Category Archive 'Language'
17 Apr 2017

Would “They” Go There?

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The Wall Street Journal reports that the Brown Admissions Office has lost its marbles.

Brown University in Providence, R.I. houses one of the country’s most selective undergraduate colleges. The Brown Daily Herald, a student-run newspaper, cites Dean of Admission Logan Powell in reporting that the school received a record-high 32,724 applications this year, and admitted just 8.3% of applicants.

Among those lucky few is the daughter of a Journal reader who is still trying to make sense of a letter the family received this week from Mr. Powell. Our reader’s bright daughter had already received news of her acceptance when a letter arrived that was addressed to her “Parent/Guardian.”

Oddly, the note referred to the accepted student not as “she” but as “they.” Dean Powell’s letter also stated that our reader’s daughter had no doubt worked hard and made positive contributions to “their” school and community. Our reader reports that his perplexed family initially thought that Brown had made a word-processing error. That was before they listened to a voice mail message from the school congratulating his daughter and referring to her as “them.”…

It turns out that the errors were intentional. Brown spokesman Brian Clark writes in an email that “our admission office typically refers to applicants either by first name or by using ‘they/their’ pronouns. While the grammatical construction may read as unfamiliar to some, it has been adopted by many newsrooms and other organizations as a gender-inclusive option.”

RTWT

13 Apr 2017

Now, There’s an Accent

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Incomprehensible Irish accent from County Kerry: 1:53 video. Something about some stolen sheep.

06 Apr 2017

“Miami English,” the Distinctive South Florida Dialect

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Atlas Obscura:

The Miami dialect is not a second-language accent, like you’d hear from a Cuban immigrant whose first language is Spanish. It is an American English dialect like New York City English, Southern American English, or any other dialect in this country: spoken by native-born Americans who speak English either as a first language or fluently along with the language of their parents. Which doesn’t stop the accent from seeming foreign to others: Carter says that his students will sometimes find themselves in a neighboring county, only to be asked what country they’re from.

There’s a whole bunch of things that set Miami English apart from other dialects. Much of it comes from Spanish: words or sounds that are pronounced in a certain way in Spanish will eventually show up in English. An easy one is the word “salmon,” which in Miami is pronounced with the L: “sall-mon.” That comes directly from the Spanish word for the fish, which is, well, salmón. (In Spanish, all consonants make one sound and one sound only.*)

But that letter L gets even weirder. It turns out Spanish and English have different pronunciations of the letter, which are referred to as “light L” and “dark L.” English actually has both of them: a light L is found in words starting with L, like the word “light.” A dark L is found sometimes at the ends of words, as in the word “feel.” Say that out loud: can you hear how, in “feel,” it sounds almost like “fee-yul”? That “ull-” sound as the first part of the L sound, that’s a dark L, and it’s made with a slightly different shape of your tongue in your mouth. In Miami, all L sounds are dark, so a word like “literally” sounds more like “ull-iterally.”

Vowels also show some impact from Spanish. Elsewhere in the country, English speakers have a tendency to “front” some vowels. “Front” and “back” refers to the position of your tongue in your mouth, so “ee” is a front vowel, whereas “oh” and “ooh” are back vowels. In the South and Mid-Atlantic, English speakers will move their back vowels a little to the front, so “boat” sounds like “behh-oht.” But in Spanish, that’s absolutely not done, and that carries over to Miami English. Keeping “oh” in the back isn’t unique to Miami, but it is unique to Miami within the Southern U.S.

Another vowel thing: much of the U.S. does this weird thing with the “ah” sound in words like “hand.” When that vowel comes before a nasal consonant—M or N—it becomes kind of nasal and more complex, turning into more like “hay-and.” Miamians, though, don’t do that, so “hand” has the exact same vowel as “cat.” Try saying it out loud. It feels strange, right? Almost British-y.

