alexiscartwheel: (Default)
In case you missed it, last weekend the New York Times posted an interactive dialect quiz, complete with fancy heat maps and stuff. Answer 25 multiple choice questions and a magical algorithm tells you what region your speech characteristics match up with best. Cool? Cool.

So I took the quiz, and I think the first time it said my speech matched best with the dialects of Springfield, Missouri, and Reno, Nevada. Excuse me, what? Well, I thought, there were a bunch of questions where I really could've gone with one of two answers, so maybe I'll switch some of them. Still no good. Springfield again, plus Overland Park, Kansas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

I lived in Columbus, Ohio, for 22 years and Washington, D.C. adjacent for another 5 or so, with short sojourns in Montreal and, well, actually, Overland Park, Kansas. But that means I should sound mostly like an Ohioan, with a few Maryland oddities—for instance, I like "traffic circle" a whole lot better than "roundabout", so I default to the former—not like someone from Missouri.

At this point, I've taken the damn quiz at least 20 times, because a) I can get freakishly narrowly focused sometimes and wanted to figure out what was going on with my results, and b) I have too much time on my hands. Here's what I've found:
  • If you only took the quiz once (congratulations, sane person!) you won't have noticed that there are actually more than 25 questions. The quiz always starts with the "you all/y'all/you guys/y'inz/etc." question, but the rest randomly change order each time, and the 25 question set changes.
  • I absolutely do not, under any circumstances, sound like I am from Boston, Providence, Jersey City, NYC, or Jackson, Mississippi. The quiz is much more consistent about who I don't sound like than who I do sound like.
  • My results were disproportionately skewed by the responses to a smaller set of questions. Apparently the more unique features of my idiolect are: "blow-off class", "potato bug", "drinking fountain", "lightning bug", "highway", and, dammit...
  • "Crawdad." The one's above were all cited as distinguishing at some point, but whether I got this question and how I answered it ALWAYS drastically changed the result. I grew up going to summer camp, and one of the activities was always going "creeking" and catching "crawdads." Were I to go creeking again, I would probably call them that. But the rest of the time, I'd call them "crayfish" because I think that's their actual name? So this one's a register problem. I do know that finally switching my answer to "crayfish" got me the most reasonable sounding result of Cleveland I'd had up to that point.
    • Creeking, fyi, is basically fishing. In a creek. While standing in a creek. I'm pretty sure this is a regional thing, too, because Google says creeking is some sort of activity involving a kayak, not wet feet and a fishing net.
    • Crawdad is one of the main factors in my repeated Springfield, Missouri quiz result.
  • I decided to settle on a single answer for each question, even though there were some I was conflicted about (e.g. I both think "dinner" and "supper" have the same meaning but don't actually use the word "supper" ever) to see if I could replicate any of my quiz results. That didn't work, because, like I said, the results were drastically skewed by the words listed above, so if I, for instance, didn't get the potato bug question, I knew I definitely couldn't be from Portland this time.
  • Cities that popped up repeatedly included: Grand Rapids, Springfield, Overland Park, Fort Wayne, St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Rockford (Ill.) which are at least all in the Midwest, but I also got everywhere from Pittsburgh to Portland to Mesa (Ariz.). Basically the entire country that isn't New England or the Deep South.
  • If you take the quiz enough times, you stop having to read the questions, because you can locate your answer automatically.
  • One magical time, I got the right set of questions to land Columbus, Ohio. Don't ask me how, it was like 1 a.m. and I wasn't very scientific about any of this.
My conclusion isn't that I'm a special snowflake as much as that my idiolect is just weird enough to flummox the quiz a little bit. It's been awhile, but I studied enough linguistics in undergrad to know that I sound not only very Midwestern, but very Ohioan. If the quiz were heavier on phonological variation instead of lexical variation (but that doesn't make for fun quiz questions that make you think "They call it what now?") or if it were just longer, I'm pretty sure it could pin me in Central Ohio much more easily. 
alexiscartwheel: (bsg - adama/roslin)

  • Last night I set two alarms to ensure that I'd be out of bed and out the door on time. I made it to the Metro, then had to wait half an hour because some train with mechanical problems was blocking the track and was late for work anyway!

