Archive for Sociolinguistics

UH / UM in Norwegian

A short summary of the filled-pause saga so far: If we call nasal-final filled pauses UM and non-nasal varieties UH, younger people use UM more than older people, and women use UM more than men. We've found this to be true in several varieties of English (sampled all over the U.S., sampled all over the U.K., from Philadelphia, from Glasgow) and in several other Germanic languages (Dutch and German). In addition, in the Philadelphia Neighborhood Corpus, where we have interviews gathered over four decades of real time as well as interviews with speakers of different ages, it appears that there is a historical trend as well as a life-cycle phenomenon. Contributions to this work-in-progress have come from Mark Liberman (University of Pennsylvania), Martijn Wieling (University of Groningen), Josef Fruehwald (University of Edinburgh), and John Coleman (University of Oxford), among others.

For more detail, here's a chronological list of past posts: "Young men talk like old women", 11/6/2005; "Fillers: Autism, gender, age", 7/30/2014;  "More on UM and UH", 8/3/2014; "UM UH 3", 8/4/2014; "Male and female word usage", 8/7/2014; "UM / UH geography", 8/13/2014; "Educational UM / UH", 8/13/2014; "UM / UH: Lifecycle effects vs. language change", 8/15/2014; "Filled pauses in Glasgow", 8/17/2014; "ER and ERM in the spoken BNC", 8/18/2014; "Um and uh in Dutch", 9/16/2014; "UM / UH in German", 9/28/2014; "Um, there's timing information in Switchboard?", 10/5/2014; "Trending in the Media: Um, not exactly…", 10/7/2014.)

Below is a guest post by Martijn Wieling, adding one more Germanic language to the list.

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Must-read for Wednesday afternoon

Josef Fruehwald, "America's Ugliest Accent: Something's ugly alright", Val Systems 10/1/2014.

Update — See "The beauty of Brummie", 7/28/2004 — some quotes therein from Steve Thorne:

In May 2002, I recorded short samples of 20 different accents of English… In order to limit the influence of extraneous variables, the speakers chosen were all male, white, aged between 35 and 40, and upper-working to lower-middle class. These recordings were played to 96 native and 109 non-native English speakers who were then asked to briefly describe each accent and rate each one on a scale of 1-10 (1 = very unpleasant, 5 = neutral, 10 = very pleasant). […]

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UM / UH in German

We've previously observed a surprisingly consistent pattern of age and gender effects on the relative frequency of filled pauses (or "hesitation sounds") with and without final nasals — what we usually write as "um" and "uh" in American English, or often as "er" and "erm" in British English.

Specifically, younger people use the UM form more than older people, while at any age, women use the UM form more than men do. We've seen this same pattern in various varieties of American English and in John Coleman's analysis of the spoken portion of the British National Corpus, and we found the sex effect in the HCRC Map Task Corpus, which involves task-oriented dialogues among college students from Glasgow in Scotland.

It was even more surprising that Martijn Wieling found the same pattern in a collection of Dutch conversational speech.  And to make the puzzle more puzzling, Joe Fruehwald's analysis of the Philadelphia Neighborhood Corpus, which includes recordings across several decades of real time, suggests an on-going change in the direction of greater overall UM usage, as well as a life-cycle effect within each cohort of speakers. And Jack Grieve's analysis of Twitter data indicates a pattern of geographical variation within the U.S.

For additional details, see "Young men talk like old women", 11/6/2005; "Fillers: Autism, gender, age", 7/30/2014;  "More on UM and UH", 8/3/2014; "UM UH 3", 8/4/2014; "Male and female word usage", 8/7/2014; "UM / UH geography", 8/13/2014; "Educational UM / UH", 8/13/2014; "UM / UH: Lifecycle effects vs. language change", 8/15/2014; "Filled pauses in Glasgow", 8/17/2014; "ER and ERM in the spoken BNC", 8/18/2014; "Um and uh in Dutch", 9/16/2014.

Now Martijn Wieling has found the same pattern in German. His guest post follows.

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Cow dialects: They're back!

Kat Chow, "Make It So: Sir Patrick Stewart Moos In Udder Accents", NPR Code Switch ("Frontiers of Race, Culture and Ethnicity") 12/30/2013:

Cow-d it really be? Have our ears herd this correctly? (Sorry, I can't help myself.)

Patrick Stewart — ahem, Sir Patrick Stewart — mooed up a storm on the podcast, How To Do Everything, impersonating cows from various regions. You might even say Stewart was code-switching.

A listener who says she moos with "kind of an American, Nevadan accent" posed the question: Just how would a person moo in a British accent? (And, by the way, it's true: cows do moo in regional accents.)