Miami English also has lots and lots of calques, which are loan phrases: essentially direct translations of Spanish phrases. In Atlanta, New York, and Seattle—actually, basically anywhere besides Miami—you get out of a car. In Miami, you get down from a car, because “down from the car” is a direct translation from the Spanish, bajar del carro. There are dozens of these: in Miami you don’t get in line or wait in line, you make a line. You don’t get married to somebody, you get married with them. When talking about money, you don’t say “five ninety-nine” for $5.99; you say “five with ninety-nine.” If you’re not up to anything much, you might say “I’m eating shit,” the basic equivalent of “I’m not doing shit.” “Some of those English calques are based on Cuban Spanish, and my strong suspicion is that kids are learning the local variety of English unaware of the sources of the loan words,” says Carter.

The verbs “come” and “go” are also different in English and Spanish, and thus different in Miami English. “In English, the verbs ‘come’ and ‘go’ are really peculiar,” says Carter. “If you invite me to your house, I’ll say ‘I’m coming over now,’ even though what I meant to say is ‘I’m going over now.’” These words are based on “deiksis,” the relationship between the speaker and listener. Theoretically, “come” should mean heading toward the speaker or listener, and “go” should mean heading away from the speaker or listener. Come to where I am, go to this other location. But in English, it’s not that simple; we often get those totally wrong. Spanish speakers, and Miami English speakers, never get those wrong. An invitation to a birthday party in Miami might say, “Go celebrate Maria’s 10th birthday party at the zoo.” Sounds weird, but is actually correct: neither the sender nor the receiver of the invitation is at the zoo, so it should be “go.”

One of the hardest to nail down is in the actual rhythm of speech. Spanish is syllable-timed, meaning that each syllable is spoken for the same length of time. English is not; it is stress-timed, so certain syllables, especially one-syllable words, are shorter than others. (Think about “for,” “and,” and pronouns like “he” and “she.”) Miami English isn’t exactly syllable-timed, but it’s more regular than other English dialects, which makes it sound…different, somehow. “I have heard parodies of Latinos, or Latino characters who are putting on being Latino, where you’ll find them speaking in a very fast way which gives that impression,” says Carter. It’s not that Spanish-speakers speak more quickly, just that their timing is different than English. We don’t quite know how it’s different, but speaking very quickly can sort of trigger our conception of Spanish rhythms.

Miami English is not, though, the same as other Spanish-influenced dialects of English, like Chicano English in Southern California. Some of those calques, for example, are specific to Cuba or the Caribbean and not found in Mexico. One of the most telling examples of a Southern Californian accent is turning “ing” and “ink” endings into “eeng” and “eenk,” so “thinking” becomes “theenkeeng.” These are not found at all in Miami.

Miami English isn’t only spoken by Miami Latinos, though they are the predominant group that has this dialect. Carter has found that many Anglo whites in Miami will use this dialect—but not always. Miami English coexists with Spanglish and flat-out Spanish in Miami, and speakers will often switch between those depending on who they’re speaking to. A white teenager might use the Miami English dialect with friends, and a Northeast-like accent with parents—after all, there’s a good chance the teen’s parents hail from the North.

A major part of what makes Miami English special is how quickly and thoroughly immigrant groups have come to dominate the city. In, say, New York, even the biggest immigrant groups—Italian, Irish, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Chinese—are still comparatively minor parts of the whole. But Cubans, and then other Spanish-speakers, became the dominant force in Miami so quickly that, essentially, stranger calques and pronunciations and rhythms have been free to become the norm.

Read the whole thing.

14 Mar 2017

Elmer Keith Interviewed

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Elmer Keith (1899-1984)

The Library of Congress American English dialect recordings include a two-part interview with the late dean of the Big-Bore gun writers Elmer Keith himself. The gravel-voiced Keith was 82-years-old and living in Salmon, Idaho at the time.

1) 8:48 audio

2) 10:35 audio

Hat tip to Henry Bernatonis.

