Tag: Lexicography

Expat v. Immigrant v. Migrant Post 2: Dictionary Examples

The public discourse around people who move to the U.S. is ugly at the moment (the moment being Build a Wall, Travel Ban, and Zero Tolerance). This series (Post 1) uses dictionaries and corpus linguistics to reflect on how we speak about people that move from one country to another.

If like my co-bish, Caitlin, you read dictionaries for fun, you might have noticed that there are frequently example phrases and sentences to provide further context of how the word is used. You might even own a book that composed short stories using only dictionary example sentences and you might read it aloud to your indifferent friend, Kaylin.

Lexicographers select example phrases and sentences from corpora that demonstrate how that word is used in a “typical grammatical and semantic context.” That is to say, the examples are intended to be emblematic of the word’s usage as determined by big data (corpus linguistics). Some online dictionaries even populate example sentences from recent media in addition to the official example. What are typical grammatical and semantic contexts for expat, immigrant, and migrant?

An example of a bad example.

We will stick with the same dictionaries from the first post in this series. American Heritage Dictionary online had no examples (can someone old school look them up for me in your real life dictionary pleeaassee). However, our other two dictionaries give us some food for thought.

Compare New Oxford American Dictionary’s examples for expat and immigrant:

  • ‘American expatriates in London’
  • ‘they found it difficult to expel illegal immigrants.’

The difference is jarring. I am jarred. Expats are from a wealthy country neutrally existing in a cosmopolitan city. Immigrants are without status and an ominous ‘they’ attempts to remove them.

(New Oxford American did not have an official example for migrant, but it had multiple example sentences from what I gather to be news sources though they are not credited. From words spelled commonwealthily and references to Australia, I have surmised that most these sources are not American, and must be coming from the sister dictionary Oxford Dictionary of English.)

Merriam-Webster doesn’t chap my lips as much.

  • ‘English and American expatriates in the bars of Paris’
  • ‘Millions of immigrants came to America from Europe in the 19th century.’  
  • ‘migrants in search of work on farms’.

The M-W example for immigrant is not negative like NOA’s, so that’s something. As in NOA, expats are from wealthy, Western countries with white majorities hanging out in a foreign city. This particular example was from a sentence about Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein credited to Robert Penn Warren. The example for migrant squares with M-W’s definition: a person who moves regularly for agricultural work. Agricultural labor, a so-called low-skilled job, is not for expats. Expats move abroad to work as writers and NGO staff and businessbishes. Expats have privilege. Migrants move abroad to toil in fields. Migrants are disenfranchised.

Not blaming Mrs. Dictionary for any of this. She is merely the vessel. Tune in for the next post on the source material: corpus.

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Expat v. Immigrant v. Migrant Post 1: Dictionary Definitions

The public discourse around people who move to the U.S. is ugly at the moment (the moment being Build a Wall, Travel Ban, and Zero Tolerance). This series uses dictionaries and corpus linguistics to reflect on how we speak about people that move from one country to another.

As an American living in Ethiopia, I am frequently referred to as an expat. However, my Ethiopian colleagues in the United States are identified as immigrants. Why is that?

What are the definitions of immigrant, migrant, and expat? For those uninitiated in the dark arts of lexicography, words in dictionaries are not defined by some divinity on high making pronouncements (aka prescriptions). Rather words are defined by lexicography witchstaff who are analyzing how they are used by the speakers of the given language (aka descriptions).

Thhhhhhusly, the definitions below have been determined by and broadly represent how Americans use and understand these labels. Take a peep:

As you can see with your own beautiful eyes, the distinctions are subtle. (Also, how extra is American Heritage Dictionary?) All three dictionaries include reference to permanence for immigrant. There is no analogous qualification for expat, indicating expats may not be perceived as permanently living in a foreign country. The definitions for migrant all include a reference to work and frequent movement.

I have moved in and out of the U.S. to four different countries for work opportunities over the course of my career, but nobody has ever called me a migrant. Qwhite interesting, huh? In subsequent posts I will consider how these terms are used in racialized and class-based ways rather than applied to describe permanent, temporary, or work-related movement.

