Archive for the ‘Discourse’ Category

All about /aj/: the trisyllables

October 4, 2022

The Zippy strip of 9/29 interjects:

(#1) The strip is all about eyeglasses (with the wonderful name Thelma Nesselrode as a bonus), but this posting is about oh!, interjections / yeah!, exclamations / and, like, discourse markers and stuff

So, what’s up with eye-yi-yi!? This is presumably an orthographic representation of an English exclamation /aj aj aj/, with the accent pattern /àj aj áj/, and pronounced as a single phonological word /àjajáj/. In fact, I’m aware of — and at least an occasional user of — three English exclamations /àjajáj/, with three syllables: one a borrowing from (Latino) Spanish; one in Yinglish (taken from Yiddish); and one in PDE (Pennsylvania Dutch English, taken from Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch, that is, Pennsylvania Dutch / German). (There are probably more, in other German-based varieties of English, in particular.) They have somewhat different contexts of use and a wide variety of ad hoc spellings, though ay-ay-ay seems to be the closest there is to a conventional spelling for all three of them (my childhood spelling for the PD and PDE exclamation was ai-ai-ai / ai ai ai, and it’s still the only one that looks right to me).

So: something about the range of the phenomena in this exclamatory domain, with special attention to my personal history. In this posting, just about the exclamatory triples, but folding in the de facto national ballad of Mexico, “Cielito Lindo”, and some Texas klezmer music.

Then, in a later posting (bear with me, my life is over-full), my discovery that OED3 has relatively recent entries for the interjections ai, aie, and ay, and my subsequent disappointment in the content of these entries — as against, say, the rich OED3 entries for the interjections oh and ah. And finally, some aimless wandering about in the world of interjections, exclamations, discourse markers, and related phenomena.


Where is the fishmonger?

March 8, 2020

(On facial expression and gaze in sexual negotiations between men, definitely mansexually raunchy, so not for kids or the sexually modest.)

Yesterday’s ad from Next Door Studios (specializing in regular-guy boy-next-door types — twinks and swimmer-body young men — enthusiastically engaged sexually with each other, covering a range of acts from vanilla mansex on out to moderately kinky stuff). In it, Dakota Payne is preparing to slip his cock (fuzzed out here) into a deliciously sling-bound Alex Tanner. But these next-door boys aren’t focused on each other; they are instead staring penetratingly into the eyes of their audience, who are pantingly stroking their dicks in appreciation of their performance. This particular image now exploited to illustrate a dialogue for learners of the Spanish language; the by-ways of kink are strange indeed.

(#1) Alex y Dakota, Diálogo 17: ¿Dónde está el pescadero?

Alex: ¡Ay caramba! / Dakota: No lo creo.
Alex: ¡Que desastre! / Dakota: No importa.
Alex: Pero te deseo, mi querido. / Dakota: ¡Vete a la mierda!


Grammar nazi on the loose in the library

October 15, 2016

The Unshelved cartoon from the 12th, passed on by Betsy Herrington on Facebook:

The GN takes a truly extreme (One Right Way) position that like can be only a verb, a bizarre view that results in her seeing the library poster as being incorrectly punctuated. (Ok, when in doubt, blame it on the punctuation.) She doesn’t even recognize the preposition use (Which one of these things is not like the others?), not to mention the many uses of like that are set off intonationally in speech and consequently should be punctuated with a comma — no doubt she dismisses these as simply incorrect, “not English” — in particular, quotative like (I asked when she was going, and she was like, “In a minute”) and discourse particle, or discourse marker, like, as in the library’s poster.


Tawkin’ the tawk

October 7, 2015

An op-ed piece in the NYT on Monday (the 5th) by my old friend Michael Newman (who professes linguistics at Queens College and the Graduate Center of CUNY) entitled “Voters May Just Want to ‘Tawk’” (in print) and “How a New York Accent Can Help You Get Ahead” (on-line) and beginning:

Their partisans may be loath to admit it, but Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump do in fact share some common ground. There is of course their upstart, outsider image. Then they share a posture of forthrightness and candor. A third similarity is how they talk. Not what they say, but how they sound: Like they’re from New York.

