Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

More cultural references: Zits

April 16, 2014

Today’s Zits:

Two things from the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz: the flying monkeys and the mantra “There’s no place like home”.


April 3, 2014

On Facebook, Karen Chung has passed along this Xmas posting of 2013 (19 December) from the estimable Arika Okrent in The Week:

‘Tis and 10 other fun proclitic words

English likes to stick contractions on the end of words. “They have” becomes “they’ve,” “I will” becomes “I’ll,” and “do not” becomes “don’t.” The shortened parts of these words are called enclitics — they are a bit more independent than suffixes, but like suffixes, they attach to the ends of words. English also used to have a number of proclitics — shortened words that attach to the beginning of other words. Most proclitic words are now archaic or obsolete, but every December the neglected proclitics get their revenge, as a holiday avalanche of “’tis” rolls through town.

(Yes, ’tis shifts to it’s eventually.)

Jarry at the diner II

March 31, 2014

Extracting this from John Baker’s comment on my previous posting, the image of the Tit’n Diner in Tilton NH:



Now, this matches the image in the Zippy in my previous posting. Nice photo.

Remarkable whom

February 28, 2014

From the 21st, this posting by a woman looking for a home for her two daughters:

My name is Sarah and I live in Edmonton, Alberta. I have two extra-ordinary daughters (aged 8 and 9) whom have been handed a rough time due to life’s unpredictable circumstances.

Notable whom. There are circumstances (examined on Language Log and this blog) when for structural reasons the choice between who and whom is complex and debatable. This is not one of them; the prescriptive standard here is who. But we can speculate as to where the whom might have come from.


The Pope and Doctor Who

February 6, 2014

(Not much linguistic here. But I was seriously tickled by this Dinosaur Comics. It seems to be cartoon appreciation day.)

But there is a linguistic, or at least epistemological, issue here, having to do with the persistence of identity over time. The Arnold Zwicky I am now is very different from the Arnold Zwicky of 1962 or 1946, say. But there’s a historical chain that connects us.

Doctor Who, on the other hand, is a title (and role) that is reassigned periodically to fresh people. That is in fact similar to the Pope (and the President of the United States, and many other cases).

63N Week 3

January 23, 2014

Elizabeth Traugott/Arnold Zwicky 

Linguistics 63N. Week 3. Varieties: Gender stereotypes. Jan 23rd.

Models: broad frames of reference used in various fields. In social sciences there were two main competing models in the 20thC, commonly referred to as “nurture vs. nature”:

a) “Nurture”, social construction: “[T]he process [of cultural transmission from generation to generation] is maintained through learning, a well-understood and unitary process, that acts to make the child like the adult of her culture”, which as a group process is “called ‘socialization’, imposed on the child by the group”, and “the individual is the…passive recipient…and product of her culture” (John Tooby and Leda Cosmides. 1992. The psychological foundations of culture. In Jerome H. Barkow, Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby, eds., The Adapted Mind, chapter 1, pp. 19-136. Oxford: Oxford University Press.) Therefore “the mind of the individual is almost entirely shaped by their culture and facts about a culture are not products of human nature”. (

b) “Nature”: involves at least some degree of universalism. Human nature determines culture to at least some degree.

Likewise in linguistics, there were two major competing models of the mind:

a) First half of 20thC: the mind as a blank slate shaped largely by input and culture (see e.g. Leonard Bloomfield, Language, 1933).

b) Second half of the 20thC: the mind as a highly structured language learning device shaped by an innate Universal Grammar (see e.g. Noam Chomsky, Syntactic Structures, 1957). The focus is on cognitive structures, the language capacity, and language as a unique property of the mind. Communication is considered to be secondary.

In both these linguistic models, the child is relatively passive, and interlocutors more or less mirror each other. Variation, especially social variation, is not a particularly important factor. Here is a famous sketch of communication by Ferdinand de Saussure. 1916. Course in General Linguistics. Trans. By Roy Harris, Open Court: La Salle, IL, USA, 1983.

A model of growing importance in the 21st century (but going back to the 1960’s) is interactional and social. It combines elements of nature and nurture. The child is thought of as actively interacting with caregivers and the environment, so environment and use influence mind and mind in turn influences environment. Whatever universal abilities there are, are considered to be minimal. Language is one of many cognitive abilities, and is not sharply distinct from communication (see e.g. Adele E. Goldberg. 2006. Constructions at Work: The Nature of Generalization in Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press). Emphasis is on practice (see Eckert, Penelope. Linguistic Variation and Social Practice. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000).

In this model, interlocutors may be very different. Factors such as differences in age, gender, etc., play a large role. Men have been shown by sociolinguistic work to promote local, often vernacular, varieties, whereas women promote supralocal, more standard varieties (see Labov, William.  1990. The intersection of sex and social class in the course of linguistic change. Language Variation and Change 2: 205-254).

