Archive for Variation

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (18)

Beauty-protecting box

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

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (9)

English transcription quiz

Can you understand this variety of English?

How about this clip?

Or this?

For the answers, look beyond…

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (25)

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).

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (11)

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (7)

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:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (19)


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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (34)

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (37)

Way more ways

Patricia Cohen and Ron Lieber, "It's summer, but Where Are the Teen Workers?", NYT 7/3/2015:

Ice cream still needs scooping, beaches still need guarding and campers still need counseling. But now, there are way fewer teenagers doing it all this summer.

This passage surprised me — but not because of the content, which seems consistent with my own experience. What surprised me was the fact that a relatively formal piece of writing used way as a scalar intensifier, a construction that I associate with informal or conversational registers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (18)

Sort of rubblish

Back in 2009, somebody (unfortunately I forget who it was) sent me this photograph of a sign in Beijing:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (12)


Back in March, Lauren Spradlin gave a wonderful talk at PLC 39, under the title  "OMG the Word-Final Alveopalatals are Cray-Cray Prev: A Morphophonological Account of Totes Constructions in English". It's been on my to-blog list ever since.

Totes, of course, is a clipped form of totally, which can be found is exchanges like this one:

A: Yo, I'm totes starving. I could totes eat a horse right now.  
B: Yeah, totes feel you man. I'm totes hungry too.  
A: I totes know this totes pimp place we could eat.  
B: We should totes hit it up then.  
A: Totes.  
B: Totes.

This (I think simulated) example of "totestalatarianism" comes from a Totes Truncation site that Lauren set up to hold the appendices for a paper of the same name as her PLC talk.

But the point of her analysis is not the totes usage itself, as striking as it sometimes is, but rather the pattern of abbreviation that often spreads to other words in the totes phrase: "totes emosh", "totes adorb", "totes atrosh", "totes apprope", "totes unfortch". Mix in a final /s/ and maybe some expressive palatalization, and you've got "totes arbz" (< arbitrary), "totes inevs" (< inevitable), "totes awesh" (< awesome), "totes impresh" (< impressive).

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (20)

Wonton in Zanthoxylum schinifolium etzucc sauce

From Nancy Friedman (@Fritinancy):

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (49)

Wasn't haven't it, ain't haven't it

Renditions of "wasn't having it" as "wasn't haven't it" are pretty common. Some examples from web search:

yeah, he tried but seen that I wasn't haven't it.
Rookie wasn't haven't it.
Richard wasn't haven't it today.
Ms. Claudia wasn't haven't it lol you started it & Claudia finished it.

And from twitter:

He was trynna touch up on the girls b4 practice someone told the coaches & they  wasn't haven't it AT ALL bruh.
Had to relax my hair by force!  The comb wasn't haven't it lol
I tried to tell you Mike Wallace wasn't haven't it!!
Great game from Linden tonight… RC tried to play bully ball but Linden wasn't haven't it#uctfinals

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (14)