Next Talk: A Neat Little Phenomenon in Liverpool English | Dr. Patrick Honeybone

Wednesday 3 November | 18:00 | Appleton Tower 1 | £1/FREE for members

A Neat Little Phenomenon in Liverpool English
Dr. Patrick Honeybone
Dept. of Linguistics & English Language

This next talk in our Soap Vox Lectures series is the first this year to concentrate on the ‘English Language’ side of the LEL world. Dr. Patrick Honeybone, a Senior Lecture in the department, specialises in Historical Phonology, Phonological Theory and Northern Englishes. It is a phenomenon relating to the last of these interests which he will be exploring in his talk.

He studied as an undergraduate and postgraduate at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, at which he has also taught. Before coming to Edinburgh he also taught at what is now Edge Hill University.

For mor information on Patrick’s research and teaching visit his staff home page.

Abstract:

In most (or all?) forms of English, speakers can shorten words to produce nicknames like ‘Andy’ from ‘Andrew’, ‘Bobby’ from ‘Robert’, ‘Charlie’ from ‘Charles’, ‘Tony’ from ‘Anthony’ and ‘Wally’ from ‘Walter’. The pattern that people follow when they do this is relatively consistent, but it can only be applied to names and there is some quite unpredictable variation. (Why are two consonants preserved in Andy but only one in Wally? Why is the initial consonant fully preserved in Charlie and Wally, but not in Bobby? Why does Andy preserve the start of Andrew, but Tony the end of Anthony?)

Liverpool English has a similar but much more productive and phonologically more consistent phenomenon. I call it ‘Scouse Diddification’. Fritz Spiegl illustrated it with the phrase “Gerra butty from de chippie outside Sevvie”, which has three diddificated forms: ‘butty’ from ‘(bread and) butter’, ‘chippie’ from ‘chipshop’ and ‘Sevvie’ from ‘Sefton (Park)‘, and these nicely illustrate the phonological template that speakers use to create the diddificated forms. The template is precise and consistent, and can be applied to nouns at will. In this talk I describe the phonology of Scouse Diddification and consider what kinds of data and methodologies can be used to investigate it.


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The talk will start at 6:00 p.m. and last about 1 hr. There will be a Q&A/ discussion session at 7:00 p.m. which should last about half an hour.

We also meet at Assembly Bar (41 Lothian Street EH1 1HB ) after the talk at 8:00 p.m. for food and drink with the speaker.


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In most (or all?) forms of English, speakers can shorten words to produce nicknames like ‘Andy’ from ‘Andrew’, ‘Bobby’ from ‘Robert’, ‘Charlie’ from ‘Charles’, ‘Tony’ from ‘Anthony’ and ‘Wally’ from ‘Walter’. The pattern that people follow when they do this is relatively consistent, but it can only be applied to names and there is some quite unpredictable variation. (Why are two consonants preserved in Andy but only one in Wally? Why is the initial consonant fully preserved in Charlie and Wally, but not in Bobby? Why does Andy preserve the start of Andrew, but Tony the end of Anthony?)

Liverpool English has a similar but much more productive and phonologically more consistent phenomenon. I call it ‘Scouse Diddification’. Fritz Spiegl illustrated it with the phrase “Gerra butty from de chippie outside Sevvie”, which has three diddificated forms: ‘butty’ from ‘(bread and) butter’, ‘chippie’ from ‘chipshop’ and ‘Sevvie’ from ‘Sefton (Park)’, and these nicely illustrate the phonological template that speakers use to create the diddificated forms. The template is precise and consistent, and can be applied to nouns at will. In this talk I describe the phonology of Scouse Diddification and consider what kinds of data and methodologies can be used to investigate it.

Weibo

There’s a microblogging service that is allowed by the Chinese Government, who have armies of censors making sure it doesn’t allow the same freedom of expression as Twitter. More on this can be read in the recent Economists Article.

But what’s really great is running it through Google Translator. Google Translate works by looking at statistical correlations, using massive bodies of text. This means that it often gets the right meanings, but the language is always strangely garbled. In the case of microblogging, this equates to something like raw, unfinished poetry. Here are some examples of what I mean.

