Written language contains many information signals beside letters and numbers. Here are a few.
A period is to let the writer know he has finished his thought and he should stop there if he will only take the hint. Art Linkletter, A Child’s Garden of Misinformation (1965)
To a generation of children who are trained to be sensitive to an ever-increasing body of words deemed offensive because of their perceived meanings, who are “triggered” by these words and need “safe spaces,” it is, for the P.c., just a small jump from reading new meanings into words…to reading new meanings into marks of punctuation.
Why do people vote for a Presidential candidate who has plagiarized all his life and has as much originality and authenticity as the guy in the picture?
Here comes the orator, with his flood of words and his drop of reason.
Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1735
[Disclaimers: I am not a conservative, a Republican, or a supporter of Donald Trump. This is about the relationship of a speaker to his speech.]
The ubiquitous double screen has triumphed in Presidential politics. We now have a candidate who is totally reliant on script, whose public speaking skills do not enable him to compose and deliver an organized, coherent 30-second answer to a substantive or policy question.
A grammar book from the 1870’s shows language changing and sheds light on a contemporary language controversy.
Many languages. . .have no gendered pronouns. English needs a gender-neutral singular pronoun, and as Winston Churchill said about democracy as a form of government, “they” is the worst option, except for all the others.
-Anne Fadiman, Harper’s, August 2020
Language changes, perhaps in response to social pressure or a communicative need – or for no functional reason at all, as with hone in on replacing home in on, mainly, I guess, because the two sound alike, hone connotes focus and sharpness, and people forget what the home in home in on means.
Gender-neutral “they”: Let it start here full post
(1435 words, 1 image, estimated 5:44 mins reading time)
Politically correctness attacks the teaching of English. Be afraid.
Be very afraid..
“The truth is what most people believe. And they believe that which is repeated most often.”
“[The English language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts… if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
Language variation is change in progress.
“It’s hard to see what the problem is. Language speakers and writers have always been inventive, and texting is just one further example of human creativity. As David Crystal has expressed it: ‘it..is the latest manifestation of the human ability to be linguistically creative… In texting, we are seeing, in a small way, language in evolution…”
― Language Change: Progress or Decay?
I was writing to a friend that you could see language change in progress with the appearance (maybe 15-20 years ago) of hone in on, replacing home in on in speech and even in print..
Language change — up close full post
(1484 words, 1 image, estimated 5:56 mins reading time)
Who dares to be the red person in a sea of blue think-alikes?
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
— Lewis Carroll
“Offending and being offended are now the twin addictions of our society.”
— Martin Amis
Homonyms are words that sound alike but have different meanings.
Being inoffensive and being offended are now the twin addictions of our society.
Corona beer? Coronavirus? What do they have to do with each other? Absolutely nothing. They’re homonyms – multiple meanings for the same sequence of sounds. The English language is full of them, but only a few cause trouble, by which I mean they become infected with a “political virus.”
I would not want to attend the panicky meetings going on inside the walls of the marketers of Corona® beer. The bugaboo of the current news cycle is the supposed connection between the worrisome coronavirus and the beer of the same name.
Gender politics pervades language, and it’s getting even harder to know what’s “correct.”
Tens of thousands of years have elapsed since we shed our tails, but we are still communicating with a medium developed to meet the needs of arboreal man. . . We may smile at the linguistic illusions of primitive man, but may we forget that the verbal machinery on which we so readily rely, and which our metaphysicians still profess to probe the Nature of Existence, was set up by him, and may be responsible for other illusions hardly less gross and not more easily eradicable?
Pronouns and gender politics full post
(1188 words, 1 image, estimated 4:45 mins reading time)
Politicians commit various language abuses considered “BS.” Biden is a prime example.
Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.
Henry Adams, 1907
The politician is an acrobat. He keeps his balance by saying the opposite of what he does.
Maurice Barres (1896-1923)
Political BS, a noxious blend of mendacity, manipulation, and meaninglessnss, is all around us, as it has been ever since we invented politics. So let’s try to understand what it is, the better to identify and resist it (this is knowledge that all middle-school graduates should have, but it is in the interests of the ruling classes that they not have it).
Overwhelmed by political BS full post
(1094 words, 1 image, estimated 4:23 mins reading time)
The apostrophe plays a weak role in writing and none at all in speech. That’s a problem.
