Link love: language (47)

It’s time – past time – for a roundup of language-related items I enjoyed over the last few weeks. So here they are:

Is malarkey Irish?

The world’s oldest message in a bottle.

Grammar gotcha” and political speech.

Vices of modern prose (from a century ago).

Briticisms in American English.

When foreign words and native accents meet.

Linguistic advice for pseudo-Elizabethan romancers.

A short history of Wow! from 1513 to now.

Literature vs. traffic (art installation).

Why handwriting matters.


Is funner grammatical?

Dialectal differences in sign languages.

An immodest proposal to reform the English writing system.

Noah Webster’s designs for American orthography.

France ≠ twirling a moustache: how British sign language is changing.

Good debate on language rules, usage, and authority.

Mononymy: when people use just one name.

How the Beatles used and influenced the English language.

Non-singular only is not debatable.

Are some languages faster than others?

A dictionary of Demotic Egyptian has been published.

Translating Finnegans Wake into Chinese.

Booklet on the recently expired Cromarty fisher dialect of Scots (PDF).


Note: some of these I’ve already shared on Twitter, and some that I’ve tweeted didn’t make the list. Them’s the breaks.

[lots more links]

14 Responses to Link love: language (47)

  1. languagehat says:

    I had to stop reading the Jessica Love piece (“When foreign words and native accents meet”) when I got to:

    In a few rare cases, as in Lima, Ohio (pronounced “Lime-a”), or Versailles, Kentucky (pronounced “Ver-sails”), the nativization now feels a bit forced. (Note that this is not lost on local residents, one of whom confirmed that of course she uses different pronunciations when discussing Versailles, France, and Versailles, Kentucky.)

    “Feels a bit forced” to whom? To the lazy writer looking for a cheap insight, that’s to whom. Certainly not to the locals, nor to anyone who gives it a moment’s thought. And of course she uses different pronunciations when discussing Versailles, France, and Versailles, Kentucky… because they’re pronounced differently, ya maroon! Just like “bow (and arrow)” and “bow (of a ship)”! Bah, I’m getting agitated, I’d better go edit a bibliography and calm down.

  2. John Cowan says:

    Most of the “vices of modern prose” are fair enough, but why this rot about ignoring etymology? You have to ignore etymology in order to write correctly at all. It would be farcical to insist on using nice in the sense of ‘ignorant’ (< Latin nescius), or silly in the sense of ‘holy’ (cf. German selig), or ham in the sense ‘back of the knee’. Or for that matter etymology meaning ‘true name’.

    In the “Wow!” piece, the first OED quotation is surely “Woe!” rather than “Wow!”.

  3. alexmccrae1546 says:

    @Languagehat, following up on the gist of your post re/ the idiosyncratic pronunciations of place names, I recall back in my early teens the slight mangling of the name of the hometown of one of Canada’s then-stellar men’s figure skaters, Donald Jackson, by none other than the esteemed ABC/ TV sportscaster, Jim McKay.

    The hometown was Oshawa*, Ontario, and Jackson was competing in the1962 World Figure Skating Championships in Prague. Prior to Jackson taking to the ice for his initial compulsory figures routine, I remember McKay giving some biographical background on the young, favored-to-win, Canuck skater, and mentioning his hailing from a small town on Lake Ontario just east of Toronto called ‘Aw-shaw-wah’, rather than the ‘correct’ Osh-awah. (Merely a minor syllable break glitch.)

    Looking back, my family and I, glued to our tiny B&W TV screen, cheering on our native son, Jackson, to ultimate success**, in the moment, we kind of unfairly openly mocked poor announcer McKay’s mispronouncing of “Oshawa”. It’s curious that I still remember that very human, unintented error so vividly after all these years.

    Truth be told, the way McKay had pronounced Oshawa, i.e., ‘Aw-shaw-wah’, may have been the way the local Ojibwa Native Peoples originally phrased it, and we anglos later kind of twisted it to fit our subjective ear.

    Another interesting unwitting mangling I recall, in this case a street name in Toronto, Strachan Ave. to be precise, occurred back in the mid-’70s , when my now late, ex-Bulgarian-uncle-by-marriage, Ivan, was giving me instructions on how to get to a specific locale down near the Toronto lakefront.

