough

John Herrman, "The Online Marketplace That’s a Portal to the Future of Capitalism", New York Times Magazine, 5/3/2017:

Among the items I sent to my friend, on our modest budget: a laser pointer; 100-count “super strong” small magnets; a functioning violin; a spare part for the window mechanism on an Audi A6; a deep-V-neck sweater; and of course, the self-stirring mug. Shipping was often free, or only a dollar. The items were extraordinarily well reviewed, often by thousands of customers. The deals seemed, if not exactly too good to be true, at least economically unfeasible — which, close enough.

Michael Glazer, who sent in the link, commented:

Because, why not?

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Russia is a surface but other countries are spaces?

In Finnish, that is. Garrett Wollman ("Some linguistic observations from my trip to Finland", Occasionally Coherent 4/14/2017) notes that Finnish morphology differentiates between "surface" and "interior" relationships of position and motion:

toward at away
surface allative
-lle
“onto”
adessive
-lla/-llä
“on” or “at”
ablative
-lta/-ltä
“off” or “away”
interior illative
-Vn/-hVn
(for stems ending in V)
“into” or “toward”
inessive
-ssa/-ssä
“in” or “inside of”
elative
-sta/-stä
“out of” or “from”

Against this background, he describes his recent experience at the World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki.

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"I leaked nothing to nobody"

From Susan Rice's interview today with Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC, an interesting example of emphatic multiple negation:

I leaked nothing to nobody, and never have and never would.

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Irish "would"

Below is an email from Eoin Ryan (with added audio):


Last week on Language Log you posted about a "tentative would" as used by Mike Pence, which reminded me of a use of "would" which I find interesting and may be similar, but I think it is different. Also, last week I had no clear examples to hand, which was a reason not to jump into the comments of the previous post.

Martin McGuinness died this morning. As a central and complex figure in both the Northern Irish Troubles, Peace Process and devolved Stormont parliament, his death is receiving blanket media coverage. A radio host named Ryan Tubridy has a show every weekday morning at 9 on RTE 1 (one of the national radio channels) and he too could not but talk about McGuinness, and this is how he led off:

As you can imagine, it is wall-to-wall
uh talk of
uh the passing of Martin McGuinness, which
is news that I would have woken up to this morning and uh as soon as I checked
the uh newspapers and the headlines and so forth it was the uh
it was the opening story.

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A stick with which to beat other women with

There have been dozens of articles in the news recently about Emma Watson's Vanity Fair photo shoot, the reaction to it, and her reaction to the reaction. For example, Cherry Wilson, "Is Emma Watson anti-feminist for exposing her breasts?", BBC News 3/6/2017; or Jessica Samakow, "26 Tweets Prove #WhatFeministsWear Is ‘Anything They F*cking Want’", Huffington Post 3/6/2017; or Travis Andrews, "‘Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women’: Emma Watson tells off critics of revealing photo", Washington Post 3/6/2017.

What's the linguistic angle? Well, the quote in that WaPo headline is not exactly what she said.

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Morphosyntactic innovation in the White House?

From the "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, 2/14/2017, #12" (starting at 15:23 of the ABC News video):

JONATHAN KARL:  Back in January, the President said that nobody in his campaign had been in touch with the Russians. Now, today, can you still say definitively that nobody on the Trump campaign, not even General Flynn, had any contact with the Russians before the election?

SEAN SPICER: My understanding is that what General Flynn has now expressed is that during the transition period — well, we were very clear that during the transition period, he did fee- he did speak with the ambassador —


JONATHAN KARL: I’m talking about during the campaign.


MR. SPICER: I don’t have any- I- there’s nothing that would conclude me that anything different has changed with respect to that time period.

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Inaugural addresses: SAD.

A few days ago, I posted some f0-difference dipole plots to visualize the contrast between Barack Obama's syllable-level pitch dynamics and Donald Trump's ("Tunes, political and geographical", 2/2/2017):

Obama 2009 Inaugural Address Trump 2017 Inaugural Address

For another take on the same contrast in political prosody, I ran a "Speech Activity Detector" (SAD) on the recordings of the same two speeches, and used the results to create density plots of the relationship between speech-segment durations and immediately following silence-segment durations:

Obama 2009 Inaugural Address Trump 2017 Inaugural Address

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Comments off

Yeah nah really?

For more, see #newyorkersbelike

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Partial negative concord

Steven Hsieh, "Joking Around: We spoke with that Carlsbad city councilor with the sexist Facebook post", SF Reporter 1/24/2017 [emphasis added]:

Carlsbad City Councilor JR Doporto drew widespread criticism today after KOB 4 highlighted a Facebook post he wrote mocking women who participated in Saturday's nationwide demonstrations against President Donald Trump. […]

After angry comments rained down on his Facebook page, he doubled down on his jokes with additional posts. […]

We caught up with Doporto this afternoon on the phone to hear his thoughts. […]

Q: I don't think anyone is disputing that you have the right to say what you want to say. I guess the question was: The march was for women's rights. And the particular joke you made was disparaging towards women and some of the stereotypes you used were—it seemed you were thumbing your nose at what was taking place. Does that make sense to you?

A: Yeah, yeah. I was thumbing my nose at what was taking place. Enough already. Let's get on. Women have had rights for … years that I have been alive. I don't see no rights they don't have that a man has. When are they going to get on and move on? I believe if a Democratic president was elected, Hillary, I don't think we would've had those protests.

Karen Sumner, who sent me the link, commented: "This is likely an example of a simple and easily-recognized language thing to Language Log folks, but I scratched my head when I saw it. Still scratching, to be honest."

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"Do I not like that"

Graham Taylor has died at the age of 72, after a long and varied career as a manager and coach of English football teams. But this is Language Log, not English Football Log, and so we'll leave the obsequies to others and focus on Mr. Taylor's best known quotation, "Do I not like that":


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