Recently in Sociolinguistics Category
A colleague in another department mentioned a "Where's George" map which shows regions where dollar bills tend to circulate together. That is the blue lines on the U.S. map indicate places where bills tend NOT to cross.
Not surprisingly, not all currency boundaries correspond with state boundaries. There's a fairly large boundary running through the center of Pennsylvania and another through the western part of Wisconsin.
From a linguistic perspective though it appears that some currency boundaries correspond to certain dialect boundaries. For instance, the PA line is almost exactly where the "pop" vs. "soda" line is in PA. Looking at the Pop vs Soda map, you can also see that there are multiple places where the currency line matches a dialect line (e.g. N. California/Nevada/Arizona lines, the Ohio river valley stood out).
When you think about it, there is some logic because both currency and dialectal forms are something shared within communities (specifically community networks). But I was amazed that there was as much overlap as there was.
Despite being in the middle of Pennsylvania in a mostly rural area, State College does have some bilingual signage.
One location is in our Lowe's department store where all signs are both in English and Spanish. However, this is really part of a national policy of Lowe's stores having Spanish language materials on a national level. Even to me it does seem odd in Central PA but I also don't want anyone getting hurt because they couldn't follow the instructions correctly. Plus places like Hazleton as well as Lancaster, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Harrisburg do have significant numbers of Latino immigrants, so the linguistic landscape continues to evolve.
The one sign that really surprised me was a bus ad for a Nationwide agent that included some Chinese on the sign. But when I thought about it, Penn State does have a have over 6,000 international students and scholars, and many bring their families to State College. There apparently is now a need that some business people are beginning to fill.
In case you're wondering though, English is still the dominant language in State College. Local Anglophones have no need to panic....yet.
The following is a very interesting documentary on how a form of Scottish Gaelic in East Sutherland has gradually declined and will probably become extinct.
There's an excellent clip from the new Bravo show Pregnant in Heels in which soon-to-be-parents from New York request professional help to give their baby a good "brand" name. The maternity consultant Rosie Pope obliges by creating a naming panel who are "very academic" (which of course a linguist must be included).
No one has asked, but I thought I would I would offer my expert advice. The parameters the parents gave are as follows:
- Name for a boy
- Upper class, but ethnicity not important
- Not "decorative"
- Easy to spell
- Not too popular
- No J,E,R and no final S
To these parameters, I would add the following - "will not get you beaten up on a playground." In other words, even if the name is not common, it should have some positive resonance in multiple social settings outside of Upper East Side. Since we're talking brand, this criteria should be factored in.
In addition, since the parents are Anglo, I would also tend towards an Anglo name. I have nothing against non-Anglo names, but most "high class" names actually have some sort of family or ethnic connection, so I feel this is an important consideration.
The trickiest part was avoiding the "E" because it is the most common vowel in English, but it can be done. These are some recognizable names I believe fit the criteria:
Donald, Nathan, Colin, Dylan, Gavin, Ian, David, Hugh, William, Karl (with a K),
There may be others that fit the criteria, but which I feel are not playground-friendly (some things are personal judgement calls).
FYI - Another option are family names as first names. A nice feature of family names is that they are both aristocratic, but authentic to the family.
Despite my earlier branding parameters, I do believe that any name can work if the parent really believes in the history of it passes it along to their children. As a child, I never really appreciated Alfred as a name, until I learned more about the Anglo-Saxon king Alfred the Great.
Just found a link to a humorous piece on how the AP Style Manual recently removed mandated hyphens from their stylebook - Thanks MJ! Of course, I plan to continue to randomly hyphenate/join together compounds until a kindly spell checker tells me to knock it off.
Just ran into an article describing how future queen Kate Middleton learned the Welsh anthem enough to sing along at her recent Welsh visit. According to palace news sources, she chose to do this on her own, partly because she has been living in Anglesey, Wales
I'm sure there's more than one point of view about how integrated Wales should be with the rest of the United Kingdom (technically, this would be irrelevant in an independent Wales)...but my heart was warmed by this. First, I have to applaud anyone deciding to learn the local language. She really could get away being monolingual, even in a location as Cymrophonic (Welsh speaking) as North Wales, but she is choosing to learn more about the area she is living in.
