Yesterday, Benji Smith became the main character on Writer Twitter. It turns out that Mr. Smith has created a database of novels that he obtained through probably illegal means. Smith used this database in his Prosecraft project, which published statistics about each novel, such as its word count, the number of adverbs in each, and something called the “vividness” of the writing style (I’m not really sure what that means and Smith doesn’t provide a good definition). He was also using this database to promote his word processor program Shaxpir 4, which is why he’s almost certainly breaking the law.
But one of the other things that he claims to analyze is how many passive verbs are in the novels. And Smith has a very interesting (aka “bad”) definition of “passive voice”.
There’s a new linguistic database in town! [Duffman voice: Oooooh, yeah!]
It’s called Grambank and according to its website it was “designed to be used to investigate the global distribution of features, language universals, functional dependencies, language prehistory and interactions between language, cognition, culture and environment.” Sounds great!
I haven’t had too much time to check it out yet, but the interface is similar to WALS, so if you’re familiar with that, you should be able to jump right in. And Grambank is open-access so you can indeed jump right in!
Grambank has 2,467 languages (from 215 different families) and it has info on 195 linguistic features. You can read more about it on its website here: https://grambank.clld.org/
some regions of the world such as South America and Australia are expected to lose all of their indigenous linguistic diversity, because all of the indigenous languages there are threatened
This is worrying. Language is closely connected to people’s lives and so language loss means a loss in the health and well-being of people.
Skirgård and Greenhill give more details on the situation in their piece, including a call to action:
Without sustained support for language revitalisation, many people will be harmed and our shared linguistic window into human history, cognition and culture will become seriously fragmented.
There are projects dedicated to language protection and revitalization. You don’t have to be a linguist to join one of these organizations and help out. Wikipedia has a list of some of these groups, but you could also check with your local authorities.
(Or something more Star Wars-y. Sorry, I’m a different kind of nerd.)
You have to be careful out there with posts on the interwebs about grammar. Case in point: this Medium post that showed up when we were doing a search in class. It ties in to some of my recent posts. The post is called “Yes, Yoda’s Grammar is Technically Correct” and overall it’s correct. Yoda’s grammar is fine (if a bit stilted). The grammar in this post though… not so much.
In the episode 18 of the seventh season of the tv show The Flash, the main character said a very interesting thing:
That’s future us’s problem.
This line is said by the main character on the show, Barry Allen, who is also the superhero The Flash (played by Grant Gustin). It caught my eye right away because I wrote about something similar a couple of years ago. In that article, I discussed the genitive ’s being added onto prepositions at the end of a noun phrase, such as “The woman who I was just talking to’s mother is a famous author.”’ Microsoft Word doesn’t like it, but me and my students found some examples of it in movies, TV and online language use.
What’s happening here is that the genitive is being tacked onto a pronoun. That’s wild. I don’t know if this was in the script, but it seems like it could have been. I mean, this doesn’t seem like a line to improv, but I’m not an actor. This show has been on for 7 seasons, so maybe the actors are able to just wing it. Either way, I love this show even more now 😊
The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL) discusses the genitive ’s being put on pronouns (in Ch. 5, §16.6). They call it a phrasal genitive and they give some other examples:
the man opposite me’s facial expression
a friend of mine’s father
CGEL also says that these phrases show double case marking. In the example from The Flash, there is inner case marking on the pronoun us and outer case marking shown by ’s. Pronouns are the only part of speech that can show internal case marking in English.
In Brinton’s The Structure of Modern English, we get a little bit of history about what’s going on here. Brinton says:
Historically, this has not always been so: prior to the sixteenth century, such phrases had internal modification in the possessive, as in kings crown of England (=‘king of England’s crown’), which has the possessive ending –s on king. Then it became possible to add the possessive ending to an entire phrase, a construction called the “group genitive”. What precedes the possessive ending need not be a single-word compound but can be a phrase, as in my neighbor next door’s dog, or even a clause, as in a woman I know’s niece.
The line could be phrased in standardized English as something like “That’s a problem for us (to deal with) in the future”. But the phrasal genitive makes total sense, especially in a show that deals with time travel a lot. The characters are constantly running into their future or past selves.
Ok, the title of this post is a bit misleading. Google doesn’t “know” anything. It just grabs some text from a website and puts it up top to give people an answer to their question. The problem here is that the answer they give you is wrong. Because the website that Google uses is wrong. But there’s more than that. The answer that Google gives has been called a “massive overgeneralization” by Huddleston and Pullum. And if that’s not bad enough, all of the results in the Google search give you the exact same incorrect answer. What the what?
Have You Eaten Grandma? is another entry in the list of books that claim to be about grammar, but are mostly about punctuation and spelling. It’s written by Gyles Brandreth, who, like others that write these kinds of books, claims to love language but spends his whole book proving that he actually hates it.
I’m going to start off with good stuff in this book. Then we’ll move on to the meh stuff and end with the garbage fire material.
I was re-reading the HAWKEYE book by Matt Fraction and David Aja and wouldn’t you know it, in issue #3 there is some dialogue relevant to this blog. The character Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye) scolds the character Kate Bishop (also Hawkeye… don’t ask) for dangling a preposition. Check it out:
But wait a minute! Is that really a preposition? Haykeye Barton is talking about the word “to” at the end of Hawkeye Bishop’s sentence:
‘Cause I’m about to.
So is that a preposition? It depends on who you ask.
Here’s some advice on grammar that I’ve seen a lot, both online and in print: the notion that the subject is the person or thing that is the “doer” of the verb in a sentence. Turned around a bit, this advice is given as a way to find the subject in a sentence. Just figure out who or what is doing the action in the sentence et voila! You’ve found the subject.
Welcome back, language fans. This time we’re traveling over to Grammar.com, where the grammar is… not so good, Al. Specifically, we’re going to look at a PDF that they’re slinging (for free!) called “The Awful ‘Like’ Word”.
This little ditty is 9 pages of nonsense. I would copy the text and comment on it in this post, but that would take forever. Those of you interested in truly awful language commentary can check out the PDF below. I’m gonna warn you, though. This PDF might be, like, the worst thing I’ve read about the word like. If your face likes meeting your palm, then read on!
Here’s the PDF “The Awful ‘Like’ Word” with my comments. I promise it’s not all snide remarks. There’s some good linguistic commentary in there as well. But snide remarks too.
And here it is without my comments if you want to color it in for yourself.