A tired English “rule”

Here’s a good example of why we split infinitives in English:

You may have heard that it’s bad grammar to split an infinitive. This is a made up rule that was taken directly from Latin. Thankfully, it seems to have been buried for good as people are starting to realize it’s a ridiculous rule. The infinitive is already split in English – there’s always a space between to and the verb. And you can see here that following the rule would produce some really weird sentences:

I wonder what it feels like to be not tired.

I wonder what it feels like not to be tired.

Both of those sound unnatural and unindiomatic.

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No “Cali” in “Philly”

Over the summer, I went to the Cheesecake Factory. Despite the name, it’s a nice, mid-scale chain restaurant in the US. They have a large menu with more options for vegetarians than the average joint. They also have something called a “California cheesesteak”:

IMG_20180616_172705.jpg
This is literally* a Philly cheesesteak. That’s it. That’s what’s in a Philly cheesesteak. Points to the Cheesecake Factory for spelling “cheesesteak” as one word, but I guess that wasn’t hard when they were just straight ripping off the rest of the ingredients. Maybe it’s like a Philly cheesesteak, but not as good because it’s made in California. Kind of like pizza. Maybe that’s what they were going for. I don’t know because there was no way I was ordering it.

*Like, literally literally. Like actually, not figuratively.

Word Fails Me #6: Look at it!

This is an entry in a series of posts I’m calling Word Fails Me, in which I highlight the strange ideas that Microsoft Word has about English grammar. Each post will be a screenshot with little or no comment. The intention of this series is to amuse you and make you wonder where Word is getting its ideas. I’m not trying to be condescending to Word’s grammar checker or the people behind it. Word is a fascinating program and the grammar checker can be a lifesaver, even if it leans prescriptivist sometimes. If I come across interesting research into MS Word’s grammar checker, I’ll share it here. You can find all of the entries under the Word Fails Me tag. Enjoy!

And we’re back, ladies and gents! We’ve got a simple one this time. Let’s take a look… I mean, let’s look. No, that doesn’t sound right… Let’s give a little look-see. There, that’s better.

MSWord - take a look

Can you tell a Mexican accent from a Cuban one?

On a recent-ish episode of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, actor Paul Rodriguez talked a little bit about language. He was describing a show he was in and how one of the reasons it didn’t work out was because of the backgrounds of the actors in it. He said:

I knew there were problems at the beginning. First of all, to white America we all sound the same. But to Latinos, we know the difference between a Puerto Rican accent and a Cuban accent and a Mexican accent. And they cross-casted, you know – they put – my father was Joe Santos, an Italian, then my mother was Katy Jurado, Mexican, so it didn’t work but the attempt was good.

The part that really struck me is when Rodriguez says, “we know the difference between a Puerto Rican accent and a Cuban accent and a Mexican accent.” Think about it for a second. The entire family in the show was supposed to be from Mexico. Could you imagine someone saying that all European accents sound the same? Or that they can’t tell the difference between accents? Between (Hollywood’s stereotypical version of) an Irish accent and a German accent?

If you can tell the difference between a French person speaking English and a German person speaking English, then you should be able to tell the difference between Southern American accents. Right? But can you? I’m trained in linguistics and I don’t know if I could. But I would notice if Hollywood tried to pass off Arnold Schwarzenegger as being in the same family as Penélope Cruz. Something to think about.

Carmen Fought, a linguist who has studied this topic, says that we still do not know the relationship between Chicano English and, for example, Puerto Rican English. Chicano English is a term used to cover the varieties spoken by Mexican Americans in the southwest US, while Puerto Rican English is the variety spoken on the east coast of the US by people of Puerto Rican ethnicity. There are sure to be similarities, but we don’t yet know the differences. Fought also says that we don’t know much about the regional differences inside Chicano English. I would love to hear more people like Rodriguez – people who are familiar with these varieties – speak about them more. How do they know a speaker’s background is Mexico or Puerto Rico or Cuba? It’s all very, very interesting.

References

Fought, Carmen. 2014. “Chicano English”. Languages and dialects in the U.S.: Focus on diversity and linguistics, ed. by Marianna Di Paolo & Arthur K. Spears, 115–125. New York: Routledge.