But it's also an important symbol that members of the Royal Family are living in Wales and learning Welsh. Whether you're a Royalist or want a completely independent Wales, I think it's better for all of Britain if the former enemy nations can understand each other more. And I do believe that one role of the British Royal family can fill is to be cultural ambassadors. I'll be curious to see how the monarchy and the Welsh evolve together.
A debate linguists are involved with a lot is how and when to correct grammar, especially in student work.
Traditional practice dictates that non-standard grammar should always be corrected, but linguists and others have disagreed that constant correction is necessary. So do poor spellers, and those actually speaking non-standard forms.
Non Standard Speaker in Math Class
Take a child in math class who says something like "That don't make no sense" (note double negative). Should we take the time to address the double negative issue before we address the underlying problem that the student may be having with improper fractions?
Again, the traditional answer may be yes because the question is "unclear", but if we're honest, the chances are that Standard English speakers actually understand the double negative just fine (if we didn't, we would assume that "I Can't get no Satisfaction" means Mick Jagger is 100% satisfied). FWIW - If the teacher hadn't really understood, the response would likely have been "Huh?" or "Can you repeat that?"
Another rationale might be that the student's standard English grammar is being reinforced by being corrected. I suspect that what happens is that the student is annoyed that the teacher is addressing the grammar question and NOT the math question. In this scenario, any child caught using the double negative will have to go through an additional process of hearing a lecture on "correct" negatives before his or her original question can be addressed. What a pain. And possibly discouraging more questions from that student in the long run.
Let's remember that double negative speakers are not using that contstruction to annoy teachers, but because that was the grammar they acquired in their home environment. Their parents aren't deliberately teaching it either, especially since children tend to pay more attention to what their playmates are saying rather than adults (this is one reason children of immigrant parents can speak perfect English). At this point, the double negative IS the native construction and the standard English negative is a bit like a second language.
Another Time Not to Correct
If the scenario above is not really convincing, consider this quote from the documentary Amy's Story about a woman killed by her abusive husband. As the detective recounts, Amy did go to the police at least one time:
[Amy] went and outlined the history of what had been happening. She recounted him pulling the baby out of her arms, him choking her, him breaking things in the house, [him] threatening to burn the house down, [him] threatening to kill her.
Wow - did you notice the use of non-standard "him choking her" instead of the more standard "his choking her"...or were you horrified at what this man was doing to his wife? I sincerely hope it was the latter. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if a standard or not-so-standard construction was used, if we can understand what is being said.
When to Correct
In case you were wondering, I am not against correction, especially being proofed. I really do want my resume to be perfectly Standard as well as most promotional materials and academic articles. You will also never hear a linguistics presentation given in Ebonics/AAVE (even if the topic IS AAVE). Some social norms are just too strong to challenge.
When the discourse is more spontaneous or conversational though, I think the Standard English noose can and should be loosened. Would Bob Marley have said as much to us if he had been forced to correct his Jamaican English to Standard English all the time?
Another delicacy about to join the class of regionally protected foods is the Cornish pasty. As you will see from the picture, it is essentially a meat and potato pie which is meant to be eaten at room temperature. It makes for a wonderful breakfast or blue collar lunch.
I'm intrigued as to what a "genuine" pasty is like, because I have experienced the family version and the UK deli version and they are different. The Evans-McCay family version was cubed pork and cubed beef combined with sliced potato, onion, salt and potato in a full sized pie (did I mention that the recipe was transmitted via a chain of Scottish and Welsh family members?). I was told that the polite thing to do was to leave some pasty for the fairies, especially if you were a mine worker. The supermarket version is enclosed, but appeared to include vegetables such as carrots and peas, which is good but produced a different taste.
