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My usual blogging hour has been overwhelmed recently by a minor operation, course prep, research obligations, Ware College House events, and even a little sleep from time to time. So here are a few items from my to-blog list that I don't have time today to do justice to.

"Arika Okrent announced as winner of the LSA Linguistics Journalism Award", LSA press release 10/22/2015. Here's one of her columns: "9 Linguistic ‘Ignorantisms’ Even Sticklers Got Used To", Mental Floss 10/8/2015.

Olivia Blair, "Australian accent is a product of early settler's [sic] heavy drinking, claims academic", The Independent 10/28.2015:

The Australian accent is the product of colonial settlers getting drunk, according to one of the country’s speech experts.

Dean Frenkel, a tutor and lecturer at Victoria Unviersity [sic] in Melbourne said that as well as having origins in Aboriginal, English, Irish and German, the Australian accent is also a result of their ancestor’s [sic] love of alcohol.

Writing in The Age, Mr Frenkel said: “The Australian alphabet cocktail was spiked by alcohol. Our forefathers regularly got drunk together and through their frequent interactions unknowingly added an alcoholic slur to our national speech patterns.”

“For the past two centuries, from generation to generation, drunken Aussie-speak continues to be taught by sober parents to children.”

Mr. Frenkel seems to be serious, but if so, the Speculative Grammarian has lost a promising talent. Consider this linguistic comedy gold from his 10/25 article in The Age:

The average Australian speaks to just two thirds capacity – with one third of our articulator muscles always sedentary as if lying on the couch; and that's just concerning articulation. Missing consonants can include missing "t"s (Impordant), "l"s (Austraya) and "s"s (yesh), while many of our vowels are lazily transformed into other vowels, especially "a"s to "e"s (stending) and "i"s (New South Wyles) and "i"s to "oi"s (noight).

Given that articulation is a functional product of our neuro-muscular network, it is possible that our national speech impediment is a symptom of inferior brain functioning.

"Dirty Rant About The Human Brain Project", Mathbabe 10/20/2015 ("Guest post by a neuroscientist who may or may not be a graduate student somewhere in Massachusetts"). The key paragraph (which in my opinion is not entirely true, but is still uncomfortably close to the truth):

The next time you see a pretty 3D picture of many neurons being simulated, think “cargo cult brain”. That simulation isn’t gonna think any more than the cargo cult planes are gonna fly. The reason is the same in both cases: We have no clue about what principles allow the real machine to operate. We can only create pretty things that are superficially similar in the ways that we currently understand, which an enlightened being (who has some vague idea how the thing actually works) would just laugh at.

Teddy Wayne, "‘NPR Voice’ Has Taken Over the Airwaves", NYT 10/24/2015:

During a recent long car ride whose soundtrack was a medley of NPR podcasts, I noticed a verbal mannerism during scripted segments that appeared on just about every show. I’ve heard the same tic in countless speeches, TED talks and Moth StorySLAMS — anywhere that features semi-informal first-person narration.

If I could attempt to transcribe it, it sounds kind of like, y’know … this.

That is, in addition to looser language, the speaker generously employs pauses and, particularly at the end of sentences, emphatic inflection.

Michael J. de la Merced "Online Auction House Aims to Give Big Houses a Run for Their Money", NYT 10/27/2015 [one for the misnegation files]:

“The art world is becoming more and more popular,” Mr. Zwirner said. “It’s hard not to pick up Vogue magazine or an interior home magazine without seeing contemporary art. And so most collecting will be in the lower-priced segment.”

PhD Comics for 9/28/2015:

More Spanish accents from Joanna Hausmann (see also "Latin American Spanish accents", 10/17/2015):

Cute rhetorical turn of the week — from Robert Solow, "Economic History and Economics", 1985 [via Brad Delong]:

You will notice that I am using strong language. I am prepared to admit right away that I may be dead wrong in my judgements. But there is no point in pussyfooting. Bluntness may lead to an interesting discussion. After all, no one would remember the old German Historical School if it were not for the famous Methodenstreit. Actually, no one remembers them anyway. (There must be a lesson in that.) 

Stan Carey, "Fear and loathing of the passive voice", Sentence First 10/27/2015.

That to-blog list is still very long, alas…



  1. Jonathon Owen said,

    October 28, 2015 @ 6:04 pm

    The Australian accent piece is one of the dumbest popular pieces on language that I've ever read. I'm not sure what's more dismaying—that someone who calls himself a communications expert could peddle such tripe, or that the newspapers are gobbling it up so eagerly.

    Maybe we need some alternative headlines:

    "Australian accent theory is a product of so-called experts heavy drinking, claims academic"
    "Newspaper credulity is a product of journalists' heavy drinking, claims academic"

    Also, I find his conflation of rhetoric and diction perplexing. Are we sure this guy's a university instructor?

  2. John Roth said,

    October 28, 2015 @ 10:02 pm

    Back in the day, "Newspaper credulity is a product of journalists' heavy drinking, claims academic", would have been regarded as the sober truth.

