Archive for Dialects

Modals, idiolects, garden-path sentences, and English translations of a ninth-century Chinese poem

Here I present a digest of four scientific linguistics papers from the latter part of the month of January, 2024 to show that our field is very much alive in diverse subfields at the beginning of the new year.

"The Semantics, Sociolinguistics, and Origins of Double Modals in American English: New Insights from Social Media." Morin, Cameron et al. PLOS ONE 19, no. 1 (January 24, 2024): e0295799.

Abstract: In this paper, we analyze double modal use in American English based on a multi-billion-word corpus of geolocated posts from the social media platform Twitter. We identify and map 76 distinct double modals totaling 5,349 examples, many more types and tokens of double modals than have ever been observed. These descriptive results show that double modal structure and use in American English is far more complex than has generally been assumed. We then consider the relevance of these results to three current theoretical debates. First, we demonstrate that although there are various semantic tendencies in the types of modals that most often combine, there are no absolute constraints on double modal formation in American English. Most surprisingly, our results suggest that double modals are used productively across the US. Second, we argue that there is considerable dialect variation in double modal use in the southern US, with double modals generally being most strongly associated with African American Language, especially in the Deep South. This result challenges previous sociolinguistic research, which has often highlighted double modal use in White Southern English, especially in Appalachia. Third, we consider how these results can help us better understand the origins of double modals in America English: although it has generally been assumed that double modals were introduced by Scots-Irish settlers, we believe our results are more consistent with the hypothesis that double modals are an innovation of African American Language.

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Nobel Prize winner Jon Fosse writes in Nynorsk, a minority writing system

"The Nobel literature prize goes to Norway’s Jon Fosse, who once wrote a novel in a single sentence"

By DAVID KEYTON, MIKE CORDER and JILL LAWLESS, AP (10/5/23)

While Fosse is the fourth Norwegian writer to get the Nobel literature prize, he is the first in nearly a century and the first who writes in Nynorsk, one of the two official written versions of the Norwegian language. It is used by just 10% of the country’s 5.4 million people, according to the Language Council of Norway, but completely understandable to users of the other written form, Bokmaal.

Guy Puzey, senior lecturer in Scandinavian Studies at the University of Edinburgh, said that Bokmaal is “the language of power, it’s the language of urban centers, of the press.” Nynorsk, by contrast, is used mainly by people in rural western Norway.

“So it’s a really big day for a minority language,” Puzey said

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Language, topolect, dialect, idiolect

An educated person will have all four levels of speech.

The more highly educated they are, the higher up the scale their language capacity will go, though they may not be familiar with some of the argot of the lower levels.

Of course, all four levels are language, but that is possible because "language" has two meanings:  a generalized, abstract sense that comprises all human speech and writing, and the officially recognized speech and writing of a nation / country / gens — a politically united group of people.

A topolect is the speech / writing of the people living in a certain place or area.  It is geographically determined.

A dialect is a distinctive form / style / pronunciation / accent shared by two or more people.  To qualify as the speaker of a particular dialect, one must possess a pattern of speech, a lect, that is intelligible to others who speak the same dialect.  As we say in Mandarin, it's a question of whether what you speak is jiǎng dé tōng 講得通 ("mutually intelligible") or jiǎng bùtōng 講不通 ("mutually unintelligible").  If what two people are speaking is jiǎng bùtōng 講不通 ("mutually unintelligible"), then they're not speaking the same dialect.

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Elk topolects

Who would have thought?

Even North America’s Elk Have Regional Dialects

Why do Pennsylvania elk sound different from Colorado elk?

By Kylie Mohr, The Atlantic Monthly (July 16, 2023)

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It’s a crisp fall evening in Grand Teton National Park. A mournful, groaning call cuts through the dusky-blue light: a male elk, bugling. The sound ricochets across the grassy meadow. A minute later, another bull answers from somewhere in the shadows.

