Oh, pants

January 21, 2016 No Comments Chad Nilep Folk Linguistics, In the news , ,

If a dog wore pants, would word meaning help us decide what they should look like? Using prototype theory and native speaker judgements, we find no clear, shared definition of the word ‘pants’. The results point to gradient understanding of meaning.

Arana: Good sociolinguistic conclusion despite questionable examples

Gabriel Arana recently published a defense of creaky voice at The Atlantic. He notes that recent criticism of young women’s use of creaky voice, or “vocal fry”, is part of a long tradition of critiquing the speaking styles of less powerful groups of people. Arana’s conclusion that “normative judgments about linguistic prestige are relative, and merely reflect social attitudes” is absolutely correct and well-known to linguistic anthropologists and other scholars of language. The particular speech patterns he analyses to support his conclusion – up-talk, like, and creak – are somewhat questionable, however.

The birth of a shibboleth

June 14, 2012 No Comments Chad Nilep Folk Linguistics , ,

Record fans insist that the plural of ‘vinyl’ to mean “a vinyl record” is the zero-plural ‘vinyl’. This irregular form serves as a shibboleth for audiophiles. Since the form was regular (‘vinyls’) during the 1960s, I conjecture that the irregular form must have arisen relatively recently.

Occupying Language

H. Samy Alim writing in the NY Times about “What if We Occupied Language?” When I flew out from the San Francisco airport last October, we crossed above the ports that Occupy Oakland helped shut down, and arrived in Germany to be met by traffic caused by Occupy Berlin protestors. But the movement has not only transformed public space, it has transformed the public discourse as well. Occupy. It is now nearly impossible to hear the word and not think of the Occupy movement. Even as distinguished an expert as the lexicographer and columnist Ben Zimmer admitted as much this

Language Links #2

These comments do not necessarily reflect the official opinions of the Society of Linguistic Anthropology, its officers or individual members. In the June 24, 2011 edition of the New York Times, Kathryn Schulz reviews Franco Moretti’s work on “distant reading,” the analysis of literary texts such as Hamlet or Victorian novels. Reacting to a paper from Moretti and his colleagues at the Stanford Literary Lab, Schulz writes, Reading the paper, though, I mostly vacillated between two reactions: “Huh?” and “Duh!” — sometimes in response to a single sentence. For example, Moretti, quoting a colleague, defines “protagonist” as “the character that

John McWhorter on Talk of the Nation

Yesterday John McWhorter discussed the recent call by the DEA to hire “Ebonics translators” on Talk of the Nation. He did a good job describing his positions on translation and education, but his parting remarks on the nature of language variation were cut short. I presume to expand the description.

Language Related TV Tropes

March 28, 2010 1 Comment kerim Folk Linguistics, In the news

In a followup to my post from last week about the language section in the Snopes database of online myths and hoaxes, I’d like to share this link to the language section of TVtropes.org. The TV Tropes website was featured on the NPR radio show, On the Media, which explained that the show, which “catalogs some 20,000 plot devices and dialog conventions that show up throughout pop culture” is run in a wiki-like way, allowing for user contributions. As a result quality of the database is somewhat uneven, but it is still quite a useful resource for those interested in

Language Myths in Your Inbox

March 20, 2010 1 Comment kerim Folk Linguistics, In the news

NPR has a nice profile of the couple which runs Snopes.com. Having long ago convinced most of my contacts to stop forwarding chain e-mails, I rarely check Snopes anymore, but inspired by the NPR story I went back and was pleased to see that they have an entire section devoted to language. This, in turn, has sub-sections on folk etymologies, mistranslations, nonexistent words, etc. Related: The Snowclones Database