Archive for Sociolinguistics

No sabo kids

Edwin Flores and Maya Brown, "The 'no sabo kids' are pushing back on Spanish-language shaming", NBC News 9/16/2023:

A growing group of young Latinos are using TikTok and social media to push back on not speaking perfect Spanish — an attempt to define their identity and heritage on their own terms.

[…] In recent years, the phrase "no sabo," which is the incorrect way of saying "I don't know" in Spanish (the correct translation is "no sé") has become synonymous with young Latinos who aren’t fluent in Spanish.

But what used to be a put-down term has now become a cultural hit online and a widespread meme: TikTok alone has more than 644 million video views with the hashtag #nosabo and #nosabokid is close to 400 million.

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The state of speech-to-text

…if you haven't noticed, is good. There are many applications, from conversing with Siri and Alexa and Google Assistant, to getting voicemail in textual form, to automatically generated subtitles, and so on. For linguists, one parochial (but important) application is accurate automatic transcription of speech corpora, and the example that motivates this post comes from that world.

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Last weekend, I was in Omaha for the annual Berkshire-Hathaway Shareholders Meeting.  Not that I am a shareholder of Berkshire-Hathaway, but simply because I was curious to see two nonagenarian financial wizards hold forth in front of 20,000 enthusiastic fans for a whole day.  I wasn't disappointed, though I must confess that I didn't understand half of what Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger were saying about value investing.

Since I was staying in Council Bluffs and the meeting was held at the CHI Health Center across the river in Omaha, I had to go back and forth across the Missouri River several times, so I became curious about the relationship between the two cities.  I asked a taxi driver from Council Bluffs, who was born and grew up there, what local people thought of the twin cities.  "We're the one with all the problems," he said.  "So much so that they call us Counciltucky.

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The interplay between Cantonese and Mandarin as an index of sociopolitical tensions in Hong Kong

First it was the British from afar, and now it is the Chinese from the north who are imposing themselves on the people of Hong Kong.  In both cases, the imposition has been not merely political and economic, but has had important cultural and linguistic implications.  Language-wise, under which master have the Hongkongers (also known demonymically as Hong Kongers, Hongkongian, Hong Kongese, Hongkongese, Hong Kong citizens, and Hong Kong people) fared better?

This is a topic that has come up numerous times and in numerous ways on Language Log (see "Selected readings" below for a sampling of some relevant posts).  Now we have a new research article from Modern China (ISSN:  0097-7004; online ISSN: 1552-6836) that speaks to the problem from the vantage of recent data:

"The Ongoing Business of Chinese-Language Reform: A View from the Periphery of Hong Kong in the Past Half Century", by John D. Wong and Andrew D. Wong (first published online April 28, 2023)

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Acing the Cringe Quiz

Danielle Abril, "Gen Z came to ‘slay.’ Their bosses don’t know what that means.", WaPo 12/12/2022:

When 24-year-old Mary Clare Wall read a message that said her colleague would be “out of pocket,” she and her young co-workers giggled.

As Generation Z workers, Wall and her peers interpreted the phrase to mean that their colleague planned to do something crazy or inappropriate, not that they would be unavailable. But in the same manner, she confused her older colleagues with her regular use of the word ‘slay.’

“I [had to] give an almost definition of the word ‘slay,’” she said. “Now they all text me ‘slay.’ They’re excited they know how to use it.”

Generation Z — defined by Pew Research Center as those born between 1997 and 2012 — is bringing its own style of communication to the workplace. As conversations have increasingly moved online to text-driven environments, Gen Z’s form of messaging is creating a quirky challenge for multigenerational workplaces: the potential for confusing, anxiety-inducing and sometimes comical miscommunication.

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SNL Girl Talk and Prosody as Pragmatics

Below is a guest post by Nicole Holliday.

This past weekend, Saturday Night Live featured a skit called Girl Talk, starring Ego Nwodim, Megan Thee Stallion, and Punky Johnson. The basic conceit of the skit is that Monique Money (played by Ego Nwodim) is the host of a talk show called “Girl Talk”, where she provides advice to distressed guests. But the joke is that the only actual lexical item used to provide or respond to advice on the show is “girl”. The word “girl” has a long-documented history as a vocative of solidarity and/or distancing within AAE-speaking communities, but of course it is so widespread in popular culture now that white audiences are also likely to be familiar with it. As a sociophonetician who studies prosody, I was immediately interested in how pragmatic meaning would be accomplished via the different realizations of “girl” through the skit. Though there are only 16 occurrences of “girl” (and one of “bro”), their duration and prosodic patterns do tell us a bit about how these speakers play with prosody.

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Linguistic aversion therapy?

Rick Rubenstein commented on yesterday's post ("What happened to all the, like, prescriptivists?"):

Are there any proven therapies available for folks like me who, despite seeing the light decades ago, can't keep from wincing at "violations" of prescriptivist rules ingrained (mostly self-ingrained) during childhood? I want to be totally unfazed by "The team with the bigger amount of people has an advantage," but man, it's hard. (Not actually serious, but it's certainly true. Unlearning is tough.)

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Food-related and other types of slang in Japanese

New article in The Japan Times (9/9/22) by Jennifer O'Donnell: 

"The study of Japanese slang is challenging and never stops. Luckily, it’s also a lot of fun."

Inspired by Wes Robertson’s slang-focused “Scripting Japan” blog, it deals with terms like "Ore shafu da ne wwww おれ社不だねwwww”.

The four w’s you might be able to recognize as the Japanese equivalent to “LOL.” おれ (Ore) means “I,” だね (da ne) is looking for agreement … but what’s 社不 (shafu)?

Well, if you follow Wes Robertson’s slang-focused “Scripting Japan” blog, you’ll know that 社不 is a relatively recent term — more comically self-depreciating than insulting — that refers to someone who is 不適合 (futekigō, incompatible) with 社会 (shakai, society).

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Pro-Mandarin, anti-topolect movement in Singapore

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A different kind of "matched guise" test?

In a "matched guise" test, subjects are asked to evaluate "various traits including body height, good looks, leadership, sense of humor, intelligence, religiousness, self-confidence, dependability, kindness, ambition, sociability, character, and likability", for the same content presented by the same speaker in different languages, or perhaps by the same speaker associated with different pictures. The goal is to uncover linguistic or ethnic stereotypes.

This twitter "experiment" takes the idea in a different direction, using an associated picture to shift the interpretation of an ambiguous word:

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What makes an accent "good" or "bad"?

Lacey Wade, a postdoc in the Penn Linguistics Department, is featured in the most recent episode of Big Ideas for Strange Times:

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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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