Archive for Variation

"Who's for POONSH?"

Samuel Johnson's anti-Scots prejudices are well know, as Wikipedia notes:

Although Boswell, a Scotsman, was his close companion and friend, Johnson, like many of his fellow Englishmen, had a reputation for despising Scotland and its people. Even during their journey together through Scotland, Johnson "exhibited prejudice and a narrow nationalism". Hester Thrale, in summarising Johnson's nationalistic views and his anti-Scottish prejudice, said: "We all know how well he loved to abuse the Scotch, & indeed to be abused by them in return."

I have a dim (perhaps false?) memory that his prejudices included a complaint about the use of final rises on declarative sentences, a documented feature of Scottish English (see e.g. the examples in this 2008 post). But I (very lightly) skimmed Johnson's A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland, Boswell's parallel The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, and Boswell's Life Of Johnson, without finding any basis for my belief. If anyone can do better, I'll be grateful.

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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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"Crawlen"?

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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Slap varieties

Sunny Jhatti wrote to me: "I didn't know what 'pimp slap' meant till I saw this."

After witnessing her astonishing diatribe, Conal Boyce said:

I felt like I needed to take a shower.

(Adding insult to injury, google failed to elucidate 'Skims' for me. Had to look elsewhere to get an inkling of what that recurrent theme was about.)

I found the presenter's self-introduction here. She even has her own YouTube channel and other social media platforms.  Her handle is Genevieve Akal.  She is a Gnostic Priestess and Nun.  From the pieties expressed on her homepage, I would never have imagined that she could indulge in such vile vitriol.

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Read vs. spontaneous speech

Across the many disciplines that analyze language, there's surprisingly little focus on the properties of natural, spontaneous speech, as opposed to read (or memorized and performed) speech. But of course that dichotomy is an oversimplification — there are many linguistic registers, many ways to read each of the many styles of text, and even more individual, social, and contextual factors influencing spontaneous speech.

So one place to start is events where the same speaker, addressing the same audience for the same purposes, both reads a passage and answers questions — in such cases, at least the speaker and the context are controlled. In "Fluent 'disfluencies' again", 9/3/2022, I looked at the question-answering part of such an event, a press briefing by the U.S. Department of Defense Press Secretary, Brigadier General Patrick S. Ryder. At least, I looked at one small aspect of some of his answers, namely the distribution of certain kinds of disfluencies interpolations.

The focus of this morning's Breakfast Experiment™ will be one of Ryder's more recent press briefings, comparing the introduction (where he reads prepared text) to the first of his answers to subsequent press questions. I'll look at (aspects of) the properties of speech segments and silence segments, as well the statistics of local inter-syllable durations. For both of those features, fully-automatic analysis techniques allow research at scale, though this morning's data sample is small.

I'll also take a short comparative peek at his filled pauses and rapid word-repetitions in the two passages.

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No(t/n)

That's bù 不, plus = a-, il-, im-, in-, ir-, un-, non- prefixes in English.

It can enter into Mandarin contractions, such as 不 ("not") + yòng 用 ("use") = béng ("needn't), and the two Sinoglyphs used to write the constituent morphosyllables can fuse to become béng 甭 ("needn't).

Here's a whole slew of such fusion words and contraction characters:

Included among them are whimsical items such as one composed of bù 不 ("not") above and lǎo 老 ("old") below (= xiān 仙 ["ageless; immortal; transcendent"]), also another fairly well established one with bù 不 ("not") above and 好 ("good") below (= huài 壞 and other words / glyphs meaning "bad; evil; spoiled", etc.) — see if you can spot them. 

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"Tortured syllables"?

"Language change (about to be?) in progress" (6/12/2023) linked to media commentary on divergent features of Northeast Philadelphia speech, e.g. "Side effect of the highway collapse: A perfect example of Northeast Philly hoagiemouth", Billy Penn 6/11/2-23. Some of the characterization was extremely evaluative:

The Billy Penn article was gentler and more descriptive:

You can really hear the accent in the elongated roundness of all the “ooo” words he speaks, the way he drags out the end of others, and how he softens each and every consonant (“phouen,” “tex messagessss,” “schreenshoz”).

But in fact, none of the commentary describes this man's speech in an accurate way.

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The mystery of sóng (U+2AA0A) ("semen")

Matt Jenkins writes:

I am hoping you'll indulge a question that's been bugging me. I have been trying to improve my fluency by watching as many Chinese online dramas as possible, and sóng (U+2AA0A) comes up in show after show. But the character is always quite obviously "cut-and-pasted" into the subtitles. I'm (generally) familiar with the character as a simplified form of 㞞, and that people usually write 怂 instead. But why is the character practically completely absent from character sets and dictionaries? It's no more offensive than its progenitor 㞞, but 㞞 is far easier to find in character sets.

Jichang Lulu wrote about 㞞 on the Language Log back in March [see "Selected readings" below], but that post didn't include any reference to    (U+2AA0A).

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More post-IPA astronauts

As promised yesterday in "Pronunciation evolution", today I'll present some examples to suggest that Wally Funk's pronunciation of "astronaut" was not a mistake or an idiosyncrasy:

Taking a look at a sample of 100 instances of "astronaut" in the previously-described NPR podcast corpus, I found several similar cases where the word has only two phonetic syllables, with the first ending with a fricative and the second starting with [n]. And in more than half of the cases, the unstressed medial syllable is not elided, but the /t/ vanishes completely, and the /r/ is retained only as spectral lowering at the end of the /s/. I don't have time this morning to lay those examples out and discuss them, but I'll put it on my to-blog list for tomorrow.

We might transcribe Wally Funk's rendition in IPA-ish as [æʃnɔt], though the [ʃ] would be covering a complex tangle of coronal gestures:

an astronaut


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Heavy Velar vs Meager Bilabial Articulations in Xiongnu Language

[This is a guest post by Penglin Wang]

            The great difficulties we have with trying to study Xiongnu language persist from trying to glean Xiongnu words, especially the glossed ones, in early Chinese sources for comparison in order to know what linguistic affiliation it seems to have in the central Eurasian region. Since these difficulties cannot be overcome at all owing to its extinct status a millennium plus ago, an alternative approach could be to recognize that there are different components of language regardless of living or extinct and attempt to observe how different components can differ from one another yet still be entities that most researchers would want to treat as linguistic data or facts rather than imaginations for a comparative purpose. It could then be possible to open up a window to contribute to a solution of some classic problems in Altaic comparative studies. One such attempt is to examine the available Xiongnu words from the perspectives of articulatory phonetics and phonotactics. Concern for these is characteristic of Xiongnu studies. Pulleyblank (1962:242) has insightfully observed “only *b- initially, never *p-” in the Xiongnu transcriptions.

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Pronunciation evolution

Listening to a StoryCorps conversation about the history of women in NASA's astronaut corps as Wally Funk experienced it, I noticed something (phonetically) striking in her first sentence:

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Remarkable Ukrainian-Scottish speaker

Robert Shackleton sent in a link to this BBC Ukrainecast episode from 14 March, with the comment

Very distressing to listen to the interview, but also an interesting example of a native Slavic language speaker who has near-perfect Ayrshire speech.

The referenced interview starts at 6:20 in the BBC podcast — I've reproduced it below for convenience, and for protection against future bit rot:

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Spring is sprung

The start of today's newsletter from Amy Stoller:

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