22 Aug 2016

Flatiron Building

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Flatiron2

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FlatironPC

The Fuller company, famed for its skyscraper designs, purchased a triangular plot in Manhattan on 23rd Street. The space was known as the Flatiron for its resemblance to a household clothes iron. Architect Daniel Burnham designed a building in the Beaux-Arts style, incorporating classical Roman features into a modern building with sculpted decoration. Upon completion in June 1902, the 22-story Flatiron Building was the tallest building in New York.

During its construction, many thought the wind would blow the building down, due to its odd height and shape. Thus, it was nicknamed “Burnham’s Folly.”

Due to the geography of the site, with Broadway on one side, Fifth Avenue on the other, and the open expanse of Madison Square and the park in front of it, the wind currents around the building could be treacherous. Wind from the north would split around the building, downdrafts from above and updrafts from the vaulted area under the street would combine to make the wind unpredictable. This is said to have given rise to the phrase “23 skidoo”, from what policemen would shout at men who tried to get glimpses of women’s dresses being blown up by the winds swirling around the building due to the strong downdrafts.

12 Aug 2016

Supernatural Collective Nouns

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SupernaturalCollectives1

SupernaturalCollectives2

SupernaturalCollectives3

01 Jul 2016

How Language Becomes Simple & Efficient

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EfficientLanguage
35th Berlin Marathon

John McWhorter, in the Atlantic, compares the complexity of several languages.

When a language seems especially telegraphic, usually another factor has come into play: Enough adults learned it at a certain stage in its history that, given the difficulty of learning a new language after childhood, it became a kind of stripped-down “schoolroom” version of itself. Because all languages, are, to some extent, busier than they need to be, this streamlining leaves the language thoroughly complex and nuanced, just lighter on the bric-a-brac that so many languages pant under. Even today, Indonesian is a first language to only one in four of its speakers; the language has been used for many centuries as a lingua franca in a vast region, imposed on speakers of several hundred languages. This means that while other languages can be like overgrown lawns, Indonesian’s grammar has been regularly mowed, such that especially the colloquial forms are tidier. Lots of adult learning over long periods of time is also why, for example, the colloquial forms of Arabic like Egyptian and Moroccan are somewhat less elaborated than Modern Standard Arabic—they were imposed on new people as Islam spread after the seventh century.

In contrast, one cannot help suspecting that not too many adults have been tackling the likes of sǝq’ayǝƛaaɣwǝaɣhaś. Kabardian has been left to its own devices, and my, has it hoarded a lot of them. This is, as languages go, normal, even if Kabardian is rather extreme. By contrast, only a few languages have been taken up as vehicles of empire and imposed on millions of unsuspecting and underqualified adults. Long-dominant Mandarin, then, is less “busy” than Cantonese and Taiwanese, which have been imposed on fewer people. English came out the way it did because Vikings, who in the first millennium forged something of an empire of their own in northern and western Europe, imposed themselves on the Old English of the people they invaded and, as it were, mowed it. German, meanwhile, stayed “normal.”

25 Jun 2016

Nine Swiss German Words

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Bunzli

The Local:

Bünzli

This insult – based on a real Swiss surname – applies to those boring people who follow all the rules and make sure everyone else does too. A Bünzli is the sort of person who would never cross the street when the light is red, who never stays out too late and never gets too drunk.

He is also the person most likely to complain to the building president when you dare to do your washing on Sunday, or to ring the police when he sees someone parked in front of a fire hydrant. Think garden gnomes and socks paired with Adiletten and you have the idea.

Hat tip to Althouse.

25 Jun 2016

Trump’s Visit to Scotland Inspired Some Very Creative Profanity

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Quartz story

————–

A few samples:

TrumpScottishInsults

29 May 2016

“Listen to Them, the Children of the Night. What Music They Make!”

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WolvesHowling

Holly Root-Gutteridge studies wolf dialects.

