by Julie Tetel Andresen
Duke University, North Carolina
My favorite words in Romanian are those of Turkish origin. Because parts of present-day Romania were under Ottoman rule for a long time, it’s natural that Romanian would have lexical borrowings from Turkish. One is the word for tulip. Now, tulips are not native to Holland. They are native to Central Asia, and in the eighteenth century there was a craze for tulips at the Ottoman court, and images of tulips could be found on clothing and furniture, while real tulips flourished in gardens and parks. Still today the tulip is a symbol for Turkey. The English word ‘tulip’ comes from the Turkish word tulbend ‘turban’ because the flower resembles the shape of a turban. However, the Turkish word is lâle, and the Romanian word is lalea.
Why do I like this word? Because it’s fun to say, especially in the plural: ‘tulips’ is lalele and ‘the tulips’ is lalelele. There’s ‘coffee’ cafea, ‘coffees’ cafele, and ‘coffees’ cafelele. Same goes for ‘hinge’ balama, plural ‘hinges’ balamale and ‘the hinges’ balamalele and for ‘crane (piece of construction equipment)’ macara, ‘cranes’ macarale and ‘cranes’ macaralele. Not all Turkish borrowings have the phonetic form that generates these plurals, and not all words in Romanian with this plural type come from Turkish, but most of them do.
The other reason I like Turkish borrowings in Romanian is they often come with nice semantic twists. The word belea is usually used in the plural belele and means ‘troubles,’ which is tinged almost, but not quite, with a sense of the ridiculous. When I think of ‘my troubles’ as belelele mele, they don’t seem so bad. And what could be better than the word beizadea ‘son of a bei, a high ranking Turkish official’? It would never be used in Romanian as a compliment, and we need such a word in English, because entitled spoiled brat doesn’t quite cover it.
Finally, there’s the Romanian word for ‘neighborhood, suburb’ mahala, and it, too, is freighted with negative connotations. The politică de mahala, which includes personal attacks and reckless speech, would characterize much of what’s gone on in Washington DC is recent years. Those readers with knowledge of Arabic will recognize the root halla ‘to lodge’ with the place prefix ma-, making a word that means something like ‘building.’ So, the Turkish borrowing is itself a borrowing from Arabic. This word was also borrowed into Persian and is immortalized in the name Taj Mahal, which means in Persian ‘best of buildings.’ So, in the western extent of this etymon, we have a down-market usage, while in the eastern extent, we find something beautiful. Romania has its beauties, too. They’re found in the language.
Michael Billig has been Professor of Social Sciences at Loughborough University for more than 25 years. In 2011 he received the Distinguished Contribution to Social Psychology Award from the Social Section of the British Psychological Society.
1. What were the greatest challenges you faced in writing Learn to Write Badly?
The most obvious and difficult challenge was to write clearly. Anyone, who criticises the way that other academics write, inevitably sets themselves up as a potential target. So, I had to try to avoid the faults that I was identifying in others. I am criticising a style of writing, which is currently ingrained within the social sciences and which young postgraduates are being taught to use routinely. Therefore, I am sure that readers will be able to find passages where my own writing falls into this style. But, at least I have tried to escape, drafting and re-drafting in order to say things as simply and clearly as I can.
The other big challenge was to avoid just making a rant. I wanted to analyse the language used by social scientists and to say why the current, economic conditions of university life, with the constant pressure to publish, are encouraging bad writing. At root, I am analysing the linguistic features of much social science writing: abstracted, unpopulated prose, with heavy use of big nouns and verbs in the passive voice. I argue that, when it comes to describing human actions, this way of writing is far more imprecise and contains far less information than simpler, ordinary language. Because I did not want to be accused of selecting extreme examples just to fit my case, I tried to take examples where I found them. In analysing academic writing, I needed to cite studies from linguistics, educational research, sociology etc. And then I would turn on these studies to show how their authors were using language, sometimes to inflate their own claims or to conceal ambiguities or just to sound impressively technical. Normally academics like it when someone else cites their work. Some of those, whom I cite in ‘Learn to Write Badly’, will not be so glad.
2. Where do you like to write?
At home, in a small room which I use as a study and where I keep my books. My wife complains that, when my writing is going well, I make insufficient use of the room’s window – and, consequently, I fail to notice matters of interest about the neighbours. It is not good for a social scientist to be more interested in bits of paper than people.
