Two linguistic questions

1. By email, Colm O’Brien asks:

Where I used to say things like

“I think this is a good video:”

in IM conversations/on Twitter/etc, I’m now finding myself more likely to phrase it as

“I think is a good video.”

Is there a name for this kind of substitution — for using a link as a noun? I think it’s interesting because it can’t really be read out loud (especially for longer, more elaborate urls), and also because (unless I’m overlooking something) it only really works with yer moderd’n shtyle of electronic communication. I’m sure there’s probably some kind of older equivalent, mind, just not one I can think of. I’d be interested to hear what you think.

The question interests me, but alas, I didn’t have much of an answer for Colm. I said it was a kind of embedded direct referral, but that this was just me throwing words together and was not a technical term.

When we include a web link in online text, we can embed it in different ways and to varying degrees. For example:

A. I think this is a good video:
B. I think this is a good video
C. I think is a good video
D. I think this is a good video

Obviously D is what’s commonly known as hyperlinking. C is the construction Colm was wondering about. If anyone can suggest (or invent) terms for the practice, or describe what’s going on grammatically, I’d love to hear it.


2. An artist friend, Annie Silverman, regularly visits Ireland and Denmark, and spent a few years living in the latter country. She asks:

Do you know if there is a name for that small intake of breath that I have noticed some Irish people make and also Danish people make when they are listening and agree and want you to continue talking? At first it sounds like the person is surprised, but it is an affirmation that might be called a “completion probe” like a nod or “ah ha”.

I think I know what she’s referring to, but it’s not something I can remember hearing in a while. It sounds like something I’d call a prompt rather than a probe (and I would transcribe her “ah ha” as “uh-huh”).

On a Language Hat post about click consonants, AJP Crown made the following comment about the same or a similar phenomenon:

I wonder if it [the click] falls in the same linguistic category as the short loud intake of breath that some German & Scandinavian women (but hardly ever men) use, sometimes habitually, instead of saying “yes”.


Your thoughts on either matter would be much appreciated.

Update: Computational linguist Robert Eklund has a useful website about ingressive phonation and has described pulmonic ingressive speech as a ‘neglected universal’ (PDF).

31 Responses to Two linguistic questions

  1. Cindy Hollenbeck says:

    Regarding your discussion on the “this is a good video:” I want to say that because of technology, I prefer the latter as well. I work as a technical editor, and I want to get the readers to the website quickly. So, writing something like this: “Visit our website for more information” with website as the live link works so much better than “Visit our website: http//” In addition, most URLs are so ugly. Thanks for bringing this up!

  2. Lane says:

    I’m glad to see I wasn’t crazy to notice that short intake of breath thing. A Norwegian girl I dated once did it, and I thought it was her quirk. Then I saw her mother do it, and I thought it was a family quirk. But now my Danish wife and her mother do it, so I realize it’s a Scandinavian thing.

    (I don’t remember noticing it in a year of living in Germany…)

  3. Lane says:

    Also, my wife didn’t know she did it (or wasn’t aware that it was at all unusual) until I pointed it out.

  4. John Cowan says:

    B looks awkward to me, since “this NOUN” is normally used only when there is more than one. In the U.S., opponents of the President (whoever he may be) sometimes refer to him as “this President”, as distinct from the President they would like or expect to have.

    As for terminology, my mind goes to phrases like “denominal verb”, which is a verb derived from a noun, such as “author”, and “deverbal noun”, a noun derived from a verb, such as “bruise”. But unfortunately the suffix “-al” doesn’t attach to native roots like “link”, so we can’t talk about “delinkal nouns”. If someone can think of a Latin or French equivalent of “link” in this sense, we may be getting somewhere.

  5. Carlota says:

    In Ethiopia they usually say “yes” with the breath intake thing, although it is not (necessarily) short, it can be pretty long and even strong… And it is the most frequent way of agreeing with you or just repplying affirmatively. When my sister went to Norway and noticed they did it there too, we were really surprised… Completely anecdotal, yes, but still interesting, isn’t it? :D

  6. Martha says:

    It’s the “pulmonic ingressive.” We discussed it here, third call into the show:

    There’s some fascinating research about it. A listener later pointed out you can also hear this in the Swedish movie version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

  7. Kory says:

    In my house, we call the intake of breath “The Scandinavian Nod.” I grew up hearing the Finnish version of this–short, through the teeth, unvocalized, occasionally followed by Niin to mark further assent. A few of the Norwegians we know who do this occasionally vocalize it with a little wheeze. The first time I heard it, I assumed that I had offended the listener: that wheeze of assent sounded like a choking gasp to me.

