Archive for Morphology

Spelling Manchu with Chinese characters

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Do linguistics still matter?

I've been scarce here for a while, due to moving (for a year, while the Quadrangle is reconstructed) and dealing with some overdue professional obligations. Time will continue to be tight for me, and it'll be a couple weeks before I have time for a Breakfast Experiment™ but I'll try to find time for a series of interesting short posts, starting with this one.

English nouns ending in -ics come in several morphosyntactic flavors, some of which act like plurals while others act like singulars.

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"Cooperate him"

Frequent commenter AntC sent email about a transitive use of cooperate, used by Karen Friedman Agnifilo in an interview with Michael Popok about Walt Nauta's role in the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case:

And so it makes sense why
uh they would want to cooperate him
and i- it also makes sense why they would reach out before indictment
and give him that opportunity.

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Plastered and potted: a steinful of drunkonyms

I've often wondered why we use such seemingly random, yet colorful, terms to describe a state of drunkenness.  The list of words for drunkenness goes on and on and on:

stoned; tipsy; bashed; befuddled; buzzed; crocked; flushed; flying; fuddled; glazed; high; inebriate; inebriated; laced; lit; muddled; plastered; potted; sloshed; stewed; tanked; totaled; wasted; boozed up; feeling no pain; groggy; juiced; liquored up; seeing double; three sheets to the wind; tight; under the influence; under-the-table


And there are so many others, such as pickled and soused and bombed and high as a kite, which make immediate and obvious sense — to an English speaker.

Lately, I've been seeing official illuminated signs by the roadside that say "BUZZED DRIVING IS DRUNK DRIVING", which I take to be directed at people who are high on drugs or the response of law enforcement officers to people who are obviously in an alcoholic stupor and say to the police, "I'm fine, just a little bit buzzed."

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"Overgrowin'" in San Francisco?

From C.B., an exchange in S.F.:

This week I heard an unusual usage from a random stranger on the street.

I was questioning whether a stairway in the adjacent block – which was not visible from where I was without climbing a steep hill first – had been repaired and could once again be used for through access. They replied that it had been, "But it's overgrowin'."

I couldn't tell whether they were using the word "overgrowing" where I would have expected "overgrown" or whether they were pronouncing "overgrown" with syllabic "n".

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Ask Language Log: Manchu Blue Dragon

Continuing our series on dragons, this note and illustration come from Juha Janhunen, the Finnish linguist:

Happy Blue Dragon Year to everybody! Below is the official flag (1889-1912) of the Manchu Empire (in the west misleadingly known as "China"), which happens to have a blue dragon on it. Manchu muduri 'dragon' still seems to lack an external etymology. Any suggestions?

(See at the very bottom of this post for a possible connection to "otter".)

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What is the difference between a dragon and a /lʊŋ³⁵/?

Today is the Lunar New Year's Day, and it's the Year of the Dragon / /lʊŋ³⁵/ . As such, a kerfuffle is stirring in China and the English-speaking world regarding the English translation of lóng ⿓ / 龙 / 竜 (J), which is usually "dragon".

I will begin with the pronunciation of the word.  In MSM, it is lóng (Hanyu Pinyin), lung2 (Wade-Giles), lúng (Yale), long (Gwoyeu Romatzyh [the configuration of GR tonal spelling for this syllable indicates second tone), лун (Palladius).  They all represent the same MSM syllable.  I will not list the scores of other topolectal pronunciations for Cantonese, Shanghainese, Hakka, Hokkien, Xiamen / Amoy, Sichuan, etc., etc. and their dialects and subdialects.

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A.A. wrote:

In the recent Christmas movie "Jingle Smells", a character says "[if I had experienced what you did] I would have crawlen into a bottle too". Is this usage of the form crawlen grammatical in English? Perhaps a dialect thing? Because to my ear it sounds valid, but others have said that to them it sounds like a mistake.

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Implementing Pāṇini's grammar

[Here's the conclusion to the hoped for trifecta on things Indian — see the preface here.  It comes in the form of a guest post by Arun Prasad]

The cornerstone of traditional Sanskrit grammar is Pāṇini's Aṣṭādhyāyī, which in around 4,000 short rules defines a comprehensive system for generating valid Sanskrit expressions. It continues to prompt vigorous discussion to this today, some of which has featured in Language Log before.
As a professional software engineer and amateur Sanskritist, my lens is more pragmatic: if we could implement the Aṣṭādhyāyī in code and generate an exhaustive list of Sanskrit words, we could create incredibly valuable tools for Sanskrit students and scholars.
To that end, I have implemented just over 2,000 of the Aṣṭādhyāyī's rules in code, with an online demo here. These rules span all major sections of the text that pertain to morphology, including: derivation of verbs, nominals, secondary roots, primary nominal bases, and secondary nominal bases; compounding; accent; and sandhi.

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Semi-compositional compounds of the week

I've previously written more than once about the problem of compound words whose meaning is partly but not entirely related to the meanings of their parts, often referring back to a passage in my 1992 chapter with Richard Sproat, "The Stress and Structure of Modified Noun Phrases in English":

We now turn to N0 compounds where a paraphrase links the two words in the compound with a predicate not implicit in either one. We are limiting this category to endocentric compounds, so that their English paraphrase will be something like 'an N1 N2 is an N2 relative-clause-containing-N1,' e.g., 'an ankle bracelet is a bracelet that is worn on the ankle,' or 'rubbing alcohol is alcohol that is used for rubbing'. The range of predicates implied by such paraphrases is very large. Since this type of compound-formation can be used for new coinages, any particular compound will in principle be multiply ambiguous (or vague) among a set of possible predicates.

Consider hair oil versus olive oil. Ordinarily hair oil is oil for use on hair, and olive oil is oil derived from olives. But if the world were a different way, olive oil might be a petroleum derivative used to shine olives for added consumer appeal, and hair oil might be a lubricant produced by recycling barbershop floor sweepings.

Today's examples come from a Xeet due to Dr. Laura Grimes and Dead Soul Poetry:

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"Re-Grand Opening"

From John Bell:

I thought of you and your interest in the oddities of linguistic expression a few days ago when I noticed that the local Safeway supermarket had large signs up saying "RE-GRAND OPENING".   They had recently done some renovation in a corner of the store — enlarging the self-checkout and the Starbucks counter, so I think that was the impetus for the sign, but I also liked the way it made sure you knew this was not the first GRAND OPENING.

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Stan Carey on "greenlit"

From Stan Carey at Sentence First, a lucid and deeply empirical dive into the question "Has ‘greenlit’ been greenlighted?".

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Annals of inventive pinyin: rua

This exercise video shows a woman repeating the syllable "rua" to describe a move that she makes:

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