Archive for the ‘Variation’ Category

Mountain Man Linguistics

March 22, 2014

A recent appeal from grad student Paul Reed:

I am a PhD candidate at the University of South Carolina. I am a sociophonetician, and my research focuses on varieties of American English in the Southern United States. My dissertation investigates the vowel and intonation systems of Appalachian English.

… I am working on a project with Dr. Stan Dubinsky and I am writing to see if you would be willing to take a few minutes to take some surveys to help facilitate our research (the links for which are included at the bottom of this post in no particular order). [details on Reed's Blogspot site, link above] The experiments that we’re asking you to participate in are part of a project aimed at finding out more about how the English language works, (in particular) examining how Modern American English is perceived. Each survey involves rating sound clips based on the acceptability of various sentences and should only take about 15 minutes to do.

I’m happy to pass this request on, but my main interest here is in the label Appalachian English.


The comics in the rural South

March 1, 2014

One topic touched on in the Stanford Freshman Seminar 63N (Linguistics in the Comics) was the representation of dialect, especially regional, rural, and non-standard varieties. We chose to look at Southern, especially Appalachian, varieties.


Less captions

February 28, 2014

Recently from mild-mannered editor John McIntyre (as he describes himself on the net), this captioned page (which he got from Chris Green on Facebook), entitled “Pedants’ Revolt” — a play on “Peasants’ Revolt” —  from an illuminated manuscript, captioned with usage advice:

There is a considerable literature, in the handbooks, on Language Log, and this blog, on the choice between less and fewer. The usual story is that less is to be used for mass nouns (less shrubbery) and fewer for count nouns (fewer shrubs) — for the opposite concept, more is used in both situations — but there is variation, even for educated and careful writers, and some circumstances where less is clearly impinging on fewer; I myself see no point in objecting to the grocery store usage ten items or less. The case above is not so clear.

(I don’t know the source of the manuscript page, or the identity of the captioner.)

More Recency Illusion

February 24, 2014

From Tom Grano, a CBS News report from yesterday, from Bill Flanagan, representing the “grammar police”:

Time now for a public service announcement from our contributor and first-person-singular-pronoun policeman Bill Flanagan of VH1:

I know it sounds snobby to point this out, but in the last 10 or 15 years, millions of intelligent English-speaking people have become flummoxed by when to use “I,” and when to use “me.” You hear it all the time:

Are you coming to the movie with Madonna and I?
Won’t you join Oprah and I for dinner?
The Trumps are throwing a party for Barack and I.

It’s embarrassing!

At least people who mess up the other way — “Goober and me are going to town” — sound folksy, colloquial, down-to-Earth. But people who say “I” when they should say “me” sound like they are trying to be sophisticated and they’re getting it wrong.

There’s a lot to criticize here. But I’ll start with the phenomenon, known in the syntax business as the Nominative Conjoined Object (NomConjObj for short) and the claim that it’s arisen only recently.


Rising pitch

January 26, 2014

In the Stanford freshman seminar on language in the comics, the topic of rising intonation at the end of intonational units came, with the predictable impression from some (by no means all) of the students that it was associated with asking questions. And then I was pointed to a piece by artist Taylor Mali, “Speak with conviction”, complaining about “invisible quesion marks”. There’s a deep but understandable confusion here.


Linguistic drones

January 14, 2014

From Ellen Seebacher on Facebook, on All Things Linguistic a little while back, “5 Linguistically Valuable Uses For Drones”. Ellen notes that

Someone has finally combined LingBuzz (the archive of linguistics articles) and BuzzFeed … into LingBuzzFeed, your source of linguistics listicles. There’s only one up at the moment, but it’s pretty great: 5 Linguistically Valuable Uses For Drones.

I think my favourite might be the Isogloss Enforcement Drone, especially because of the illustration.

Accompanying text:

Isoglosses are the neat lines on a map that divide dialects from one another according to their linguistic features. Unfortunately it’s long been known that isoglosses are an inadequate representation of dialect reality, since outliers can usually be found on both sides of the line.

With the Isogloss Enforcement Drone, we can finally do something about this lamentable situation! Equipped with an SMG and mini grenade launcher, this drone will patrol up and down the isogloss, punishing dialect offenders and occasionally launching seek-and-destroy missions for outlying deviant speakers. All while you bake a cake or watch a DVD of Downton Abbey.

House men

October 27, 2013

(Not really about language, but just about popular culture on a Sunday morning.)

Re-runs of House have been going past me this morning. On the show, from Wikipedia:

House (also known as House, M.D.) is an American television medical drama that originally ran on the Fox network for eight seasons, from November 16, 2004 to May 21, 2012. The show’s main character is Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie), a drug-addicted, unconventional, misanthropic medical genius who leads a team of diagnosticians at the fictional Princeton–Plainsboro Teaching Hospital … in New Jersey.

The show is formulaic, tying medical drama (with the team running through a series of diagnoses in the face of baffling symptoms) into the seriocomic soap-operatic drama of the characters’ lives.


Apostrophe in plural

October 16, 2013

A friend wrote me yesterday with this punctuational query (edited here to cloak some details):

I am teaching an online course … this semester …  The course material is mostly pre-written for me, but I’ve been going through it myself, of course.  One thing I noted is that acronyms [what I would call initialisms; see below] are sometimes made plural with the letter s, sometimes with apostrophe s.  I guess what bothers me most is the inconsistency.

I was looking through Language Log and your blog for the topic of plural acronyms with and without apostrophes, but came up blank.  Do you know of anything on current thoughts on this topic, or have any yourself?

MBA (Master in Business Administration) is an initialistic name of a degree; is its plural MBAs (no apostrophe) or MBA’s?


Yes we can

October 7, 2013

This image came to me via Ann Burlingham on Facebook (I don’t know the ultimate source):

[Added 10/8/13. Arthur Prokosch posted the source on Facebook: Preserving TraditionsPreserving our harvest, our heritage, our community, and our future.]


A pun on can ‘be able’ vs. can ‘preserve (food) in a can’ (or, in this case, a Mason jar).


Miscellany for 9/19/13

September 19, 2013

Twelve items that have come by me recently.



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