The official definition is that a pasty has beef (cubed or minced/ground), sliced potato and onion. So it turns out that the version I grew up with is a little more authentic in terms of flavor, but not pastry form. I'm somewhat relieved actually, but there is a lingering turnip debate in the official definition which I had a heck of a time parsing.
Apparently, the issue is this (as described in UK English):
However the Cornish are unusual in referring to swede as turnip, even though they differ markedly. The former is white with a sharp taste while the latter is orange with a more earthy flavour.
Because of this linguistic quirk, the regulations have been amended to allow either term to be used on the label although only one of the two is allowed in the pasty.
This will mean that genuine Cornish pasties will be allowed to go on sale advertised as containing turnip, but will break the rules if they actually do contain the rogue root vegetable.
If you're confused, it probably means you're an American and don't know what a "sweede" is. After checking a few Internet sources, I have learned that there are two root vegetables with purple skins - a turnip which is white on the inside and a rutabaga which is golden on the inside.
If you go to Wikipedia, you will see that they look very similar on the outside and this leads to a complex linguistic situation. What Americans/Canadians call the rutabaga (apparently a Swedish word) is called a "swede" in the U.K....except when it's called a turnip (as in Cornwall) or more helpfully a "golden turnip".
So according to Brussels, it's OK if a Cornish pasty contains rutabaga/swede/golden turnip, and they can advertise it as containing a "turnip"...but it can't actually a white turnip. But it reminds me that our family pasty may have had a white turnip option which I normally vetoed. Maybe it was an adaptation to a new dialect?
Postscript - Swedes/Rutabagas also Turnips or "Neeps" in Scotland
FYI - I got this anecdote from Esther Asprey from Aston University in Birmingham
"The situation is similar in Scotland - white turnips are what I as a speaker of Midlands British English simply call turnips, and the word swede is not used. 'Turnips' refers primarily to rutabaga - golden turnips. When I moved to Edinburgh I spent half an hour in Tescos looking for 'neeps' to make haggis neeps and tatties for Burns Night, having worked out that swede was in fact the vegetable neeps referred to. I did not know however that even Scottish supermarkets label the vegetable a turnip and couldn't find directions to the swedes. The nonplussed assistant led me to a huge pile of swedes marked 'turnips'!"
Who knew finding root vegetables could be so complicated?
Postscript 2 - Quahog
This reminds of the quintessential New England tourist dilemma. You go to the New England shore in search of fresh clams from an authentic clam shack, but all you can find are "quahogs", but of course "quahog" is New England for...clam. Apparently, the term is borrowed from an indigenous New England language.
Looks like Dr. Laura Schlessinger brought us a new N-Word controversy less than a year after John Mayer's N-word controversy. I know it's a sensitive topic, and I will state up front that I am white (or of European Protestant descent if you prefer). Both Mayer and Schlessinger had to apologize as they both realized that a white person using this word is very dangerous territory
I realize I am about to wade into the same dangerous waters, but the latest case made me realize that although it's advisable for a white person to avoid this word, there may be times when it's legitimate. I'll tackle these cases one by one.
What I Do
I personally avoid the full mention of the N-word in reference to African Americans at almost all situations - even most of this blog entry, and it's because I have personally seen other whites using N-word for it's full negative meaning. I even saw someone praising their terrier for biting the leg of a "N____" (white person's word). It was truly a repulsive experience to me, and I was just a bystander. I can't imagine what it would be the subject of such an attack.
Because of this, I really cannot regard that word with any neutrality - not even the quasi affectionate -gga form used in the African American community. The good news is that I rarely hear adults using the N-word with that connotation, and most regard it as wrong. But that doesn't mean the African-American community has forgotten it's original use. It was just within my lifetime, and I am not exactly close to retirement.
It's a raw wound, and it is still used by whites in the original context including a very enraged Mel Gibson. So...no N-word for me except very carefully later in this blog.
