This morning in my English composition class, composed mainly of Japanese speakers, I came upon another pitfall of relying on “in the dictionary” as a test of acceptability. The verb ‘ruralize’, which rarely appears in books published after 1940, is nevertheless present in bilingual dictionaries.
Recently I have been re-reading James Thurber’s “Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Guide to English Usage”, a parody of Henry Watson Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage. The parody is built around a central conceit: that a language usage guide is equivalent to lifestyle or relationship advice. This is not merely a conceit around which to build a parody; it is also a fair assessment of what usage guides are used for.
“Variable or non-standard realizations of inflectional morphology in English” sounds rather dry and academic, but the placement of suffixes within compound words or phrases can sound surprising and even amusing. Arnold Zwicky and Mark Liberman recently noted unusual verb conjugation. Non-standard pronouns can be equally interesting.
According to Ben Zimmer, various aliens in Star Wars spoke Quechua, one of the most widely spoken indigenous languages in South America, and Haya, a Bantu language spoken in Tanzania.
The new film Avatar features Na’vi, a constructed language said to “out-Klingon Klingon.”