There’s a new article out that uses faulty methods to study the linguistic complexity of politicians’ speech. It makes many of the same mistakes that I criticized Schoonvelde et al. (2019) for – and even references that article. But it somehow comes to the right conclusion… for the wrong reasons. I know, it’s strange. Let’s check it out. Continue reading “More political scientists doing bad linguistics”
I bet you weren’t expecting some tricky linguistic commentary in the pages of SUPERMAN & BATMAN VS. VAMPIRES AND WEREWOLVES! But here it is!
In Issue #4 of the six-part series, our heroes are hanging around making plans and waiting to be attacked by demon-like creatures (as you do). That’s when Jason Blood, aka the rhyming demon Etrigan, senses the creatures’ arrival and says “THEY’RE HERE”:
Welcome back, language fans. This time we’re traveling over to Grammar.com, where the grammar is… not so good, Al. Specifically, we’re going to look at a PDF that they’re slinging (for free!) called “The Awful ‘Like’ Word”.
This little ditty is 9 pages of nonsense. I would copy the text and comment on it in this post, but that would take forever. Those of you interested in truly awful language commentary can check out the PDF below. I’m gonna warn you, though. This PDF might be, like, the worst thing I’ve read about the word like. If your face likes meeting your palm, then read on!
Here’s the PDF “The Awful ‘Like’ Word” with my comments. I promise it’s not all snide remarks. There’s some good linguistic commentary in there as well. But snide remarks too.
And here it is without my comments if you want to color it in for yourself.
Back in November*, the radio show On the Media did a segment on women’s voices in broadcasting. They took a different angle than we’re used to – instead of talking about the social and political factors used to police and silence women, they discussed the technological factors. Because of course there are also technological things keeping women out of public spaces.
On the Media talked to Clark University professor Tina Tallon about how audio recording and broadcasting technology was specifically designed to favor men’s voices over women’s. It’s a story that sucks, but the interview is interesting and worth a listen. Here’s the link to where you can listen to it: https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/otm/segments/how-radio-made-female-voices-sound-shrill
* You’re not the only one who’s behind on their podcasts, friend.
Christopher Hitchens can’t do language commentary, you know
In looking around for something else, I came across an article on language by Christopher Hitchens. For all his skill in analyzing social progress and literature, Hitchens doesn’t seem to have ever even seen the cover of a linguistics book.
The whole article is a hot ball of gobbledygook, but I want to focus on one thing Hitchens talks about in it. He starts his article by disparaging Caroline Kennedy for the number of times she uses you know in two interviews. Continue reading “Christopher Hitchens falls flat on “you know” and “like””
What is the subject of this sentence:
With great power must also come great responsibility!
It’s either with great power or great responsibility.
Think about it again. Are you sure of your choice? Did you change your mind?
I asked Twitter and was surprised at the results.
I’m in the minority here. In my opinion, the subject is with great power. Let me explain. *Thwip* Continue reading “The grammar of “With great power must also come great responsibility””
So the New York Times has another opinion piece about language and (surprise!) it’s a stinker. Not as bad as it could’ve been, but still not good. Let’s take a walk through it, shall we?
The hundreds of thousands of Americans descending on Paris during this year’s tourist season are in for a shock: The city’s waiters, bakers and taxi drivers — and practically anyone else they encounter — will mostly speak to them in eager, serviceable and occasionally even near-perfect English.
What is “near-perfect English”? English that this writer can understand? This is a shot across the bow at Europeans – some of them may sometimes speak as good as moi, but usually their language would best be described as “serviceable”. It’s also a slight to linguists, or the group of people who study language for a living and would never describe instances of it as “near-perfect”. I think we’re in for a ride full of hot takes. Continue reading “Another day, another wild ride on the wheel-o-language opinions”
This post sort of continues on from my earlier post about “untranslatable” words.