    “Just take the Queen St. east to the ‘Stratchin’, and you turn left. Can’t miss it.”, instructed uncle Ivan. I scratched my head, having no clue as to what downtown Toronto street he was actually referring to. Eventually it dawned on me that he was attempting to say Strachan Ave. (pronounced Strawn… rhymes w/ Shaun), a rather distinguished Scots-rooted name, the street likely named after one of our more eminent early city fathers, or barristers, perhaps.

    So here was an expat Bulgarian who had arrived in Canada in the ’50s, probably in his mid-forties, and is immediately assigned to live in remote Yellowknife, Yukon Territories, w/ little-to-no English language knowledge, and labor for many years in the regional mines, before moving east to ‘civilization’ in Toronto.

    Frankly, I’m certain there would be many a native-born Torontonian who might screw up the pronunciation of Strachan Ave.

    Local knowledge is always a boon.

    *Oshawa has been a one-company town for decades, recognized as Canada’s headquarters for General Motors.

    **I think Donald Jackson one the World’s Men’s Figure Skating gold medal at this event.

  4. alexmccrae1546 says:


    That would be “Donald Jackson WON….”, not “one” the gold medal. D’oh!

  5. alexmccrae1546 says:

    Interestingly, the Grammarphobia Blog piece on the long-ago linguistic origin, and continuing usage of the interjection, “wow”, neglected to get into its use as a verb, as in say, “The young magician wowed the small gathering w/ his deft card tricks, and other clever slight-of-hand moves.”

    Or…. “The suave lothario had a penchant for wowing* naive, impressionable maidens w/ his physical bravura feats of strength, and daring-do. (Hmm… “wowing” is an adverb in this instance, no?)

    Clearly, the basic notion of “wow” used as a verb relates directly, meaning-wise, to the interjection “wow”.

    We often here the expression referring to say an up-and-coming performer/ entertainer, that so-and-so individual definitely has that
    special ‘WOW! factor’, suggesting that audiences should sit up and take special notice of this new kid on the block. (Or senior citizen on stage, for that matter.)

    *The ‘wooing’ hopefully comes later. HA!

  6. wisewebwoman says:

    I loved the Beatles piece and the unapologetic linguistic influence they had on the world.

    Off topic ~ I would be also most interested in when Irish language revivalism took the world’s fancy.

    I attended Sean O’Riada’s lectures in the sixties, and that would have been the very beginning….pre-Chieftains.


  7. Don’t have much to say about this month’s collection, partly because I’ve read most of the already, partly because I’m going internet-lite at the moment. The rest of this comment is addressed to Alex.

    Alex, I read some of the Language Log thread where you acknowledged the need to edit your own comments for brevity, although I stopped when I foresaw an inevitable cringeworthy moment so I don’t know how it ended. Part of me wanted to offer some constructive advice but it would only have added to the problem. (One tip I’d have offered is that there was no need to paraphase what had already been said simply to acknowledge it and/or prove you understood it.)

    I hope it won’t offend you if I say that I suspect you may have some sort of diagnosable psychological condition affecting your impulse control or something like that (so that once you get it into your head to say something, you can’t resist). You can be sure no insult is intended, especially coming from someone who was diagnosed with aspergers long before it became fashionable, and besides, I’m sure you’d rather people questioned your psychological integrity than your good intentions (as many people inevitably will).

    As for practical solutions, it’s for you to discern what your needs are, but one (admittedly drastic) option would be to circulate draft blog comments among some trusted friends for a few hours before you post them. For this purpose you could either start a mailing list or your own possibly password-protected blog. I’d consider doing my bit (at least on a trial basis), but of course there is the difference in time zones to bear in mind (can’t offer feedback when I’m asleep). Anyway, just an idea.

    Here, of course, you have the benefit of Stan’s legendary tolerance and love of conversation.

  8. languagehat says:

    A simpler solution: give yourself an iron limit of 200 words per comment. If you can’t say it in 200 words, it doesn’t need to be said.

  9. limr says:

    Funny you linked to a post about Finnegans Wake – I just read on another blog about someone who is illustrating that book: The artwork is very interesting and well-done. Can’t say how good it is in terms of interpreting or complementing the book since I’ve never read it.

    The article about Black ASL was fascinating. I knew there were dialectal differences, but never really got too much into the exact differences or reasons for them. Sign language linguistics was my main interest in grad school, but the department I was in was quite focused on theory (poor planning on my part) so I switched to Deaf Ed. It’s an oddity that to study ASL linguistics, it’s really important to understand the education system and the history of the deaf within that system. My new program did give a historical context for current issues, but really only touched on the surface of these kinds of sociolinguistic differences. I’d seen a few different signs from black deaf people but thought it was just a minor vocab difference, the same way that we in Pennsylvania would have one sign for ‘ketchup’ (fist with one hand, slap the top of that fist with an open palm of the other hand – like mimicking the motion of slapping the bottom of a ketchup bottle – mind you, this is in Pittsburgh, home of Heinz ketchup) while the same sign in California meant something a bit… naughtier.

