Archive for the ‘Sociolinguistics’ Category

Emotions are relational

June 18, 2012

Receiving a Ph.D. in Linguistics yesterday from Stanford: Tyler Schnoebelen, on the linguistics of affect.

Emotions are relational: Positioning and the use of affective linguistic resources


The geek voice?

January 25, 2012

Arne Adolfsen recently reported on Facebook that he’d been hearing the hit television show The Big Bang Theory. (Yes, hearing, not listening to, and certainly not watching. The show goes on in a room next to the one he’s in. He avoids it, because he hates the very obtrusive laugh track, an antipathy I sympathize with.) He’s formed the opinion that all of the male characters are gay, because of the way they talk [because of the phonetics of their talk. which is all he has to go on — see comments]. (Possibly relevant fact: Arne is gay.) Yet they’re all presented as straight — and awkwardly pursuing women — and the actors playing them all seem to be straight in real life [which is to say: there’s an apparent disjunction between orientation as perceived from phonetics and orientation as presented in the story — again, see comments]. Where does Arne’s impression come from?



January 20, 2012

On television, an ad for begins “Single Christian? Good news!” and promises to “Find God’s match for you”. What does the noun Christian mean in this context? Not, I am sure, what NOAD2 says:

a person who has received Christian baptism or is a believer in Jesus Christ and his teachings.

and certainly not the very broad sense in this quote from Anita Loos’s A Girl Like I (NY: Viking, 1966), pp. 195-6:

This small bouquet of words is quite insufficient to express the fondness and gratitude I shall always feel for Joe [Schenk]; it often strikes me that one of the best Christians I’ve ever known was a Jew.

Loos’s noun sense is the one related to a use of the adjective Christian that NOAD2 characterizes as informal:

having or showing qualities associated with Christians, esp. those of decency, kindness, and fairness.

Instead, Christian dating and matchmaking sites are using a much narrower sense of Christian, roughly ‘evangelical Christian’, with a specific sense of evangelical that excludes much of mainstream Christianity.


The Queen’s Christmas Message

December 20, 2011

Damien Hall on the Variationist List today noted that the Queen’s Christmas Message will soon be upon us, and pointed to research on changes in the Queen’s variety of English over the years, using these broadcast messages as data.

The way the press reported this research is a story in its own right.


LOLcats and captions

December 18, 2011

From Corry Wyngaarden va Chris Ambidge, a link to a recording (with slides) of “I can has language play: Construction of Language and Identity in LOLspeak”, a presentation by Jill Vaughan and Lauren Gawne at the Australian Linguistics Society annual conference 2011: a paper on LOLcats as language play and as construction of double identities, as a cat and as a savvy internet user.

The LOLcat genre displays text (usually in a characteristic font) associated with cute cat photos (or in later developments, other photos, as here). Though it’s displayed as a caption, the text, with its language play, is the point.



November 18, 2011

Haefeli cartoon in the latest New Yorker (November 21st):

The power of accents. Everybody knows, at some level, that our speech styles vary according to social context — who we’re talking to, about what, for what purposes — but most of us tend to assume that this variation is under conscious control, that people “put on” accents for some purpose, though linguists point out again and again that this degree of control is essentially impossible, that almost all of this style shifting has to be unconscious. But other people are often sensitive to these shifts, though again almost entirely at an unconscious level.

In the cartoon, the “Brooklyn” in her voice is surely not something she’s projecting willingly, but he’s aware of it and interprets it consciously. But not necessarily accurately — though it makes a wry joke.

Ralph and Monty

May 25, 2011

I’ve posted a few of the photos from James Gardiner’s 1992 book A Class Apart: The Private Pictures of Montague Glover, much of which is taken up with the story of the long (53-year) relationship between the working-class Cockney Ralph Hall and the upper-middle-class (and significantly older) Montague Glover. The text and photographs give a window into gay male life in the U.K. 50 or so years ago, when same-sex relationships were illegal and sometimes savagely prosecuted. (Gardiner chronicled the history in his 1996 book Who’s a Pretty Boy Then? One Hundred and Fifty Years of Gay Life in Pictures.)

Along with the photos is a trove of Ralph’s letters to Monty during the four years Ralph served in the army during World War II. These have some linguistic interest, but even more interest as a record of an inter-class relationship between British men in the period. (It’s an accident that the photos and Ralph’s letters were saved. It’s a great shame that Monty’s letters were lost.)


And still they come

February 13, 2011

There seems to be no end to books proposing to fix people’s lives by fixing their “grammar” (in that all-embracing sense of grammar — my slogan is It’s All Grammar — that I frequently complain about), usually incorporating any number of factual errors and fallacious assumptions about language and language use and displaying at best regrettable, at worst harmful, shameful attitudes about linguistic variation and social life. I collect these things, usually trying to get them used, so as not to give financial suppport to the authors or their publishers.

Latest to heave into my view (hat tip from Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky) is Grammar Sucks: What to Do to Make Your Writing Much More Better, by Joanne Kimes with Gary Robert Muschla, as discussed in a guest blog on Sociological Images by Josef Fruehwald, a grad student in linguistics at Penn who blogs on language variation and language attitudes (among other things) here.


Annals of compounding: Cock crib

January 22, 2011

From gay porn director Michael Lucas, the 2009 film Cock Cribs, thematically linked episodes in which pornstars give the viewers tours of their cribs, the places where they live (in several parts of New York City), covering all the rooms in turn (including a look at the contents of their refrigerators) and ending up in the sexual center of their places, the bedroom, where one or two guys are waiting. Hot-hot man-man sex ensues. The cover art:

(This is the front cover. I’ve cropped the back cover out, since it’s definitely not WordPressable.)

The linguistic point is the compound cock crib, combining the (mildly) obscene slang cock ‘penis’ with the street slang crib ‘home, pad, apartment’.


Address terms

December 22, 2009

The Economist piece on politeness in language (briefly described here) says a lot about address terms (in English, the possibilities include first name FN, last name LN, FN + LN, any of these plus a prefix, like Mr., or a title, like Dr., and a title on its own). This is a topic dear to my heart, ever since a paper (“Hey, whatsyourname!”) I wrote in 1974 on vocatives in English. And it links to a New York Times piece (Anne Marie Valinoti, “Exam-Room Rules: What’s in a Name?”) I’ve been meaning to post about briefly since it appeared on December 15.

Valinoti (an internist in northern New Jersey) mused on the address terms in medical contexts, noting that in her own career, she’s always been addressed as “Dr. Valinoti”, while nurses (no matter what their age, experience, or status) are addressed with FN, and going on to treat asymmetries (and symmetries) in doctor-patient relationships.

Doctor-patient address terminology often needs to be negotiated. Here’s Valinoti’s practice (which not all doctors follow):

Regardless of whether I am “Anne Marie” or “Dr. Valinoti” to a patient, I rarely call a patient by his or her first name. As a rule, patients who are my senior are always “Mr./Ms./Dr.” Patients I meet for the first time are always addressed by their title … Although many patients introduce themselves by their first name, I would never presume to address them as such without their specific permission.

Preferences differ:

A study published in The British Medical Journal looked at the question of patient preferences regarding how doctors address them. Interestingly, most [but by no means all] patients surveyed, particularly those younger than 65, preferred that their physicians call them by their first name.

Valinoti sees these things not merely as a matter of etiquette, but also as an important part of doctor-patient communication, since

Accurate diagnosis and treatment of medical ailments depend on the doctor’s clear understanding of the entire person who sits before her.