Archive for Sociolinguistics

Talcott Parsons Prize: Bill Labov's acceptance speech

One of the recent events cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic was the ceremony awarding the Talcott Parsons Prize to Bill Labov:

The American Academy of Arts & Sciences is awarding linguist William Labov the Talcott Parsons Prize for distinguished and original contributions to the social sciences. […]

Labov is regarded as the founder of variationist sociolinguistics, which is a discipline dedicated to understanding and researching language in relation to social factors that include region, race, class, and gender. The impact of Labov’s work is far-reaching and extends through the practice of language science around the world, hundreds of significant publications, and the countless students and scholars he mentored. His influence has been felt in education, sociology, computational and cognitive science, and law.

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Super Bowl Dialectology

One of today's Super Bowl commercials features Boston r-lessness:


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Sociolinguistically unaware journalists?

Julie Satow, "She Was a Star of New York Real Estate, but Her Life Story Was a Lie", NYT 1/10/2019:

Wrapped in furs, dripping with diamonds and with her blond hair perfectly coifed, Faith Hope Consolo cut a glamorous figure in the flashy, late 20th-century world of New York City real estate.

Ms. Consolo was born into the business, benefiting from her father’s legacy as a real estate executive. Emboldened professionally by her mother, a child psychiatrist, Ms. Consolo parlayed her privileged Connecticut upbringing, which included a stint at Miss Porter’s School for Girls and a degree from Parsons Paris, into a bold career, socializing and cutting deals with the moneyed classes she knew so well.

In late 2018, Ms. Consolo died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 73. As someone who had covered her for years, I wrote her obituary, which included some of the details above, confirming her place in this rarefied world.

But those details, I soon discovered, were lies.

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"Big girl's blouse"

Americans following recent U.K. political antics have been able to learn a piece of British slang that's probably new to them — Martin Belam, "'You great big girl’s blouse' – Johnson appears to insult Corbyn during PMQs", The Guardian 9/4/2019:

Boris Johnson’s first Prime Minister’s Questions was immediately embroiled in controversy after footage appeared to show him gesticulating towards Jeremy Corbyn, saying: “Call an election, you great big girl’s blouse.” […]

Johnson has form for previously using the phrase. In June 2017 he called Labour’s election campaign chief a “big girl’s blouse”. And in 2007, when Gordon Brown was tipped to be on the verge of calling a general election in an era before the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, he reportedly told a fringe meeting at the Conservative party conference in Blackpool that if Brown didn’t act: “We will say he’s wimped out, we will say he’s a big girl’s blouse.”

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Sienna Miller's southeastern PA accent

Adam Hermann, "Sienna Miller talks nailing the Philly accent for 'American Woman' on Jimmy Fallon", Philly Voice 6/15/2019:

British actress Sienna Miller has an accent when she talks, but it's decidedly not something you normally hear from an eastern Pennsylvania resident.

For the film "American Woman", which comes out next week and is set in "a small, blue-collar town in Pennsylvania", Miller had to figure out what people from around here talk like.

It wasn't easy, because the Philadelphia accent is so dang weird, but she clearly had some help, because she kind of nailed it.

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New corpus of latrinalia starting up

I just learned via the mosling mailing list that a Russian team has established a multilingual corpus of toilet graffiti, which in their English language home page they call the Corpus of Latrinalia. I haven't looked at it and know nothing about it – I'm just reporting its existence. They have warnings on the front page that it contains obscenities "as well as racist and other insulting inscriptions", which do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of the corpus gatherers. But I find the project too amusing not to report.

https://linghub.ru/wc_corpus/index_en.html

And it was done with the support of the Russian Science Foundation. Good for them. ("them" – both.) Let's hope they get some good research out of it so that the RSF doesn't regret the decision and react badly to future non-standard proposals!

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"Hypersynonymy" in MLE?

Robert Booth, "'Ching, wap, ox': slang interpreters decipher texts for court evidence", The Guardian 3/29/2019:

Do you know your “tum-tum” from your “ching” and your “corn” from your “gwop” (gun, knife, ammunition and money)? Neither do police and prosecutors, who have begun consulting a linguistics professor to help decipher urban slang and drill lyrics used as evidence in criminal investigations.

The complexity of inner-city dialects and the growing use of texts and social media posts in court evidence has forced detectives and lawyers in London, the West Midlands and Essex to seek translations, according to Tony Thorne, an academic at King’s College London, who has been studying youth slang since 1990. […]

The dialect has become known among academics as multi-ethnic London English (MLE), though is not limited to the capital. Last autumn, an image circulated of a glossary of “youth language” on a whiteboard in a Lancashire police station including “peng = attractive, feds = police, swear down = tell the truth”.

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"Qu'esseuh-que ça veut direuh?"

"A row over mocking non-standard French accents", The Economist 10/25/2018:

It took an outburst that went viral to introduce the French to a new word: glottophobie. […]

The episode emerged last week when Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a far-left firebrand, mocked a reporter with an accent from south-west France. “What does that mean?” he snapped, imitating the journalist’s Occitan twang; “Has anyone got a question phrased in French, and which is more or less comprehensible?” His put-down was as bizarre as it was offensive. The Paris-based Mr Mélenchon is a member of parliament for Marseille, a city known for its Provençal lilt.

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Jewish uptalk?

Corey Robin, "Was Bigger Thomas an Uptalker?" (10/18/2017), describes a bit of fictional forensic sociolinguistics:

The funniest moment in Native Son (not a novel known for its comedy, I know): when the detective, Mr. Britten, is asking the housekeeper, Peggy, a bunch of questions about Bigger Thomas, to see if Thomas is in fact a Communist.

Britten: When he talks, does he wave his hands around a lot, like he’s been around a lot of Jews?

Peggy: I never noticed, Mr. Britten.

Britten: Now, listen, Peggy. Think and try to remember if his voice goes up when he talks, like Jews, when they talk. Know what I mean? You see, Peggy, I’m trying to find out if he’s been around Communists.

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American accent as acoustic distortion

E.E. Fournier d'Albe, "The Talking Film", Nature 1/31/1925:

The demonstration of the De Forest phonofilm at  the Royal Society of Arts on November 26, 1924, and its recent exhibition at the Royal College of Science during the Physical and Optical Societies' Exhibition, showed that the old problem of producing a motion picture endowed with its original sound effects has been brought within hail of a perfect solution.

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Linguistic divergence and convergence

In Elizabeth George's recent novel The Punishment She Deserves, there's a passage where someone uses a sociolinguistic choice to communicate her attitude towards an interaction. This reminded me of another fictional example of the same thing, and I'm sure that readers will come up with more.

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Don't splain me, bro!

A week ago I posted Don't skunk me, bro!, which riffed on Jonathon Owen's post Skunked Terms and Scorched Earth on Arrant Pedantry. Jonathon's post had discussed Bryan Garner's practice of declaring that certain expressions should be avoided because they are supposedly "skunked". Garner uses that term to refer to expressions that are in the process of undergoing a hotly disputed change of meaning, with the result that, in Garner's words, "any use of it is likely to distract some readers".

Shortly after posting "Don't skunk me, bro!", I got a message on Twitter from Tcherina (@grammarguidecom): "Glad to see you taking up the 'skunked' issue. I got bullied and splained when I tweeted Jonathon's piece [i.e., the post that had prompted mine], which I thought was very good."

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Il congiuntivo: Peeving and breeding, Italian style

As a counterpoint to "Peeving and breeding", 3/4/2018, here's Lorenzo Baglioni's "Il Congiuntivo":

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