Archive for Morphology

Shooketh, rattleth, and rolleth

In his "The Good Word" column of The Atlantic (1/24/22), Caleb Madison has a new article, "Why We’re All Shooketh:  The term is online slang of Biblical proportions".  The first two paragraphs:

Lately modern life has felt all too biblical. Plagues, massive weather events, tribal divisions, demagogic leadership … and people using words like shooketh. The phrase I’m shooketh was first uttered by the comedian Christine Sydelko in a YouTube video uploaded to her account in 2017 (she was expressing her shock at having been recognized by a fan at Boston Market). The adjective shooketh took off as a way to lend biblical proportions to awestruck confusion. But the linguistic journey to its creation spans the evolution of the English language, connecting Early Modern English, turn-of-the-century adventure novels, and Twitter slang.

When we want to transform verbs like shake into adjectives, we typically use something called a participle, either present or past. The present participle of shake is shaking, as in “I’m shaking.” The past participle would be “I’m shaken.” But, for some reason, in the 19th century, the simple past tense, shook, took hold. In Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 adventure classic Treasure Island, Long John Silver admits, “I’ll not deny neither but what some of my people was shook—maybe all was shook; maybe I was shook myself.” And 14 years later, in Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous, the form reappears within a now-common collocation with up when Dan Troop exclaims, “Well, you was shook up and silly.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (32)

Future past?

David Gelles, "Ben Smith Is Leaving The Times for a Global News Start-Up", NYT 1/4/2022 [emphasis added]:

Ben Smith, the media columnist for The New York Times, is leaving the media outlet to start a new global news organization with Justin Smith, who is stepping down as chief executive of Bloomberg Media.

Ben Smith said in an interview that they planned to build a global newsroom that broke news and experimented with new formats of storytelling. He did not provide details on what beats or regions would be covered, how much money they planned to raise or when the new organization would start.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (38)

Morphemes without Sinographs

Commenting on "Educated (and not so educated) guesses about how to read Sinographs" (11/16/21), Chris Button asked:

I’m curious what you mean by “pseudo explanation”? The expected reflex from Middle Chinese times is xù, but yǔ has become the accepted pronunciation based on people guessing at the pronunciation in more recent times. Isn’t that a reasonable explanation?

To which I replied:

It's such a gigantic can of worms that I'm prompted to write a separate post on this mentality. I'll probably do so within a few days, and it will be called something like "Morphemes without characters".

Stay tuned.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (18)

Another early Sinitic disyllabic morpheme: "(unopened) lotus blossom"

I take great pleasure in finding morphemes in early Sinitic that are disyllabic, i.e., neither syllable of which means anything by itself, but acquires meaning only in combination with another morpheme to which it is customarily linked.  I have found hundreds of ancient terms composed of such morphemes and have written about many of them on Language Log ("grape", "coral", "lion", "reindeer", "macaque", "earthworm",  "spider", "phoenix", "sinuous, winding", "awkward", "knot", "pimple", "balloon lute", "harp", and so on and so forth).

There are two main reasons why I pay particular attention to such disyllabic morphemes:

1. Their numerousness certifies that early Sinitic was not exclusively monosyllabic (a widespread misconception), if we go by its Sinographic form in the latter part of the first millennium BC.

2. Many of these disyllabic morphemes have cognates (i.e., originate) in non-Sinitic languages (e.g., Iranian, Tocharian), which shows that Sinitic language (and culture) did not develop in isolation, but evolved in close association with other languages and cultures.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (7)

"Linguistician"?

Helen Barrett, "‘Ça plane pour moi’ was a burst of Belgian punk with a dark twin", Financial Times 6/1/2020 [emphasis added]:

Meanwhile, the perennially lucrative “Ça plane pour moi” may not be all that it seems. Bertrand mimed it in TV studios, but whose is the bratty voice on the record?

