Linguistics Halloween costume

My blog stats tell me someone found my blog while searching for “linguistics halloween costume.” Now I’m dying of curiosity – who was looking for a linguistics Halloween costume, and did they find anything? Or did they come up with something of their own, such as:

On a related note, yesterday a student who couldn’t remember my name called me Miss Linguistics. Sounds like a good superhero/Halloween costume idea to me.


Wrong of way

Back in January I heard my dad say something pretty interesting but keep forgetting to post about it. We were driving around town and he shouted at another driver, “What do you think you’re doing? You have the wrong of way!”

This method of negating right of way is new to me. I’m used to, “You don’t have (the) right of way,” where the predicate is negated. But in my dad’s version the adjective is swapped with an antonym – within a set phrase, no less! ETA: This is also interesting because while “having the right to (something)” is a common phrase, I don’t think people would normally say “have the wrong to (something).” Hm.

I was curious to see if this is in wider use, so of course I went to trusty Google. It gets 36,000 hits, but that’s a bit skewed because there’s apparently a song by that name bringing up thousands of those annoying junk lyrics pages in the search results. Other than that song, it shows up in a few news articles, apparently as an attempt at a clever title.

This article in particular has a very interesting example:

“Whooshing through, he swiped an oncoming red MG that had refused to yield the wrong of way until threatened with extinction.”

How exactly do you yield the wrong of way, I wonder?

Sociolinguistics in songs

I’m not a sociolinguist, by any means, but the song Throw the ‘R’ Away (1987) by the Scottish band The Proclaimers has long been one of my favorites. Imagine my delight when I found a version of it on the now ubiquitous YouTube. These are the lyrics (minus repeats):

I’ve been so sad
Since you said my accent was bad
He’s worn a frown
This Caledonian clown

I’m just going to have to learn to hesitate
To make sure my words
On your Saxon ears don’t grate
But I wouldn’t know a single word to say
If I flattened all the vowels
And threw the ‘R’ away

Some days I stand
On your green and pleasant land
How dare I show face
When my diction is such a disgrace

I’m just going to have to learn to hesitate
To make sure my words
On your Saxon ears don’t grate
But I wouldn’t know a single word to say
If I flattened all the vowels
And threw the ‘R’ away

You say that if I want to get ahead
The language I use should be left for dead
It doesn’t please your ear
And though you tell it like a leg-pull
It seems you’re still full of John Bull
You just refuse to hear

Oh what can I do
To be understood by you
Perhaps for some money
I could talk like a bee dripping honey.

Any other songs come to mind where the singers tackle dialect discrimination head-on? I can’t think of any. Please let me know if I’m missing out on some more great linguistic-y songs.

The Alphabet Conspiracy

This amuses me to no end:

Judy: “We’re going to do away with the alphabet.”

Mad Hatter: “We’re going to murder the language!”

A scene from one of William Safire’s nightmares? No, it’s some dialogue from the 1959 feature The Alphabet Conspiracy (50 min.), which I just stumbled across over at the Internet Archives website. Probably old news, I’m sure, but I’ve never seen it before. It’s a bizarre combination of live action and animation in which the Mad Hatter tries to enlist innocent little Judy to help him destroy language – at least until Dr. Linguistics comes to the rescue!

Sure, it contains the usual claptrap about 12 words for snow in Eskimo languages and 6000 words for camel in Arabic, but at least it introduced linguistics to a larger audience. I like that it emphasizes that linguistics is a science (and the role that experimental evidence plays as a result) and that it shows how dialects are merely variants, not degraded forms of pure languages. Plus, what’s not to love about a kids’ show with isoglosses and an animated sound wave that gets outraged when it’s called ‘just a routine matter of technology’?

Some parts are quite dated, of course. I winced when Dr. Linguistics (the show’s host, Dr. Frank Baxter) talks about how “even the most primitive people” can more or less manage to express their thoughts in any language. He does say that linguists believe there’s no such thing as a primitive language, but still manages to be about as insulting as possible when talking about a large chunk of the planet’s population.

Still, Dr. Linguistics? Sounds like the makings of a good Halloween costume to me.

Good riddance, present participle!

According to this article at Bloomberg, the governor of Brasilia, Jose Roberto Arruda, just prohibited the use of the present participle in his government’s offices. The poor Portuguese present participle (no alliteration intended, honest!) – what has it ever done? Apparently the governor did this because of a perceived notion that government officials use the present participle to feign progress on official business. Perhaps they do – wouldn’t surprise me, actually – but come on! Banning a verb form isn’t likely to do a damn bit of good. Even if he can get people to do it – and that’s a huge if – it’s not the verb that’s the problem here. People will just find another linguistic solution for covering the lack of progress.