Archive for Variation

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:

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PFL vs. IFL

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.

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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.

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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.

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Sort of rubblish

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

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Totes

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).

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Wonton in Zanthoxylum schinifolium etzucc sauce

From Nancy Friedman (@Fritinancy):

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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

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Geographic idiom chains

From James Kirchner, in response to "The directed graph of stereotypical incomprehensibility", 1/15/2009 (as featured on 3/25/2015 in the Washington Post):

I found years ago that in Stuttgart, Germany, people said, "Es ist mir ein böhmisches Dorf," meaning, "It's a Czech village to me," (literally a Bohemian village). Then I went to work in the Czech Republic, where, as you accurately noted, they say, "Je mi španělská vesnice," i.e., "It's a Spanish village to me." (The Czechs also say, "It's colder than a German girl outside.")

The thing that's been fascinating me the last few years is who people speaking various languages say "goes Dutch". This was triggered by an idiom lesson I was teaching to a very charming, very popular young Ford engineer stationed near Detroit from Mexico City. She ran across the idiom "go Dutch" on the sheet, her eyes popped out, and she asked me what the tradition was here. I told her that usually the man pays for everything on a date. This was a sudden revelation for her. She had been insulting her American suitors by insisting on paying for everything herself, because in Mexico "se paga a la gringa." So the Mexicans say people in the US do that, and people in the US say the Dutch do it. Now I wonder who does it.

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By the each

From John Brewer:

I was in a grocery store this morning when I was taken aback by a sign (professionally produced, not handwritten) saying that the FRESH CUT FRUIT was FRESH CUT DAILY! and SOLD BY THE EACH!  I had a strong WTF reaction, because it seemed very syntactically ill-formed and I couldn’t recall ever seeing it before.  But googling reveals that it’s Out There and other people have likewise been taken aback.  A reddit thread suggests it arose out of intra-industry jargon to distinguish items priced e.g. “$2.99 each” from items priced by the pound or by the quart or what have you,* with additional commenters saying there’s a usage among  people who work in warehouses and similar environments  who use nominalized “each” contrastively with “case”  (so if you need a co-worker to get you a quantity that’s more than 12 cases but less than 13 cases “you might say ‘hey mike, 12 cases 3 eaches.’”

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Jihadi Jim

There's been a certain amount of discussion in the media about the accent of the ISIS spokesman on the video showing the mass beheading of Egyptian christians on a beach in Libya, e.g. on ABC News here. But the video itself has been kept off of the internet, for obvious reasons, which limits the opportunity for crowdsourcing perceptions of the audio. So here is his opening statement:

And the shorter statement that he makes after the gruesome beheadings:

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SOCAL is getting fleeked out

[Guest post by Taylor Jones]

For anyone who's been living under a rock for the past few months, there is a term, "on fleek," that has been around since at least 2003, but which caught like wildfire on social media after June 21, 2014, when Vine user Peaches Monroe made a video declaring her eyebrows "on fleek."

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Comparative diglossia

In the comments on "From Bushisms to la langue François", there was some discussion of whether French is more diglossic than English — that is, whether the differences between (formal) writing and (informal) speech are greater in French than in English. As I mentioned, it's not clear how and what to count — informal words and expressions, informal morphological and syntactic variants, sentence complexity and discourse structure? Is the issue relative frequency, or categorically different options? And there's the question of whose version of French or English,  as used in what contexts, to look at.

But however we answer these questions, I remain unconvinced that French is more diglossic than English. Here are a few of the routine features of more-or-less mainstream spoken English that are not found in formal writing:

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