    Ah, if only I’d had more energy to bridge the gap: closer study of the language issues within the proper historical and educational context. But I was a bit beaten up by then, so I got my Tesol certificate and hightailed it to Turkey instead :)

    The information I got from that article that was totally new for me was that oralism never affected the deaf schools for black children. Oralism is seen almost like a deaf Holocaust. Alexander Graham Bell is the deaf person’s Hitler. ASL went underground during oralism – but apparently only for white students. The two dialects then formed very different contexts. It’s exciting that it’s finally getting some attention.

    Now I feel like digging through the ASL linguistics drawer in my file cabinet.

  10. alexmccrae1546 says:

    Flesh-eating Dragon,

    I much appreciate your constructive, and seemingly well-intentioned advice from Down Under, as it were, and will take your notion of a possible writing impulse control issue, in my case, to heart.

    (By the way, It was courageous of you to share your Aspergers diagnosis, although there should be no shame, or stigma attached to having this psychological disorder, which I understand is on the autism spectrum, or thought to be a milder form, thereof.)

    If you HAD followed up on my little kerfuffle over my tendency to long-windedness at LL, you’d see that in my post-dustup, more recent postings, I’ve managed to mostly stay on point, and have limited my number of characters considerably. So far, no complaints.

    I believe a big issue w/ me relates to lack of healthy, and constructive time management, coupled with the loss of a strong, support network of close, communicative friends, and work colleagues. I’ve been retired from the studio animation industry
    for some four years now, (having worked as a cartoonist/ designer for almost three decades), and being a pretty social, talkative person, currently not having that daily social contact and interaction that the workplace provided has left somewhat of a void in my life.

    So with considerable free time available to me, among other interests such as nature photography, sports, and reading, I’ve found myself gravitating more to the blogosphere. My initial forays in commenting, many of them admittedly too long and drifting, seemed to have passed muster, and often generated some positive feedback, moving the conversation along. Thinking it was OK to comment at length, and not meeting any push-back until this latest much-deserved admonishment at LL, I merrily continued my verbose ways.

    I think I’m FINALLY getting it now, although perhaps looking at that penultimate post for Stan’s article, above, responding to idiosyncratic place naming, it doesn’t show it.

    Truth be told, I actually penciled out a whole argument countering writer Michael Rundell’s* notion that the Beatles, for the first time, legitimized the infusion of a British accent (Liverpudlian) into pop music. But last evening I nixed it, realizing it was far to long to post, as I was bringing bands like The Animals, The Stones, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and Herman’s Hermits into the mix. (Ugh!)

    So I am starting to censure myself, and trying to think more pragmatically before posting. Like most bad habits, it will take some time to work out. The most important thing is, acknowledging the problem.

    Oh, lately I’ve started to check out your own blog, The Outer Hoard, on occasion, and really enjoy your open, matter-of-fact spirit of sharing what’s going on w/ you, and your focusing on your various interests and proclivities. Yet sometimes I feel you are almost too trusting and open. But that’s just my subjective take.

    Thanks again for your advice, and your generous offer to assist me w/ my ‘problem’. I know this post was probably too long, but I wanted to make sure you understood where I was coming from…. other than L.A. (Groan)

    *How the Beatles used and influence the English Language.

  11. Claude says:

    Dear Stan,

    For the last year, I have been in the process of shredding my many friends’ handwritten letters. All my friends are gone now. Soon, it will be my turn. The letters are long, interesting, elegantly written. But none of us are famous à la Jane Austen. Who would ever want to read our letters? Yet, they were so much fun to receive and to answer. None of us would ever have communicated so well, and so richly via email.

    It bothers me a lot that I don’t even have to write my name on a piece of paper to pay a bill, or to withdraw money from my account.

    After reading your link to handwriting, I became very curious about knowing who writes with a pen nowadays. Any of you? When is the last time you wrote a handwritten note, and to whom?

    Your old friend,

  12. Stan says:

    Hat: I hope the bibliography did the trick. Thanks for the suggestion of 200 words: that could be a good yardstick for off-topic comments. 100, even.

