Link love: language (21)

What’s this then, then?

Newspaper warning stickers.

What the oil spill did to language.

American English is as varied as ever.

A short introduction to Proto-Indo-European.

The erratic use of apostrophes in the 17th century. (PDF, 632 KB)

Thon, ip, his-her: The troubled history of the gender-neutral pronoun.

“Esaw saw a saw saw wood as no other wood-saw Wood saw would saw wood.”

How the late Tony Judt was “seduced by the sheen of English prose”.

Geoffrey Nunberg on the persistence of English. (PDF, 97 KB)

A dictionary of slang from 1699 will be reprinted in 2010.

William Zinsser on writing “On Writing Well”.

Lame spelling wars on Wikipedia.

A striking woodcut alphabet.




11 Responses to Link love: language (21)

  1. Great set of links Stan. It is heartening to see that so many Wikipedians have a sense of what is truly important in this world

  2. lynneguist says:

    Oh, links and love are two of my favo(u)rite things! Thanks, Stan!

  3. Fran says:

    When I don’t want to do the ironing, I turn to one of your link love posts. The ideal justification for not doing what you’re supposed to.

  4. Stan says:

    Jams: Speaking of priorities, this story of ‘bagel rage’ might amuse you.

    Lynne: My pleasure. Thanks for your visit!

    Fran: By all means, send your guilt to me – just don’t expect me to help with the ironing. Welcome back from your sabbatical, by the way.

  5. Thanks Stan that is a great story!

  6. Tim says:

    Took me a while to get through what I wanted to read. Another great list of stuff. I especially liked the essay about the diversity of English in the English-speaking world. I was actually hoping for some references to the author’s claims.

    (though films produced in one part of the English-speaking world often have to be dubbed or subtitled to make them intelligible to audiences in another).

    I’ve never heard of this before. English is a language where all speakers follow the same rules and can communicate and understand all but the most obscure colloquialisms and cultural references – though from context it is often possible to do so with fair accuracy. I will admit that some accents make it more difficult to decipher what people are saying (Scottish, I’m looking at you), but there is a real structure to our language that exists and is more than just recognisable – it is obvious.

    The second point I wouldn’t have minded a reference to is this:
    (though on occasion it has came closer to breaking up than most people realize).

    Really? English has come close to breaking up? It has evolved greatly from its Anglo-Saxon origins and has borrowed from maybe more sources than any other language, with its hybrid concoction of Latin, French and Greek (to name just the major contributors); but to claim that it has come close to breaking up seems a bit farfetched (or farflung if you prefer).

    Well, I for one greatly admire and appreciate the diversity in our language: for it is one language and not a whole lot of different languages and dialects as some areas of the world must suffer. There are minor differences in spelling and grammar – and of course accent, inflection and colloquialism – but nothing to really divide the language up to be unintelligible to native English speakers from completely different parts of the planet.

  7. Tim says:

    BTW, I just read that bagel story. I don’t understand some of the comments where people are applauding this pinch-nosed professor for trying to stand up for correct use of the English language.

    I reread the article to make sure I didn’t miss anything, but I see absolutely nothing to indicate any linguistic misuse. Can someone explain to the ignorant just what the lady had a problem with, linguistically?

    As far as I can tell, she was simply a disgruntled customer who expected the person behind the counter to read her mind. She didn’t specify: she didn’t use words like “just” or “only”; and yet expected a particular outcome within the confines of a sub-culture. Did she even say please, or was that, too, beyond her linguistic genius?

    And thus the world raises its eyebrows at the ignorance, absurdity and rudeness of a haughty university professor.

  8. Stan says:

    Tim: I think you underestimate how mutually incomprehensible different English dialects can be. Film examples include Trainspotting and Riff-Raff, which were subtitled for the American market; and In The Name Of The Father, My Left Foot, Local Hero, Gregory’s Girl and Mad Max, all of which were, I believe, at least partially dubbed. Some of the Cork accents in Disco Pigs were considered incomprehensible to non-Irish people and even non-Corkonians. Subtitling non-native speakers is quite common too; most recently I saw this technique used in Burma Soldier.

    As for the Bagel Rage story, I think linguistics was just a scapegoat: grammatical correctness was an excuse for some good old-fashioned venting and grouching. Most of comments I read (on blogs and Twitter) afforded the professor little sympathy. You might be interested in the discussions at Johnson, Language Log, and MetaFilter.

  9. I love the Esaw story.

    On the other hand, I don’t want to ever read another article that suggests the main argument in favour of gender-neutral pronouns is the notion that singular “they” violates number agreement.

    It might seem that way to people not linguistically informed, but it just ain’t so. More pertinent is the fact that singular “they” is not always applicable, for example it doesn’t work with certain kinds of antecedents. So there are still plenty of occasions where a new pronoun would be useful.

    The problem with trying to plug the hole in the language is that a new pronoun, being new, inevitably draws attention to itself, whereas being a pronoun, ought not draw attention to itself. A bit of a puzzler there.

  10. Stan says:

    Dragon: Yes, it’s hard to imagine a new pronoun ever finding widespread acceptance. They seems the best of what’s available but, as you point out, it’s not a complete solution.

    Thanks for reminding me of Geoffrey Pullum’s excellent piece on Lingua Franca. I love that he finishes by protesting “the triumph of bad grammatical advice over poetry and love”!

  11. Geoffrey Pullum’s pieces on Lingua Franca were how I first found out about Pullum and the Cambridge Grammar. I forget the details, but it’s at least approximately true to say that years later I came across Language Log and made the connection.

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