Archive for Variation

"Misunderstand that …", "pessimistic that …"

In late June Lila Gleitman noticed a case of "A is pessimistic that S" meaning that A considers it likely that S will happen/turn out to be the case, and A considers S to be an unwanted outcome. Her example was "I am more pessimistic than I was two weeks ago about the trade war spinning out of control."

We agreed that we would both find it impossible to say "I’m pessimistic that the trade war will spin out of control", but differed on "pessimistic about": in my dialect, but not Lila’s, "A is pessimistic about a Republican victory in the fall" is OK, meaning that A fears that the outcome will be the one she doesn’t want — that there will be or that there won’t be, depending on her point of view.

Lila, by the way, said she could use “pessimistic that” in the case of losing hope in a good outcome: “I am more  pessimistic than I was two weeks ago that the prices of stocks will rise.” But I don't think I could use "pessimistic that" there either. (So the original speaker and Lila and I seem to have three different patterns of judgments about "pessimistic that".)

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English vs. Singlish

The clearest demonstration I know of for the pronunciation differences between the two:

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Ask Language Log: Prosodic hyphens and italics

From Alex Baumans:

Miss Cayley's Adventures, a delightful novel by Grant Allen from 1899, is about Lois Cayley, who is left penniless after her stepfather dies (actually, she gets tuppence) and sets out to make her way in the world trusting to her wits and luck. She meets an American inventor-entrepeneur who wants her to demonstrate his bicycle in the German military trials.

Why I am sending you this, is the treatment of American English. Grant Allen takes care to give his characters a recognisable voice, with lots of local colour (stereotyping them at the same time, but this is a popular nineteenth-century novel). I am no native speaker nor a specialist in historical dialects of the US, but I can't for the life of me imagine what this is supposed to have sounded like. The hyphens and italics would seem to point towards some peculiar intonation or word-stress. There are 'phonetic' spellings such as 'ketch' or 'jest', and probably some Americanisms, that I no longer recognise as such. It doesn't sound like any variety of American English I'm familiar with. 

So, I thought it might interest you to see what an American sounded like to the British a hundred years ago. Perhaps you have a better idea what this is all about.

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Extreme right node raising

Wikipedia explains that "right node raising" is "a sharing mechanism that sees the material to the immediate right of parallel structures being in some sense 'shared' by those parallel structures, e.g. [Sam likes] but [Fred dislikes] the debates."

This construction is alive and well in modern English, but it flourished to a much greater extent in centuries past. I believe that it was once more common, though I don't have quantitative evidence. But 18th-century authors certainly produced examples that seem to go beyond the boundaries of modern prose style.

Here's a case in point, from Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter X: Emperors Decius, Gallus, Aemilianus, Valerian And Gallienus.—Part II:

The Scythian hordes, which, towards the east, bordered on the new settlements of the Goths, presented nothing to their arms, except the doubtful chance of an unprofitable victory. But the prospect of the Roman territories was far more alluring; and the fields of Dacia were covered with rich harvests, sown by the hands of an industrious, and exposed to be gathered by those of a warlike, people.

As I read this passage on the plane to Helsinki, the part that I've put in bold struck me as characteristic of Gibbon's time, and foreign to contemporary prose style.

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Yeah no etc.

Shahin S. sent this Instagram link, and asked

"Is there a term for these affirmative/negative contradictions? I'd be delighted to learn about their history, similar cases elsewhere, or parallels in other languages."

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Really weird sinographs, part 2

Some of the commenters to the first part of this series seem to be making the case that many of the characters chosen by Scott Wilson for his SoraNews24 article are not so weird after all.  I beg to differ.  I think that all of the characters he chose are truly strange, awesomely odd.  Even those who are skeptics admit that the loopy and curvy ones are unusual.  But I think that Wilson has done a good job of picking out weird characters from Morohashi, and as noted in the o.p., there are thousands more that might be thought of as weird.

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Translanguaging

Betsy Rymes, "Translanguaging is Everywhere", Anthropology News 4/27/2018:

For over three years now I’ve been keeping a blog about something I call “citizen sociolinguistics”—the work people do to make sense of everyday communication and share their sense-making with others. […]

Topics range from memes and emojis, to cross-posting and Urban Dictionary, to Konglish to Singlish to White American Vernacular English. […]

While these may seem trivial topics, citizen sociolinguistics like this provides a potentially powerful means to voice alternative, local points of views on language and communication.

