Archive for the ‘Variation’ Category

Boynton: hippos and an occasional pig

March 10, 2019

Cue from Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky yesterday, to a posting by Sandra Boynton on Facebook on the 7th:

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Day 5,347 of my quixotic project to entirely redraw my seven earliest board books. I’m doing this so that the line and colors will print better, and the layout is better balanced. I hope. (It’s really very fun, in a hyperfocused sort of way.)

EDZ recommended reading the comments, “for adorable linguistic content”. Indeed: on naming conventions and on the cot/caught merger, among other things.

And then a Boynton for Pi Day, coming up this week (on the 14th). With a celebratory pig for the occasion.

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carnitas

March 5, 2019

Meaty thoughts for Mardi Gras, the culmination of Carnival, today: not the fasnachts of my Pa. Dutch childhod, delights of sugar-coated fried dough, but the slow-cooked pulled pork of Michoacán.

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Hard Tundra

March 4, 2019

Adventures in cross-dialect understanding in the One Big Happy strips of 2/1 and 2/2, both featuring Ruthie and Joe’s playmate James:

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The wherewolf

March 3, 2019

Passed on by Joelle Stepian Bailard, this Cyanide and Happiness strip by Rob DenBleyker from 9/30/10:

A tour of the interrogative words of English.

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fried chicken waffle Benedict

March 2, 2019

One of the breakfast specials at the Palo Alto Creamery this morning was (FCWB):

Fried Chicken Waffle Benedict

That’s parsed:

[ [ Fried Chicken ] Waffle ] [ Benedict ]

‘eggs Benedict on a fried chicken waffle’, that is, on a waffle with (Southern) fried chicken on it. (Actually, the original is short for Fried Chicken Waffle Eggs Benedict, but that would have been too long to get on the specials board.)

Immediately, I wondered if FCWB was a subsective compound — did this thing count as an instance of a Benedict, that is, as eggs Benedict? — or was its name resembloid, the dish merely (metaphorically) Benedict-like? (See the Page on this blog about postings on resembloid composites.) My immediate judgment  was clear: for me, FCWBs are just too far from the BENEDICT category: the waffle too distant from an English muffin, the fried chicken too distant from a slice of ham, and anyway the thing came with maple syrup, as (soul-food) chicken waffles do, and sweet Benedicts are way over the line for me.

But then I looked at recipes on the net, where the world of things called Benedict is far larger than my Benedict world, and where cooks make FCWBs and restaurants serve them. And I felt obliged to entertain the possibility that there are people who think that the BENEDICT category (with dishes called Benedicts in it) includes FCWBs in it. The answer to the query about the status of the compound might well be: resembloid for some, subsective for others. That wouldn’t be unparalleled.

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Startling NomConjObj on the editorial page

January 17, 2019

From the lead editorial in the NYT print edition on 1/11/19, “[REDACTED] Shutdown: A Tragedy of Errors”, with the crucial bit boldfaced:

How did we get into this sorry situation? A meltdown of this magnitude typically has many causes. In this case, the president’s inability to reach some sort of deal rests heavily on several basic failures of understanding by he and his team.

By no means unparalleled, but this NomConjObj (nominative-case personal pronoun — 3sg he in this example — in a conjoined object — object of the P by in this example — and in the first conjunct, and in print, and in a serious context) is far from canonical, and might well strike even speakers who are regular users of NomConjObj as over the line. Whoa!

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Notes on PSP = PST

December 11, 2018

Follow-ups to my posting “A vernacular construction?” yesterday, about expressions like had went and had ran, non-standard counterparts to standard had gone and had run, respectively — which Ben Yagoda has characterized, misleadingly, as exemplifying vernacular constructions involving the inflectional category PST rather than the standard category PSP. Instead, I maintained, the constructions in question call for the PSP, period, but in some vernacular varieties, the PSP forms of some verbs are pronounced the same as the corresponding PST forms (while in the standard language these forms are phonologically distinct).

My posting noted that the vernaculars here extended an already very strong generalization, PSP = PST — that the PSP form is pronounced the same as the PST — so that it applies to almost all verbs, and a Facebook commenter emphasized the greater regularity of the resulting system vis-a-vis the standard array of forms. All true, but critics of non-standard varieties still manage to use these facts to disparage speakers of these varieties.

And then it occurred to me that Ben was viewing expressions like had went and had ran as if he had produced them himself, in which case they’d be inadvertent errors, substitutions of one inflectional category (PST) for another (PSP). But the expressions need to be seen from the viewpoint of the varieties they occur in — and there, they simply involve phonological realizations of the inflectional category PSP.

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A vernacular construction?

December 10, 2018

Ben Yagoda on the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Lingua Franca blog on 12/5/18, “Why Do I Really, Really Want to Say ‘Had Went’?”

… You see what [actor and director Jonah] Hill and [director Bryan] Fogel were doing, grammatically. They were using the preterite (ran, went) instead of the past participle (run, gone). This is by no means a new thing. Writing in 1781, John Witherspoon decried the “vulgarisms” had fell, had rose, had broke, had threw, and had drew.

Such constructions have long flourished in the American vernacular.

Standard English uses the PSP (past participle) form of a verb in the perfect construction and the passive construction (among other places). Ben says that some speakers and writers have different (syntactic) constructions here, using the PST (past, aka preterite — nothing hinges on the name) form instead of the PSP.

I maintain that Ben has seriously misunderstood the phenomenon here, and that Vern, the vernacular variety, doesn’t differ syntactically from Stan, the standard variety, with respect to the forms used in the perfect and the passive; it’s the PSP for both. It’s just that for some verbs, Vern pronounces the PSP differently from Stan; for Vern, the PSP form for these verbs is pronounced the same as their PST.

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Books of the year

December 9, 2018

… in the Economist‘s 12/1 issue,”Books of the year: The big read”, (p. 76), in the Culture category: 6 books selected, including:

The Prodigal Tongue. By Lynne Murphy. Penguin Books; 368 pages; $17. Oneworld, £16.99.

The first and perhaps only book on the merits of American and British English that is dominated by facts and analysis rather than nationalistic prejudice. For all its scholarship, this is also a funny and rollicking read.

And in “The Economist’s journalists unbound: A short hstory of moonlighting: Here are the books our writers published in 2008” (p. 77):

Talk on the Wild Side: The Untameable Nature of Language. By Lane Greene. Economist Books/Hachette; 240 pages; $26. Profile Books: £14.99.

Our Johnson columnist argues that English is a living organism; language rules are often preferences in disguise. “He is open-minded and discerning,” the Spectator said; “no zealot and no snob.”

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Variationist sociolinguistics: NWAV 47

October 14, 2018

Coming in a few days (October 18th-21st), NWAV 47 at NYU:

Already noted on this blog, in my 10/2 posting “The Rickford plenary address”, with the abstract for my Stanford colleague John Rickford’s plenary address (on the 20th), “Class and Race in the Analysis of Language Variation and the Struggle for Social Justice: Sankofa”. To come below, the abstract for the other plenary address (on the 18th), “The Systematicity of Emergent Meaning” by Erez Levon (Queen Mary University of London); and details about a virtual Issue of the Journal of Sociolinguistics, “Innovations in Variationist Sociolinguistics” (ed. by Levon & Natalie Schilling), assembled on the occasion of the conference.

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