Bugles are the telltale sound of elk during mating season. Now new research has found that male elks’ bugles sound slightly different depending on where they live. Other studies have shown that whale, bat, and bird calls have dialects of sorts too, and a team led by Jennifer Clarke, a behavioral ecologist at the Center for Wildlife Studies and a professor at the University of La Verne, in California, is the first to identify such differences in any species of ungulate.

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Comparative dialectology and romanizations for North and South Korea

[This is a guest post by S. Robert Ramsey]

Your Language Log coverage of the North Korean news item was chilling, but pretty much what we've come to expect of that outrageous regime. If ever there was a clearer contrast between the two worlds in conflict, I've never heard of it. South Korea is now such a star on the world stage and rising so fast, it must be a bitter pill for the regime in Pyongyang to swallow! 

Just a couple of things that occurred to me, though: (1) What authorities in Pyongyang do not recognize, or concede, is that though they point to the Pyongyang dialect as the basis of their standard, that very standard itself is based upon the earlier, traditional dialect of Seoul that represented the cultural and linguistic capital of the Joseon Period (–or "Choson" period, as DPRK spelling of the word would have it). 

And (2): While on the subject of spellings, it might be worthwhile to point out that the romanization the DPRK uses is based upon the McCune-Reischauer system still used by many Western academics. But the North Korean version is actually more pragmatic than Western academic usage in that the North Koreans eliminate the annoying diacritics of McR that have long exasperated so many Western romanizers–and which Seoul academics used as one of the justifications for the new Revised system they introduced in 2000–and which they so dogmatically insist on now.  

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“Et aap, Brute?” – North Indian Julius Caesar

I borrow my title from a Tweet by one Shivam that is part of a Twitter Storm sweeping over India these days.  It is playfully described in this BBC article today:

Tu v Aap: The Indian woman who sparked a Twitter battle on pronouns

By Geeta Pandey and Meryl Sebastian, BBC News, Delhi

Never mind how one says "you" in French or German, it matters much how one says "you" in different parts of India.

In India when you call someone "you", how do you address them? Do you call them a respectful "aap" or an informal "tu" or use the middle-of-the-road pronoun "tum"?

That's the question that Indian Twitter has been debating for the past few days.

It started earlier this week with a tweet from Pratibha, a 31-year-old Delhi-based woman, who said it was rude to use the informal "tu" to address a stranger.

"Never engage with Bombay [Mumbai] people in Hindi. You could be complete strangers and they'll still feel free to address you with a 'Tu'. Unacceptable behaviour," she wrote.

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The end of dialect fieldwork

The title and following paragraph of this post are from a genuine, serious, highly experienced, and well-published dialectologist who wishes to remain anonymous (he is quoting from a communication by the Practicum Education Department of USC's Suzanne-Dworak-Peck School of Social Work at the University of Southern California):

As we enter 2023, we would like to share a change we are making at the Suzanne-Dworak-Peck School of Social Work to ensure our use of inclusive language and practice.  Specifically, we have decided to remove the term “field” from our curriculum and practice and replace it with “practicum.” This change supports anti-racist social work practice by replacing language that could be considered anti-Black or anti-immigrant in favor of inclusive language. Language can be powerful, and phrases such as “going into the field” or “field work” may have connotations for descendants of slavery and immigrant workers that are not benign.

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Schnauze

Upon seeing that word for the first time, I had only the vaguest idea of what it meant, though I suspected that it was closely related to the dog breed name:

schnauzer (n.)

breed of terrier with a bearded muzzle, 1923, from German Schnauzer, literally "growler," from schnauzen "to snarl, growl," from Schnauze "snout, muzzle," which is related to Middle English snute, snoute "snout" (see snout).

(etymonline)

Next, I thought that surely it must be the German cognate of Yiddish schnoz[z] ("nose"), and that was unmistakably clear from the nickname and protuberant proboscis of Jimmy Durante (1893-1980), who often jocularly referred to his own nose as the schnozzola (Italianization of the American Yiddish slang word schnoz.