All humans categorize. Depending on the model adopted, this may be because they learn the categories already established a) in their culture or b) in their cognitive system. Categorization is a major research issue in linguistics.

a) Are linguistic categories (e.g. animacy, obligation, motion) discrete with sharp boundaries?

b) Are categories prototypical, with marginal members and fuzzy boundaries?

Many comics comment on variation, and either further or laugh at social categories/stereotypes such as teen-talk and gender-talk.

What teen stereotypes have we encountered?

Gender stereotypes

Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman, Zits, (date? Appears to be 2005)

Cathy Guisewite, Cathy, 4/26/2005

Scott Adams, Dilbert, 9/21/2006

Mark Liberman says in the blog at this site that this comic strip reminds him of “Many women find biological comfort in one another’s company, and language is the glue that connects one female to another” (Louann Brizendine, The Female Brain, Morgan Road Books, 2006).

Linguistics in the comics

January 9, 2014

Linguistics in the comics postings – 1/9/14

(postings on obscenicons are in a separate file)

what is a cartoon? Dinosaur Comics, xkcd
on speech balloons
A Softer World: comic?
wordless cartoons, words-only cartoons
“comicteer” or “dialoguenaut” for “cartoonist” (Dinosaur Comics)
division of labor in the comics: writer vs. artist, drawing vs. inking, story vs. realization, etc. (Zippy)
summer in the comics? – proposal
cartoon matters – gag cartoons
Alison Bechdel – graphic novel
bibliography – graphic novel
Raymond Briggs – graphic novel
speech and thought balloons
Bizarro on visual conventions
more Bizarro on visual conventions
Zippy: cartoon characters ageing
Zippy: cartoon characters ageing
Zippy: cartoon characters ageing
Bizarro on visual conventions: three fingers rather than four

comic-book genres, comics vs. cartoons

art, cartoons, illustration, etc.
the comics world and the real world; Zippy’s lg.
McCagg diagrams: cartoons?
“Panels That Always Work” by Wally Wood
Carvell slides on preparing the freshman seminar; Dubinsky & Holcomb
comics vs. graphic novels

comics vs. other forms; creation of comics; allusions to other comics
bubbles under water
the rise of webcomics

BZ, 2/7/13: The cyberpragmatics of bounding asterisks:
typographical conventions
subtractive cartooning
manga instruction books; Haida manga

Comic portmanteau

January 3, 2014

Today’s Pearls Before Swine:

Love flatula.

Dogbert’s idiom blend

December 31, 2013

Today’s Dilbert, with an entertaining idiom blend:


A combination of like a foot in a shoe and like hand in glove. Probably not inadvertent, given Dogbert.


Course syllabus 2014

November 24, 2013

Linguistics 63N. The language of comics

Tu Th 4:15-5:30 in 540-103

Elizabeth Closs Traugott and Arnold Zwicky,

 Course description

Humans have a remarkable ability—to shape events and ideas in others’ minds through language. How do we understand each other and messages we receive? This seminar will explore language as represented in cartoons and comics such as Bizarro, Dilbert and Zits, how we interpret it, and why we find comics funny. In particular we will explore and analyze language play, genderspeak and teenspeak; peeving about usage; new and spreading usages. We will discuss the “grammar of comics”: how words and pictures can combine to create meanings that neither could create separately; conventions of the genre, as they concern the representation of language in speech balloons and captions; lettering choices; obscenicons, etc. Another major topic will be the narrative structure of the comics: the way events are represented as unfolding in time; and the representation of point of view. (3 units; grading basis: letter grade)

Learning goals

- Develop skills in articulating how communication works

- Develop skills in visual literacy and in analyzing cross-modal representations

- Apply the methods of research and inquiry from social science to the study of human behavior in social, communicative situations; particularly important for this seminar are contextualization, hypothesis testing, modeling, and critical analysis

- Learn what makes a question about human communication tractable and significant, and therefore worth investigating


This is a seminar, so participation is vital.

i) Groups of you will be asked to make short presentations in class sessions focusing on the topic(s) of the preceding class.

ii) Weekly short writing assignments due at the beginning of class on Tuesdays. These will involve commenting on comics that you have found and preparing for the seminar paper.

iii) A seminar paper; initial thoughts due on Tu of week 4, proposal due on Tu of week 6, topic to be presented to the whole seminar in week 9 or 10, written version due Tu March 18th.



Required book

Dubinsky, Stanley and Chris Holcomb. Understanding Language through Humor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011 (paper). {Cited as D&H in the syllabus.}

Recommended book

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics. The Invisible Art. New York: HarperCollins, 1993 (paper). {Cited as McC in the syllabus}