3. What one piece of advice would you give to social science scholars?
This is a more complicated, less innocent question than it might seem. If I was advising young scholars about how to have a successful career, I would advise them to join networks, to use the long words favoured by those networks and to promote their work within and beyond those networks. But if was to advise young scholars how to be genuinely scholarly, I would tell them the opposite: they should try to stand apart from established networks and to try to translate the currently favoured big words into as simple a language as possible. I would warn them that, in the current climate of instant publication and constant academic self-promotion, this scholarly way is not the way to conventional success.
4. What is your favourite example of the wording used by academics/students who ‘write badly’?
It would be invidious to give an example here – especially an example from the writings of a student. In ‘Learn to Write Badly’, I suggest that there are reasons why current academic writing can resemble the language used by administrators, managers and even advertising executives. My favourite example comes from my own university’s official title for the system that we teachers are told to use for recording information about our tutees. The system is grandly called: ‘Co-Tutor Student Relationship Management System’. The five nouns are strung together without the aid of pronouns, let alone verbs. It’s not a precise term: if you asked an outsider to say what sort of system it was and what it was supposedly managing, they would probably get it wrong. Unfortunately, the social sciences today are full of terms like this.
5. Have you got plans for more books in the future?
Only vague ideas, not definite plans. I am seldom in control of the directions which my interests take me. But at present, I’m looking out of the window more than I hope to be.
by Professor Sali A. Tagliamonte
University of Toronto
Have you ever wondered about the weird ways of speaking of someone you know? In 1995, I moved to England from Canada, taking up a position at the University of York in Yorkshire. My colleagues came from all over Britain, the south, the north, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as other parts of Europe. The topic of dialect differences was in the air all the time as we compared our varieties of English. Surprisingly, despite the obvious phonological differences in my speech compared to all my colleagues, there were unexpected correspondences between myself and my Scots, Northern Irish and Northern English colleagues. In some cases, we had the same vowel merger or we had the same lexical item or some odd bit of syntax was similar or we used the same form of one adverb or another. The correspondences came from all levels of grammar and sometimes in unexpected ways. It was curious to me that there were so many similarities and I wondered, why? I discovered that northern varieties of British English were among the most prominent dialect regions from which people migrated to other parts of the world in the late 18th century, particularly my own country of origin, Canada. Could it be that the roots of my way of speaking could be tracked back to these founding dialects? In 1999, embarked upon a research project to study the varieties of English these dialect regions.
Linguistic Wooly Mammoths. The research traditions of dialectology, historical linguistics and sociolinguistics have demonstrated that researchers can gain access earlier points in time. In the absence of a time machine, how is this possible? Consider a woolly mammoth frozen in a glacier. We can gain remarkable insight into past time by studying its characteristics. Linguists employ a similar method.
Places that are geographically remote, socially isolated or set apart from the rest are slow to adopt new changes, or are missed entirely. Such areas are referred to as tend to preserve older features. In this way remote, inaccessible, or otherwise isolated locations provide prime evidence about an earlier stage (or ancestor) of a language and play a key role in reconstructing earlier stages of a language’s development. There is perhaps no place more akin to these descriptions than the British and Northern Irish north country.
Dialects galore! What I refer to as the Roots Archive is a rich compendium of oral histories from dozens of elderly people that I collected between 2001-2003. The materials contain rich language data with a wealth of rarely heard features of the English language. There are innumerable dialect words and expressions, e.g. fuzzok, peery, thrang. There are unusual sounds, och, aye. There are unexpected twists in the arrangement of sentences and in the way sentences begin and end, e.g. and that, you know. There are unusual conversational rituals. There are many things that are unusual and exotic; there are some things that are entirely unknown and yet others are hauntingly familiar. In many cases, features long gone from mainstream varieties of English endure. In order to give readers a profound sense of the dialects, I have sprinkled the chapters with quips, stories and interchanges from the conversations e.g. weans and it’s a good job, as in:
Aye, they just come on the phone- “Morag could you come out the night there’s somebody, ken. Such and such a body can nae manage yin”. “Aye, Aye, I’ll just come out aye”. She’s just leaving the dogs. Says I, it’s a good job it’s no weans you’ve got for you would nae- could nae go!
These quotes expose innumerable dialect features. I have made note of some of them in footnotes so that readers can try to spot the features themselves and then verify whether they have found them all. Here is the footnote to the ‘weans’ quote.