  • Household mold: Hungry dizzy. . .
  • Late Anna Na: In fact, one is quite good. cold go out into the yard to hide tight spots. late Anna Na.
  • RONALDOlp: I am sad, but you hear me
  • Yangfear: I want to be able to wear sunglasses a winter city. . . But for the damn paper, I can go to LA next week, 4 days the sun drying. . .
  • wisney: Grass your mother actually has a girlfriend … how do you do … do not die you horse egg roll …

Try if for yourself! http://t.sina.com.cn/

Tonight’s Reading Group: How Many Languages? Uncountable or Only One?

Wed 27 October | 18:00 | Southsider pub (EH8 9EF)

Apologies for the short notice! This week’s group will carry on the philosophical theme of our lecture last week:

Linguistic typologists estimate that there are around 7,000 languages in the world. However, from a philosophical point of view it could be said that each of the c6.7 billion individual humans in the world (perhaps excluding those who can’t use language) uses a unique language.

Last week our speaker Jeff Ketland claimed that everyone speaks a different language: languages that are for the most part mutually intelligible but nevertheless distinct languages. What is more, he suggested that every time we add a new word to our lexicon (or forget a word?) we are speaking a new language. Note: the case of speaking different registers was seen as a variation of the same language, for example, the difference between the type of language you use in the pub compared to a job interview.

Should these register variations be considered different languages too?; and if so could we go so far as to say that all languages are just variations of one language?: that ‘language’ being the apparent universal capacity to be able to acquire any language.

Points to consider:

  • Can you find at least one way in which your idiolect, the particular language you use, differs from others’ in the group? Think about the words you use and sentences you feel make sense rather than the sounds you use or your accent.
  • Do you think it is correct to regard these differences in idiolects as individual languages?
  • Do you think it is useful to regard these differences in idiolects as individual languages?
  • If you had different answers to the last two points, why do you think this is so?
  • Even if each individual uses a different language, should we say that each individual uses uncountable different languages as they learn new words and change their language depending on their social situation?
  • Developmental linguists often say that a child does not learn a language but acquires their language by creating it from  scratch based on the input in the environment:
    • Does this suggest to you that it is sensible to consider everyone’s use of language as an individual language itself?…
    • …Or does this suggest that there is something innate in the human brain that can create a language from any input and that all languages are variations or “dialects” of this inbuilt capacity?

Mondegreen

Anyone who reads Language Log regularly probably has noted that Mark Liberman repeatedly references the song ‘Oxford Comma’ by Vampire Weekend. A few days ago I found out that another famous indie band (which I like), Yeasayer, have a song called ‘Mondegreen.’ A mondegreen is a misheard lyric: an example being something like “You can’t take this guy from me” instead of “You can’t take the sky from me” (In the Firefly theme). Somewhat fittingly, no site that I can find has a full list of the lyrics that doesn’t include at least a few ‘?????’. See what you can make of it.

The singer was never the best at enunciating. I sadly couldn’t identify any specific mondegreens while I was listening – if I had, they probably wouldn’t have been proper mondegreens anyway.

Case ‘n Point

I  identified this lovely little eggcorn a little while ago. In case you didn’t already know, an eggcorn is an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker’s dialect. The word was coined by our very own GK Pullum, who heard of an American woman who thought that ‘acorns’ were ‘eggcorns.’ (I can’t really tell the difference, either.) For me, a speaker of American English, ‘and’ often reduces to a syllabic ‘n’, while ‘in’ does the same in certain environments. Because of this, there is no distinction between ‘case in point’ and ‘case and point’. I’ve never really known which one is the correct usage. ‘Case in Point’ has 2,600,000 hits on google. ‘Case and point’ has 3,590,000. So, both are in pretty rampant use. Are they both acceptable? I am guessing yes, as I could understand either, and I use both (since there’s no difference.) Is anyone here British: if so, which do you use? And which one was there first? I have no idea. But that’s what eggcorns do – they reflect a lack of a priori knowledge about something. And this is just another …wait for it… case’n’point. (You saw that coming, didn’t you? I know: I should’ve tried to use QED! Oh well. Too late now.)

