Monday, 1 December 2014

When would you do?

English-English (some forms of it at least?) allows (or encourages) one to use do after an auxiliary verb to represent a predicate, as in (1):

(1) I ate all the chocolate, even though I shouldn't have done.

...but the elliptic version is also possible (and the only option in AmE):

(2) I ate all the chocolate, even though I shouldn't have.

EngEng speakers don't always use the do. For instance, someone just told me:

I believe many of us say:
A: I remember you!
B: Yes, I imagine you would.  [rather than would do]

So, the question is: what conditions the use of pro-predicate do in BrE?

Is the answer:
  • form-based (grammatical or prosodic)?
  • semantic (depending on the meanings of the aux verbs or the predicates)?
  • pragmatic (communicating something more than the do-less alternative)?
As far as I know, not a lot has been done on this. (I wrote a blog post about it once and someone else wrote a blog post for which they couldn't find much more than what I'd written.) It makes lovely project because corpus data could tell you a lot. And it's the kind of thing that maybe could become a publishable paper.

There are also historical and sociolinguistic questions about this. It seems not to be as common in Scotland and Ireland. Is it as common in north and south of England? Is there evidence of it spreading or shrinking? Why does Australia seem to have it (maybe) but the US and Canada don't? (See comments at my other post.)

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Married texting & woman doctors

A couple of things that crossed my screen today that might be great starting points for thinking about projects.

Married texting
Alice Zhao analysed the texts between her and her now-husband in 2008 and 2014, looking at what changes as a couple goes from courting to marriage. She noticed things like they no longer greet each other. Seems like a lot could be done with this kind of thing--how does texting change between parent and child as the child moves away? How does it change from fresher's week to knowing people very well in year 3? Or, how does it change in other romantic relationships--would anyone have found what Zhao found?

Woman  female (etc.)
This piece by Maddie York in the Guardian style blog argues that woman shouldn't be used as an adjective as in woman doctor or women writers. She notes that people talk about male doctors not man doctors.  What's going on here?  Has it to do with the connotations of man/woman/male/female? Is something that's changing? What are the prescriptions, who's making them and why when it comes to these kinds of things?

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Wonderings on evaluation

Two things today, both to do with evaluation:
  1. I (Charlotte) was talking about variation with the first year students recently and we tried out a few data elicitation methods including brainstorming alternative terms for everyday concepts. The interesting one for me was ‘pleased with yourself/about something’ because they drew an absolute blank and couldn't think of anything, except perhaps chuffed which they said they knew but wouldn't use. In contrast, when we looked at alternatives for terms like amazing etc. they had a huge number of candidates. So, it got me wondering, was this just a one off or, to use the appraisal terms, could it be that we are shifting towards expressing evaluation more in terms of appreciation (it was amazing/epic etc.) than affect (I was so happy/thrilled etc.)?
  2. The second thing was inspired again by something I was talking about with the first years, in this case an article by Charlie Brooker on hyperbole, and his argument is that a) this is something new and b) something that people do online but not in face to face interactions. You could test that…

Monday, 6 October 2014

A couple of things I've (Lynne C) been thinking about.

  1. A few years ago a student did a project on duplication of letters in CMC (e.g. sooooo). It occurred to me that this kind of thing should be used less on Twitter, where every character counts. Is that the case? Do Twitter users still use duplication when they use other forms of CMC?
  2. I'm not quite sure what might make a doable project in this area, but I'm intrigued by the increased use of writing without spaces. We had to start getting used to it when we had web sites named with phrases or sentences without their spaces (e.g. and it can lead to some hilariously unfortunate ambiguities (kidsexchange, for example). But now people are doing this in sometimes very long twitter hashtags. Before the days of Windows people using computers used to use the underscore _ to replace spaces in, for example, filenames. Why don’t Twitter users do something like that to avoid ambiguity? (There are two separate issues here – the restricted number of characters, which applies to spaces and underscores equally, but also the requirement that a hashtag has no spaces.) Or another way to look at it would be to ask whether the space is overrated – how often do we actually have trouble reading phrases without spaces? 

Colour names

I enjoyed this Slate article about the explosion in Crayola crayon colours since 1903, and it got me thinking about the names of those colours. I feel like I learnt a lot from the colour names on the sides of my crayons when I was a child, since they often were words I didn't know ('burnt umber', 'cornflower'), which led me to knowledge or beliefs about the things that those names are for. (I've never knowingly seen a cornflower, but I have strong opinions about what colour they are.) There was also a tendency then to have a crayons named blue-green and orange-yellow and others in the (big) box named green-blue and yellow-orange, and I (little word-nerd that I was) liked to think about what those combinations and orders meant.

There's an interactive chart of  (US) Crayola crayon colours and names here. Some of the old names are there, some have died out, but there are also colour names like 'Mango Tango' and 'Atomic Orange'. (The big set of Crayola markers we have at home seems to have a different set of names from the crayons, and they have a more modern sound.) 

So I'm thinking about various things like:
  • What can/do children today learn about colours and the world from the names of their crayons? 
  • How do insitutionalised specific colour-names like this affect different generations' ideas about which colours these names might express?
  • What are the motivations and trends for changing or inventing new colour names in contexts like this? (Fashion, lipstick, cars are other areas with specific name trends.)
  • There's a fair amount of work out there on gender and colour nameability. Are there any indications of gender-consciousness in this name set. Presumably, Crayola wants to be marketing its products to boys and girls and wants drawing/colouring to be an activity that's not particularly gendered. But can we see any gendering in the names of particular colours? 
  • Crayola is an institution in the US. (It really, really is.) Is something else the more institutional source of colour names for children in the UK? How does it compare? Do US adults (of my generation-ish) have different colour vocabularies and different ideas about certain colour names refer from UK adults who might not have the same institutionalisation of so many colours? 
Does colour-naming (by Crayola or other companies) raise other questions for you?