  • I've read plenty about those fancy pants ebook readers, but never seen a real person using one, until today, when I saw two. I'm still not sold.

  • Apparently, Lake Superior State University publishes a yearly list of words that should be banished from the English language. Although I agree we were a bit over-mavericked this year, I find this type of linguistic whining irritating. Blah blah they're ruining "the Queen's English" (say some folks in Michigan, lol). CRY MOAR, BBS!!

  • My roommate cleaned up his huge mess in the kitchen, so now it is safe to cook in with out poisoning myself. I'm making pasta with pesto right now. Yum!

  • Only two weeks til Inauguration Day! I still haven't decided whether to brave the cold and the crowds, or just watch on TV from the comfort of my sofa.

  • And speaking of TV, Bones and Battlestar Galactica come back next week! Sadly, I don't have cable, so I'll have to wait an extra day for BSG. :( I've been meaning to rewatch the first half of S4, which I think I can manage at one episode per day if I start tomorrow.

  • Still listening to the CD101 Top 2009. Still awesome.

alexiscartwheel: (sc smart is sexy!)
I got eskimo snowed today in my "Organization of Information" class. *headdesk* Also, we got all that bs about how people can only differentiate between colors that they have unique words for. Gah!!! I had already pointed out several times that she was wrong about cataloging rules, but I forced myself to hold it in that she was wrong about the linguistics stuff. (Yes, linguistics makes me ranty. Don't these people read Language Log?! That class is so frustrating... which is why I spent most of it today reading the Huffington Post.

Also, I got an e-mail that started with "There are three kinds of people in the world: those who can count, and those who can't." This is always a lame joke, but I think [livejournal.com profile] zankhamun and [livejournal.com profile] lib_chick42 will have a special appreciation for it's lameness.

My computer problems at work were fixed, then returned, then were fixed again. Now I can actually use Photoshop. That is to say, I can do my job.

I watched House tonight. Well, kind of, cause I was chopping vegetables in the kitchen to make a Turkish chopped salad for dinner, so for the first half I was mostly just listening to House. Whatever. This is what happens when I miss a few episodes. )

Tomorrow is my day off! Yay! I'll be spending most of it working on projects though. Were did all my time go, guys?
alexiscartwheel: (dw - rose)
I woke up this morning feeling awful. Mostly my back and shoulders were hurting, thanks to biking yesterday, but I was also feeling generally blah. As a result, I had a pretty lazy day. A little reading, a little TV, a little music. I did manage to fill out two job applications, which was on my to-do list for the day, so I feel like I accomplished something. (I really hate job applications. They're so tedious. I end up filling out one section, then I have to get up and wander the house for a bit.)

Good news today, though! My aunt went to the oncologist and was officially declared cancer free! We went out and bought a bottle of wine to celebrate. :D

And finally, cause I'm still digging the Olympics: Language Log reports that Christine Ohuruogu won the 400m in Beijing, "hence becoming the first British woman with a linguistics degree to win Olympic gold at this distance." Linguistics and the Olympics. Yesssss.

ETA: I saw the race on TV later, and after hearing the commentators pronounce it, I think Ohuruogu is a really awesome name. It's just got a really great sound.
alexiscartwheel: (dw - donna)
When did "to medal" become a verb?

It is tempting to say about a week ago - this ear-grating usage, as in "Romero is the only British woman to medal in two different sports", has disfigured the Beijing games - but, annoyingly, some dictionaries do accept "medal" as a verb, meaning "to decorate or honour with a medal" or "to receive a medal, esp. in a sporting event". It is, however, clearly an ugly Americanism - the earliest identified use of the word meaning to win a medal dates from 1966, in California, and the Washington Post was using it by 1979 - which needs to be stamped out. The sooner medal-obsessed Americans stop meddling with the English language the better.