Who cares about Latin plurals?

Apparently a lot of people do. You know this. You’ve probably heard something along the lines of what is said in the following tweet:

Mike Pope had a nice response:

But this got me thinking: It’s a bit of slippery slope to say that we have to follow the pluralization rules for Latin with (some) Latin words. Why stop with Latin? English has taken words from other languages as well. And why stop at pluralization? Latin has endings for when a word was used as a subject or object (if my rudimentary Latin is correct). So why not bring those along too? I wrote a joking response to point this out:

As fate would have it, James Harbeck published an article on this very topic on the very same day that these tweets appeared. And Mike Pope published a similar blog post a while ago. I’m not going to restate what they say – you should go read their posts. Instead, I’d like to second what Dr Sarah Shulist responded with and add to it:

The reason that we are told to follow the Latin’s pluralization methods for words from Latin is because Latin has long been held in high prestige by educators and others who wield power in society and language learning. That’s it. If Finnish was held in as high regard as Latin, then we would have people saying it’s incorrect to use saunas because the plural form in Finnish is saunat. But Finnish is not held in the same regard as Latin. Same goes for almost every other language.

But when you think about it, requiring people to use Latin plurals is actually pretty… lazy. We’re talking about noun morphology and in English there are really only a few things we can do to words that are nouns. I know I’m oversimplifying things here, but stay with me. We can:

  • make nouns plural (hero >> heroes)
  • add a genitive marker (hero >> hero’s)
  • add prefixes and suffixes (superhero, heroism, etc.)

Is anyone arguing for applying the Latin genitive to words from Latin? Of course not. Because the prescription that you must use Latin plurals with words from Latin isn’t about grammar at all. It’s about language policing and linguistic discrimination. It’s about putting other people down for following English grammar instead of Latin grammar WHEN THEY’RE SPEAKING ENGLISH. And like most forms of discrimination, it’s lazy thinking. It is only one aspect of noun morphology applied to only some words from pretty much only one language.

To be clear: I’m not saying that it’s discriminatory to use a word from another language and not follow the morphology of that language. It’s kind of the opposite of that. To say that people must follow the pluralization morphology of Latin when they use a word from Latin is classist. When people are speaking English, there is nothing wrong with them using plain old English morphology to pluralize nouns. And, yes, that holds for words from Latin too. It’s possible that people don’t realize that they’re practicing linguistic discrimination when they play the pedant card with words from Latin, but that’s not an excuse. Maybe next time point out that the hill they are dying on isn’t so much a mighty mountain as it is a puny pismire hill.

Anyway, by far the most pragmatic reply was from Marie Georghiou:

Marie wins.

Word Fails Me #5: As a way to

This is an entry in a series of posts I’m calling Word Fails Me, in which I highlight the strange ideas that Microsoft Word has about English grammar. Each post will be a screenshot with little or no comment. The intention of this series is to amuse you and make you wonder where Word is getting its ideas. I’m not trying to be condescending to Word’s grammar checker or the people behind it. Word is a fascinating program and the grammar checker can be a lifesaver, even if it leans prescriptivist sometimes. If I come across interesting research into MS Word’s grammar checker, I’ll share it here. You can find all of the entries under the Word Fails Me tag. Enjoy!

Welcome back to Word Fails Me! Here’s another example of Word recommending that I consider using concise language. Word likes to do this. I’m not sure as a way to can be replaced by just to here. I guess so? Maybe?

(The writing actually comes from William Brennan in the Atlantic. I was quoting this article.)

MSWord - As a way to

Delete your grammar advice, YUNiversity

There’s a website called YUNiversity. They claim to be “Grammar bosses for Gen TL;DR” and their posts are full of lots of memes and emoji. That’s not a bad thing. I use memes (probably old ones, but whatevs) in my grammar classes and linguists are all about them emoji. No, problem with the YUNiversity isn’t their dank memes. It’s their dumb grammar. Let’s take a look. Continue reading “Delete your grammar advice, YUNiversity”