Thursday, 25 September 2014

We could test that

Something that I (Charlotte) find myself doing a lot when reading news stories is thinking ‘Interesting. We could test that’. So much of what we read is based on assertions that lack supporting evidence, or, cast in a more positive light, presents ideas that are still in a pretty nascent state. At worst this is hugely frustrating, at best it can provide ideas for projects...

By way of an example, a few years I was reading an article that stated that Unlike ‘science’, this new term – ‘The Science’ – is a deeply moralised and politicised category. Today, those who claim to wield the authority of The Science are really demanding unquestioning submission’ (Furedi 2008). I thought this was a really interesting idea, and, because it was a claim based on two lexical items, it looked like something that could be effectively investigated from a corpus linguistic perspective. It led to this article and I learnt a lot about how the science has indeed become a rhetorical device that is used to assert authority without disclosing anything about the science itself.

So, to help you think about possible project ideas, here are four stories that I saw and thought ‘we could test that’:
  1. This article was talking mainly about British men going to fight in Syria, but the claim that caught my eye was that 'The language used in public to discuss war has become extraordinarily distorted – and not only among radicalised communities. Combat is routinely described in the media as though it were a form of sport'. And this got me thinking that a really useful project could be an analysis of whether metaphors for war have changed over time.
  2. A while ago I read an article (but can’t remember where sadly) which talked about how women's bodies are used in the media as a metaphor for the text producer's evaluation of the Iranian government; so articles depicting an authoritarian regime will be accompanied by pictures of a veiled woman, while those talking about it as a more liberal state than its neighbours will use a picture of a woman with her hair uncovered and so on. I don’t know how this would develop as project and it would have to be for someone confident in multimodal CDA, but it was a different perspective on an old debate. 
  3. There has been a lot of discussion recently about possible BBC bias in the representation of the Scottish independence debate, for instance this article reports on a demonstration about bias, and so I was wondering whether there was much language evidence for this. This is potentially a huge project and would need narrowing down, but could be topical and revealing. 
  4. Finally, this article from yesterday’s Guardian was talking about the language of poverty and got me wondering about whether/how poverty may have shifted in terms of its associations, and how it currently relates to terms like inequality and deprivation (these are just the terms discussed in the article). 
I also wrote about a possible project from an article which asked So why does the western feminist movement hardly look at African feminism for clues?  on another blog last year, you can have a look here.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

four things I wondered about on Wednesday

So, yesterday I (Lynne M) listed three things I had cause to wonder about during the day. I have  more today! Two have to do with the pronunciations I heard during the ROLLS talk today. As you know, I'm not a phonetician/phonologist at all, so I'm asking these questions out of ignorance.

  1. Many British English speakers pronounce monolingual and bilingual differently from how dictionaries say the word is pronounced. The dictionaries say something like 'bilingwel' (what I say), but what I often hear is 'bilingyu-el'. (Similar is British pronunciation of jaguar with an unreduced and front-glided u.) Is this a change in progress? Does it have to do with the /g/ beforehand? Do dictionaries just have it wrong? Who says it which way? Are there other words like this?
  2. I heard someone today (not for the first time) say inVENT(o)ry rather than INvent(o)ry. This seems to be related to the change by which CONtroversy is now often rendered (in British Englishes) as conTROVersy. How broad is this pattern of change? Who's doing it and who's not? How regular is it?
  3. Signs people make to ask people do (not) do something are interesting. Sometimes people put "POLITE NOTICE" on top, which is often explained by others as "they want you to misread it as POLICE".  But I saw one that said 'COURTEOUS NOTICE' in a Brighton shop window. Why isn't saying "Please don't park your bicycle here" enough? Why do people feel like they need to give these signs a title?
  4. Still on the topic of signs, this came around on Twitter last night:

    When and why do people personify objects in this way, to give information or instructions? And why did this:
    end up like this?

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

three things I wondered about today

This blog has been fairly quiet for a while. It's a trick for us all to remember to post here when we have little wonderings. But let me revive it by pointing out some things I wondered about language today.  I've not really researched them (that's not my job here--they're wonderings), but I have had a look to see if there's any recent work on the topics and will link to them here as starting points. (I am linking to the public-facing journal sites, so if you want to read the articles, you're better off searching for them through the library, where access may well be free.)

  1. English learners are taught to pronounce the as 'thee' before vowels and 'thuh' before consonants. The whole story is more complicated.  I'm wondering: are there dialectal differences (including national US/UK differences) in this?  Do learners follow the 'rule' or pick up other uses of 'thee'?
  2. Ad-hoc abbreviations to fit the 140-character limit in Twitter: which words do ppl shortn? How? Why? Where?  Here's a possibly interesting article re this & age.
  3. Here's an article about the language of restaurant menus in 1970s United States. What do menus tell us today? Which non-English words make it in (and why)? How are the descriptions structured? What do they tell us about class, food, consumerism...? The new book by Dan Jurafsky, The Language of Food, might cover some of this.