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Prospects and Challenges of Short-Term Historical Lexicography

My favorite publication is American Speech, a quarterly journal published by Duke University Press. Yes, it’s a little Anglo-centric, but it has my favorite recurring feature Among the New Words. I developed a very close relationship to this feature through my master’s thesis when I used it to comb through and analyze 10 years’ worth of “new words”. That’s around 2500 words and it was an arduous, tedious, fantastic dictionary wonderland that was totally the best and the worst.

Among the New Words, hereafter to be referred to as ATNW, has the lofty mission of documenting new words and uses of words in real time. It is a totally non-traditional style of lexicography. It’s been running regularly since 1941 but had different incarnations as early as 1937. In its nearly 80 years, ATNW has gone from reader-submissions to the internet age. Ben Zimmer and Charles E. Carson decided to look at ATNWs history and consider its future in the most exciting paper I’ve read all year: Prospects and Challenges of Short-Term Historical Lexicography (2018).

How it all started

In 1933 an English teacher slash Jewish immigrant (slash, from his awesome name, I can only assume refugee from Mordor), Isidor Colodny, started publishing a monthly magazine called Words: A periodical devoted to the study of the origin, history, and etymology of English words. I guess this is the kind of thing people did before Instagram. A couple years later, Isidor (Lord of the 8th ring probably) enlisted Dwight Bolinger, a Spanish Teacher with a Ph.D. to write a column called “The Living Language”.

Bolinger noted a very important part of word collection in his introduction to the very first column. He pointed out that new words are often

“…transitory, so that they leave no mark upon the dictionary; and even those which are fortunate enough to make their way into that solemn repository are usually not recorded in such a way as to show just how they came into being, what was their original context, what suggestive power they may have had aside from their literal meaning…”

Which was basically the premise of my whole thesis btdubs. Also, “that solemn repository” is totally what I’m calling dictionaries from now on.

So Bolinger’s original method for The Living Language was to have readers submit new words and words they found to be used in new ways. They were also asked to include information about coinages (unrealistic goals much?). Even with modern resources, we can’t usually accomplish that. Zimmer and Carson use Bolinger’s entry for “hootenanny” as an example of the difficulties of dating coinages pre-internet. Bolinger dated its first use as 1935, but internet tells us it was used as early as 1906.

Nevertheless, his column reached a broad audience including co-founder of American Speech, H. L. Mencken. He was invited to join and renamed his column Among the New Words in 1941. A man before his time, he eschewed traditional domestic American life for an international, 3D immersive, freelance experience teaching in Costa Rica and performing his American Speech duties remotely.

Bolinger’s neologism spotting skills were on point. He wrote about -worthy from jump. He noticed that we had gone from seaworthy and trustworthy to all kinds of new worthies like newsworthy, courtworthy, and credit worthy par example. That was 1941. Now we have such beauties as Oscar-worthy, cringe-worthy, and meme-worthy.  

Another thing he got right was that we create new words by pronouncing onomatopoeia aswords. He noted ahem and tisk. And that’s totally carried on. Just think of nom nom.

How it all changed

Bolinger passed the torch in 1944 and ATNW met a series of new editors. For the publication’s 50th anniversary, Adele Algeo and her husband John (who were running ATNW at the time) produced a commemorative edition with an overview of the different processes of documenting new words that had been used. Inspired by this, its editors (also Zimmer and Carson + Solomon) did another  retrospective for its 75th anniversary.

A lot of methods were used over the years. There was a lot of reading, and submissions by readers in the beginning. In 1997 Wayne Glowka chose the “ask the kids” method by roping in his undergrad students for credit. Also, in the 90s there was this amazing new method created. It was called “electronic database searching.” So, I don’t know… Encarta perhaps? And since 2009, or “The Year of the Tweet” as I call it, access to language changed. The inundation of language from all social media platforms has made tracking neologisms less a matter of collection and more matter of curation (Zimmer and Carson 2018).

Another cool update is that the publication went digital in 2010. So now when describing a new word, writers can include links to digital media like TV, speeches, music videos, and memes.