The Ideophonic Glede

This morning I picked up The Ring of Words again, as I mark the pages and stop reading whenever I get an idea for something that should go on here. I had stopped at the word ‘gleed,’ which is an obsolete term for an ember or coal. ‘Gleed’ is another word, now sadly ignored as it has passed out of use, which has the gl- segment which marks various words to do with sight or light: glow, glimmer, glitter, gleam, glint  – there are plenty more. These sorts of words are typically known as ideophones. While I was researching around the web for a way to justify my folk etymology for these words – which I had hypothesized had evolved from the older word ‘gleed’ (which isn’t true – *gl words like this go back at least to ON, and probably back to PIE) – I came across a fairly good blog on ideophones.  Since that blog contains more information than my ramblings about the possibility of cultural imitation or derivation as the evolutionary source for ideophones could possible hold, I’m just going to refer you there. Definitely worth at least a cursory look.

Patriote

From time to time, I find myself desiring to read books which are not related to linguistics in any possible way. Mostly, this means that I want to read science fiction or fantasy books. So, yesterday, instead of working like the diligent student I am, I sat down and read Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card. It was a fascinating novel about Bean, a secondary character in the main book which preceded it, Ender’s Game. The premise of the story is that there is an alien invasion, and Earth has united to fight it by sending their best and most brilliant children to Battle School in a satellite circling the earth, to train them as admirals to fight in the coming war. I know, it sounds awesome, right? In reality, it is, because it’s not a novel about children – it’s about strategy. And the use of strategical theory is brilliant in both books. So much so, that when I found at the end of Ender’s Shadow a short page about influences and thanks, I immediately went to the library to find a collection of essays called Makers of Modern Strategy: from Macchiavelli to the Nuclear Age. I justified this distraction by claiming that as a linguistics student, I must improve myself in order to get into an MSc program, and ultimately, into journals and a tenure position. How better to improve myself than to analyse the lives of greater men who had been through things which probably had analogues to my own life? (This justification is of course, ridiculous, and therefore worked incredibly well.)

You may remember that I posted about the origin of Nostalgia back in the spring. Well, a similar thing occured which brought linguistics back into my mind. While I was reading about how Sébastian Le Prestre de Vauban, a famous 17th century French strategian, completely innovated the way sieges were done by using advancing levels of trenches, I came across the following sentence:

Saint-Simon, not content with dubbing [Vauban] a Roman, applied to him, for the first time with its modern meaning, the word patriote. [pg 74]

And there you have it. The first use of the word patriote with it’s modern meaning. Of course, the OED disagrees, and traces itback, in English no less, to 1577, a full 125 years before this usage. But that’s not really the problem: the problem is that I managed to find something that reminded me of linguistics, and so I felt obliged to work on my essay at 1:30am last night. And I didn’t pick up any strategical analogues to writing it, but one: don’t delay in doing something. Maybe I’ll do better next time.

Ken More

Ken More - Graffiti on Old College

I was walking by Old College yesterday when I saw this graffiti on the side. I didn’t make much of it, but my flatmate pointed it out and gave a perfunctory ‘heh.’ “Know more,” he said, in his upper-class Scottish accent. And so I started thinking. It’s possible that this was more than just standard idiotic gang graffiti (if anyone else gets annoyed at seeing ‘œ’ all over town, you’re not alone.) It might be a statement about the Scottish-English dialect. ‘Ken’ is a notoriously Scottish word, meaning ‘know’. So, when one translates this statement into Standard English, there’s a pun: No more & Know more. The homophones would probably be glossed over by most, to be honest – I suspect that the pun wasn’t the original intention of the author . But if they were intended, I think this is a pretty witty way to say that the Scottish dialect, or culture, or what-have-you, is being forgotten (hence the imperative) and must be either revived or relearned or studied. The statement is about as vague as my argument for it, which is a bit of a problem, so I’ll stop trying to explain it.