    As for the link/noun question, the best I can come up with is “substitution,” but that’s probably because it’s lexicographical jargon and I’m in the middle of a sticky batch of defining.

  8. Garrett Wollman says:

    You left out the (recommended) option E: A good video of a mumblefrotz gronkulator. Using generic words like demonstratives as anchor text is horrible for accessibility. See Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Technique H30. Unfortunately, Twitter does not allow this.

  9. Stan says:

    Cindy: Thanks for joining in! Yes, I think in that situation a hyperlink is normally the natural choice, though in offline contexts – posters and business cards, for example – a visible URL is unavoidable.

    Lane: It’s funny how what we grow up doing or saying seems normal until we notice (or it’s pointed out to us) that it’s far from ubiquitous and might even be puzzling to our geographical neighbours.

    John: B could be read with the link as an appositive that’s lacking punctuation. But it is the most awkward of the four. I like your ideas about possible terminology, but I’ll leave its completion to someone more capable than I am.

    Carlota: That is very interesting, yes. Thank you for sharing the anecdote.

    Martha: That’s very helpful, and I appreciate the link. I’m pretty sure I listened to that episode years ago, which doesn’t say much for my memory! I’ll listen to it again later today, and will dig around for research into the “pulmonic ingressive” if I get the chance.

    Kory: As a name “The Scandinavian Nod” has an appealing ring to it, though without further explanation it would suggest something more gestural. Substitution captures generally what’s happening in Colm’s question, and could be used as a working term or inspire something a little more specific.

    Garrett: That’s a good point about avoiding generic words as anchor text. I used to wish Twitter would allow hyperlinks, but I now see it as part of the challenge to be succinct; and there are other ways to extend the data, such as long tweets (which I’ve resisted so far).

  10. stuartnz says:

    Thank you, Garrett, for the point about not using generic words as anchor text. This is something I’ve been guilty of far too often, having never considered why it was a bad idea. I’m grateful for the education. As for Twitter and hyperlinks, the only change I wish Twitter would make is to remove Twitter handles from the 140 count, which would make actual conversations possible.

  11. Marc Leavitt says:

    I like Martha’s “pulmonic ingressive” as a descriptor. Sometimes, to name it is to own it. I’ll be listening for it in future, especially regarding languages of origin. I think I’ve heard it in the past, but I can’t pin down the source.

  12. Although I kinda like the term “delinkal noun,” I think a more accurate description would be “proper name” or “proper noun.”

  13. On Q1, my first impulse is to throw more words together and call it “extralinguistic nominal embedding (of links)”.

    The invented term “nominalink” does not appeal to me at all, but it is a portmanteau of “nominalise” and “link” and parallels “hyperlink”. I also don’t like “nomilink”. Or “gnomey-link”.

    It might be worth discussing, if there were a technical term, for what purposes and registers it would be most useful. Linguistic research papers? Style guides advising on how links ought to be presented? Everyday online conversation?

    That’s all I have.

  14. Stan says:

    Stuart: I find this becoming a significant problem only when there are several people talking and the available space for content is greatly reduced.

    Marc: I like the term too. Computational linguist Robert Eklund has created a useful website about ingressive phonation and has described pulmonic ingressive speech as a “neglected universal” (PDF).

    Neal: Delinkal sounds to me like de lickle, i.e., the little. Maybe John’s suggestion of a Latin or French equivalent is the way to go, though I didn’t arrive at anything satisfactory when I tried that route.

    Adrian: I don’t think style guides would make use of such a technical term unless it became very popular, which seems unlikely. But it might be handy occasionally in linguistic discussions or technical conversations about online syntax.

    Following John’s lead I considered dewebbal noun and deurl noun, but the first isn’t accurate and the second could cause problems with pronunciation.

  15. Thanks for this fascinating post on the tiny quirks of the way Scandinavian women talk…it’s absorbing little facts like that that interest me the most, I think. :)

  16. Stan says:

    theeditorandthebeast: You’re very welcome. The sound occurs in many language systems around the world, but it appears to be associated most strongly with Scandinavia.

  17. beewus says:

    I use the “I think is a …” form as it gets around the problem of the period at the end of the sentence being construed as being part of the URL. It’s usually not a problem if the reader is simply clicking on the link to navigate, but if they want to cut-and-paste for any reason, they either have to fight their operating system’s desire to include the trailing period in the copy region, or hope that the period doesn’t cause problems in the pasting context (a document, the address bar of a browser).

