Archive for November, 2010

Genitivizing the ungenitivizable?

Bob Ladd visited his doctor's office today. Which wouldn't normally be news for Language Log; but while waiting to be called he idly picked up a magazine, as one does. It was Birds, the magazine of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and he spotted a linguistically interesting item in an advertisement offering this:

5% off your next cottage holiday for Bird’s readers

Bob was truly puzzled by the spelling of the penultimate word. Rightly so, I think.

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Speech-based quantification of Parkinson's Disease

Earlier this year, I discussed an interesting paper from a poster session at ICASSP 2010 ("Clinical applications of speech technology", 3/18/2010), which used an automated evaluation of dysphonia measures in short speech samples to match clinicians' evaluations of Parkinson's Disease severity.

That work, extended and improved, has been published as Athanasios Tsanas et al., "Nonlinear speech analysis algorithms mapped to a standard metric achieve clinically useful quantification of average Parkinson's disease symptom severity", J.  Roy. Soc. Interface, 11/17/2010.

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Or other things

Everyone who writes a lot and is cursed with at least a smattering of knowledge about Latin must have had the experience of feeling that they wanted to imply continuation of a list of alternatives with a short expression like etc. but meaning "or other things". I had the experience in something I was writing just this morning. What would the right expression be?

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"Dictionary love for Palin"

There was some grumbling on the American Dialect Society list last week after the New Oxford American Dictionary announced its selection of refudiate as Word of the Year (like Christmas decorations, these days the WOTYs go up before people have even ordered their Thanksgiving turkeys). The choice was a blatant publicity stunt, some said, and besides the word wasn't coined by Palin — indeed, it wasn't a coining at all, but a mistake. As Jonathan Lighter put it, "It's a gaffe no matter who uses it… So it isn't a good word for a serious dictionary to lionize, if you ask me."

But others defended the choice in the name of fair-&-balanced even-handedness. Ron Butters, a sometime NOAD consultant, charged that the critics were being selective:

So [the NOAD editors] are whores when they jump on Palin's word but not whores when they promote "truthiness"?…Why does it really matter that she misspoke–and was clever enough to make a virtue of it–whereas the "truthiness" people set out to find fame by promoting a stunt word… [Anyway] if linguists really believe that whatever it is that the people choose to say is OK–if we are really opposed to prescriptivism and proscriptivism–then how can we object even to a dictionary reporting a usage from a source that millions of Americans admire and respect, whether it is a right-wing entertainer such as Palin or a left-wing-beloved entertainer such as the truthiness guy?

Is any of this worth bothering about? Not for its own sake, but it foregrounds a paradox that runs deep in modern lexicography

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The presidential imperfect subjunctive

A couple of years ago, Nicolas Sarkozy was making news for the idiomatic informality of his language. Now he's made a bit of a stir in the media for using the imperfect subjunctive, a characteristic of formal written style that's apparently rare enough in spoken French that a public figure can make news by using it. (The last example that came to our attention here at Language Log involved the serial killer Michael Fourniret: "Il fallut que j'accusasse: the morphology of serial murder", 3/27/2008).

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The Pope on condoms and the responsible prostitute

The Pope has changed his mind about condoms: they can be used after all!

That's what the world's media has decided to splash over the front pages this weekend. ("Pope Benedict's condom U-turn" said the headline over Andrew Brown's blog piece at The Guardian.) They are being scandalously irresponsible as usual: the Pope has said nothing of the kind. Rather, he grudgingly acknowledged, in one answer during a book-length interview, that perhaps in some cases perhaps the use of a condom by a prostitute (una prostituta) might be "a first step toward a moralization, a first act of responsibility, on the way toward recovering awareness of the fact that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants." Absolutely no sign of a Catholic Church volte face on contraception there. But I have a linguistic question: what did he mean when he used the word prostituta?

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Theological misnegation?

"Pope condones condom use in exceptional cases", BBC News, 11/20/2010:

Catholic commentator Austen Ivereigh said that although this was the first time the Pope had voiced such an opinion, it was in line with what Catholic moral theologians have been saying for many years.

"The Church's teaching on contraception predates the discovery of Aids," Mr Ivereigh told the BBC news website. […]

"If the intention is to prevent transmission of the virus, rather than prevent contraception, moral theologians would say that was of a different moral order." [emphasis added]

As usual in such cases, we don't know whether this was Mr. Ivereigh's slip or the BBC's.  But on the basis of past performance, I'm not inclined to trust the press in cases like this one.

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Site-seeing miners

Earlier today, the homepage of featured the headline, "Chile miners take in sites across L.A.":

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Does it really matter if it dangles?

In his short but cutting review of Simon Heffer's Strictly English, Steven Poole remarks that the book "condemns hanging participles yet perpetrates a monster (on p165, too tedious to quote here)." What was this tedious monster, I feel sure you Language Log readers are asking? The sentence in question is the second one in this quotation (from the beginning of a section; I underline the relevant phrase):

Partridge has a long entry in Usage and Abusage on the word got – he could as easily have made the entry about the word get – but, if anything, this unusually strict grammarian lets the promiscuous and often thoughtless use of this term off lightly.3 Without detracting from Fowler's point that the Anglo-Saxon is to be preferred to the Romance at all times, the use of the verb to get in an increasing number of contexts is not merely "slovenly" (Partridge's word): it is downright confusing.

3. Usage and Abusage, p136.

Is that really a mistake?

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Battle of the alphabets in Central Asia

Paul Goble, "Another battle of the alphabets shaping up in Central Asia", Kyiv Post 11/16/2010:

A statement by a Kazakhstan minister that his country will eventually shift from a Cyrillic-based alphabet to a Latin-based script and reports that some scholars in Dushanbe are considering dropping another four Russian letters from the Tajik alphabet suggest that a new battle of the alphabets may again be shaping up in Central Asia.

Russian commentators have reacted by suggesting that this is yet another effort by nationalists in those countries to reduce the role of the Russian language and hence of the influence of Russian culture, but in fact the controversy over any such change is far more complicated than that.

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Learning not to tawk like a New Yorker?

From today's NYT (Sam Roberts, "Unlearning to tawk like a New Yorker"):

The reader comments are interesting.

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Mozzareller sticks

Via The Economist's Johnson blog comes this entertaining video of the young stars of the "Harry Potter" movie franchise trying to sound American.

As pointed out by the Johnson blogger (Lane Greene), Rupert Grint goes overboard with his pronunciation of "mozzarella sticks" as "mozzareller sticks." That's a hyper-rhotic extension of "intrusive /r/," since the inserted /r/ is followed by a consonant rather than a vowel as in "law[r] and order" or "draw[r]ing." This over-/r/-fulness, what Ben Sadock calls "intrusive intrusive /r/," is frequently heard when non-rhotics try to go rhotic. For more on hyper-rhoticity and how it plagues British attempts at imitating American accents, see my Language Log post from 2008, "Botswaner and Louisianer."

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Another eggcornish cartoon

Following on the Dinosaur Comics eggcorn cartoon in my last posting, here's Micah Gordon's Coarse Ground on (roughly) the same subject:

Scorecard follows…

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