Linguistics 63N. The language of comics. Schedule

  • Week 1: Introduction to language and comics; read D&H Chapters 1 and 2, p. 1-23.
    • What are i) language, ii) a language?
    • What is a comic? McC 9, 198, 21
    • What is humor?
    • Representation vs. creation, McC 123
    • What kinds of language do/do not appear in comics?
    • Assignment (due in Tu class of week 2): Go to Arnold Zwicky’s website at Choose and study a comic on this site; write up a short description (~ 200 words) about why you found it interesting initially, why the language of the comic is interesting to you (don’t just quote what AZ says!); what points in D&H does it illustrate or call into question?
  • Week 2: Integrating art and language; cross-modal representation; read D&H Chapter 3, p. 24-39, and Chapter 7, p. 106-109 (end first paragraph).
    • Relationship of art and writing, McC 145
    • Development of writing-systems, McC 12, 13
    • Speech balloons, lettering choices
    • Representing pragmatic markers, noise, obscenicons
    • Assignment (due in Tu class of week 3): Choose one of the strips made available for this assignment. Consider its relation to this week’s topics and write up your analysis in a brief summary (again, ~200 words). Specifically, consider the following points:
      • Explicitly state which topics we have discussed are represented in the strip.
      • How do they enhance the strip/contribute to its point?
      • Why is this strip funny (or not)?
  • Week 3: Taboo language and sociolects; read D&H Chapter 9, p. 138-152, and Chapter 11, p. 178-183.
    • Taboo language
    • Genderspeak, teenspeak
    • Assignment; due in Tu class, week 4: Begin thinking about possible topics for your final paper. Look through the entire syllabus and choose several points that appeal to you (perhaps 2-3). For each of these topics, answer the following questions in a sentence or two:
      • How does this topic relate to the goals of this seminar?
      • How does this topic relate to language and comics?
      • For your favorite topic, come up with a possible direction for your paper to take (via a question to answer or lens through which to examine your topic).

The topic will be finalized week 5 and a proposal will be due Tu of week 6.

  • Week 4: Invisible/inaudible meaning; read D&H Chapter 6, p. 74-95, McC 207.
    • Specificity of language and art, ambiguity, vagueness, underspecification
    • Implicatures, Grice’s Maxims
    • Making wholes out of non-sequiturs, McC 135
    • Subjective language, intimacy with the written word
    • Assignment; due in Tu class, week 5: Find 2-3 comic strips that illustrate a particular aspect of invisible meaning. In ~200 words, explain exactly what is said, what implied. Specifically, comment on the following:
      • Which of Grice’s maxims apply? (see D&H p. 89-93)
      • What presuppositions are central to understanding the strip? (see D&H p. 93-95)
      • Why are these strips funny (or not)?
  • Week 5: Language creativity and ambiguity; read D&H Chapter 4, p. 40-54, Chapter 5, p. 55-73.
    • New and spreading usages
    • Impact of technology (texting, internet, etc.)
    • Linguistic ambiguity, puns
    • Portmanteaus
    • Assignment, due in Tu class, week 6: Choose the topic for your final paper Submit a proposal for the topic, explicitly stating your what it is and answering the following questions:
      • How does this topic relate to linguistics?
      • How does this topic relate to the goals of the seminar?
      • What is your research question and direction?
      • What kind(s) of comics (from class or outside research) will you use as support? Append some examples that you think you might use.
  • Week 6: Cultural meaning; read D&H Chapter 9, p. 138-152, Chapter 10, p. 153-165.
    • Symbols and metaphors, McC 128-9, 148
    • Regional and cultural variation
    • Assignment, due in Tu class, week 7: Choose to focus this assignment on either symbols/metaphors or regional/cultural variation. Find 2-3 comic strips exhibiting your chosen topic. Explain their relation to linguistics through:
      • The specific linguistic aspects they contain
      • How these linguistic aspects contribute to the strips’ overall meaning
      • What makes these strips funny (or not)?
  • Week 7: Register and genre; read D&H Chapter 11, p. 153-178 and Chapter 7, p 109-115.
    • Prescriptivism
    • Comics as a genre
    • Comparing comics with other genres
    • Assignment due in Tu class, week 8: Check in on your progress on your final paper. In about a page, explain what you have done since submitting your proposal (in Week 5). Specifically, report on the following:
      • What challenges, if any, have you run into? How are you solving them?
      • What do you still need to do?
      • What thoughts do you have concerning your presentation (medium/materials needed especially)?
  • Week 8: Narrative; read D&H Chapter 7, p. 96-106.
    • Sign up for presentation times this week!
    • Narrative, spatializing memory
    • Showing and telling, McC 161
    • Relation of time to image/language, McC 115
    • Assignment; due in Tu class, week 9: Find 2-3 comic strips that involve narrative (through any of the specific devices/methods discussed this week). Explain exactly what device(s)/method(s) they utilize to tell their story, and answer the following questions:
      • Are the strips effective at conveying their message?
      • What would change, if anything, if a different storytelling method was employed instead of the one chosen?
      • What makes these strips funny (or not)? And how does the storytelling method contribute to this?
  • Week 9-10: Wrap-up
    • Presentations of paper topics
    • Assignment: Work on presentations and papers. Continue to practice and prepare your presentation first. Then, keep researching, analyzing, writing, and proofreading your final paper.
  • •    Finals week
  • Seminar paper due Tu March 18th (about 1000 words, plus appendix with the comic strips you have chosen).







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