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Arabic and the vernaculars, part 5

Today I went to a shop in a nearby mall.  I heard two people who worked there speaking a language that sounded a bit like Arabic, but was softer and different enough that I could tell it wasn't really Arabic — al-ʻArabīyah al-Fuṣḥā (العربية الفصحى) ("eloquent Arabic").

They were a young woman in her early 20s and a man who was probably in his late 20s or early 30s.  The woman was Moroccan and the man Algerian.

I asked them what language they were speaking and the man said he was speaking Arabic.  The woman declared, "I would never say that I speak Arabic.  I don't understand people who speak Arabic and they don't understand me.  I am half Berber and I speak a Berber tribal language."  The man, who had honey blond hair and blue eyes, chided her and said, "You do speak Arabic."  She replied, "Never!"

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Canton OH colloquialisms

My sister Heidi's friend Janet Bush told me that her husband Brett is from Canton OH and her favorite of his colloquialisms is "red up", as in "I will red up the kitchen."  To clean, to make ready.

He also used to call hamburgers "hamburgs".

I remember both of these expressions from my Canton youth.

Marjorie Corsi reminded me that we said "pop" (meaning a beverage containing CO2) instead of "soda".  Margaret Kaser agrees that we called Coke and Pepsi "pop", whereas in other areas they are called "soda".  She also noted that we drove on a parkway and parked on a driveway.

Back in the day when I lived in East Canton (before 1961), I think that most people said "warsh", as in "warsh the clothing" or "warsh the dishes".  I don't know what they say now.

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Local toponymic pronunciations in northwestern Ohio and northern Indiana

Continuing my run through the Midwest, among many others, I have passed through the following towns and counties:  Lima, Cairo, Gomer, Delphos, Van Wert, Warsaw, Kosciusko, Hamlet, Wanatah, and Valparaiso.  These names reflect the variety of ethnicities and origins of the inhabitants.  Several of them are locally pronounced in ways that I had not expected:

Lima is Laima, not Leema (one of my students flew to the capital of Peru that same day I went to its reputed namesake in Ohio).

Cairo OH is Kayro, not Kairo; I don't know for sure how the same name of the southernmost city in Illinois is pronounced locally.

Kosciusko is Kaziasko, not Koskiusko.

Valparaiso is colloquially known as Valpo.

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The Ramsey hypothesis

Chris Button writes:

I’ve been working on adding Japanese readings to my dictionary*. I decided to add pitch accents on the kun readings, and started getting interested in the history there. I came across some amazing work by Bob Ramsey—notably this one**.

[*VHM:  Comparative historical dictionary of Sinitic and Indo-European.]
 
[**"The Old Kyoto Dialect and the Historical Development of Japanese Accent", Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 39.1 (June, 1979), 157-175.]
 
Clearly, to my novice eyes, he is absolutely correct. I’m staggered no-one really accepted it! I suppose it’s that age-old issue with academia around it being very difficult to disrupt the old guard with their vested interests. In any case, it looks like this recent article adds some nice typological data to Bob’s brilliant proposal.
 
I wonder what Bob thinks of it nowadays?

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Multilingual Korean TV drama

New article by Sophie-Ha, posted on allkpop (news.naver.com) yesterday:

"Apple TV+ drama 'Pachinko' praised for the attention to detail and accuracy of all the languages and dialects"

We often talk about topolects and dialects of Sinitic, but seldom do so for Korean.  We can get some idea of what the situation is like by reading sections of Sophie-Ha's article:

Various languages appear in the Apple TV+ original drama 'Pachinko' as the main characters are immigrant families who left their homeland during the Japanese colonial period and went through various countries. Korean, Japanese, and English are all used in one story, as well as different dialects of these languages. The Busan and Jeju dialects were used in the Korean language, and the dialect used by Korean-Japanese immigrants was also refined by seeking advice from Korean-Japanese individuals.

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