Use Among African-Community
We all know from hip-hop culture that the N-word can be used by African-Americans among themselves. In fact, it is fairly common for a culture to adopt an outside derogatory term within the group partly in defiance, partly in humor. For instance, an English major with spina bifida commented that wheelchair bound friends would call themselves "gimps." And, I have literally heard Hispanic people call themselves "Spic", Italian-Americans call themselves "Wop" and Polish-Americans call themselves "Pollock". In fact, one Polish-American grandfather apparently explained to his shocked granddaughter - "Well I am one."
Do I plan to use these terms in casual conversation? Absolutely not. I do however sometimes use the term "chick" and even "bitch"...because I am a woman. Do I appreciate it when men use those terms? No I do not. They are still somewhat outside.
The principle is fairly simple - a community is free to appropriate a derogatory term and use it among themselves, but it's not OK for the original perpetrators to use. It's actually fairly simple, and I believe most whites understand this rule (except for the ridiculously obtuse), but the John Mayer and Dr Laura cases show where there are interesting fails.
And for the record, many African-Americans object to this use of the N-word...because the original use was so offensive and degrading.
John Mayer Fail
I actually think John Mayer knows this rule, but for some reason thought he was exempt. His context was that he thought he had a "hood pass", presumably higher than average acceptance within the African-American community, but then he decided to elaborate as follows:
"[Hood pass] is sort of a contradiction in terms, because if you really had a hood pass, you could call it a n*gger pass."
To his chagrin, Mayer discovered that his hood pass was not an all-access pass, and most of us - African American and non-African American could have told him that.
Actually, I will now divulge that I went to a high school with a higher than average proportion of African American students (about 50%). I loved my high school and got along well with different communities, but I would still NEVER use the N-word, and neither would any of my white classmates. We all knew that no white person in our high school can ever get THAT much of a "hood pass" (LOL in fact). (Postscript: I don't ever recall any of my African-American classmates using the N-word in my hearing either. A less than respectable African-American was actually a "Yo!").
And even if I had a "hood pass" back in suburban Baltimore (continuing to LOL), it's not really transferable. I suspect few if any of my Penn State colleagues would know that I was a high school with that demographic. Tragically, my teenage exposure to the hip-hip classic Roxanne, Roxanne and 80's bamboo/doorknocker earrings (as seen on Hip Hop Closet.com) is not written on my forehead. (And yes I had more meaningful interaction with the African American community than that).
As far as anyone in central PA is concerned, I am what my initial appearance says I am - a WASPy white chick with a Ph.D. I do miss the days of my high school when we were brave enough to impolitely challenge some stereotypes - we just knew that there were certain nuclear terms/topics to avoid.
Dr. Laura Fail
The Dr. Laura situation is a more interesting one. Like John Mayer, she quasi-realizes that there a "Whites don't use the N-word" rule, and she sort of follows it, but she doesn't understand it. Her use came up when she was discussing the situation of an African-American woman in a mixed race marriage. The lady's problem was that her husband's WHITE friends kept using the N-word in her presence (so not cool).
Dr. Laura then asks how offensive this is, commenting "Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic, and all you hear is nigger, nigger, nigger." At this point, I will defend (somewhat) Dr Laura and point out that she is quoting what probably happens on some HBO shows. She was not herself using that term to insult anyone. It's also not really a "rant" as news outlets insist on calling it. She was trying to state a point of view which you can agree or disagree with. She even thanks the caller when she hangs up.
Dr. Laura's mistake was that she underestimates the negative impact of a white person using the N-word in any context. In fact she asks "I don't get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it's a horrible thing. But when black people say it, it's affectionate. It's very confusing." (Dear Dr. Laura - It's not that confusing. Imagine your husband's friends using the term "broad" or "chick" all the time and the distinction should be clear).
It's not surprising that her caller took offense to Dr. Laura's somewhat flip attitude towards the use of that word and reacted negatively. The truth that Dr. Laura DOESN'T get it and went on to what I consider a far more offensive statement - "Don't take things out of context. Don't double N -- NAACP me."
