Monday, March 30, 2009

March is a bit crueler if you ask me

Thanks for checking in faithfully. I'll be back shortly. I've just discovered that a whole mass of my data is useless because of a flaw in the questionnaire.

For a while I was looking for someone to blame. Then I remembered that I decided to work alone. So I'm stuck with the shame. Bleagh.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Hush hush I like Rush

Memorize it

One two one two
One two one two

Get ready to get knocked over

I have something to say
I'm not trying to play
Cut me a check for twenty-five K
You want to help the people in my state

'Cause I'm a Republican for goodness sake

The war
On issues that affect the poor

Go to the streets
That's really the- the-
The heat of the meat

Bet on black
You get it done
We got the black Republican
Grew up on 8th street in DC son

I've been a Republican since I was seventeen

I intend to run the RNC

Go back to my base
Gettin' up in their face

Democrats try to mix us up
and get us off track
OK whatever
That's whack

The Democrats have got the swagger right now
Swagger right now
Swagger swagger right now


The Democrats represent

Reality check here
Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer
Oops, my bad
Hush hush I like Rush

You know
I'm focused on the cash flow
Create the wealth

That's not a stimulus bill
That's a bad bad bill
Drill baby drill

There was a Michael Steele Before there was a Barack Obama
I'm always open to everything
Like jo mama
Like like like jo mama

Ha ha
But seriously
Trying to force a massive spending bill
I say to that balony
These numbnuts on Capital Hill can blow me

He's definitely got the beat down
How you like me now?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Fun Food Terms!

Here's an odd little survey about food:

Do you know of the meal "haystacks"?
Are you a Seventh-day Adventist?

Please mark the appropriate answer in the poll above.

Please add any commentary to this post. Especially if you know the term but you aren't SDA. (And any controversial commentary on best/worst ingredients)

Literalminded makes an excellent point in his comment. The poll question, as is, is unnecessarily cryptic.

In the Sevvie culture a haystack is just another name for a taco salad. Pretty much. But the question isn't if you know what a taco salad is. It's about the term haystack. Have you used it or heard it used in this way?

Here's how I make mine:

- A bed of corn chips (usually Tostitos or Doritos or Fritos or... whatever -- flavored or not. dun't matter.)

- Crush the chips by flattening them with your hand.

- Scoop on heated beans or chili.

- Grated cheese. (cheddar/mozzarella/colby/monteray jack...)

- Shredded lettuce.

- Tomato

- Onions

- Sour cream

- Salsa

They're best once the chips get soggy.

YMMV — if you hate something I've said here, speak up in the comments.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Seeing labels

The Child by Alex Gopher

There are a few interesting examples of how language is conventional and words can separate from meanings. The <lift> is moving down. The <subway> is elevated.

I'm not quite sure what to make of each individual person on the street being represented by the plural noun people, or the signs in other alphabets.

And hey– if this is in New York, why is it called a lift?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Grammar day post mortem

Some of Casey's recent comments bring up relevant issues that I'm happy to address. So…

He asks:

do I best serve my children (or my students) by not objecting to their use of the objective-as-subject-of-sentence form? Whether "Linguistics" likes it or not, there does seem to be a language of power...

Whether he serves his children/students best is not really a linguistic question. It's a parenting question if he's talking about his offspring. It's a pedagogical/teaching-philosophy question if he's talking about his pupils. The question of dative/accusative/nominative forms is linguistic. So a linguist can probably answer some of the basic questions he has about why his kids use one form here and another form there. Another linguist could give him an answer about whether there's any evidence that a parent objecting to a child's use really makes any difference. Not about whether it should make a difference, but whether it does. To that point: in short, correcting your children's grammar will have little effect on their speech. They're going to talk like their peers whether you like it or not.

You can probably tell them that they have misunderstood what a giraffe is, and you might stop them from saying 'giraffe' when looking at a zebra. And you'll probably be able to convince them that the past tense of eat is ate rather than eated. But only when they've heard enough other people backing up your story by example.

And by the time their language differs from yours due to dialectal differences they're pretty much done listening to your advice. This doesn't mean they're done learning. And it doesn't mean they're done shaping their habits of usage and their command of registers.

The question of serving asks if needs are being met, but to answer that requires some agreement about what needs there are. What are you trying to give them? Honestly, the use of I and me and us and we isn't going to make much of a difference in their lives. Graduate students and professors all around me are constantly saying things like spoke to my brother and I and For my colleagues and I to consider. Those forms in speech aren't blocking many people from succeeding even in paths that claim to be picky about language.

A few people decided to jump on Barack Obama for his use of I in accusative and dative positions. What's the lesson there for an English teacher? Obama has succeeded while using registers as he does. He certainly knows that the forms that are overlooked in speech are not as easily overlooked in writing. So he avoids them in writing and uses them in speech. And even when they're not overlooked in speech, the people who pick on them are tiny little toothless pit-bulls. They'll grab on and hold on but they are no more than a nuisance. And by nuisance I don't even mean something that we should try to get rid of or something that causes any real problem. I simply mean that the anger is impotent. Don't worry about it. Really. Shrug and move on.

Should students know the mechanics of different writing styles? Yes. Teach them to know their audience. Teach them to choose a tone carefully. Teach them to use strategies for clear communication. And in my opinion you should do yourself the favour of separating writing from language. For that matter you should be careful to separate all edited and prepared expression from language. Teaching strategies for writing and reciting is a rhetorical business. That's fine. Linguists have nothing against such instruction. Most linguists are pretty good at it and many are happy to give it.

To Casey's next comment: Whether "Linguistics" likes it or not, there does seem to be a language of power...

Linguists know this. And study it. Descriptivism is about understanding the structure of language. We have faith that an honest and unbiased description will lead to the conclusion that the power is determined by social forces and not because of an inherent quality that one dialect has over another. And reaching that conclusion does not mean that a linguist will then be determined to influence that power. I believe that is the primary misconception regarding descriptivism.

Casey then argues:
grammarians are no more or less correct than teenagers who are always introducing new forms.

And I agree. That's true as far as the grammaticality of their sentences goes. The active voice, for instance, is no more or less grammatical than the passive voice. If I choose to pick on "grammarians" it's going to be because of their claims that they are more correct than those teenagers. Or because of the logic they use to argue in favor of a form. I have no problem with William Safire sharing his opinions. I criticize him when he makes an assertion that I know to be false. About the history of a word or about the current state of language or about the forces at work in language change. The irony is that if a grammarian was to flat out say 'I just prefer this form' or 'I just like it better because I had a crush on the teacher who taught it to me' or 'This form reminds me of the social circle of which I would like to be a part' or 'I like this pronunciation because I just like the sound of that diphthong' then I would have little criticism. Those are all pretty honest assessments of preferred forms as an arbitrary judgment.

It's when those grumblers accuse kids of having a novel disrespect for language and for endangering the future of 'good' English like no generation before them that linguists have reason to roll their eyes.

If we are sympathetic to the creative impulse it's because that's what all languages do and it's interesting to watch it happening. If we are tired of rigidity it's because a corpse can only tell you so much about the life it led. Autopsies are fine but they only entertain for so long.

Monday, March 02, 2009

"It's Nutty Future Man again"

It's Bob Newhart's Sir Walter Raleigh phone-bit for a new age.

(click image to enlarge)

hat tip: jeff