Note the use of aye as a discourse marker; ken as a discourse particle; somebody rather than someone followed by use of a body in the generic; yin for ‘one’; inverted, says; the expression it’s a good job; the syntactic structure it’s no weans you’ve got ‘you’ve got no children’; use of can nae, would nae for ‘wouldn’t’, ‘couldn’t’.
Many of the features I discuss in the book are well known across English vernaculars, including regularized pasts, e.g. knowed, come, past tense seen and done among others. Others are typical of the northern UK dialects and often reported in compendia of varieties of English. However, a few have rarely been reported.
Linguistic detectives. Each chapter of Roots of English offers readers a “Dialect Puzzle” so that they can get a taste of what it is like to be a sociolinguist.
Dialects are the storehouse of the heart and soul of culture, history and identity. For analysts of language, dialects are a tremendous resource for understanding the grammatical mechanisms of linguistic change. Delving deep into the nuts and bolts of language, deeper than words and phrases and expressions, down into the grammar, we discover a treasure trove. Beneath the anecdotes and nonce tales are hidden patterns and constraints that are a system unto themselves reflecting the legacy of regional factions, social groups and human relationships. As language evolves through history its inner mechanisms are evolving incrementally, but not in the same way in every place nor at the same rate in all circumstances. One of my goals is to leave the reader with new ideas about the roots of his or her own dialect and how its particular socio-geographic co-ordinates might offer a ‘goldmine’ for ongoing study.
Sali A. Tagliamonte is a professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Toronto. Her new title, Roots of English is now available from Cambridge University Press.
Cambridge Journals Online launched in 1997, and one and a half decades later continues to evolve. At Cambridge Journals, we’re extremely proud of what we’ve achieved over the past fifteen years. CJO is arguably as close to a tailor-made resource as you’ll find in academic publishing. Developed, built and maintained by a crack team of software developers based in Manila. Nurtured and specified by in-house editors, marketers and production staff. Informed by consultation with journal editors, societies, academics and librarians. CJO is loaded with fresh new features three times a year, available on all platforms (including mobile), twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
For the next fifteen days (until the 3rd October) we’ve decided to make a birthday gift. Go to any journal homepage, and you’ll find a new, golden tab. There, the fifteen most-downloaded papers from that journal are available to read for free. We’ve done this for every single journal we publish. Make your way there by browsing our full list of Language and Linguistics journals. As well as being able to download papers to your desktop, or read them on your phone or tablet, you’ll be able to send papers to your Kindle to read at your leisure. Just look for the Send to Kindle links in the left hand article menu and in the headers.
We’re sure you’ll find something amongst all that free content to illuminate and inspire. By all means, spread the word. We’ve introduced some handy links on most pages to tweet, like, +1 or otherwise share articles or this post.
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Here’s to the next fifteen years!
A GUEST POST BY THE EDITORS OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE & LINGUISTICS
Professor Bas Aarts, University College London, UK
Professor April McMahon, University of Edinburgh, UK
Dr Wim van der Wurff, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
English Language & Linguistics is, according to its editorial policy, ‘an international journal which focuses on the description of the English language within the framework of contemporary linguistics.’ What makes ELL fairly unusual is that it ‘is concerned equally with the synchronic and the diachronic aspects of English language studies’; and it takes an equally liberal approach to ‘the English language’, bringing together work on variation and change. There is a particular (though not exclusive) emphasis on using data from varieties of English, both in the present day and in the past, to propose, test and refine theoretical claims in linguistics. Variation and change are closely interlinked, but so often journals consider them separately, while ELL is special in recognising and celebrating the links between them, and in exploring the application of the most up-to-date linguistic methods to data from different periods and varieties.
It is straightforward to find examples of papers which illustrate these trends from recent issues of the journal. For instance, Julie van Bogaert offers a new perspective on the use of what she calls Complement-Taking Mental Predicates (CMTPs) such as I think, I believe, I guess, and so on, which often perform an interpersonal function by modifying the meaning of another clause. Using authentic data from corpora, she argues that CMTPs have reached different levels of entrenchment and schematicity in English, and that the mostly deeply entrenched exemplars have the highest number of variant forms. Thus, I think, which is the most widely used CMTP in the author’s corpus data, has nine variant forms (I was thinking, I’m thinking, I thought, I should think, etc.), whereas the least widely used I realize has only one other variant form (I do realize). CMTPs are regarded as constructions in their own right, which are part of a constructional network that displays various levels of schematicity.
