Archive for Variation

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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THE

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 www.guardian.com 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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Mistake or grammatical variation?

From reader B.D.:

I ran across this sentence today on a news website and thought that you might find it interesting:

"The accident caused for two lanes and one inbound express lane to be blocked."

I was able to find a few other examples of "caused for" from news sites using Google News:

"Philadelphia has been looking to start a fire sale at the deadline, but a lot of their demands have caused for teams to back away from making deals."

"A trend called the “Fire Challenge” made popular through social media websites caused for a 14-year from the Crosby area to be hospitalized with second-degree burns to his body."

This is new to me and I'm curious if it's a recent phenomenon.

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Generational punctuation differences again

Forwarded from a young person, who got it from an acquaintance:

just got an email that said "Address is correct…" like are you sad? are you upset? why the fuck are those extra periods there?

dear people over 25, stop using ellipses for no reason like please what are you doing

It occurs to me that the quoted reaction ("why are those extra periods there?" "like please what are you doing") has something in common with the reaction of non-uptalkers to uptalk.

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对 (duì)

Listening to people around Beijing over the past few days, I've noticed a couple of things about a common Chinese word. The Wiktionary gloss for 对 (dui4) suggests the pattern:

Yes! Correct! I agree!; The word is used often in spoken language. It is common to repeat the word three times when you want to make clear that you understand and agree.

My impression is that a single duì is common, and three-fold repetition is also common, and sometimes even five in a row (grouped 3+2?), but not two or four. (I think I heard a double duì once, but it was more like two phrases "duì, duì".)

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It begs the way we see the world

Brad Plumer, "Two Degrees: How the World Failed on Climate Change", Vox 4/22/2014:

"If you’re serious about 2°C, the rates of change are so significant that it begs the way we see the world. That’s what people aren’t prepared to embrace," says Kevin Anderson, a climate scientist at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research. "Essentially you’d have to start asking questions about our current society and how we develop and grow."

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"Want PRO should"

Aaron sent in a question about a usage that he first noticed at the age of nine, learning Allan Sherman's "hello mudda hello fadda" for an elementary school assembly:

Now I don't want / this should  scare ya,
But my bunk mate / has malaria.

He has also seen a similar use of irrealis should from time to time in old jokes:

Q: Mom! You haven't eaten in three weeks? Why not?
A: I didn't want my mouth to be full you should call.

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bus v. buzz

In a post a couple of days ago ("PSDS", 3/30/2014), I observed that in English, "Syllable-final (and especially phrase-final) /z/ is usually voiceless". In a comment, Mark F. asked

[A]re "buzz" and "biz" just isolated counterexamples to the generalization about syllable-final /z/, or is it generally false for accented syllables? Or do I just think I pronounce the /z/?

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PSDS

Linguists are generally scornful of "eye dialect", in both of the common meanings of that term:

  1. As an "unusual spelling intended to represent dialectal or colloquial idiosyncrasies of speech", like roight for right or yahd for yard;
  2. As a "the use of non-standard spellings such as enuff for enough or wuz for was, to indicate that the speaker is uneducated".

The first kind of eye-dialect is seen as inexact ("you should use IPA") and the second kind is seen as snobbish.  I'm generally more curious than censorious about both of these practices; but in any case, I recently saw a case of the first kind that struck me as especially interesting.

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'That's'

From Breffni O'Rourke — David Alexander and Phil Stewart, "Nine officers removed, one resigns in Air Force cheating probe", Reuters 3/27/2014:

Nuclear critics say the problem is deeply rooted and has been going on for years, becoming increasingly acute since the end of the Cold War as the nuclear mission has increasingly come to be seen as a dead-end career that's relevance is in decline.

Breffni comments "I don't think I've come across that before. Maybe the writer was trying to avoid 'whose' with a non-human head?"

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