The Happiness Dictionary (2018, Piatkus) by Tim Lomas is a book which has good intentions, but it makes some startling and incorrect claims about language. My main contentions with Lomas’ claims are:
- He plays fast and loose with semantics. Describing the meaning of a word with other words does not give the meaning of that word, but Lomas seems to claim it does.
- You can’t check his sources because they’re not there.
- He misrepresents some linguistic terms.
- He uses research on one language to make claims about a family of unrelated languages.
- He fails to see the logical conclusions of his claims about language.
Over on the Stroppy Editor blog, Tom Freeman has written a response to Lionel Shriver’s article in Harper’s complaining about semantic drift. You should go check Freeman’s article out here.
I want to point out two especially great part’s in Freeman’s post. First, Freeman starts his post by boiling down what these language complaints are really about:
The remarkable thing about language change is that it only started happening when I started noticing it. For centuries, English was constant and true, but as soon as I was old enough to have an appreciation of good standards of usage, people around me started falling short. Since then, there has been an alarming, unprecedented surge in rule-breaking.
Neither I nor anyone else really believes any such thing, of course, but some of us sometimes talk as if we do. One such person is Lionel Shriver.
I tell my students something similar. The people who complain about language change are often the same people who are no longer in their 30s with their lives ahead of them. They’re in their 50s or 60s now and they’re recognizing that they are being replaced whether they like it or not. Life in your 20s and 30s seems great – you don’t have as many responsibilities, you still have your youth – of course the world and everything in it should stay the same, including the language rules that you learned. But it doesn’t. You get older. The world changes. And language changes. How dare they?
Freeman also gives the idea that dictionaries should be thought of as guidebooks, not gospels:
For Shriver, a dictionary should be a rulebook of almost scriptural immutability. She wants usage to adhere to the rules that she spent time and effort internalising; any deviation, whether by the ignorant masses, by trendy literati or by dictionaries themselves, is to be fought.
The better way to view a dictionary is as a guidebook. It describes the features of the language as you’re likely to encounter it, and it thereby helps you find your way around. To do this, a dictionary needs to record differences in usage and it needs to be able to change.
That’s a very good point. Go read the rest of Freeman’s article here: https://stroppyeditor.wordpress.com/2019/07/31/how-do-you-cope-when-everyones-usage-is-wrong/
Here’s a good article on the politics of language in America today. The article talks about how Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro does not speak Spanish fluently. They make an excellent point of what this can mean to people:
The matter has become something of a litmus test from reporters whom Castro says ask him repeatedly why he doesn’t speak Spanish as though that were essential to being authentically Latino*.
The article also uses the word fluent a couple of times in the beginning, but then makes a good point about how this idea is a misnomer:
Proficiency in Spanish, and in any language, is more of a continuum than a box you can check, said Belem López, an assistant professor in the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.
“People have these constrained ideas that you have to speak English perfectly and Spanish perfectly,” López said, “but really that doesn’t exist.”
And, of course, there are different standards for different people:
Latinos are expected to speak impeccable Spanish, while non-Latinos are showered in praise for speaking imperfect Spanish. When white Americans learn Spanish, “it’s seen as enrichment,” a sign of high social status and education, Tseng said. In part, Tseng added, this is because their “American-ness” is never up for question.
“If Tim Kaine goes out on the street and speaks Spanish, no one is going to shout at him, ‘Speak English, we’re in America!’ ” Tseng said.
But it ain’t all bad. Many Latino parents who did not learn to speak Spanish as a first language at home are encouraging their children to learn the language. And despite the ridicule that people have had to face for daring to speak a language other than English in the US, it seems the Latino community considers it important for future generations to know Spanish.
Guess what? It’s going to be important for non-Latino people too.
Check out the rest of the article here: https://wapo.st/2JNt5LU.
* The WaPo uses Latino throughout the article, which is why I’m using the word here instead of Latinx, the gender-neutral form of the word. If you want to know more about Latinx, see Merriam-Webster, Wikipedia and the Huffington Post.