Archive for Sociolinguistics

Paris Hilton's vocal registers

Hilary Hanson, "Paris Hilton's Split-Second Voice Change Leaves People Absolutely Stunned", Huffpost 6/29/2024:

Paris Hilton floored social media users this week by seamlessly shifting her vocal register midsentence as she spoke before Congress. […]

When Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) asked Hilton for her thoughts on incorporating mental health care into new legislation, Hilton responded first by complimenting the lawmaker’s outfit.

“I love your jacket. The sparkles are amazing,” Hilton said.

Tenney joked, “I had a little bling here for today,” to which Hilton replied, “Yes, I wanted to find out who made it later.”

Hilton delivered her fashion comments in a relatively high voice with lots of vocal fry. However, as she continued speaking and began to discuss mental health care, her voice shifted to a noticeably deeper register.

“But I think the most important thing is, they need access to therapy counseling, mentorship and other community-based programs,” she said, with her voice dropping on the word “but.”

A video of the testimony can be found on CSPAN (or CSPAN's X account).

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Gender, dialect, and taboo vocabulary in court

In case (like me) you haven't been following the murder trial of Karen Read, this article provides the background: Kim Stelloh, "Karen Read is accused of killing her Boston police officer boyfriend. Here's what we know about the murder trial", NBC News 6/7/2024. The current media fever focuses on the testimony of (Massachusetts State Police investigator) Michael Proctor, forced on the witness stand to read some text messages that hit a trifecta of gender, regional, and vocabulary biases:

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Mike Johnson blesses MTG

From The Hill on Xitter — Mike Johnson on Marjorie Taylor Greene:

Host: Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Johnson: Mmhmm.
Host: No fan of yours.
Johnson: Bless her heart. Bless her heart.
Host: Is she a serious lawmaker?
Johnson: I don't think she's proving to be. No. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about her. I’ve gotta do my job.

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Zoe Greenberg, "Are we saying 'Passyunk' wrong?", The Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/23/2024:

In this time of widespread division and chaos, The Inquirer decided to unite all Philadelphians by documenting the definitive way we pronounce “Passyunk.” Were we motivated to act by a random New Yorker article confidently declaring this word is pronounced “‘passion’ with a ‘k’”? Absolutely. But our quest grew far beyond that.

The effort left some of us, and those we interviewed, questioning who we were and what we know on a fundamental level. One woman interviewed by The Inquirer, for example, claimed to pronounce the word exactly the same as her husband, who proceeded to pronounce it completely differently.

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In a comment on yesterday's post ("High vowel lenition/devoicing in French"), carveuir wrote:

Ha! As a final-year undergraduate in 2015, I mentioned having come across devoicing of the second /i/ in "université" to my French linguistics tutor and he didn't believe me. Finally I've been vindicated.

My impression is that this is common and perhaps almost categorical in Québecois vernacular, but more gradient (or maybe I should say less complete?) in Parisian French. So I looked from some examples of the word université in a collection of transcribed radio broadcasts and political speeches from France. And I found a few, all of which were consistent with my impression. So my recent series of French phonetic anecdotes continues below.

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High vowel lenition/devoicing in French

On a trip to Québec in the 1970s, I asked a passerby for directions (in French), and he gave me an answer that at first I thought was in Polish or some other Slavic language unknown to me. He also pointed to the visible train-track overpass a couple of blocks away, and waved his arm to indicate a right turn, so I got the meaning from his gestures. And after a bit, I realized that his opening phrase, which I heard as something like


was a Québecois vernacular version of "tu vas direct jusqu'au trac", with the [i] and [y] vowels deleted (and the  initial /ʒ/ of "jusqu'au" devoiced). I asked a Canadian colleague about it, and was told that the deletion of high vowels was known to linguists in Francophone Canada, but (as far as he knew at that time) had not been documented.

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"She can talk however she wants!"

A fun interview about acting, contact, accommodation, and identity:

@max_balegde My favourite interview of all time. She was so sweet and she can talk however she wants!!!! Damsel is out now! @Netflix #milliebobbybrown ♬ original sound – Max_Balegde

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Normative language

A matter that requires nuancing: Jinyi Kuang and Cristina Bicchieri, "Language matters: how normative expressions shape norm perception and affect norm compliance", Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2024:

Abstract: Previous studies have used various normative expressions such as ‘should’, ‘appropriate’ and ‘approved’ interchangeably to communicate injunctions and social norms. However, little is known about whether people's interpretations of normative language differ and whether behavioural responses might vary across them. In two studies (total n = 2903), we find that compliance is sensitive to the types of normative expressions and how they are used. Specifically, people are more likely to comply when the message is framed as an injunction rather than as what most people consider good behaviour (social norm framing). Behaviour is influenced by the type of normative expression when the norm is weak (donation to charities), not so when the norm is strong (reciprocity). Content analysis of free responses reveals individual differences in the interpretation of social norm messages, and heterogeneous motives for compliance. Messages in the social norm framing condition are perceived to be vague and uninformative, undermining their effectiveness. These results suggest that careful choice of normative expressions is in order when using messages to elicit compliance, especially when the underlying norms are weak.

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"Crispy Rs"

Dan Nosowitz, "The ‘Crispy R’ and Why R Is the Weirdest Letter", Atlas Obscura 11/2/2023:

The crispy R is a phenomenon that some linguists had noticed, but which had gone largely unstudied—until the phrase “crispy R” was bestowed on it by Brian Michael Firkus, better known as Trixie Mattel, the winner of the third season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, and later popularized via TikTok. The sound is easier to point out than it is to either describe or reproduce. Some of the most frequent users of this unusual-sounding R include Kourtney Kardashian, Max Greenfield of New Girl fame, Stassi from Vanderpump Rules, and Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend. It sounds, to me at least, like a sort of elongated, curled sound, a laconic way of saying R.

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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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