Archive for the ‘Beheading’ Category


May 21, 2019

A facebook exchange back on the 6th, between Andrew Carnie (professor of linguistics and dean of the Graduate College at the Univ. of Arizona) and Karen Chung (associate professor at National Taiwan University, teaching courses on linguistics and English).

Andrew: [Student], who only came to class less than 50% of the time, and turned in a bunch of assignments (really) late: These homeworks are way. too. hard. It’s unfair.

Karen: “Homework” as a countable noun? Is he/she a native speaker of English?

Academics will recognize Andrew’s note as the plangent lament of a professor facing the grading tasks at the end of a term, confronted with a self-entitled student who believes they are really smart, so preparation outside of class shouldn’t take much work (and they should be able to ace the final without much studying).

But what Karen picks up on is the use the noun homework as a C(ount) noun, clearly so because it occurs in the plural form homeworks here; for the M(ass) noun homework, the usage would be: This homework is way. too. hard. Or else: These homework assignments are way. too. hard.

Much as I sympathize deeply with Andrew’s lament — having had nearly 50 years of similar experiences (fortunately far outweighed by students who were a delight to teach) — what this posting is about is the C/M thing. There’s a fair amount to get clear about first, and then I’ll have some analysis, some data, and some reflections on larger matters (language use in particular communities of practice, the tension between brevity and clarity as factors in language use).



January 12, 2018

From the recent Linguistic Society of America meetings in Salt Lake City, via Mike Pope, this sign in the window at the downtown restaurant Mollie & Ollie:


Of linguistic note: the spelling STIR-FRYS — rather than STIR-FRIES — for the plural of the C[ount] noun STIR-FRY (most commonly spelled as hyphenated STIR-FRY, but occasionally solid STIRFRY or separated STIR FRY). This spelling preserves the identity of the base word FRY and so treats the noun STIR-FRY as an inviolable unit.