UM/UH accommodation

Over the years, we've presented some surprisingly consistent evidence about age and gender differences in the rates of use of different hesitation markers in various Germanic languages and dialects. See the end of this post for a list; or see Martijn Wieling et al., "Variation and change in the use of hesitation markers in Germanic languages", forthcoming:

In this study, we investigate cross-linguistic patterns in the alternation between UM, a hesitation marker consisting of a neutral vowel followed by a final labial nasal, and UH, a hesitation marker consisting of a neutral vowel in an open syllable. Based on a quantitative analysis of a range of spoken and written corpora, we identify clear and consistent patterns of change in the use of these forms in various Germanic languages (English, Dutch, German, Norwegian, Danish, Faroese) and dialects (American English, British English), with the use of UM increasing over time relative to the use of UH. We also find that this pattern of change is generally led by women and more educated speakers.

For other reasons, I've done careful transcriptions (including disfluencies) of several radio and television interview programs, and it occurred to me to wonder whether such interviews show accommodation effects in UM/UH usage. As a first exploration of the question, I took a quick look at four interviews by Terry Gross of the NPR radio show Fresh Air: with Willie Nelson, Stephen KingJill Soloway, and Lena Dunham.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (1)

Local language

From Bob Bauer:

A couple of days ago I discovered one of your Language Logs from last year that had a very interesting and very long back-and-forth discussion on the distinctive characteristics of Hong Kong's Chinese language.* I commenter with initials HL** mentioned some particularly interesting things about the use of the term Punti 本地話*** to mean "Cantonese" in HK's law courts. Historically, Punti had referred to the indigenous Cantonese in contrast to the more recently-arrived Hakka immigrants. (By the way, for what it's worth, in the first half of the 19th century 地 was pronounced [ti], and then in the late 19th/early 20th century it diphthongized to [tei]).

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (6)

Future in Headlinese

Funny headline on a Yahoo news story: "Ford stops using Takata air bag inflators in future vehicles". To me that says that they used to use Takata air bags in future vehicles. How did that work?

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (20)

Taste the translation

Unfair, but funny:

Comments (12)

A megaphone that can translate

An article by Nick Vivian in USA Today informs us:

"Tokyo's airport is using this incredible megaphone to translate into three languages on the fly" (11/22/15).

The person wielding the megaphone speaks into it in Japanese and the megaphone amplifies her messages in three languages, one after another:  English, Korean, and Chinese.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (25)

Whore or horde?

Several people have written to ask whether phonetic analysis can settle a Canadian political controversy, described in a November 19 CBC News article "Sask. MP Tom Lukiwski denies callng female politician a 'whore'":

Saskatchewan Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski has denied that he referred to a female politician as a "whore" — and interim party leader Rona Ambrose says she accepts his explanation.

"I did not say 'whore,'" Lukiwski told CBC News on Thursday. "I said 'horde,' as in NDP gang."

Lukiwski's comment came after Saskatchewan journalist Mickey Djuric blogged about Lukiwski's victory speech at the Eagles Club in Moose Jaw, Sask., on election night, Oct. 19. […]

"This is a very important election provincially," Lukiwski said. "We got to get Greg back elected."

"He's too important of an MLA to let go down to an NDP" — and at this point Lukiwski says either "whore" or "horde" —"just because of a bad boundary."

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (16)

Corporate PR + correspondents on location

From last summer's pilot episode of What The Fox, put together by Zach Fox and a group of other Penn undergrads:

Read the rest of this entry »


The origins of graphic communication

In a 12:05 TED talk filmed in August, 2015, cave art researcher Genevieve von Petzinger asks:

"Why are these 32 symbols found in ancient caves all over Europe?"

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (15)

English in Chinese — direct and indirect

Zach Hershey saw the following announcement on WeChat from a Chinese student association at UC Irvine:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (6)

Tibetan –> Chinese –> Chinglish, ch. 2

This is a sequel to "Tibetan –> Chinese –> Chinglish " (11/11/15).

(‘Alone, Popecity’ 独克宗, a street sign on National Highway 214 at the entrance to Shangri-La, 2015. Photo: William Ratz)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (6)

A Vietnamese etymology for the Chinese word for "pineapple"?

In "Shampoo salmon" (2/10/14), I called attention to the variety of opinions concerning the origins of the Chinese word bōluó 菠萝 / variant bōluó 波萝 ("pineapple").  Tom Nguyen suggests that another possible source is from Old Vietnamese *bla (> dứa /z̻ɨ̞̠ɜ˧ˀ˦/ with Northern accent – note the process of “turning into sibilant” of initial consonant cluster bl- in Vietnamese).

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (25)

Nicholas Wade's DNA decoded

Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title:  "Researchers just found the gene responsible for mistakenly thinking we've found the gene for specific things. It's the region between the start and the end of every chromosome, plus a few segments in our mitochondria."

For background, see "The hunt for the Hat Gene", 11/15/2009.

Comments (7)

Ask Language Log: -er vs. -or

From Matthew Yglesias:

A few of us at work were talking about why it's adviser and protester but professor and and auditor and after bullshitting around for 10 minutes I thought "maybe I should ask a linguist." Have you ever blogged on this?

I don't think that we have, though you can find well-informed discussions elsewhere, e.g. here or here/here. The executive summary is that -er is (originally) Germanic while -or is (basically) Latin, often via French.

But this doesn't help much with the particular examples you cite, since all four words are from Latin via French. Like most things about English morphology and spelling, the full answer is complicated, and also more geological than logical. But the OED seems to have the whole story — lifted from the depths of the discussion, the key point is that

Many derivatives [formed with -er as an agentive suffix] existed already in Old English, and many more have been added in the later periods of the language. In modern English they may be formed on all vbs., excepting some of those which have [Latin- or French-derived] agent nouns ending in -or, and some others for which this function is served by ns. of different formation (e.g. correspond, correspondent). The distinction between -er and -or as the ending of agent nouns is purely historical and orthographical.

For a (much) longer treatment — you have been warned — press onward.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (39)