It’s actually a pretty clear cut translated pun, I think. Another good example of a pun like this would have been used by the Cyclops in the Odyssey. Odysseus, not wanting to be known by his real name, gave the name ‘ou tis’, meaning ‘no one’. However, another way to say this would be to use the other negative: ‘metis’. This is a pretty witty pun, as that is a homophone with Metis, the god of cunning. So, when the cyclops has lost his eye and is calling for his kinsmen, he’d be saying in effect that both ‘no one’ and ‘cunning’ caused the issue. Quite…well…cunning. (The actual text may not use this form, but it was certainly known to the Greeks. Or, at least, to the Greek teacher at Edinburgh.)

Of course, another possible reading of the graffiti and it’s polysemic meaning comes from where it was drawn: Old College. Given the cuts that are being proposed to higher education, and the march today at 11:15 from East Market Street, I find the building it was placed to be a very suitable choice, really.

Rosetta Stone 300

The Rosetta Stone company has a new project out. Here’s the details, copied verbatim from the Linguist List email.

If you have 10-30 minutes and a keyboard or a microphone, please
consider making a submission to The Rosetta Project’s latest
volunteer-based linguistic documentation project:

http://www.rosettaproject.org/300-languages

The 300 Languages Project is a special effort by The Rosetta Project
(www.rosettaproject.org), part of The Long Now Foundation
(www.longnow.org), to begin the construction of a universal corpus of
human language by collecting parallel text and audio in the world’s 300
most widely-spoken languages. The resulting collection will contain
thousands of volunteer-contributed public domain text documents and
audio recordings which will be made available to researchers and the
public alike via The Internet Archive, a free online digital library.

The 300 Languages Project seeks to develop an extensible protocol
and a set of scalable, low-cost (i.e., volunteer-based) methods and
standards for language documentation via the building of a “seed
corpus” – a corpus which starts small but is designed to grow.

The 300 Languages Project is collecting translations and recordings of
three important texts: the Swadesh List, the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, and Genesis chapters 1-3. These texts were chosen
primarily for usefulness in research (e.g., the Swadesh list) and
breadth of existing translation (Genesis and the UDHR).

The 300 Languages Project is made possible through the support and
sponsorship of Distinguished Career Professor and speech technology
expert Dr. James K. Baker and is conducted in partnership with the
ALLOW initiative of the Center for Innovations in Speech and
Language at theLanguage Technologies Institute.

Looks quite cool, if I do say so myself.

“I don’t know the meaning of the word!”

We’ve probably all heard them before: “X isn’t in my dictionary/vocabulary!”, or  “I don’t know the meaning of the word X!”, and variations on that theme. Language Log is notorious for fighting campaigns against the “no word for x” construction, used by poor journalists and politicians to equate lack of a term for something (often wrong) to ignorance about that thing in general. So I was surprised when I was unable to find a single post talking about the usage of the above trope. “The word X isn’t in my X” comes up with over 2.5 million hits on google. “I don’t know the meaning of the X!” comes up with another 2.5 million (although both could be used to mean literally not knowing something.)

Is this the same as “X language doesn’t have a word for X?” No. It’s not pejorative, for one. Generally this trope is used to intensify the quality of someone by negating the opposite quality: He’s fearless, as he doesn’t know the meaning of the word fear. Secondly, it’s generally not used to refer to more than one person. But it is similar in that it falls into the old trap of assuming that vocabulary items determine knowledge about a said thing, and that without a proper word, there can be no knowledge of its meaning. This is, of course, ridiculous. “Gravity?!” I might say, “I don’t know the meaning of the word!” Were I to jump off a cliff, I would come to a swift conclusion regarding whether or not I know what gravity is (as well as a swift conclusion anyway), even if I never learned the word gravity in the intervening 12.4 seconds when I realised that I was falling.

Seeing as how this idiomatic construction isn’t used normally to refer to insult and condescend an entire language group, however, I don’t think it’s as serious a sin. The only occurance in the field I can currently think of is in a copyrighted Calvin & Hobbes strip, where they are standing in a field, looking like a pair of pathetic peripatetics:

  • Hobbes: We’re lost, aren’t we?
  • Calvin: Lost? I don’t know the meaning of the word lost!
  • Hobbes: How about the word mommy?
  • Calvin & Hobbes: <shouting> MOMMY!

The joke doesn’t really transfer over in text. But you get the idea.