Just because a person is reacting to the N-word doesn't mean you have to drag the NAACP into it.
A Legitimate White Use?
Well I did do something dangerous and used the full form of the N-word in a quote, even though I am not African American.
That is, I don't entirely agree with the African-American caller's premise that "I know what the N-word means and I know it came from a white person. And I know the white person made it bad."
It's true that whites should use the term with most extreme caution (which neither Dr Laura or John Mayer did). But the Dr. Laura quote of a quote raises the question where the line between etiquette and censorship is drawn. Is it OK for a white linguist to make commentaries on taboo terms? As a linguist I would hope so, because the alternative is that the usage of taboo terms is never examined. As ugly as they are, we may need to understand WHY they get used so that we can solve the problem.
If I am offending anyone because I am a white using this word just for once in an academic setting, I apologize for offense. But sometimes a bridge between communities has to be built and sometimes it's not a pretty bridge, just a rickety rope across a chasm.
And as for John Mayer and Dr. Laura, I believe they now know how volatile the use of that term is. Future generations may be able to view the N-word more calmly, but we are definitely not there yet.
One of the tenets of folk linguistics that is actually true is that language is imprecise. A discussion that reminded me of that is a discussion of what "authentic Latin" means. Depending on who you talked to "authentic Latin" could mean:
- Text by a Classical Latin author of the Roman era (e.g. Cicero, Caesar)
- Any text following the rules of Latin grammar
- Grafitti found in Pompeii or text from letters found in the Roman fort of Vindolanda.
- Latin used authentically such as to ask to go to the bathroom during class.
In case you're wondering the topic being debated was whether it made sense to speak Latin in a Latin classroom as you would try to use Spanish in a Spanish classroom. As usual, my answer is "Yes and No" because it does all depend on what you mean by "Latin."
Cicero vs. Graffiti
You might think that everyone agrees that Cicero is "authentic", but in fact there is a debate. Many people know that Latin evolved into the Romance languages (Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian). However, if you reconstruct "Proto-Romance" based on what we now know about these languages you do NOT get Classical Latin, but something different. We know about Latin only because it was continued to be used and taught in post-Roman Europe.
It is clear that the predecessor of the Romance languages isn't necessarily written Latin, but rather a form of "street Latin" (probably multiple dialects of street Latin). Therefore historical linguists are extremely excited when they see informal scribblings like graffiti, letters or other texts NOT meant for literary posterity. Sometimes, the MORE they diverge from Cicero, the more excited we get. We are seeing change in progress! And if we can date the manuscript, we can also start dating the change!
So for some historical linguists, "authentic Latin" is really street Latin or Vulgar Latin, the kind spoken casually and spontaneously by the Roman populace. It's not always pretty, but it is real authentic evidence of what the ancestor of Spanish/French/Italian was like.
But what about Cicero? Isn't his material authentic? Well...it's authentic educated written Latin, but there is a question of how close to spoken Latin it was. In English, the distance between educated written English and spoken English by an educated speaker is not huge, but in some societies such as Egypt, Greece, Sri Lanka, the difference can be so significant that the written form is considered a separate language.
Today in the Middle East, educated Arabic speakers literally learn a separate language called Modern Standard Arabic (similar to Quranic Arabic) so they can communicate across national borders. At home though, speakers use their local variety of Colloquial Arabic - but these varieties are so distinct, that English speakers have to learn each one individually (much like we have to learn Italian, Portuguese and Spanish as separate languages).
Linguists aren't sure about the situation in the Roman Empire, but dialogue from some fairly early plays by Plautus (254-184 BC) shows that structures found in the Romance languages were already in place even before Cicero wrote. Granted, it was dialogue from lower class characters, but we can deduce that spoken Latin was well on its way to Proto Romance before Cicero (106-43 BC) was even born. If that's the case, what does that mean for Classical Latin? Since Classical Latin materials includes letters and debates, it's clear that it was a very familiar language and that authors were fluent in it. But how did they address servants or merchants? Was it something they had to be schooled in? And what was spoken at midnight when one was tipsy? It's not clear.