After hundreds of hours listening to thousands of wolves for my PhD, the difference between howls was obvious. The voice of a Russian wolf was nothing like that of a Canadian, and a jackal was so utterly different again that it was like listening to Farsi and French. I believed that there must be geographic and subspecies distinctions. Other researchers had made this proposition before, but no one had put together a large enough collection of howls to test it properly. …

Studies since the 1960s have shown that the howls that have haunted our dreams for centuries can tell us a lot about the particular wolf vocalising. Like humans, each wolf has its own voice. Each pack also shares howl similarities, making different families sound distinct from each other (wolves respond more favourably to familiar howls). This much we knew. What we didn’t know was whether the differences seen between packs were true of subspecies or of species, and if an Indian wolf howl would be distinct from a Canadian one.

More questions follow. If howls from different subspecies are different, do the howls convey the same message? Is there a shared culture of howl-meanings, where an aggressive howl from a European wolf means the same thing as an aggressive howl of a Himalayan? And can a coyote differentiate between a red wolf howling with aggressive intent and one advertising the desire to mate? Even without grammar or syntax, howls can convey intent, and if the shape of the howl changes enough while the intent remains constant, the foundations of distinctive culture can begin to appear. … Our canine voice collection represented was one of the most comprehensive ever.

We compared howls across 13 different subspecies and species of coyotes, dogs, wolves and jackals (collectively known as canids).

We then stretched all the howls to the same length, using a process called dynamic time warping, to compare the changes in the tune without including the tempo it was played at. We found that each species had its own favourite howl shape, a preferred set of changes to their howls to raise and drop the pitch, but that they also used howl shapes preferred by other species, and varied the shapes as they pleased. The species were like music bands with preferred styles of playing, whether riff-filled like jazz or the pure tones of classical, but were flexible in what they actually played at any given time. So while they had a favourite style, the tune itself varied.

Like musicians, the wolves were influenced by their forebears in the genre, and species shared traits with other canids that were closer to them geographically and genetically. An Eastern grey wolf, recorded in the US, sounded more like a North Carolinian red wolf than a European wolf, and an African jackal sounded quite different again. Small and delicate compared with their cousins the European wolves, golden jackals have high, rising howls, running up and down the scales in bravura performances of control and speed, but with less variation in overall shape, whereas the European wolves used a slower style of deep and steady long notes ending in falls that seem to drift away into the night. New Guinea singing dogs earned their names with a large vocal repertoire and a wide selection of howl shapes. While sometimes the different species achieved crossovers to other shapes, most had a style that dominated their repertoires.

Read the whole thing.

29 May 2016

Cambridge University App Tries to Identify English Regional Accents

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EnglishDialects

University of Cambridge Research:

A new app which tries to guess your regional accent based on your pronunciation of 26 words and colloquialisms will help Cambridge academics track the movement and changes to English dialects in the modern era.

Along with colleagues from the universities of Zurich and Bern, Cambridge’s Adrian Leemann has developed the free app English Dialects (available on iOS and Android) which asks you to choose your pronunciation of 26 different words before guessing where in England you’re from.

The app, officially launched today on the App Store and Google Play, also encourages you to make your own recordings in order to help researchers determine how dialects have changed over the past 60 years. The English language app follows the team’s hugely successful apps for German-speaking Europe which accumulated more than one million hits in four days on Germany’s Der Spiegel website, and more than 80,000 downloads of the app by German speakers in Switzerland.

“We want to document how English dialects have changed, spread or levelled out,” said Dr Leemann, a researcher at Cambridge’s Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics. “The first large-scale documentation of English dialects dates back 60-70 years, when researchers were sent out into the field – sometimes literally – to record the public. It was called the ‘Survey of English Dialects’. In 313 localities across England, they documented accents and dialects over a decade, mainly of farm labourers.”

The researchers used this historical material for the dialect guessing app, which allows them to track how dialects have evolved into the 21st century.

“We hope that people in their tens of thousands will download the app and let us know their results – which means our future attempts at mapping dialect and language change should be much more precise,” added Leemann. “Users can also interact with us by recording their own dialect terms and this will let us see how the English language is evolving and moving from place to place.”

The app asks users how they pronounce certain words or which dialect term they most associate with commonly-used expressions; then produces a heat map for the likely location of your dialect based on your answers.