Trump and Sanders

Newman cites the work of Deborah Tannen on conversational style:

New Yorkers tend to have a different conversational style than other Americans. New Yorkers usually favor being more direct. We speak over one another, particularly to show our engagement with what our interlocutor is saying. We like to tell long stories. And we don’t mind arguing as long as it is not too personal.

Back in 2012 I wrote about “Overlapping” in speech and associated stylistic features, citing Tannen on Sonia Sotomayor, referring to

what I’ve called “machine gun style,” the rat-tat-tat impression made on those who expect less directness, slower speech, and longer pauses between turns.

I added:

This high-involvement style is stereotypically associated with New Yorkers and Jews, but is more widespread than that. I use the style myself, in a (usually) muted variant, but didn’t realize that until I moved from the East Coast to the middle of Illinois, where the locals found my speech “rude” and “pushy”. Unsurprisingly, it’s most pronounced when I’m in a conversation with someone (like Tannen herself) who uses the style.

Now back to Newman:

Sociolinguists — scholars of language in society — call the way that forms of speech entail social meanings “indexicality.” A sound or a system of sounds, popularly called an accent, points to or indexes a particular social meaning. A basic example is dropping Rs, saying “coffee” with a raised aw vowel and producing Ts and Ds on the teeth rather than the alveolar ridge behind the teeth, which all index together a New York identity…The New York identity, in the case of a speaker like Mr. Trump or Mr. Sanders, in turn links to stereotypes of New Yorkers that exist in the culture, such as being frank and combative in speech.

… Voters might not want to hear from politicians at all, but for many, a stump speech is, it seems, more palatable in a New York accent.

Participles of immediacy

September 21, 2015

Yesterday’s Doonesbury:

Not necessarily participles (PSP, PRP) of urgency, really, but something more like immediacy, conveying a sense of reporting on ongoing events, events that are happening right now. Hot news, on the scene.


August 11, 2015

Today’s Zippy features Mr. the Toad, moving during the day to his default personality: seized by rage and a sense of entitlement and issuing sweeping pronouncements, including one on grammar:

Every so often, there’s a fresh wave of complaints about beginning sentences with so, along with speculations about why people do it and where it started. Mr. the Toad forgoes all that in favor of trying to wipe the practice out.


Today’s dangler

May 16, 2015

Heard in a tv commercial for life insurance:

There’s no medical exam required. And by answering a few simple questions, your coverage can start immediately.

The boldfaced material has a classic “dangling modifier”, a non-default SPAR: by answering a few questions is a subjectless predicational adjunct to the main clause, and its interpretation requires that a referent be found for the missing subject, but that referent is not the default one, the referent of the subject (your coverage) in the main clause; instead it’s the referent of the possessive determiner (your) within this subject. Despite this, the sentence is easily understood (as something like ‘if/when you answer a few simple questions, your coverage will start immediately’); it may count as a “dangler”, but it’s harmless.

In my collection of many hundreds of danglers, there are only a few like this one (with a coding that begins SUB(by)-PRP), but there is a set of somewhat similar cases that I’ve looked at under the heading of “by-Topicalization”.


The speaker is (almost) always topical

March 18, 2015

From my dangler files, this recent entry:

Z4.81 PRP-I-0-1P  Growing up in Chicago in th ’40’s “crickets” were popular, a useless but irritatingly noisy toy. Since replaced by bubble wrap. (Paul Johnson on ADS-L 3/12/15)

The crucial codes are the last two, 0-1P, having to do with where to find the referent for the missing subject of the predicational adjunct (0: no referent in the linguistic context) and the features of this referent (1P: 1st person singular; that is, the referent is the speaker of the sentence).

The adjunct thus frames the content of the main clause as representing the speaker’s thoughts or experiences, and in general 0-1P adjuncts (while impressive examples of classical “dangling modifiers”) are surprisingly acceptable, and not uncommon. And there’s a reason for that.


More on the sports interview

March 9, 2015

In a comment on a Bizarro cartoon on the vacuity of sports interviews (#2 here), Stan Carey supplies a fine VectorBelly strip on the subject:

(The verbing sports is entertaining.)


Three cartoons

March 8, 2015

For Daylight Saving(s) Time in the U.S., three cartoons having something to do with discourse organization: One Big Happy, Bizarro, and Dilbert: