Merriam-Webster words of the year

The online Merriam-Webster has a list of words of the year. Guess what is the top 1? No, not "linguistics", but "blog". Many other in the top 10 list are politically related, but one is particularly curious: cicada. They are very common in Brasil in the Fall. Especially disgusting for some, especially because they "pee" on you when making that loud noise. I also heard that they are no peeing. It is another fluid that you can imagine by yourselves. Anyway, the list is based on the on-line lookups, I still cannot figure out why it had so many inquiries. Please, send suggestions in the comments section.

Merriam-Webster Online


Bill Safire slangin' the phat rimes fo' shizzle

WASHINGTON 'Fo'shizzle, I'm going to get hella crunk tonight." The first slang word is a variant of "for sure"; the second, hella, is an adjective meaning "very, a lot, really," perhaps a clip of "helluva." But the word that's sweeping the high-school halls and college campuses is crunk, a blend of "crazy" and "drunk," which has elbowed aside wasted, just as faded has replaced stoned. A hard drinker, loud but not yet a crunk, is a daunch.

Most of the stuff in this article seems kinda stalish, not really all that. It is quite that though to see Bill Safire shakin' it so.


Quebec language agency says French in "precarious" state in province

QUEBEC (CP) - The French language is in a "precarious" state in Quebec as English usage continues to grow, says a report by Quebec's language watchdog.
The Office quebecois de la langue francaise says English usage is growing at a slightly higher rate than French - two per cent for English compared with 1.7 per cent for French. Efforts to force businesses to comply with language laws "have not yet allowed French in Quebec to come into full and widespread use," the watchdog said in an annual report tabled in the provincial legislature.

"In this context, it appears that the use of French at work is precarious, despite gains made in the past few years."

Heads up to any concerned Quebecers! The Quebecian language watchdog is on the task.


Absent Demonstrata

I had an interesting “demonstrative moment” last Friday at the linguistics department. It happened in LingSem directly before Peter Gordon’s talk on Piraha counting. Peter and I and a Yale faculty member—who shall remain nameless—were waiting for the rest of the department to show up to LingSem, get their food, settled in, &c. So Peter points to the many portraits embellishing the walls of LingSem and asks, “Are these guys all old Yale linguists?”

I said that they were, and pointed to Sapir and said “There is Sapir.” I then pointed to another picture that looked down directly upon the spot where Peter would stand to give his talk and said “And that is Whorf.”

“I didn’t know they were from here,” Peter replied.

I nodded solemnly. The conversation moved on.

It was only a day or so later when I realized that the portrait I had pointed out as Whorf was not Whorf, but was actually Leonard Bloomfield. I was and am quite embarrassed about the whole thing—especially since I am the one who hung both Sapir’s and Bloomfield[Whorf’s]’s portraits to begin with.

The embarrassment persists. But now I am in the grip of an even greater problem, the arised question still haunts me, who was the demonstratum of my gesture? At least it is some consolation that to my knowledge there is not yet a portrait of Spiro Agnew hanging in LingSem!

Google puts new slant on scholarship

[T]he company behind the internet's leading search engine aims to change the academic world too, with a new search tool putting a treasure trove of scholarly writing within the reach of everyday users.

Following moves to make scientific research freely available, Google Scholar allows any internet user to search for keywords in theses, books, technical reports, university websites and even traditional academic publications.

The free system, which is being run initially in test form and can be seen at http://www.scholar.google.com/ spans the academic disciplines from medicine and physics to economics and computer science.

An interesting article. I wonder if the Google folks know how their machine is currently affecting research in syntax and semantics and pragmatics and the rest. It seems more and more papers are citing Google for grammaticality judgments--one pragmantician I know fondly refers to Google judgments as his "Google Research". Also, it seems a common story now for a researcher to show up with a printout of constructions that "aren't supposed to occur". That is, sentences that don't occur within the theory but seem to freely occur on pages searched by Google. It's interesting to wonder how the current state of syntactic theory might have been had Google judgments been around in the early 90s.