FYI - If you are studying the archaic history of Latin, then the focus IS on archaic forms which may be found in Classical Latin or archaic Latin texts. Classical Latin is very much a beloved friend for many linguists.
Latin vs. Neo-Latin
Another distinction is Latin vs Neo-Latin. By the time of the Oaths of Strasbourg (842 AD) when the first spoken Old French (or Gallo-Romance) is written, it is clear that local dialects of late Latin was the native language of even upper class speakers and that Classical Latin was used only for written documents or spoken among educated speakers.
But is also the case that documents continued to be written in Latin following grammars established by earlier generations (with some neologisms and local quirks). However, Latin is pretty much "dead" in that no one learns to speak it as a child but rather learns it formally in school. This is particularly true in regions where the native language was NOT a Romance language.
This is authentic Latin also, of a sort but often different from what the Ciceronian Romans would have written. If you take a look at a page of Latin quotes, you'll often be able to sort out the Neo-Latin from the "authentic" Classical Latin quotes very easily, the Neo-Latin quotes are much longer (e.g. Abutebaris modo subjunctivo denuo "You've been misuing the subjunctive again") than the original (Veni, vidi, vici) and if they are written by English speakers, rarely employ the ablative absolute as a Roman would. It really isn't quite the same.
One issue is that modern speakers are still filling in gaps not in the original Latin. Not only did the Romans not have iPhones and Twitter, they didn't have Halloween, Saint Patrick's Day or the number zero either. And when you get down to it, we may know about the latrine, but are we sure we know how to ask where it is? And did they have a Ladies Room or was it unisex? If we know the answers, they probably come from something like the Vindolanda texts, not from traditional Classical Latin sources.
The other issue is that our secular 20-21st century usage of Latin has a more humorous quality than in earlier generations. It's rare for anyone, except maybe the Vatican, to write original material in Latin (and the Vatican is pretty much the only organization conducting business in Latin, but in Church Latin). Rather we are translating pre-existing material, and often trivial material such as children's stories and dialogue from Star Wars. No longer are scientific treatises and formal decrees being written Latin. Latin has become a beloved aunt who has retired after a long term of service (but could come back to work if needed).
And that's what makes teaching Latin different from teaching Spanish. Classical Latin as we have it was meant to be a formal language for formal situations. While I'm sure the Romans were able to order a drink, ask for directions and translate "DVD", we can't always guess what it might have been because it's not always recorded. We're often just guessing what might have happened.
So...should an Latin instructor use Latin for "authentic purposes?" Sure, why not? Mine did, and I do remember some grammar and vocabulary points because of it, and it's fun! But is worth understanding that it's often a guess and may not work if you accidentally time travel back to the Forum.
Still All the Same "Authentic"
Stepping away from Latin, you may be awed and amazed at how many uses of "authentic" there are, but at some level, it's all the same use. No matter who you are - a classicist, a linguist, or a Latin instructor - authentic means "worthy of trust, reliance or belief". For a scholar focusing on Roman political history and rhetoric, there is no better source than Cicero. For a linguist wanting to know about Vulgar Latin, graffiti is the way, and for the instructor, using language for a real purpose is crucial.
Back in my graduate level semantics class, we talked about a concept called "context". If you wanted to know who "I" and "you" were any given utterance, you had to know who was speaking and who that person was speaking to. This is similar to multiple uses of "authentic" because the meaning of what is most reliable varies on what you are interested in.
Thus, it is true that meaning is always somewhat relative and contextual. The only time you can establish an "absolute" meaning is to establish a context. And then you sound like a lawyer or a pedantic scholar - but that's what it takes.
Here is a fascinating article on why Winnie Illi Pu is not quite authentic Classical Latin as the Romans would have written it. I do not agree with the final conclusion though.