Now while I agree that my countrymen do tend to be a bit medal obsessed, language change is just a fact of life, and should hardly be termed meddling. (Har, har, har. How very clever.) Verbing nouns--that is, creating a verb from an existing noun--is hardly a new phenomenon, and it's not going to stop just because the language pedants get all up in arms and "Wah, they're ruining our language!" about it.

Besides, who really wants to say "Michael Phelps was decorated with a medal eight times"? Sounds snotty and affected to me. But I'm just an ugly American.
alexiscartwheel: (kaylee)
Thanks to Language Log, I discovered that the Radio Times did a survey to determine the best and worst American accents by British actors with very amusing results. Hugh Laurie is the best, but also the fourth worst. Michelle Ryan is the worst, but also the third best. So basically, the results are completely meaningless, and prove that British people are poor judges of American accents, that there aren't many well known British actors on American TV, or a little of both.

The BBC then invited people to call in with their best American accents, with laughable results. (Most of the clips, if they sound American at all sound like some ridiculous regional mish-mash.) Thankfully, they have also provided a video of "How not to do an American accent."

Hugh Laurie really is that good though. Mom and I were just talking about that the other night. I had seen him in other stuff before House, but really wasn't that familiar with him or his work. I was shocked to hear his British accent the first time I saw him give an interview.

I, of course, can't speak with a British accent to save my life, which is why I don't pretend to know how. I can't even make myself sound convincingly Canadian, and that's less of a stretch. So even poor Michelle Ryan has a better American accent than my British accent. And honestly, she's not perfect, but I didn't think accent was that bad.
alexiscartwheel: (aj reads the news)
I was reading this month's issue of Wired, and it got me thinking about linguistics. (What else, right?)

First off, an essay by Michaeal Erard entitled "Anyone Here Speak Chinglish?" Or, at least, that's what they call it in the print version. I digress. Erard wonders if those funny Chinglish phrases we all love to laugh at aren't really bad English at all. Maybe the Chinese are just speaking a whole new form of English. There's a familiar historical precedent for such a change: the Romance languages. Yesterday's Latin is today's French. I think it's pretty much certain that as English spreads, many of the new Englishes that result will be perfectly legimate languages that are mostly incomprehensible to Americans.

I'm less convinced, however, that American English will start sounding like Chinese English, or any other English. Any movement like that would be very gradual, especially since the average American doesn't have much contact with foreign speakers of English. And Geography always has an effect on language. The moment we all started speaking one global Pan-English (not that you can ever quantify that), it will immediately start to break down again into local dialects. I'm also not convinced that the poorly translated signs are all proof that those particulare mistakes are correct in Chinese English. I think it's more likely the had a bad run in with the Google translator.

But still... interesting stuff. And we thought it was difficult to understand Brits and Australians.
alexiscartwheel: (reading)
Pardon me while I geek out about linguistics. :D

Earlier this week I finished reading The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language by John McWhorter. I picked up the book thinking that I didn’t really know much about historical linguistics, but once I started reading, I realized I was wrong. The earlier chapters of the book established things I was already quite familiar with: it all started with one big proto-language, languages change over time, languages are dialects with an army, dialects are on a continuum, etc. It was a little basic, but a good review of topics I learned about in my Romance Linguistics class, but with broader scope.

More under the cut... )
alexiscartwheel: (canada)
... and all of them also mean opportunity.

Steven Colbert and linguistics! (Language Log has all the important stories.) Eskimo snow + Chinese crisis = I am amused. :D Also, Steven Colbert wants to claim the Hockey Night in Canada theme and play it while doing American things.

alexiscartwheel: (reading)
From The Stuff of Thought, Chapter 6 “What’s in a Name?”:

“‘Surely a person couldn’t be said to know the meaning of cat unless she knew that a cat was an animal, right?’ But suppose scientists made an amazing discovery: cats are really daleks, the mutated descendatans of the Kaled people of the planet Skaro, a ruthless race bent on universal conquest and domination, who travel around in mechanical casings cleverly disguised as animals. Would we say that there is not such thing as a cat, since to our previous beliefs, cats aren’t animals?"