It is a question that has been the subject of several court cases. Bertrand initially insisted it was him, then changed his story, telling a newspaper in 2010 that he did not sing on the track, despite being credited. During a court case that same year over royalties, a Belgian judge commissioned a linguistician to examine the original. Expert evidence suggested the true vocalist was of northern French origin. Deprijck, who has claimed to be the real vocalist, is from northern France.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (22)

Om, sumo, and the universality of sound

From Zihan Guo:

A Japanese expression I came upon in a reading from Takami sensei's class reminded me of the "om" you mentioned weeks ago in our class.

阿吽の呼吸(aun'nokokyū あうんのこきゅう)
 
It refers to the synchronization of breathing of sumo opponents before a match. I read about this in an article about an interview with a sumo wrestler. But the "aun あうん" part lingered in my mind. Then I realized that it was the Japanese transliteration of the "om" that you were telling the class that encompassed all sounds:  "a" and "un" signify the beginning and end of the cosmos respectively, or so wikipedia explains. The Japanese phrase means a harmonious, non-verbal communication.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (14)

A poster with an uncommon character denoting a common Cantonese word

Comments (2)

Another early polysyllabic Sinitic word

In various publications and Language Log posts over the years, I have collected scores of old polysyllabic words (e.g., those for reindeer, phoenix, coral, spider, earthworm, butterfly, dragonfly, balloon lute, meandering / winding, etc.), which proves that Sinitic has never been strictly monosyllabic, although that is a common misapprehension, even among many scholars.  The reason I call the one featured in this post "another early polysyllabic Sinitic word" is because I don't think I've ever pointed it out before.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (29)

Prefixes "yǒu" ("to have") and "wú" ("to not have") in Old Sinitic

My brother Denis and I have long been intrigued by the use of the prefix yǒu 有 ("there is / are / exist[s]") in a wide variety of circumstances in Old Sinitic:  e.g., before the word for family temples (yǒu miào 有廟), before the names of barbaric tribes (yǒu Miáo 有苗), and before place names (yǒu Yì 有易).  We wonder whether similar constructions exist in other languages.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (12)

Ambling, shambling, rambling, wandering, wondering: the spirit of Master Zhuang / Chuang

All the talk of moseying and ambling propelled me into a customary mode of mind.  Those who have taken classes with me know that, though I may start at a certain point in my lectures, it is difficult to predict how we will get to our intended destination, though we are certain to pass through many interesting and edifying scenes and scenarios along the way.

As I have stated on numerous occasions, my favorite Chinese work of all time is the Zhuang Zi / Chuang Tzu 莊子 (ca. 3rd c. BC).  The English title of my translation is Wandering on the Way.  The publisher wanted something more evocative than "Master Zhuang / Chuang" or "Zhuang Zi / Chuang Tzu", so I spent a couple of days coming up with about sixty possible titles, and they picked the one that I myself preferred, "Wandering on the Way", which is based on the first chapter of the book:  "Xiāoyáo yóu 逍遙遊" ("Carefree wandering").

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (7)

NOUN(s) NOUN

The discussion of Boxer(')(s)(') Trail  ("Signs and wonders", 6/12/2021 ) brought up the question of plural forms in English nouns in structures like mouse trap, activities center, and iron bar, which has been much discussed in the linguistic and psycholinguistic literature — and also here on Language Log.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (36)

Wanna, gotta

From Doonesbury 5/2/2021:

Linguists have paid a lot of attention over the years to  wanna-contraction, starting with George Lakoff's 1970 paper "Global rules" — see these lecture notes for a discussion, if you're interested. But gotta-contraction has gotten a lot less attention — 7 Google scholar hits vs. 658.

The reason for this difference is simple: "want to" is occurs in different structures that have different contraction frequencies, thus entangling syntax, morphology and phonology in a pattern that people have been trying since 1970 to figure out how to untangle. "Got to" seems to occur in the same structures, but these turn out to involve quite different senses of get, which maybe even should be considered different words.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (9)

Odoriferous Mandarin term for "copycat"

A gēnpìchóng 跟屁虫 (lit., "follow-fart-bug / worm") is somebody who tags along after someone else so as to smell his farts, i.e., someone who follows another person all the time, a copycat, a shadow, a flatterer, sycophant, boot / ass licker, kiss-ass, yes man.

And here's a cute little tutorial about how to be a gēnpìchóng:  

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (7)