Book review: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

One of the most viewed posts on this blog is my review/comparison of the books A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn and A Patriot’s History of the United States by Schweikart and Allen. I intended to read through both books and compare them chapter by chapter, but I gave up after a while – mostly because it was clear that the latter book was simply an attempt to rewrite history to confirm social conservatives’ belief that they are the best. It was propaganda for nationalists.

Whatever those two books are, neither of them hold a candle to An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. This book is heavy. The history related by Dunbar-Ortiz is raw and you need to know about it if you want to call yourself an American. Let’s get into it.

Continue reading “Book review: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz”

Advertisements

Word Fails Me #3: to be or not to can be seen as

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! This example comes again from an article that I wrote recently. The sentence is “Perhaps the high frequency of exclamation points in this corpus can be seen as another dimension of excitability.”

Word has a problem with this verb construction, but it suggests I change it to “Perhaps the high frequency of exclamation points in this corpus be another dimension of excitability.” This is not acceptable in Standard Written English (but it may be in some varieties!).

The other suggestions are is and am. The latter is purely ungrammatical in any variety, and while using is would make the sentence more concise (Word loves conciseness), it would remove the hedging I was implying with can be seen as (academics love hedging).

Whatevs.

MS Word - to be or not to can be seen as

The grammar of “feeling less than (X)”

This tweet came across my TL and it interested me because of what it says and how it says it.

Since this is primarily a blog about language, I’ll focus on the how-it-says, rather than the what-it-says (and besides, the latter is just self-evident). Continue reading “The grammar of “feeling less than (X)””

An article on “like” that I really like

There’s an article in on the University of Victoria’s news website about Alexandra D’Arcy’s book, Discourse Pragmatic Variation in Context: 800 Years of Like. The article is very good and you should go read it. Two of the reasons I like it are:

  1. It’s an article about language that talks to a linguist!
  2. The article talks enthusiastically about the word like – without being condescending at all!

Go here to read the article here: https://www.uvic.ca/news/topics/2018+like-linguistics-alex-darcy-book+ring

Sam Smith’s conservative linguistics

For someone so progressive, Sam Smith is shamefully conservative with language.

In researching a book on English usage (called Junk English; review coming soon), I came across an article from 2007 by Sam Smith, the journalist, essayist and co-founder of Green Party. Smith’s article is a lesson in how to NOT write about language, as he gets a number of things wrong. One day I’ll write a general post about these kinds of articles, but for now, let’s go through Smith’s post and see where the train goes off the tracks.

The article starts with this:

Sitting in Manhattan across from an editor at one of best regarded publishing houses, I asked, “Does good writing still matter?”

Ugh. Like, gag me with a spoon. This kind of comment is a red flag inside a bell inside a whistle telling me that what is about to come is going to be a bunch of pretentious crap about the good ol’ days when people knew how to use The Language (a time which was probably also when Sam Smith was in his thirties; when he was looking forward to his life, not back on it) Continue reading “Sam Smith’s conservative linguistics”

Word Fails Me #2: Those which names

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! This example comes from an article I published recently. Ok, I’ll admit that my writing could always use some TLC. But not the kind that MS Word is trying to give me.

The sentence under question goes “… as well as those which name both a product and a customer”. And Word wants me to change it to:

  1. … as well as those which names both a product and customer
  2. … as well as that which name both a product and customer

Both of those are ungrammatical :/

MS Word - those which names

Alice Cooper’s has the cot-caught merger

Or so it would seem…

The Alice Cooper song “Poison” features lyrics rhyming the words hot and caught:

Your mouth, so hot

Your web, I’m caught

Rhyming these words is an example of the cotcaught merger. In linguistics, a merger is when the vowel sounds of two words move together to become the same sound. If you say the words cot and caught the same way, or if hot rhymes with caught, then you have the cotcaught merger. The cotcaught merger is sometimes described as if it’s a yes-or-no phenomenon, but in reality – like in all things in linguistics – it’s more of a continuum.

Alice Cooper doesn’t really pronounce the vowels in hot and caught the exact same way. That could be because Alice Cooper is from Detroit, Michigan, a place which doesn’t have the cotcaught merger. Or maybe the other two writers of “Poison” were taking poetic license with the rhyming of these words. The other writers are Desmond Child, who’s from Gainesville, FL (a place resistant to the cotcaught merger) and John McCurry – but I don’t where he’s from. Either way, the merger is more of a yes-no-maybe-so kind of thing. That means there are speakers with the merger who live in areas where most speakers do not have the merger and vice versa. And there are speakers who have the merger only in certain words or environments, such as before nasal consonants so that the vowels in Don and dawn are merged.

Here’s Alice Cooper singing “Poison” live in 1989 (video starts at the hot/caught lyrics, but rewind it to listen to a flaming guitar solo straight outta the 80s):

You can read more about the cot-caught merger in the Atlas of North American English by Labov, Ash and Boberg (some online info here). Wikipedia also has an article on it.