Archive for Variation

Graphic antipairs

Currently on the internet in China, there is a flurry of discussion on characters that are mirror, flipped, reversed, or inverted images of each other.  Here are some of the examples that have been cited (except for the last two sets, which were added by me to illustrate other types of minimal differences):

chǎng 厂 ("factory") || yí, 乁, ancient form of yí 移 ("move; shift") or 及 ("and; reach to")

piàn 片 ("sheet; piece; slice") || pán 爿 ("half of a tree trunk")

yù 玉 ("jade") || sù 玊 ("jade with a blemish; a jade worker; a surname")

chì 翅 ("wing; fin") || chì 翄 ("wing; fin"), a variant of chì 翅 ("wing; fin")!!

chǎng 昶 ("bright; long day; expansive; surname") ||  ǎi 昹 ("name of a star")

zè 仄 ("narrow; oblique tones in prosody; a feeling of unease") || wáng 亾 ("death; destroyed; lost perished"), an early variant of wáng 亡; another early variant is 兦

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New online American English dialect survey

From Bert Vaux:

I hope that if you're American you'll consider taking my new American English dialect survey, which is now available at You can answer as few as 30 and as many as 60 questions, and immediately see heat maps for where your answers are most popular. Please pass this along to your American students, friends, and family– especially if they've never taken any of my surveys before–as I'm trying to get as many respondents as possible in order to increase the accuracy of the localization algorithm our team is working on. It's free, and no registration is required.

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Don't skunk me, bro!

At Arrant Pedantry, Jonathon Owen continues the conversation about begs the question (Skunked Terms and Scorched Earth). Citing my previous post Begging the question of whether to use "begging the question", Jonathon describes me as writing that "the term should be avoided, either because it’s likely to be misunderstood or because it will incur the wrath of sticklers." I wouldn't put it that way; I did quote Mark Liberman's statement to that effect, and I did note that I had, in an instance I was discussing, decided to follow that advice, but I don't think I went so far as to offer advice to others.

As it happens, I'm meeting Jonathon for lunch (and for the first time) later today. I'm in Utah, where the law-and-corpus-linguistics conference put on by the Brigham Young law school was held yesterday, near where Jonathon lives. So I will have it out with him over the aspersion he has cast on my descriptivist honor.

Despite my peeve about Jonathon's post, it's worth reading. He discusses the practice of declaring a word or phrase "skunked".  As far as I know, that is a practice engaged in mainly by Bryan Garner, who offers this description of the phenomenon of skunking: “When a word undergoes a marked change from one use to another . . . it’s likely to be the subject of dispute. . . . A word is most hotly disputed in the middle part of this process: any use of it is likely to distract some readers. . . . The word has become 'skunked.'”

Jonathan writes, "Many people find this a useful idea, but it has always rubbed me the wrong way." He explains:

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An interesting topic, presented [in French] in a fun way:

[If you have trouble with the Facebook embedding, try this YouTube version.]

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"Projects we need financed": Pittsburghian?

My Wall Street Journal column this week looks at the history of the word rider, inspired by Frances McDormand's cryptic use of the phrase "inclusion rider" at the end of her acceptance speech at the Oscars on Sunday, after she won the Best Actress award for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. (Link to WSJ column here — if paywalled, follow my Twitter link here.) But just before she got to "inclusion rider," McDormand offered another linguistically intriguing nugget. Here's how the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported it:

On Sunday, she asked all of the women nominees in Hollywood's Dolby Theatre to stand and reminded them to tell their stories.
Laughing, she said in the Pittsburgh vernacular, "Look around ladies and gentlemen, because we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed." 

You can hear the relevant bit at the end of this clip.

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"Inappropriate and inoffensive"

Morphological negative concord? Or just a slip of the fingers?

[link] The Labour Court report does not detail what was contained in the graphic, but stated it “was inappropriate and inoffensive”.
[link] Al Franken, who was also scheduled to appear on the show, has canceled, calling Maher's words “inappropriate and inoffensive.”
[link] The IPSA worker said they found this “deeply inappropriate and inoffensive” but the MP's staff “laughed and agreed” with the term.
[link] Objectors said it was demeaning to women and the privacy of childbirth and was inappropriate and inoffensive.
[link] Access to the Internet is regulated centrally via a third party provider, to ensure that inappropriate and inoffensive sites cannot be accessed.

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Begging the question of whether to use "begging the question"

The tweets above have extra salience for me, because I used begs the question in the traditional way ('assumes the answer to the question in dispute') in my most recent post on LAWnLinguistics. I did so with some trepidation—not because I was worried that someone would think I was using the phrase wrong, but because I was worried that someone would think I was using it in the 'raise the question' sense and wonder what the question was that I thought was being begged.

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One of the linguistically interesting aspects of Jason Kelce's victory-parade speech was his pronoun usage:

And you know who the biggest underdog is?
It's y'all, Philadelphia!
For fifty two years, y'all have been waitin' for this.

Although this is a perfectly idiomatic use of y'all, one thing about it is unexpected — Jason Kelce is from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, which is not in the y'all zone from a geographical point of view.

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From reduction to inflection

Over the past dozen years, there's been a scattering of LLOG posts about various forms of a periphrastic future construction in English:

"I'ma", 7/3/2005
"I'monna", 7/3/2005
"'On' time", 8/4/20015
"Finna and tryna", 8/5/2005
"I'm a?", 9/19/2009
"I'ma stay with the youngsters", 5/14/2010
"Gonna, gone, onna, a — on?", 8/10/2012

But there's a quasi-inflectional aspect to this development that I don't think I've noticed before — and I haven't seen it discussed in the literature on this topic either, though I may well have missed the coverage. Specifically, some of the forms are apparently only available in the first person.

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Varieties of Mandarin

Speakers of Northeastern / Dongbei topolect and Putonghua (Modern Standard Mandarin) speaking very common equivalent expressions and holding up cards with the written forms of what they are saying:

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Toe-ly gumby a sound change

On Sunday 9/10/2017, Steve Bannon was interviewed on 60 Minutes. Looking at the interview from the perspective of a phonetician, I was struck by pervasive evidence of a little-studied sound change in progress. Word-internal intervocalic coronal consonants — /t/, /d/, /n/ — in weak positions (i.e. not followed by a stressed vowel) are deleted, and the surrounding vowels are merged. This process is increasingly common in American English, and is frequently exemplified in Steve Bannon's speech, at least in this sample.

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Siri can you hear me? has some perfect linguaphile clickbait: “Watch People With Accents Confuse the Hell Out of AI Assistants.”  By “accents” they mean, non-American ones (e.g., Irish English). The AI Assistants were Siri, Amazon Echo, and Google Home. I’m curious about how well the voice recognition systems in these devices work with varieties of spoken English, so I clicked. Sucker! Can’t tell anything from the video except that it’s fun to say “Add Worcestershire sauce to my shopping list” to a machine.  This definitely beats asking Siri “What is the meaning of life?”

Mainly I was impressed by how poorly I understood the speakers.  I have a bad time understanding other people’s accents  but that’s only one data point.  How well do people understand speech that is in the same language as their own but spoken with a different accent?

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"Fli??ed me off"

Sent in with the comment "Who the hell says 'flicked off' instead of 'flipped off'??"

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