For example, the app asks how you might say the word ‘last’ or ‘shelf’, giving you various pronunciations to listen to before choosing which one most closely matches your own. Likewise, it asks questions such as: ‘A small piece of wood stuck under the skin is a…’ then gives answers including: spool, spile, speel, spell, spelk, shiver, spill, sliver, splinter or splint. The app then allows you to view which areas of the country use which variations at the end of the quiz.

It also asks the endlessly contentious English question of whether ‘scone’ rhymes with ‘gone’ or ‘cone’.

Read the whole thing.

27 May 2016

Recipe For Disaster

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Voice Recognition Elevator… in Scotland!

27 May 2016

NYC Mandates Businesses Recognize 31 Genders

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Genders
4chan Genders

MRCTV:

On Tuesday, the New York City Commission of Rights released a list of 31 different gender identities that all businesses must recognize or else they risk paying a financial penalty between $125,000 and $250,000.

When de Blasio originally announced the Gender Identity/Gender Expression Legal Enforcement Guidance in December, individuals such as Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, saw is as a positive step in the right direction.

    “It’s a huge step forward and really catapults New York City to the forefront of the struggle for transgender rights”.

Originally, the guidebook included phrases such as gender, gender identity and gender non-conforming. But the newly released list includes pronouns such as hijra, third sex, non-op, gender gifted, two-spirit and gender bender.

    A “gender bender” is someone “who bends, changes, mixes, or combines society’s gender conventions by expressing elements of masculinity and femininity together.”

The terms include obscure descriptors like, “person of transgender experience,” but also mention well-known terms such as MTF, FTM and transgender. So I don’t see the point of having that one long and entirely unnecessary phrase.

Then again, all these pronouns are utterly senseless.

Just in case you wanted to look up the definition of these various terms, the University of Wisconsin and University of California Berkeley provides them.

Obviously not the sort of law which can practically be universally enforced. To even know what they’re talking about you would have to be deeply grounded in the sexually-perverted subculture as well as educated in the language and vocabulary of Marxist Critical Studies, which demonstrates just how crazy leftists really are. People like de Blasio are not only willing to endorse demands of the pervert class that they do not actually understand themselves, they are willing to go so far as to make the theoretical acquiescence of the general public compulsory.

07 Apr 2016

If Trump Did Shakespeare

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TrumpKing

Aryeh Cohen-Wade, in the New Yorker, imagines what The Donald would do to the best-known soliloquies.

Listen—to be, not to be, this is a tough question, O.K.? Very tough. A lot of people come up to me and ask, “Donald, what’s more noble? Getting hit every day with the slings, the bows, the arrows, the sea of troubles—or just giving up?” I mean, smart people, the best Ivy League schools.

But I say to them, “Have you ever thought that we don’t know—we don’t know—what dreams may come? Have you ever thought about that?” Ay yi yi—there’s the rub! There’s the rub right there. When we shuffle off this mortal whatever it is—coil? They say to me, “Donald, you’ve built this fantastic company, how’d you do it? How?” And I say one word: “leadership.” Because that’s what it’s all about, is leadership. And people are so grateful whenever I bring up this whole “perchance to dream” thing. So grateful.

And on and on with the whips and the scorns of time and the contumely and the fardels and the blah blah blah.

Then I see a bare bodkin and I’m like—a bodkin? What the hell is this thing, a bodkin? Listen, I run a very successful business, I employ thousands of people and I’m supposed to care whether this bodkin is bare or not? Sad!

And when people say I don’t have a conscience—trust me, I have a conscience, and it’s a very big conscience, O.K.? And the native hue of my resolution is not sicklied o’er, that’s a lie! If anyone tells you that the native hue of my resolution is sicklied o’er, they’re trying to sell you a load of you-know-what. And enterprises of great pith—listen, my enterprises are so pithy. So pithy. Fantastic pith. But sometimes, hey, they lose the name of action, right? I mean, it happens—it happens.

Read the whole thing.

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