Thursday, 28 October 2010

two ideas for studying slang

A lot of students are interested in studying the slang that they and their friends use. Here are some ideas for new things to do with slang...

  1. A synonym study--slang words almost always duplicate a meaning that already has a word. E.g. if you say wicked to mean 'excellent', you could've used excellent, right?  But it's also the case that within the slang vocab, there can be a lot of redundancy--lots of words for approval, maybe for intensity, for size, attractiveness, and possibly for things or activities that are important to the group (e.g. sex). Why does a slang need a lot of words for the same thing--and are they really the same?  If it's a big enough slang, this might be investigated by looking at the contexts in which the words occur.  E.g. words of approval (I'm dating myself and not being very imaginative here, but, for example: cool, wicked, amazing, brilliant).  Theoretically, any of them could describe anything--but do they?  Do any of them tend to go with people more (a cool boy? a wicked boy?) or with films, or... ?  If it's a smaller slang, it could still be studied by collecting usages, maybe interviewing informants...
  2. Sound slang neologisms follow any known trends or reveal any unknown ones for what kinds of sounds tend to go with particular meanings?  You might've seen the bouba/kiki effect experiment on the web, which shows that people have real preferences for certain sounds going with certain meanings.  Does this work across neologisms in slangs? You don't need to stick to one slang in this case--you might want to look for as many neologisms in as many communities/languages as you can, in order to determine whether there's evidence that neologising is led by 'phonosemantic' tendencies.

morphological double negatives

Here's a question: under what conditions can one have a double-double negative prefix.  Here's (approximately) the example I read today:
I don't want a non-stick wok, I want a non-non-stick one.
Or what about this one?
There are only a variety of non nonprofit debt-consolidation companies
I'm wondering: what are the semantic and/or pragmatic factors that have to be present to get those double negatives? (I have my ideas...what are yours?)

This could be studied simply by collecting examples--from corpora, from the web, from real life.  For searching the web, I think one needs to start from a list of non-words (e.g. from a dictionary; and un-words, etc.) and then search with various negative prefixes in front--in double quotation marks on Google). There's a decent amount of literature on negative prefixes (that'd be where to start), but I don't know of any on stacking them like this. It's a rare phenomenon, but that just means that you might get to work from a nice small data set!

You'd probably need to look at which words take an extra negative and which ones don't, and have access to a larger context to try to figure out why the double negatives are used instead of a positive, where one would have been possible.

A related phenomenon is combining 'not' and a negative prefixed word--e.g. I'm not unhappy. That's been discussed more often (as it occurs more often).  Why?

Thursday, 21 October 2010

rappers' names, band names

Christian sent me this great graphic today--a taxonomy of rappers' names:

It reminded me of a paper I read when I was a student about rock band names...but I can't find it now.  But anyhow--what a fun project.  How do trends in band naming (or persona naming in the case of individual artists who don't use their given names) change?  What does the name say about the music? Do band names follow trends in other kinds of naming, e.g. commercial products?  

multilingual twitter

This came through my Twitter feed today--good idea!

T'would be cool to study which lang. multilingual users choose to tweet w/, if all content is considered similar.
Indeed, I see a lot of Twitter folk who declare that they tweet in multiple languages--which languages do they use for which tweets?  Why?

Friday, 8 October 2010

business language - business letters

Someone said to me on Twitter today:

I bet BrE (dunno abt AmE) business language has changed drastically in the last 50 yrs or less. All that "your esteemed favour of the 11th ultimo" stuff was around within living memory.
Ok, maybe not your living memory.  But it struck me that this could be an area for a project.  How has the way in which companies correspond with customers changed, for instance?  Or within companies, how did they communicate?  Do changes come with the shift from paper memos to email?  Did they come with the social liberalisation of the 60s/70s? What is formality now versus formality then?  One could even just look at a particular part of communication--how do people introduce a topic, greet, sign off?

I've not offered a particular question or a methodology here (nor have I pre-researched it), but if one had access to, say a family business with long records, or looked into what public archives might be available, there could be some interesting areas to explore...