Archive for the 'dialects' Category

Time, space, and prepositions

January 31, 2008

Came across an interesting post over at Language Log about the prepositions in/on/at.

The basic principles are simple:
relates to a 3-dimensional container
on relates to a 2-dimensional surface
at relates to a 1-dimensional location
Time and space as portrayed by Flickr user: Charles Van L.

The experiential key here is that a day (one’s current waking period) is metaphorized as a surface on which one is walking (the slogan is “ontology recapitulates physiology”). That accounts for on Thursday, on the seventh, on his birthday.

The smaller time units are then locations on that surface, whence at noon, at the moment, at 8:15:44.23, 2/17/44, while the larger ones are containers for days, whence in March, in 2007, in the twentieth century. [Language Log]

In the UK, I noticed that it was common to say “I’ve got plans at the weekend” rather than the American way “on the weekend.” Does this mean that Brits find their weekends simply fleeting points in a larger week while Americans delineate the workweek more clearly?

LOLcat strikes back: the LOLcat translator

October 26, 2007

I can’t get enough of these inane furry creatures. Today (and yeah, I’m a little late on the game, but so what) I discovered LOLcat translation services: and Both sites are decent, but both suffer from computer-generated-translationitis. I guess language–even made-up language–is still too complex for machines to pick up on the subtle nuances.

I like for its creative use of the Impact font, but as you can see, it’s still missing that je ne sais quoi:


Arr! Avast! Prepare to be boarded!

September 19, 2007

Yar har har, me hearties. It be International Talk Like A Pirate Day today, a holiday endorsed by scurvy Dave Barry himself (so it must be legit!). Talking like a salty sea dog is quite simple, thanks to Robert Newton. He be the scurvy dog what gave Long John Silver a West Country accent (which, ta most landlubbers, is Cornwall) in the 1950 version of Treasure Island, simply since he were from that area. Nowadays, all pirates either talk like Cornwall natives, or like Keith Richards. (Thanks, Johnny Depp.)

In honor of this momentous occasion, set a course for one of these links about Cornish accents:

BBC – The Voices
Audio clips of speech from all over merry old England, including Cornwall.

BBC – Calling All Bristolians
Information on modern Bristol (also part of the West Country) slang and dialect.

English Accents and Dialects
A treasure trove (Arr! See what I did there?) of more than 650 audio clips.

International Dialects of English Archive
When ye find yerself sick of Cornish accents, look here for English speakers from all over the world. Intended as a resource for actors, it’s fascinating to anyone interested in dialect.

Now I sadly put me ship into port and wait until next year..

Do You Speak American?

June 5, 2007

After finding PBS’s web site for Do You Speak American? I intended to have a long post on this topic, but I’ve been browsing through the material for days and have still found no end to it.

It looks as if there was a documentary broadcast on TV back in 2005, and the producers organized all their notes and chucked them up on the ‘net. This is how journalism should be done. It is an amazing wealth of knowledge and I wish I’d known about it before. Dorks like me could spend months on a site like this.

There is too much to go into in much depth, but the site contains essays and research papers from linguists on everything from the “decline” of English to detailed analyses of American dialects. (I was especially fascinated by the section on the Lumbee, a group of 40,000 Native Americans in Robeson County, NC who use words like “mommuck” and “ellick” and are still struggling for official formal recognition from the US federal government.)  You can also read about human perception of computerized voices (high-end BMW drivers, apparently, prefer their cars to “speak” like males) and how Buffy the Vampire Slayer relates to slang. There are quizzes (What is “blue sky” and where is it played?), videos, audio clips, and a “verb conjugation machine,” where you can create verb sequences like “glide, glode, glidden” just for the fun of it.

This is really an amazing collection of information. Enjoy!

The rise of lolcat

May 14, 2007

I can has grammars???

I admit it. I’m addicted to lolcats. I love the damn things, stupid as they are. What I didn’t realize is how much information is already out on the tubenet on the grammar of lolcats.

A little background:

Lolcats are a fairly recent internet meme involving the captioning of cute or stupid pictures of cats with cute, stupid, poorly-spelled phrases. My favorite site for this good-natured idiocy is I Can Has Cheezburger?

Even though the grammar and spelling on all these pictures is unquestionably mangled, there is some sort of structure. Anil Dash has coined the term “kitty pidgin” to describe lolcat grammar, and claims that “it’s possible to get cat-speak wrong.” I wholeheartedly agree; though I’m not nearly good enough to come up with clear kitty pidgin rules, I know bad kidgin when I see it. Dash’s idea has been picked up by sources like Table of Malcontents, a Wired blog, so the idea must have some sort of merit.

Dash goes on to say that “someday we’ll have kitty pidgin dictionaries. Perhaps we’ll even get all the niceties that Klingon and Elmer Fudd-speak enjoy, like a Google translation, a Microsoft Word dictionary, or a cat-native version of the Bible or Shakespeare.” This I must disagree with, because kitty pidgin, like so many other “dialects” on the ‘Net, is always morphing. There are rules that must be followed now, but those rules could be different in a year–or a month.

For now, the rules are fairly simple. Here are some, as laid out in this ICHC post:
Misuse gerunds
Overuse prepositional phrases
Blatant rearrangement of syntax
Misspell everything. There’s no wrong way to do this…

Okay, so the rules are a little loose. And to put this back in perspective, remember we’re still talking about dumb (but oh-so-cute) cat macros on the internet.

But are they so dumb? Another post on ICHC argues otherwise:

Consider how difficult is its for computers to identify faces. Consider how confirmation keys are now images so computers can’t understand what is being communicated. Consider the new confirmation keys where a series of images are displayed and the user must pick which one of these is not like the other. Computers have a terrible time with this kind of task.

Communication through images is a powerful way to pass complex ideas back and forth.

After the analysis of the image macro’s importance in communication, the post breaks down into a sort of fun-sucking “explanation” of different subspecies of lolcats, something one could probably skip if inclined. The point: Is the image macro perhaps the perfect form of communication?