Friday, October 30, 2009

The English language in America is not threatened.

My addiction to C-SPAN has me thinking that Steve King (representing the poor people of Iowa's 5th district) is just talking in the hopes of stumbling across a good idea. Much of his ignorance revolves around ideas about language and the threat of multilingualism.

As Sally Thomason points out in a recent Language Log post, this is an ignorance worth countering.

Below I post in full the relevant Resolution adopted in 1987 by the Linguistic Society of America (mentioned by Thomason in her post).

Resolution: English Only

Drafted by Geoff Nunberg

28 December 1986: Approved by members attending the 61st Annual Business Meeting, New York Hilton, New York, NY

1 July 1987: Adopted by LSA membership in a mail ballot

Whereas several states have recently passed measures making English their "official state language," and

Whereas the "English-only" movement has begun to campaign for the passage of similar measures in other states and has declared its intention to attach an official language amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and

Whereas such measures have the effect of preventing the leglislature and state agencies and officials from providing services or information in languages other than English,

Be it therefore resolved that the Society make known its opposition to such "English only" measures, on the grounds that they are based on misconceptions about the role of a common language in establishing political unity, and that they are inconsistent with basic American traditions of linguistic tolerance. As scholars with a professional interest in language, we affirm that:

The English language in America is not threatened. All evidence suggests that recent immigrants are overwhelmingly aware of the social and economic advantages of becoming proficient in English, and require no additional compulsion to learn the language.

American unity has never rested primarily on unity of language, but rather on common political and social ideals.

History shows that a common language cannot be imposed by force of law, and that attempts to do so usually create divisiveness and disunity. This has been the effect, for example, of the efforts of the English to impose the English language in Ireland, of Soviet efforts to impose the Russian language on non-Russian nationalities, and of Franco's efforts to impose Spanish on the Basques and Catalans.

It is to the economic and cultural advantage of the nation as a whole that its citizens should be proficient in more than one language, and to this end we should encourage both foreign language study for native English speakers, and programs that enable speakers with other linguistic backgrounds to maintain proficiency in those languages along with English.

Presented and approved at the LSA Business Meeting in New York City, December 1986.
Submitted to and passed by membership in a mail ballot, March 1987.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Windmill cookies, they'll give you gonorrhea

Just make sure to read more carefully than you listen.

(h/t Elizabeth)

Monday, October 19, 2009


Maybe Tom and L. Ron are right about this psychiatry racket.

My favorite proposed diagnosis:

God Complex

Antecedents: Creating the known universe.

Symptoms: Thinking you own the place. Snooping on people's private conversations even when not addressed through prayer. Fickle support for Steinbrenner's Evil Empire during playoffs. Sufferers will sometimes exist just to spite Christopher Hitchens.

Notes: Those with long beards, devout followers, and immortality are often misdiagnosed. Inquire about bandmates. See: ZZ Top Complex.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Remembering and Musing: or Conan, the Barbarian

On last Thursday's Talk of the Nation Neal Conan had a conversation with Farhad Manjoo about password security.

There was some good advice on the show. For instance, don't choose <123456> as your password. No really. Don't.

The best passwords are of course also the hardest to remember. Numbers and symbols and primarily unintelligible strings of letters are the way to go. So how to remember such a random string? According to Manjoo you should use a mnemonic device. He uses a pronunciation somewhere between [nəmɑnɪk] and [nʊmɑnɪk]: between a schwa and the vowel in book. Not quite the pronunciation with first syllable rhyming with boo zoo and you (that [u] possibly from the influence of a word like pneumatic).

As I pronounce mnemonic the first vowel falls somewhere between the [i] in beet and the [ɪ] in bit. Manjoo and I pronounce the word almost identically with a slight difference in the front/back place of the first vowel. The sequence of vowels and consonants is the same: CVCVCVC.

Conan also mentioned mnemonic devices. His pronunciation is quite distinct from mine. In fact it's a pronunciation I'd never heard before [mɛmnɑɾɪk] as if the word was spelled <memnotic>.

I thought this might be a simple performance error, not a fixed pronunciation, but he uses the same pronunciation later in the segment. It appears to be his somewhat intentional pronunciation of the word.

There's an obvious effect of the initial <mn> in the spelling of the word. An onset cluster not possible in English. Of course when the [m] is the coda of one syllable and the [n] is an onset of another that's a perfectly acceptable sequence because it's no longer a true cluster. That's one possible fix for a spelling confound on phonology.

But I suspect it's more than just a fix. I wonder if it's not also the result of a couple other influences: memory and hypnotic. Memory is obviously a relevant word probably assumed to be a related form. Hypnotic isn't as direct a connection, but the relevance of psychological terms and 'mindwork' types of tricks and strategies pushes it forward as an influence. Once you've got the initial mem- and you need to put the 'mn' sequence in there and you know the word ends with [ɑCɪk], the [ɑɾɪk] of nearby hypnotic can easily push aside the [ɑnɪk] of already corrupted mnemonic. Perhaps.

I didn't find loads out there. A Google™ search for "memnotic" brings up almost 5000 items as raw hit results, not all of them relevant or even accurate. "Memnotic device" brings up only about a dozen.

It's an interesting blend.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Linkin' logs

A Daily Portmanteau gives just what the name promises: one portmanteau every day. Some of them are pretty good. I have even had the chance to use hangry in conversation with Buffy recently. Don't make Buffy hangry. You wouldn't like her when she's hangry.

My First Dictionary enjoyed a volcanic boost in popularity when Ross Horsely started it earlier this year. I laugh at some of the entries, cringe at some of them, and shake my head nervously at most of them.

The link to John Wells's Phonetic Blog has changed. He's now on blogspot at Professor Wells won't be posting for about two weeks, so now is a great time to catch up on any of his posts that you've missed. His old site didn't work with my RSS reader, but the new site is ready to go. And of course, well worth your time if you're interested at all in phonetics.

Jack Windsor Lewis' Phonetiblog is another important stop for such topics. I've been reading his posts for a while.

Several of the blogs I read are collected in a folder I've labeled "Peevology". I've got a bunch of posts started in the queue, responding to the claims, complaints, premises and analyses I've found in those blogs. Some I understand. Some I don't. Who knows when I'll get around to finishing the posts.

The Grammar Vandal hasn't posted in a while, but I just have to keep checking in on a blog that says, based on a minor spelling issue "I can’t imagine how many mistakes were made at so many levels within the company for this shirt to have been put on shelves and sold." I suppose the presence of your instead of you're on a T-shirt means someone on the board of directors lost a finger, and someone in the mailroom has been widowed. Poor spelling is a scourge, people!

The Grammarphile at Red Pen, Inc. likes pointing at typos and giggling, as does the wielder of Mighty Red Pen, who likes to pick out errors with a slightly more temperate tone. All harmless fun.

And yes, I even stop by Martha Brockenbrough's SPOGG blog to see what she's up to.

After reading these and other more aggressive complaints, I turn to Gabe Doyle's Motivated Grammar for some familiar and reasonable descriptivism.* He does a fine job addressing issues of usage with evidence taken from actual language rather than the evidence created from an ideal speaker. Go read him with high expectations.

*Not that all prescriptive views are unreasonable. I'm not being a snob here.