(Sign on restaurant in Jaffrey, NH)
Former copy editor John Richards has decided to surrender in his 20-year quest to promote correct (i.e., prescribed/codified) apostrophe usage.
Richards and like-minded crusaders are enraged by (i) use of the apostrophe in plurals and (ii) in possessive it’s (which I’ve seen many times on signs and websites and in print) and (iii) omission in other possessives where it does belong (Barclays).
Apostrophe warrior lays down his sword full post
(779 words, 1 image, estimated 3:07 mins reading time)
Politically incorrect speech is neither red nor blue. It is red, while and blue. It is American. Repression of speech leads to repression of thought.
This is a message that the p.c. crowd — in the media, in the universities – needs to hear again and again, because they don’t get it, especially when a Presidential candidate (Warren) announces “her” pronouns on the debate stage, and a teacher is fired for not using the student’s preferred pronouns. It is not enough, the argument goes, to have pronouns of two genders, when there are so many other genders. We need more pronouns!
Stop the pronoun craziness full post
(1290 words, 1 image, estimated 5:10 mins reading time)
The many aspects of English
The attitudes and prejudices of speakers towards various languages and dialects is important “peri-linguistic” data. They may influence the development and differentiation of language itself. Or they may not — just voices in the wind.
Gripes of a pseudo-expert
Thus, when a major, even venerable magazine, Harper’s, publishes an essay “Semantic Drift” by Lionel Shriver, it deserves critical attention. I have seen many such pieces before — a pseudo-expert bitching about linguistic developments he doesn’t like.
Language change: getting it right full post
(1688 words, 1 image, estimated 6:45 mins reading time)
Code-switching can be used in the service of pandering, as when Presidential candidates lapse into Spanish to win favor in the cheapest manner.
Spare me the sight / of this thankless breed, these politicians / who cringe for favors from a screaming mob / and do not care what harm they do their friends / providing they can please a crowd!
Euripides, Hecuba (c. 425 BCE)
This post introduces my Blahblahblah Award, bestowed upon the politician using the most devious and manipulative language since…well, since the previous award. The grinding Presidential race will continue for many months, so there should be plenty of material.
Code-switching and pandering – a new low full post
(671 words, 1 image, estimated 2:41 mins reading time)
Linguistics is concerned with who says what to whom, and why. Why do groups of people adopt their own manner of speaking? There are many answers.
Is sloppiness in speech caused by ignorance or apathy? I don’t know and I don’t care.
I admire John McWhorter so much for the breadth of his accomplishments, his accessibility to the media, his eloquent lectures.
I recently saw a video clip in which he pegged Trump’s speech as characteristic of primitive humans just getting their “language chops” together.
On baby talk and language change full post
(1069 words, 1 image, estimated 4:17 mins reading time)
From mind to thought (and from there to the speech and auditory organs)
The truth is what most people believe. And they believe that which is repeated most often.
Paul Josef Goebbels
Here is the text of a letter I sent to the Manchester NH Union-Leader (published 6/21/19):
March 19, 2019
Let me add my voice to the chorus of people outraged by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s comparison of immigrant confinement to concentration camps. This is worse than obscene and ignorant. It is an utterly irresponsible use of language. As a linguist, I am appalled by the deceptive reducing of two vastly different entities to a single point of comparison — confinement.
Dialects unite and divide us.
I just read an article on “who’s got the sexiest accent?’, and when I Googled the article, I discovered that “sexiest accent” generates over four million hits.
As Trump said about health care, who knew there were so many surveys?
The ones I skimmed through seemed mostly intended as tourism boosters, at least for the places with accents people like.
I didn’t see a survey conducted by any linguistics scholar I ever heard of. In the latest survey, from Big Seven Travel (Katey Psencik, The Columbus Dispatch), there are 50 accents — just like we have 50 states! Some of the accents are associated with cities, so presumably not every State was represented.
Who’s got the sexiest accent? Not me. full post
(1395 words, 1 image, estimated 5:35 mins reading time)
“…style is intrinsic and private, like…voice or gesture, partly a matter of inheritance, partly of cultivation. It is more than a pattern of expression. It is the pattern of the soul.”
Think of language as haberdashery: you have a closet full of clothes for every occasion. Your clothing choice expresses yourself in a particular context, for a particular audience. In the same way, barely aware of it (or not aware at all), you change your speech to what you think (though there are no conscious thinking processes) will be effective for a particular situation and audience.