Archive for March, 2011

Linguist List (2011)

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WAG rage

WAG is a curious word in British English, confined mainly to journalism, and at first mostly spelled in capital letters (I actually discussed it here once before, here). It's an acronym, not an abbreviation. (Abbreviations are the other kind of initialism: they are pronounced by saying the names of the successive letters, as with IBM; an acronym is an initialism with a sequence of letters that can be pronounced in the usual way as a word, e.g. AIDS.) The etymology of WAG comes from the initial letters of the phrase Wives And Girlfriends. The word denotes the class of people who serve in the sometimes arduous but newsworthy role of wives and girlfriends of British sports stars, especially soccer players. There is always a cluster of glamorous women hanging around top professional soccer team members, and some players choose brides from among these admirers. Hence the headlinese word "WAGs". The puzzling thing is that WAG has developed a singular. It is increasingly well established. See for example, today's story Dundee football star Kyle Benedictus facing jail over 'wag rage' attack, where the word is not just in the singular but lower-cased. (It's an inspiring story of professional soccer culture: a young player going to his ex-girlfriend's home, violently assaulting two men he finds there, and then accusing her of having made him do it.)

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Last of X

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Linguistic patriotism

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Pinyin as Furigana

Over at "Pinyin news," Mark Swofford has just made a very welcome post entitled "Spreading the good news." As a long-time, strong advocate of phonetically annotated character texts, it is indeed good news to note that great strides are being made in the automatic insertion of pinyin annotations in character files.  What is even more heartwarming is that, as Mark reports, the people who are most actively engaged in this work have an awareness of the necessity for word parsing, capitalization, correct use of apostrophes, and proper orthography for tense-marking particles.

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Symbols and signals in g-dropping

In comments on my post about Tim Pawlenty's recent Iowa performance, various people have raised the question of vowel quality ([i] vs. [ɪ]) as opposed to consonant place ([ŋ] vs. [n]) as a feature of the phenomenon commonly (though misleadingly) known as "g-dropping".

This issue, though part of the folklore of sociolinguists, has not gotten the attention that it deserves, perhaps because it doesn't fit gracefully into the traditional intuitive frameworks of the relevant fields. In particular, it involves three areas where the boundary between symbols and signals gets blurry: vowel reduction, vowel-consonant coarticulation, and consonant-consonant assimilation.

As a result, discussing the topic will take us on a trip through some odd corners of English phonetics, phonology, and sociolinguistics. So consider yourself warned.

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The Roman Alphabet in Cantonese

If you stay in Hong Kong for a few days, you're bound to notice the frequent use of Roman letters mixed in with Chinese characters. Of course, one often encounters whole English words or phrases as well. In this post, however, I will concentrate on the use of individual letters, usually standing in for Cantonese morphemes, but occasionally also for English words. Here are a few examples:

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Underestimate, overestimate, whatever

From ABC World News, 3/22/2011, in a segment on the rescue of the downed American F-15 pilots in Libya, Diane Sawyer observes (about 6:55 into the program):

And it is hard to imagine
or to underestimate or overestimate
what it took in those heart-pounding moments when the pilots had to eject
the incredible velocity of that

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Tracking "words for X" fluctuations

"Eskimo’s kennen nog maar drie woorden voor sneeuw", De Speld, 3/21/2011 ("Eskimos now have only three words for snow") — subtitle "Klimaatverandering debet aan taalverarming" ("Climate change to blame for language impoverishment"):

Een uitgebreid taalonderzoek onder 1.000 Inuit heeft uitgewezen dat het aantal woorden dat hun taal kent voor sneeuw is gereduceerd tot drie. In 1996, de laatste keer dat een dergelijk onderzoek werd uitgevoerd, waren dit er nog tien. De trend lijkt onomkeerbaar. In 1965 kenden de Eskimo’s nog honderd woorden voor sneeuw.

An extensive linguistic study of 1,000 Inuit has found that the number of words for snow in their language has been reduced to three. In 1996, the last time a similar study was conducted, there were ten. The trend seems to be irreversible: in 1965, the Eskimos had a hundred words for snow.

(Apologies for the poor quality of my translations from Dutch…)

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Headline history repeating itself?

Was this inspired by this? Or is it a case of anticipatory plagiarism?

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How's your eggcorn-analysis professioncy?

Brought to my attention by reader JS:

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Waseda talker

"This is cool", writes John Coleman — and it is. More later.

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Graphic vs. linguistic realism

Kumail Nanjiani discusses the Karachi street signs in Call of Duty:

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