Archive for the ‘Speech style’ Category

Two political cartoonists

May 25, 2015

To link to a posting on Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, some notes on Watterson’s favorite political / editorial cartoonists, Pat Oliphant and Jim Borgman.



September 9, 2012

Yesterday’s “TV mystery theme song” on local radio station KFJC — identify the show and win movie tickets to the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto — was Al Jarreau’s recording of the theme to “Moonlighting”, which I recognized immediately. I didn’t call in, because I was working on a posting, but I did recall the show (with pleasure) and one of its salient linguistic features, its

fast-paced, overlapping dialogue between the two leads, harkening back to classic screwball comedy films such as those of director Howard Hawks (link)

— what Deborah Tannen calls the “machine gun style”of speech.


Lowlife dialogue

June 6, 2012

Carl Hiaasen, interviewed in the NYT Book Review on June 3rd:

What book is on your night stand now?

“Raylan,” by Elmore Leonard, one of my writing heroes. There is nobody better at lowlife dialogue.

That is, at representing the speech of small-time crooks, con men, wiseguys, and the like. Well, white American lowlifes; there’s plenty of social and geographical variation in these things.


Geek days

May 22, 2012

Just learned that Thursday Friday is Geek Pride Day and was reminded that I should post some observations from Lal Zimman on the “geek voice”.



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.

The Social Network

June 5, 2011

Finally got around to watching The Social Network (a.k.a. The Facebook Movie) this morning. Stunning movie — a tragedy of ambition realized and of friendship betrayed, dark in many places (and visually dark in many scenes), alienating (despite being, in some sense, “about” social connection) — well written, directed, and acted. (The presentation of women in the movie is distressing, but possibly accurate from the point of view of the men depicted in it.)

There’s a lot to be said about works of art based on real-life events. They’re never true in detail to what happened (insofar as that can be known), and since they’re other people’s projections of their own artistic visions onto a found story — their re-workings of that story — they’re often both factually and emotionally false to the original. (But there are so many attractions to a found story.) So you shouldn’t take the movie to be a realistic presentation of Mark Zuckerberg’s progression from Cambridge MA to Palo Alto CA as Facebook rises.

Two linguistic points: Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Zuckerberg’s speech, and the fate of fuck in the extra material on the supplement disk to the main DVD (about the creation of the movie).

In the movie, Eisenberg’s speech style is intense, fast, machine-gun. (This is a definite heightening of the real Zuckerberg — who has even been known to laugh and joke.) I thought this came from the way Eisenberg was directed, but it turns out (as you can see from watching him on the supplement disc to the movie) that this is quite close to Eisenberg’s everyday speech style (though Eisenberg is very much given to laughing and joking, while still being serious about the craft of acting).

Then there’s the bleeping on the supplement disk. Two fucks get through in the movie (“my fuck-you flip-flops” and “the fuck bus”), plus at least one avoidance via freaking; apparently, two non-repeated fucks in a PG-13 movie is one over the regulation limit. (Yes, there are such things.) But on the supplement disk, all the fucks — and there are a fair number — are bleeped out, most entertainingly in an instance of the exclamation fucking shit!, where the final nasal of fucking is preserved, and shit gets by. All the taboo vocabulary besides fuck is untouched, in the film and on the supplement disk.

The ways of taboo avoidance are remarkable.


Got X?

April 12, 2011

I suppose it was inevitable: Got dick?, on the model of Got milk?, seen here on a t-shirt, from one of several sources for such items:


how / that

November 25, 2010

Comic Blunt Card with how used as a complementizer, roughly like that:

(Hat tip to Chris Ambidge.)


Vernacular writing

November 24, 2010

On Language Log recently, a Dinosaur Comics cartoon by Ryan North, with commentary by the cartoonist, entitled



Writing like a fag

August 24, 2010

… or, more genteelly, using a distinctly gay male writing style. Or more allusively, writing with a lavender quill.

This has come up in passing in my mention of “embeddedness”, in a thicket of parentheses here, and I’m going to return to the topic soon in a piece on Jeremy Denk’s blogging style, so here’s some background: a section from my 1997 article “Two lavender issues for linguists”, in Kira Hall & Anna Livia (eds.), Queerly Phrased (Oxford Univ. Press), 21-34.

From p. 28:

Discourse and pragmatics.

Let me briefly traverse the middle ground between grammar and rhetoric.  Staying close to home, I inventory some of the discourse-organizing and pragmatic strategies that have been suggested (in one place or another in the literature or by colleagues) as characteristic of gay male talk and writing:

  • subjective stance;
  • irony, sarcasm (distancing, saying and not saying, “not taking seriously”);
  • resistance, subversiveness;
  • double/triple/etc. vision, metacommentary;
  • embeddedness, discursiveness;
  • open aggression;
  • seductiveness;
  • reversal, inversion.

Some of these are stereotypically “feminine” (subjective stance, resistance and subversiveness, seductiveness), some stereotypically “masculine” (distancing, open aggression).  Some–resistance and subversiveness, multiple vision, reversal–are associated with powerlessness and marginality.  Some–resistance and subversiveness–hint at hidden or stigmatized identities.5 Many are simply the common coin of postmodern discourse–most of the characteristics in the list above are to be found in the writing of Donald Barthelme, for instance, as well as in the writing of Robert Glück–and are scarcely to be directly connected to gender, sexuality, marginality, or stigma. [for those of you who don’t keep track of these things: Barthelme straight, Glück gay gay gay]

Again, there is much of interest here, and linguistics can certainly provide indispensable conceptual tools for analysis, but as in poetics (Zwicky 1986) the methods that linguists use in their ordinary practice will not provide an analysis of the phenomena.  Subjectivity, reversal, multiple vision, etc. are realized (in part) in speech and writing, but they are not themselves properties of speech or writing, in the way that having only front vowels and being an instance of the agentless passive construction and containing a cataphoric pronoun and presupposing the truth of some proposition are.

Footnote 5 is on p. 32:

Here is a typical observation, by Morris Dickstein, writing in a New York Times Book Review (23 July 1995, p. 6) review of Edmund White’s Skinned Alive:  “Before the 1970’s , when direct professions of homosexuality were taboo, writers from Oscar Wilde to Cocteau to Genet made their mark with works that were often theatrical, oblique, florid and artificial.  The strategies of concealment many gay people used in their lives were turned into richly layered artistic strategies by gifted writers, choreographers, directors and set designers.  For the writers, wit and paradox became more important than sincerity, since sincerity meant self-acceptance (which could be difficult) and self-exposure (which could be dangerous); style, baroque fantasy and sensuous detail were disguises that suited them far better than verisimilitude or realism.”

Zwicky (1986) is my 1986 article “Linguistics and the study of folk poetry”, in Peter Bjarkman & Victor Raskin (eds.),  The Real-World Linguist: Linguistic Applications in the 1980s, Ablex, 57-73. Not yet available on-line, alas.

[But that was last week, and now (9/2) it’s on my Stanford website, here.]