Moreover, all these examples and dozens more could all arguably be called “translanguaging,” as defined by Ofelia García (2009). That is, “accessing different linguistic features or various modes of what are described as autonomous languages, in order to maximize communicative potential.”

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Welsh "prifysgol"

There's a university in Wales with this name:

Evidently "prifysgol" means "university".

Etymology

From prif- (chief) +‎ ysgol (school).

Noun

prifysgol f (plural prifysgolion)

  1. university

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Graphic antipairs

Currently on the internet in China, there is a flurry of discussion on characters that are mirror, flipped, reversed, or inverted images of each other.  Here are some of the examples that have been cited (except for the last two sets, which were added by me to illustrate other types of minimal differences):

chǎng 厂 ("factory") || yí, 乁, ancient form of yí 移 ("move; shift") or 及 ("and; reach to")

piàn 片 ("sheet; piece; slice") || pán 爿 ("half of a tree trunk")

yù 玉 ("jade") || sù 玊 ("jade with a blemish; a jade worker; a surname")

chì 翅 ("wing; fin") || chì 翄 ("wing; fin"), a variant of chì 翅 ("wing; fin")!!

chǎng 昶 ("bright; long day; expansive; surname") ||  ǎi 昹 ("name of a star")

zè 仄 ("narrow; oblique tones in prosody; a feeling of unease") || wáng 亾 ("death; destroyed; lost perished"), an early variant of wáng 亡; another early variant is 兦

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New online American English dialect survey

From Bert Vaux:

I hope that if you're American you'll consider taking my new American English dialect survey, which is now available at dialectsofenglish.com. You can answer as few as 30 and as many as 60 questions, and immediately see heat maps for where your answers are most popular. Please pass this along to your American students, friends, and family– especially if they've never taken any of my surveys before–as I'm trying to get as many respondents as possible in order to increase the accuracy of the localization algorithm our team is working on. It's free, and no registration is required.

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Don't skunk me, bro!

At Arrant Pedantry, Jonathon Owen continues the conversation about begs the question (Skunked Terms and Scorched Earth). Citing my previous post Begging the question of whether to use "begging the question", Jonathon describes me as writing that "the term should be avoided, either because it’s likely to be misunderstood or because it will incur the wrath of sticklers." I wouldn't put it that way; I did quote Mark Liberman's statement to that effect, and I did note that I had, in an instance I was discussing, decided to follow that advice, but I don't think I went so far as to offer advice to others.

As it happens, I'm meeting Jonathon for lunch (and for the first time) later today. I'm in Utah, where the law-and-corpus-linguistics conference put on by the Brigham Young law school was held yesterday, near where Jonathon lives. So I will have it out with him over the aspersion he has cast on my descriptivist honor.

Despite my peeve about Jonathon's post, it's worth reading. He discusses the practice of declaring a word or phrase "skunked".  As far as I know, that is a practice engaged in mainly by Bryan Garner, who offers this description of the phenomenon of skunking: “When a word undergoes a marked change from one use to another . . . it’s likely to be the subject of dispute. . . . A word is most hotly disputed in the middle part of this process: any use of it is likely to distract some readers. . . . The word has become 'skunked.'”

Jonathan writes, "Many people find this a useful idea, but it has always rubbed me the wrong way." He explains:

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Bonjourin

An interesting topic, presented [in French] in a fun way:

[If you have trouble with the Facebook embedding, try this YouTube version.]

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"Projects we need financed": Pittsburghian?

My Wall Street Journal column this week looks at the history of the word rider, inspired by Frances McDormand's cryptic use of the phrase "inclusion rider" at the end of her acceptance speech at the Oscars on Sunday, after she won the Best Actress award for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. (Link to WSJ column here — if paywalled, follow my Twitter link here.) But just before she got to "inclusion rider," McDormand offered another linguistically intriguing nugget. Here's how the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported it:

On Sunday, she asked all of the women nominees in Hollywood's Dolby Theatre to stand and reminded them to tell their stories.
Laughing, she said in the Pittsburgh vernacular, "Look around ladies and gentlemen, because we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed." 

You can hear the relevant bit at the end of this clip.

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