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Language change in progress – us and our Red Sox buddies

Just now I was washing breakfast dishes and mentally composing a Facebook post, which started out “Last night was not a good night for Orioles – Red Sox – anti-Yankees fans! The three way tie for first place got broken in the worst direction! Us and our Red Sox buddies …” and I forget how that sentence was going to end, because I was caught up short noticing how it began. I’ve known about the ongoing spread of the ‘accusative’ pronouns forever – Sapir wrote about it (as a case of “language drift”), and Ed Klima, one of my favorite grad school professors, had worked on it and talked with us about it (we tried to figure out what kinds of rules would make ‘us’ and ‘me’ not get nominative in conjoined subjects while "I" and "we" as simple subjects are obligatorily marked nominative, and discussed similarities with French ‘disjunctive’ pronoun ‘moi’ vs. clitic subject 'je'). And it was the source of my oft-repeated anecdote about my son Morriss in 4th grade asking me to proofread a composition he had just written – it started out ‘Seth and I went to the mall’ and he pointed to ‘Seth and I’, and said to me “That’s how you spell “me and Seth”, right?”.

But none of that had prepared me for having it emerge in my own dialect. But there it was. And when I think about putting “We and our Red Sox buddies” instead, it sounds over-formal, doesn’t fit in the context of baseball buddies. So it looks like “us and …” has made the move from passive recognition to becoming an active part of my (most?) colloquial register, at least the baseball buddies register.

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History of Philadelphia vowels

A couple of days ago, Joe Fruehwald and Bill Labov were on WHYY, the local public television station, in a NewsWorks Tonight segment about "How the Philly accent is changing". The text version on the newsworks.org web site is nicely presented, with illustrative inline sound clips. You should read (and listen to) the whole thing!

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Transit is departing

The electric train that runs between the different parts of Terminal 5 at London's Heathrow Airport insists on referring to itself as a "transit".

What's more, the remarkably annoying female voice that tells you needlessly that the doors are closing and that the train is about to start moving says "Transit is departing."

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The he's and she's of Twitter

My latest column for the Boston Globe is about some fascinating new research presented by Tyler Schnoebelen at the recent NWAV 41 conference at Indiana University Bloomington. Schnoebelen's paper, co-authored with Jacob Eisenstein and David Bamman, is entitled "Gender, styles, and social networks in Twitter" (abstract, full paper, presentation).

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Benjamin Franklin medal for Labov

Recently announced, a 2013 Benjamin Franklin Medal for William Labov of the University of Pennsylvania. The citation:

For establishing the cognitive basis of language variation and change through rigorous analysis of linguistic data, and for the study of non-standard dialects with significant social and cultural implications.

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Corpus-Wide Association Studies

I've spent the past couple of days at GURT 2012, and one of the interesting talks that I've heard was Julian Brooke and Sali Tagliamonte, "Hunting the linguistic variable: using computational techniques for data exploration and analysis". Their abstract (all that's available of the work so far) explains that:

The selection of an appropriate linguistic variable is typically the first step of a variationist analysis whose ultimate goal is to identify and explain social patterns. In this work, we invert the usual approach, starting with the sociolinguistic metadata associated with a large scale socially stratified corpus, and then testing the utility of computational tools for finding good variables to study. In particular, we use the 'information gain' metric included in data mining software to automatically filter a huge set of potential variables, and then apply our own corpus reader software to facilitate further human inspection. Finally, we subject a small set of particularly interesting features to a more traditional variationist analysis.

This type of data-mining for interesting patterns is likely to become a trend in sociolinguistics, as it is in other areas of the social and behavioral sciences, and so it's worth giving some thought to potential problems as well as opportunities.

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Thought experiments on language and thought

Keith Chen's recent proposal that the grammar of tense marking in a language has a causal effect on future-oriented financial and health behaviors is too intriguing to resist talking about. In fact, it reminds me of the words of a prominent linguist who once announced during his talk: "The explanation in question is almost certain to be false. However, if it were true, it would be incredibly interesting, so we have no choice but to explore it."

I'm not sure that this is the best argument for, say, how research funding should be allocated. At least, I've never had the guts to put that in a grant proposal. But if Language Log isn't the place to explore almost-certainly-false-but-incredibly-interesting-if-true ideas, then I don't know what is.

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DRESS-raising in New Zealand

For a recent story on the arrest of Kim Dotcom, The World's Lisa Mullins turned to Georgina Ball from Radio New Zealand ("Cyber Tycoon Wanted for Internet Piracy Arrested in New Zealand", 1/26/2012). One of the things Ms. Ball says is this:

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they're worried he'll flee to Germany which is where he's from
which doesn't have an extradition treaty with the U.S.

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Quite

Ed McBain, Long Time No See, 1977 (the 32nd of the 87th Precinct novels):

“Mrs. Harris,” Carella said, “there are some questions we’d like to ask about your son and daughter-in-law.”

“Yes, certainly,” she said. “I’ll try to assist you as best I can.”

She was adopting the kind of formal speech many blacks used with whites, especially when the whites were in a position of authority. […]

“Mrs. Harris,” Carella said, “did your son and daughter-in-law have many friends?”

“Some, I believe.” Still the phony speech. Carella guessed she would use the word “quite” within the next several sentences. “Quite” was a sure indication that someone was using language he or she did not ordinarily use.

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