  18. Stan says:

    beewus: I’ve found that to be a problem too, and for that reason I sometimes omit the full stop altogether – a strategy that’s fine in casual emails but isn’t always appropriate.

  19. dropo59 says:

    From Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Moose”:

    “Yes …” that peculiar
    affirmative. “Yes …”
    A sharp, indrawn breath,
    half groan, half acceptance,
    that means “Life’s like that.
    We know it (also death).”

  20. Stan says:

    dropo59: Lovely example.

  21. kitchenmudge says:

    Choices among A,B, and C can vary with the context, but I don’t much like simply putting a hyperlink on words for two reasons:

    (1) It lends itself to Rickrolling. When you spell out the URL, suspicious readers have the option to copy & paste it into the address bar and avoid any surprises.

    (2) If you want to save the text into a plain text format with a simple copy & paste, you lose the URL.

    The “pulmonic ingressive” was a revelation to me. I’m sure I’ve heard this in Scandinavian movies and thought it was a gasp of surprise.

  22. Stan says:

    kitchenmudge: Glad to have helped clarify the matter of the pulmonic ingressive. Before clicking on a link, I tend to briefly hover the cursor over it to see what it points to. Unless the URL has been shortened, its identity is generally transparent enough to preclude the possibility of Rickrolling or other forms of ‘Gotcha’. As for (2), yes that’s true. People will have different needs and preferences. Some URLs are very long, and being able to hide them can be a distinct advantage.

  23. Ado_Annie says:

    Was just going to mention to kitchenmudge about hovering. I’ve recieved so many phishing emails over the last few years that I always hover to make sure the link matches the subject.

    I am new to your blog (linked from sesquiotic) and I am enjoying the browse through the posts.

  24. Stan says:

    Ado_Annie: Hovering is a good habit to get into, I think. Sometimes too it saves you the trouble of clicking because you recognise the URL as one you’ve visited before, or one you’re not interested in visiting, and so on. Thanks for your visits, by the way, and for letting me know how you came across the blog. You are very welcome.

  25. kitchenmudge says:

    Yes, I hover myself, but is that possible for everyone, with every device and application that they might be using to view it? Best to compose text for the lowest common denominator.

  26. Daniel says:

    Re question 2: are you asking for a phonetic description, or a functional one? My first thought was to call it a backchannel cue.

  27. Stan says:

    Any relevant information is welcome, Daniel. Backchannel is a good general answer, and it didn’t occur to me when I was writing the post.

  28. dainichi says:

    This is an eye-opener! I spent most of my adolescent life in Denmark, and much of my adult life outside of it, but never registered the pulmonic ingressive as a particularly Danish or Scandinavian phenomenon.

    I’m a bit surprised about the claims that it is mostly heard in female speech. I’m sure my (Danish) father uses it occasionally, and I’m pretty sure I might use it myself (I’m male) when I speak Danish. But now that I’m conscious of it, I probably won’t be able to use it with the same frequency as before…

    Next time I go to Denmark I will definitely look out for this.

  29. Stan says:

    dainichi: The gender difference may be just anecdotal, or it could be significant but without implying that the phenomenon is unusual in men. I’d love to hear what you find out next time you visit Denmark!

  30. JohnS says:

    The “ingressive affirmative” (audible intake of air to indicate agreement or yes) is used by pretty much every Swedish person I know.

    It has to clearly audible, because people even do it in telephone conversations. It is sometimes voiced with a “yah” sound, but more often it is unvoiced (you hear the air, but not the vocal chords).

    Even non-Swedes learning Swedish in Sweden will eventually begin doing it unconsciously. I’m not Swedish, but I learned Swedish when I lived there in the 1990s. When I was speaking Swedish with my friends from Chile, Iraq, Kurdistan, etc., it was just part of our everyday vocabulary. No one learns is in a Swedish language class; it’s just one of those things you can’t help but pick up from everybody around you.

    It’s true that women do it somewhat more than men, but there is also individual variation; some men might do it more than some women.

    In the part of Sweden where I learned the language (Vaesterbotten), there is a local variation, used almost exclusively by women, and usually heard when one was getting information (on the phone) from some kind of bureaucratic entity like a city or county office.

    It is a two-syllable “yah-ah” with a glottal stop between the two parts, almost sounds like a hiccup.

    So it goes like this:

    Q: “Alltsaa, kontoret aer staengt paa loerdag?”
    A: “Ja-ah”

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