  3. Jason said,

    October 28, 2015 @ 10:19 pm

    This Dean Frenkel character has been around for a while:

    Australians have always been convinced that their accent is "lazy", or came out of a need to "keep the flies out of your mouth" by speaking "without opening your mouth", now we may well have to add another unkillable zombie meme to our list, thanks to the tireless efforts of a communications lecturer (alleged, since I can't find his faculty page anywhere.)

  4. KeithB said,

    October 29, 2015 @ 8:32 am

    Isn't that article just a variation of the "Chinese Room" metaphor? No, the neurons don't think, but the "software" – encoded in the connections – might.

  5. mark dowson said,

    October 29, 2015 @ 8:40 am

    Australian Accent: I prefer the explanation that the early settlers went around smiling very broadly at each other to indicate that their intentions were peaceful – and if you talk through a broad smile your accent sounds Australian (try it).
    Well, that's at least as plausible as the heavy drinking or flies explanations.

  6. Coby Lubliner said,

    October 29, 2015 @ 1:00 pm

    I've always found it striking that the Australian accent seems closer to the speech of southeastern England than the latter is to many other British accents.

  7. Alex said,

    October 29, 2015 @ 1:09 pm

    @ Coby Lubliner Well, a great many transportees came from London. Not so many Yorkshire accents in the mix.

  8. David said,

    October 29, 2015 @ 4:20 pm

    I heard that the Australian accent is the same as a cockney accent, but with an added squint to cope with the extra sunlight that the convicts encountered down under.

  9. mark dowson said,

    October 29, 2015 @ 6:24 pm

    @David: Maybe only if the cockney accent is Dick Van Dyke's – although, apparently, his cockney voice coach in Mary Poppins was Irish.

  10. Sybil said,

    October 29, 2015 @ 6:48 pm

    “It’s hard not to pick up Vogue magazine or an interior home magazine without seeing contemporary art."

    Just so. I always try to keep some contemporary art with me, to help me resist the urge to pick up one of those magazines.

  11. Graeme said,

    October 29, 2015 @ 10:21 pm

    @David. The folk story in white Australia used to be that we spoke with mouths barely open … to avoid swallowing too many flies.

    But as an Australian academic I'm prouder of our accent/s than of this fella's pitch for notoriety.

    Still, maybe there's an international research project in it: with a need to travel and imbibe across Russia, Germany [insert legendary drinking culture here].

  12. Piyush said,

    October 30, 2015 @ 2:44 pm

    Looking at the jokes on the Australian accent here, I was reminded of the following guide to Sanskrit pronunciation that Charles Wikner presents for English speakers in his A Practical Sanskrit Introduction:

    The pronunciation of Sanskrit is very simple: you open the mouth wide and move the tongue and lips as necessary: the tongue and lips are almost pure muscle and have little inertia or resistance to movement. By contrast, the pronunciation of English requires much effort, for we barely open the mouth (which means that all sounds are indistinct or blurred), and then instead of simply moving the tongue we move the whole jaw — and what a great weight that is to move about. Having become well practiced in speaking with a moving jaw, it does require some attention to break that habit and speak with a moving tongue.

    The biggest single factor in practicing the refined sounds of Sanskrit, is to open the mouth! For English, the mouth opens to a mere slit of about 6-mm (a pencil thickness); for Sanskrit this needs to increase fourfold—literally!

    I am not a native speaker of English, so I am not sure how accurate Wikner's tongue-quite-literally-in-cheek description of English pronunciation is. All I can say is I myself have often been asked to "open the mouth" by speakers of my own native language (Hindi).

  13. David Morris said,

    October 30, 2015 @ 7:06 pm

    David Crystal's one-word response to a journalist who actually bothered to check with an actual linguist (then ignored him anyway) was 'Bollocks':

  14. Graeme said,

    October 30, 2015 @ 10:49 pm

    To their credit quite a few journos (yes that's Australian English) turned to linguists to call 'b.s.' on the story:

    The embedded video in the link is worth a squizz.
    Though it has a few inaccuracies ('ambo' and the '-o' truncation's primary usage is to describe an occupation eg 'ambulance officer' rather than a thing).

  15. Graeme said,

    October 30, 2015 @ 11:07 pm

    Turns out the sometime teacher of elocution is a former throat singer with form on making stuff up:

    Chalk it down to 'everyone's opinion on language is valid' school of journalism.

    Even first year linguistics students were out deriding it, as in this set of salvos (the real warlike ones not the religious ones) and wondering about unaccountable media:’re-the-ones-who-sound-drunk/

  16. J. W. Brewer said,

    November 3, 2015 @ 11:25 am

    The stereotype of the AustEng accent being a result of keeping the mouth closed reminds me of "Long Island Lockjaw" as the name for a certain now-archaic/obsolete variety of AmEng associated with Northeastern patricians of a prior era, except there the closed-mouthedness was taken to be one of the indicia of poshness rather than yokelness.

    I guess on careful reflection I'm not quite sure what the actual anatomical consequences for position of mouth/tongue etc in speech are implied by the famous putdown (apparently coined by Dylan Thomas, who liked it well enough that he reused it in his own writing on different occasions) of an RP speaker as sounding "like a man with the Elgin Marbles in his mouth."

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