Anyway, I don't know how the scholar.google.com system will work out. But I suspect it will probably do well, as everything else those guys do seems to.


Subcontinent Raises Its Voice

With an English-speaking population now likely to have surpassed that of Britain and the US, India, with its dynamic variety of English, is set to become a linguistic superpower, argues David Crystal.

India currently has a special place in the English language record books - as the country with the largest English-speaking population in the world. Ten years ago that record was held by the US. Not any more.

This is quite interesting news from David Crystal.


Comment on "Fahrenheit this!"

The antepenultimate post brings up an interesting grammatical construction, viz., "X this!" where the demonstrative usually not-so-covertly suggests certain parts of one's anatomy, and the X part, regardless of original category, suggests a copulative function--not necessarily of the auxiliary variety. Needless to say, the demonstrative "this" usually would involve a quite obvious and possibly two-handed demonstration. Most likely of the vertical motion variety.

It appears that X can be a single term as in (1) or more complex terms, as in (2).

(1) Yo, Fahrenheit this!
(2) a: I saw the sweetest puppy for sale at the mall today.
b: Yo, you can [[sweet puppy] for sale] this at the mall!

It appears that this construction might perform some type of focus function. Compare (1)-(2) with (3) below.

(3) It was the [[sweet puppy] for sale] at the mall that I saw today.

Interestingly, the superlative morphology does not seem to make the jump to the cleft construction, as in (4).

(4) It was the sweet(*est) puppy for sale at the mall that I saw today.

This comment is not about superlative morphology, however, thus this particular observation falls outside of the scope of this note--as does the apparent unrestricted position of the locative at the mall in the "X this!" construction. These are best left for future research.


Two new 2004 election verbs:

to daschle: "Already, there is a new verb floating around the Capitol: "Daschled." It describes what can happen to those, like the Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, who oppose Republican legislation and then lose re-election in heavily Republican states."

to cheney: as in, Go Cheney yourself, How the Cheney would I know?, Cheney you., I don’t give a flying Cheney., Who the Cheney do you think you are?

To cheney stems from an encounter between Sen. Patrick Leahy and VP Dick Cheney that took place on the US Senate floor. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who was on the receiving end of Cheney's ire, confirmed that the vice president used profanity during Tuesday's class photo.

A spokesman for Cheney confirmed there was a "frank exchange of views."

Fahrenheit this!

This expression I got from a pro-Bush advertisement. In its full form:

"Hey Hollywood
Fahrenheit this
W is for Winner"

The meaning is certainly something negative, and probably related to media, and certainly funny as a verb. Maybe now one can say: "I've been fahrenteid last night". "The experimental Linguistics blog will never be fahrenheited!". And there you go. So far, I found 16 hits of "farenheited". Mostly politics related. But probably this one will never make it to the OED.



Grammatical rarities

Today we have a link provided by our colleague Julia Kuznetsova about grammatical rarities. Things like "an extra-large inventory of pronominal words, of some 200" or "a basic colour term for TURQUOISE". Many degrees of rareness with sources and sometimes a brief comment. Really nice collection. Enjoy.


Language regions challenge spread of English

An interesting piece on the apparent glottocentrism of Swiss president Joseph Deiss:

Swiss President Joseph Deiss has welcomed the idea of a national law on languages to stem the spread of English in the country. He was speaking after meeting representatives from all four of Switzerland’s linguistic regions who denounced the increasing use of English within the federal administration.

In case anyone is wondering of the havoc that English can cause:

Some parliamentarians have also argued that the use of English can be confusing and that it may not be immediately clear whether Swissmint manufactures coins or sweets.

And another gem of logic from the article:

Flavio Zanetti, the representative for the Italian-speaking part of the country, warned that Switzerland’s culture was at risk if English continued its progress.“We could lose our multilingual identity, which is a vital element of our country’s make-up,” he added.

I say, good luck guys, keep that finger in the dam.