Archive for Sociolinguistics

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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Language registers in spoken Chinese

Dave Cragin writes:

Throughout my years of learning Chinese, I've been surprised at the number of times I've been told by various Chinese that a specific Chinese phrase is:

    • only something foreigners say

and/or

    • Chinese NEVER say that phrase

or

    • only old Chinese women or only old Chinese say that phrase.

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On when listening is better than talking: A call for contemplation and empathy

The following is a reply from Emily M. Bender, Natasha Warner and myself to Geoff Pullum's recent posts (A letter saying they won, 12/4/2017; Courtesy and personal pronoun choice, 12/6/2017).


Respected senior linguist Geoffrey K. Pullum recently used the widely-read platform of Language Log to remark on the fact that his grammatical tolerance of singular they only goes so far (A letter saying they won, 12/4/2017). For Pullum, singular they cannot be used in reference to a personal name; example sentences such as Kimi said theyi were going to the store are ungrammatical for him. This fact is not in dispute, nor is the fact that this is a salient grammaticality judgment for Pullum. What is in dispute, however, is the appropriateness of a series of choices that Pullum has made in reporting this grammaticality judgment. Those choices have clearly hurt people. The following is an effort to explain the hurt that these choices have caused and to give Pullum — and everyone from his defenders to those who don't see what all the fuss is about — another opportunity to respond with contemplation and empathy as opposed to defensiveness and continued disrespect.

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If you can't say something nice…

This is a guest post by Kirby Conrod.

[Note from Mark Liberman: Kirby Conrod seriously misinterprets (and/or misrepresents) the post they attack, and makes false assertions about its author's opinions and practices. Eric Bakovic should have recognized this, and it was wrong for him to have posted the piece rather than trying to remedy the misunderstandings privately. See "Courtesy and personal pronoun choice", 12/6/2017, and "Linguists and change", 12/15/2017, for an attempt to balance the scales.]


I'm sorry to see that the venerable Geoff Pullum is so desperately behind the times. I don't mean to be snarky, I genuinely am sad about it. It's not just a matter of being un-hip to the cool new language change in progress (singular "they" is making inroads syntactically in the types of antecedents speakers will use it with), but rather a methodological and disciplinary unhipness that really makes me feel bad.

First, let me address the rudeness: if a senior colleague of mine pulled this kind of self-conscious "he is–sorry, they are" on me in a professional setting, I'd file a complaint. If they did it in a casual setting, I'd have a nasty word for them. That's the kind of snide, intentional misgendering that I am not okay with. In writing, Pullum clearly has the ability to force a use of "they" even if he finds it distasteful. To do otherwise is profoundly disrespectful and borderline hostile, even as a supposedly self-effacing joke about his own grammar. It would've been easy to make the point of his difficulty in writing that sentence without using the wrong pronoun for anyone–and Pullum should seriously self-interrogate on why he thinks "he" would have been the alternative, anyways.

With that out of the way, I'll go into the linguistics first, then the methods.

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Ask Language Log: Loud Americans?

From Federico Escobar:

An old but ongoing comment/joke among several Spanish speakers I know says that English speakers are particularly loud. It's a gross generalization, I know, but one borne out by countless times in which the voices booming over everyone else's in a restaurant comes from the one table with American tourists. A friend says that she feels that Americans can't help but shouting when they talk.

So, the silliness aside, does this hold water? Would this be, on average, true of English speakers or at least of American speakers of English? A friend theorized off-the-cuff that it may be because of the sound system in English, which perhaps needs a higher volume to tell the phonemes apart than, say, Spanish. Is that at all possible?

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