(Van Bogaert, ELL 14.3 ‘A constructional taxonomy of I think and related expressions: accounting for the variability of complement-taking mental predicates’)
Stefan Gries and Martin Hilpert also take a corpus-based approach, this time applied to the change of the English third-person singular present tense suffix from dental fricative (giveth) to alveolar fricative (gives). Working with over 20,000 examples from 1417-1681, Gries and Hilpert aim to determine the salient temporal stages for this development, and the main factors correlated with the change. Rather than dividing their data into pre-determined time periods, they apply a bottom-up clustering method, Variability-Based Neighbor Clustering, which groups the data into temporal sets characterised by high levels of within-group similarity. The groupings are therefore data-driven rather than externally imposed. Gries and Hilpert then argue that different factors matter during different stages of the change: in the periods when the most rapid and dramatic changes are taking place, relevant factors are phonological, syntactic and sociolinguistic (for example, writers begin to use the new gives form to addressees of the opposite sex). Their aim is not simply to cast light on this particular change, but to extend and test the methods available within diachronic corpus research.
(Gries and Hilpert, ELL 14.3 ‘Modeling diachronic change in the third person singular: a multifactorial, verb- and author-specific exploratory approach’)
Further corpus work shedding light on variation is found in Rhona Alcorn’s article ‘Grammatical person and the variable syntax of Old English personal pronouns’ (ELL 13:3) – a revised version of an essay that in 2008 was awarded the Richard M. Hogg prize for work by an early-career scholar in English language and linguistics. The article addresses the variability in Old English between P + pronoun and pronoun + P word orders (e.g. to him vs. him to). In earlier work, based on a limited amount of data, it had been proposed that the latter order was frequent in particular with 3rd person pronouns. Using the York-Toronto-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Old English Prose, Alcorn establishes that 3rd person indeed significantly promotes pronoun + P ordering. She goes on to show that this effect cannot be reduced to other factors, such as [± human reference], [± occurrence in direct speech], [± occurrence in translations] or the position of P relative to the verb. Two of these factors do have an independent effect: direct speech and V (…) P order both disfavour use of the pronoun + P variant.
Moving back to data from present-day English, Mark Jones and Carmen Llamas undertake detailed acoustic analysis of fricated examples of the voiceless plosives /p t k/ from speakers of Dublin and Middlesbrough English. While frication of /t/ has been reported regularly in both varieties, Jones and Llamas demonstrate that it is by no means the only plosive to undergo frication. It does, however, behave differently from /p/ and /k/, since /t/ is much more regularly subject to frication; indeed, fricative realisations of /t/ are categorical and nonvariable for at least some of the speakers investigated. While these findings are interesting and relevant in their own right for our understanding of variation and change in progress in modern English, Jones and Llamas also apply their instrumental investigations to older historical questions. In particular, they argue that the realisations of fricated /t/ in Dublin and Middlesbrough are sufficiently distinct to cast doubt on any hypothesis of direct transfer from Irish to English varieties through migration. Instead, Jones and Llamas suggest that the weight of evidence is in favour of parallel processes of lenition operating independently in these varieties.
(Jones and Llamas, ELL 12.3 ‘Fricated realisations of /t/ in Dublin and Middlesbrough English: an acoustic analysis of plosive frication and surface fricative contrasts’)
The variability investigated by Lieselotte Anderwald is located in the past tense of the verbs begin, drink, ring, shrink, sing, sink, spring, stink and swim. Is that past tense began etc. or begun etc.? Anderwald demonstrates that non-standard speakers of present-day English use high proportions of the latter form and argues that this is a case not of innovation but of retention. She shows that in a corpus of 70 nineteenth-century grammars of English, a movement can be observed over the course of the century from the listing of variable <a/u> or exclusive <u> forms for the past tense of the relevant verbs towards the listing of <a> forms only. This is sometimes explicitly motivated by grammarians pointing to the usefulness of having distinct past tense and past participle markers, i.e. <a> vs <u> for these verbs. However, non-standard speakers seem quite unreceptive to such Latin or logic-inspired ideas, instead opting to retain the formal identity of past tense and past participle that is also found in a set of phonologically similar irregular verbs (cling, dig, fling, sling, slink, spin etc., which uniformly have <u> for both) and in fact in the entire set of regular verbs of English. In this case, then, what at first sight may look like lawlessness is shown to be an example of motivated synchronic variation, having traceable roots in earlier periods of the language.
(Anderwald, ELL 15.1 ‘Norm vs variation in British English irregular verbs: the case of past tense sang vs sung’)