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.
George F. Will, "The havoc that Trump wreaks — on his own party", Washington Post 8/26/2015:
Trump, who uses the first-person singular pronoun even more than the previous world-record holder (Obama), promises that constitutional arrangements need be no impediment to the leader’s savvy, “management” brilliance and iron will.
As documented ad nauseam in earlier posts, Obama's rate of first-person singular usage is low relative to other recent presidents (see "Buzzfeed linguistics, presidential pronouns, and narcissism revisited", 10/21/2014). George F. Will has a long history of false statements and insinuations on this point ("Fact-checking George F. Will", 6/7/2009; "Fact-checking George F Will, one more time", 10/6/2009; "Another lie from George F. Will", 5/7/2012).
[And anyhow, according to a recent large study by Angela Cary et al.,"Narcissism and the Use of Personal Pronouns Revisited" (2014), "Overall (r = .02, 95% CI [-.02, .04]) and within the sampled contexts, narcissism was unrelated to use of first-person singular pronouns". But never mind that…] Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
Joan Maling writes:
The various co-authors on a neurolinguistics paper (I am one) have different judgments about the following:
a. two principal kinds of hypothesis
b. two principal kinds of hypotheses
The two British co-authors prefer singular hypothesis; two Americans prefer plural hypotheses. Curious. Has anyone looked at this variation, either as an idiolectal or a dialectal difference?
FML writes that a headline in this morning's WSJ print edition "totally garden-pathed me":
So I was reading about the Alien Friends Act, and in James Morton Smith, "The Enforcement of the Alien Friends Act of 1798", The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 1954, I stumbled on a quotation from "The Political Green-House, for the year 1798", which with a bit of extra context runs like this:
Lo! now too dismal forms* draw nigh,
And cloud the Jacobinic sky,
While awful Justice lours around,
And Law's loud thunders rock the ground.
Each factious alien shrinks with dread,
And hides his hemp-devoted head;
While Slander's foul seditious crew,
With gnashing teeth retire from view.
* The Alien, and Sedition Law.
Ben Zimmer mentioned to me that he was on the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley talking about the origins of the word "gringo":
Under current law, Donald Trump and I are both American citizens by right of birth. Donald was born in New York City in 1946, and I was born in Middletown, Connecticut in 1947. But if birthright citizenship were retroactively revoked, it would take some archival research to determine our status, and (as I understand Mr. Trump's proposals about immigration reform) we might both turn out to be undocumented aliens.
The LSA has recently established a new charitable contribution fund in memory of Emmon Bach (June 12, 1929 – November 28, 2014). The announcement, and a link for making donations (online or by mail) is here.
Quoting from the announcement page: This fund was established in consultation with Emmon’s families and close colleagues, and is to be used to support student fellowships at CoLang, the Institute for Collaborative Language Research. This will be the first named fellowship at CoLang; the founding donors are sure that Emmon would be pleased and honored to be helping to support the CoLang institutes, which offer an opportunity for practicing linguists, undergraduate and graduate students, and indigenous language community members to develop and refine skills and approaches to language documentation and revitalization.
On page 4 of the Metro newspaper today (it's distributed free on all the Edinburgh buses, so whatever its faults, the price is right) I read this sentence:
A record number of companies has been formed by Edinburgh University in the past 12 months, taking the total created over the past five years to 184.
A grammar tragedy. It's a verb agreement error. The writer recalls being told sternly that the verb must agree with the head noun of the subject noun phrase, and number seems to be the head noun, so common sense has been thrown to the winds, and the verb has wrongly been put into the singular agreement form—which, of course, is what the simplistic how-to-write books seem to demand.
In this case the correct agreement form happens to be the one that comports with the meaning: the University of Edinburgh has not been forming a number over the past year; it is the companies that have been formed, a record number of them. The singular agreement makes no sense. Lesson: verb agreement is not as mechanical and syntactic as the oversimplified handbook versions would have you believe. Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
4|Website: Language Log.
Do you notice grammar gaffes, wonder about the speech styles of celebrities, find yourself curious about the origin of new words and constructions? Language Log is the place to go for commentary by people who actually know their stuff – linguists and other language scientists – as opposed to the pundits and scribblers who think that their standing as writers entitles them to present their offhand impressions and grumpy peeves as proven fact.
In Alexander J. Ellis's 1873 article "On the Physical Constituents of Accent and Emphasis", he asserted that there are "four principal matters to be considered in a sound-curve, which will be here called length, pitch, force, and form". Yesterday I quoted his oddly labored explanation of length, by which he means what we would now generally call "duration". We can skip his equally-labored explanation of pitch — it's correct, as we'd expect from the man who introduced and named the cent as a unit of measure for pitch intervals, but otherwise its main point of interest is his adherence to the rarely-used "philosophical pitch" standard, which has middle C at 256 Hz, and therefore C in all other octaves at frequencies of powers of two. What Ellis has to say about force, however, is an interesting mixture of science and error.
Lamiat Sabin, "Man rattled by python found coiled up and hiding in his box of cornflakes", The Independent 3/9/2015.
A man claims to have had a real-life kitchen nightmare after he saw a long coiled-up snake poke its head out of his box of cereal.
Jarred Smith, 22, was making lunch on Tuesday when he spotted the two-metre diamond python hiding inside the open cornflakes package – according to the Daily Telegraph in Australia.
Yuxi Liu writes:
I thought it meant a man was so rattled by python that he coiled up in his box of cornflakes.
I hope this can provide some laughs on Language Log.
From the Transactions of the Philological Society, 1873-74, "VIII. — On the Physical Constituents of Accent and Emphasis: By Alexander J. Ellis, Esq., President":
Phonautographic Sound-curves. Any disturbance in the air produces a series of alternate condensations and rarefactions, which, coming in contact with the drum of the ear, cause it to vibrate, in such a manner as to produce, after various internal modifications, the well-known sensation of sound. The most convenient way of analyzing this sensation is to analyze the motion of a single point in the drum of the ear. This is effected by an instrument called the phonautograph, consisting of a metal paraboloidal reflector (answering to the passage leading to the drum of the ear), truncated by a plane passing through its focus and perpendicular to its axis, over which opening is stretched a delicate membrane, ordinarily bladder (answering to the drum of the ear). At one point of this membrane is fixed a style (ordinarily a piece of quill), which rests against a cylinder, over which is rolled a piece of paper delicately coated with lampblack. A disturbance of the air inside the reflector causes the style to move backwards and forwards on the lampblacked surface, which it scrapes off. If the cylinder remain at rest, this produces a white straight line of moderate length. But if, as is usual, the cylinder be caused to revolve with a uniform motion, the style scratches out a white undulating line, which may be called a sound-curve, and which is the visible symbol of the invisible disturbance of the air.