    John: I don’t think Chapman was insisting on etymological fidelity; it seems more that he was advising it be kept in mind. Granted, that’s of limited use to writers too.

    Alex: Yes, I’d have thought the verb wow would be worth a mention. Apparently it dates to the 1920s. Regarding the length and relevance of comments here, please see below.

    WWW: That would interest me too. It’s not something I know very much about.

    Adrian: Thanks for your constructive and respectful remarks to Alex on commenting behaviour. I’ll add a few thoughts on this further down.

    Leonore: I enjoy the illustrated Wake in Progress blog (and made sure it was among the links in my own post on Finnegans Wake last year). Your thoughts on sign language and its teaching history are really interesting. I’m pretty ignorant of both the theory and practice, but I appreciated the article for what seemed a fair and well researched take on the dialectal diversity in different signing communities.

    Claude: It’s so good to see you again, my friend. I know what you mean about handwritten letters. I feel a different kind of attachment to them than to my email archives. The entire act of writing them and receiving them is emotionally and sensorily different. It seems a shame to shred a collection: would your descendants not care to inherit them? I feel their value lies in the letters themselves and the relationships and histories they contain, not in the degree of their interest to biographers. Though I’ve mostly made the switch to digital writing, I still bring a paper notebook and a couple of pens with me everywhere. The last note I wrote to someone else was a few weeks ago: just a short, trivial one, to a friend.


    A few words on blog comments. (I may write a commenting policy sometime, but not today.) First of all: I’m very grateful for people’s visits, and even more so for comments. Other people’s input, even if it’s only a few words now and then, makes a big difference to how I feel about blogging. I enjoy the interaction and I learn a lot from readers. I know how lucky I am since so many people (justifiably) complain about the dire and often vicious nature of internet comments generally. I get a lot of spam, but very seldom do I have to block a comment for abuse or nastiness.

    I don’t always have time to respond to comments as substantially as I’d like. This is a specialist blog, mostly about language and books, and I prefer when comments are on-topic or at least halfway there. Off-topic comments are fine so long as they’re occasional and kept decently short. Alex, by your own admission you struggle with this; you’ve been very frank about it and I know your intentions are good. But of the people who read Sentence first, only a subset read the comments, and a small fraction of them (approaching zero, I’d guess) read long, train-of-thought comments. It’s just not the best place for that kind of material. A blog of your own – just an idea! – could also allow you to showcase your nature photos, which deserve a wide audience.

  13. alexmccrae1546 says:


    Bonjour, sweet lady.

    Great to see you onboard once again. I, for one, have missed your mellow, and thoughtful presence.

    Now, as to who still sits down and actually pens a hardcopy letter these days, I agree with you that these rare pen-on-paper scribes are becoming a fast-fading breed. Alas, I kind of rue this almost inevitable, momentous turn in our discourse with one another, largely due to the meteoric rise of electronic media— the main culprits being the ubiquitous internet, and the maze of smart phones.

    Frankly, I think often when I’m posting online, I’m still in that kind of once familiar longhand, letter-writing mode, and too often tend to ramble in a kind of stream-of-consciousness type way, not being fully cognizant of the fact that I might be boring readers to death, or just being annoying in my verbosity, and oft tangential meanderings.

    About two months ago I wrote a pretty lengthly reply letter (in ink) to a dear aunt back in Toronto, who had spent a few weeks this past summer w/ her youngest daughter out in Newfoundland. She always appreciates my generally long-winded epistles, because I usually touch on matters of art, history, nature, or travel–all areas that appeal to her.

    She’s around 80-years old, widowed for roughly a decade, and doesn’t have a computer, and thus no e-mail connection. So for her, ‘snail’-mail, and the Canada Post works fine and dandy for her. And I am more than happy to oblige her.

    But truth be told, aunt Heather is the rare exception, where most folk these days use their e-mail for short snippets of communication amongst friends or relatives. I tend to use my G-mail as almost a surrogate for my days when I enjoyed writing actual letters. And as an avid amateur nature photographer, and birder, I love to share my photos of my fine-feathered friends w/ others, and e-mail does the trick. Beats having to make sets of prints, like in the old days.

    As the troubadour Bob Dylan once sagely observed, “The times… they are a changin’ “. How true. But perchance a little too darn fast for our own good. Just sayin’.

    Au revoir!

  14. […] link to Link Love: Language at StanCarey’s WordPress […]

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