*lol* Steven Pinker is a Whovian! He evens defines it later on in a description of how to make new words:

  • "Suffixing: Whovian, 'a fan of the British science fiction series Doctor Who.'"

What a dork. Linguists, they are my people. I got so distracted by the bit about daleks that I had to read the paragraph twice; the first time I lost the argument cause I was laughing. (It’s about how people mentally represent the meanings of words.) But on from the giggling and onto the rest of the book…

It’s a good read, particularly if you’re interested in linguistics. Well, really, despite the fact that Pinker’s books are basically pop-linguistics—didn’t know that existed?—it still helps to know something about the discipline. For instance, he spend the entire second chapter creating verb classes based on semantic roles, which is relevant to later arguments but would be pretty dense for someone with no linguistics experience.

The books subtitle is Language as a Window into Human Nature, and in it, Pinker sets out to shows ways that language enlightens human mental processes. I thought the second half of the book, in which he addresses metaphor in speech (“The Metaphor Metaphor”), naming (“What’s in a Name?”), swearing (“The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television”), and indirect speech (“Games People Play”). Speaking of the chapter on swearing: if they put those parental advisory stickers on books, this book would have one, no questions.

The Stuff of Thought was a good non-fiction read both because of the interesting content and relatively easy to understand and humourous style. And because of the daleks. :D
alexiscartwheel: (Default)
There's a fun post about using random character ($&^%!) to replace swear words and the comic strip Get Fuzzy at Language Log today.

It's too bad Arnold Zwicky retired from OSU's Department of Linguistics well before I got there, because I bet his classes would have been great.
alexiscartwheel: (reading)
I've just started Steven Pinker's latest book The Stuff of Thought. Thus far, I'm really enjoying it, and thought I'd share an amusing passage I read this morning:

"The paradox of identifying taboo words without using them has always infected attempts to regulate speech about sexuality. In several states, the drafters of the statute against bestiality could not bring themselves to name it and therefor outlawed 'the abominable and detestable crime against nature,' until the statues were challenged for being void for vagueness. To avoid this trap, a New Jersey obscenity statue stipulated exactly which kinds of words and images would be deemed obscene. But the wording of the statue was so pornographic that some law libraries tore the page out of every copy of the statute books." (19-20)

People are really dumb sometimes, eh?

I sincerely hope that libraries are no longer tearing "obscene" pages out of law books, both because I'm strongly opposed to censorship in libraries, and because that's ridiculous to bother writing down a law if the record of it is automatically destroyed. Of course, there still are plenty of laws about what words can and cannot be used during television and radio broadcasts. For instance, it's still not advisable to air Ginsberg's "Howl". Alas, we're so uptight.

Anyway, The Stuff of Thought looks to be an enjoyable and thought provoking read!

Ling Love

Feb. 26th, 2008 11:12 pm
alexiscartwheel: (Default)
I miss linguistics. Ever since I stumbled into an Intro to Linguistics course during my first quarter at OSU, I've found the subject absolutely fascinating. I wanted add linguistics as a second major, but ultimately my desire to graduate in four years outweighed that. One of my professors tried to convince me that I should go for a PhD in linguistics instead of an MLS, and sometimes I think she had the right idea. Linguistics is certainly more interesting to read about than library science (snore!), but unfortunately it didn't seem to be a very practical career choice.

Today I found a great source for what's sure to become my daily linguistics fix. It's a blog called "The Language Log" which features posts written by linguists from around the country. I read several interesting posts, including today's "NATIONAL (OMIGOD) GRAMMAR DAY". Already, the blog has won my favor by both a)being funny and b)hating on prescriptivism. Maybe it will also lead me to some further reading. (Yes, I'm a dork. I read about linguistics for fun. My secret is out!)

And who knows, maybe someday I really will go back to school for that PhD. :D
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