The challenges

More access to IRL language use is awesome, but it’s also mo’ words mo’ problems. Ya gotta have a system for using search engines and determining what’s real and what’s just a google algorithm. So, let’s talk about ratchet, shall we? It was the American Dialect Society’s word of the year in 2012. ATNW’s initial treatment of it included these four senses:

  1. (insult) adj Over the top, to the extreme, beyond socially acceptable -1999
  2. (insult) n Woman who is ratchet (as in sense 1) -1999
  3. (neutra or positive) n Type of dance in Shreveport, La., or subgroup of rap music associated with the dance -2004
  4. (positive) adj Excellent, wildly fun, exceeding expectations-2007

According to ATNW’s initial entry it all basically started with one kickass grandmother in Shreveport Louisiana. That’s right, innovative wordsmith Anthony Mandigo allegedly used a word he’d learned from his granny as the title of his hot new track to usher in a new style of rap, Ratchet Rap. ATNW speculated that the word could have come from “wretched.”

But wait! After the publishing, a reader found an earlier use of the word (that’s called antedating btw). It was used in its first sense in 1992 song “I’m So Bad” by UGK, a delightful ditty about S-ing one’s own D as far as I can tell. UGK was from Texas. To this day, that’s all ATNW knows.

All of this illustrates that you can’t just do a google search and call it a dictionary. If the ATNW editors were listeners of rap from 1992 Texas, they would have been able to write a much more informed entry.  Clearly, people have been using ratchet since before 1992- UGK didn’t make it up. It also is a lesson on diversity and inclusion because, stop me if I’m wrong, but I have an image in my head of what the editors of ATNW and those solemn repositories have traditionally looked like, what kind of music they’ve listened to, and which regional dialects they’ve used and I’m willing to bet “ratchet” wasn’t in their lexicons.

So, when you conduct your search of “electronic databases” and the like, you need to thoroughly investigate the source (time and place) and look for whoever was producing content at that time. Rarely are words coined out of the blue, so even if you can’t find any more instances of the word, then call a friend. Someone you know knows someone who knows someone from that area. Sherlock the heck out of that shit!  

This article is great for historical linguistics bishes, lexicography bishes, and Ben Zimmer stans. 

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Zimmer, Benjamin, and Charles E. Carson. “‘Among the New Words’: The Prospects and Challenges of Short-Term Historical Lexicography.” Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America, vol. 39, no. 1, 2018, pp. 59–74., doi:10.1353/dic.2018.0010.

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The public representation of homosexual men in seventeenth-century England – a corpus based view

Baker and McEnery (2017) wanted to find out what the public representation of gay men was in the 1700’s. Of course they weren’t called “gay men” back then and there was a broad range of male-on-male activity that guys could engage in to be considered anything from a sinner to a sorcerer. So this is actually a look at the public representation of guys who did what Jonathan Van Ness would call “gay stuff.”

Unfortunately this study only covers gay men because of how little writing exists about other queer people from that very binary time. The approach was to explore how gay men were written about. And let’s remember that gayness wasn’t just taboo or frowned upon, it was a capital offense and was only legalized in the UK in 1967.

Source

They used the Early English Books Online Corpus version 3 (EEBO v3), which is great, but unfortunately it’s got so much religious stuff (from meeting minutes to plays and journalism) that results are a bit lopsided.

Challenges

As mentioned above, the large number of religious texts skewed the results. For example sodomite is by far the most frequent term, but it’s mostly used in a Bible-y context (you know, the whole Sodom and Gomorrah thing). The word collocates the most consistently with Genesis, filthy and some guy called Lot because the Sodom and Gomorrah story was in a bit of the Bible called Genesis and the city Sodom had the cute nickname Filthy Sodom. And also Lot was there, I guess. In the Bible-y sense, the word  connoted wickedness, sin, and other deeply negative things, but not necessarily gay stuff. So none of that information is particularly relevant to the public perception of gay men in the 1700’s.

Just as an interesting side note, the word sodomite declined in usage over the century while at the same time there was a rise in church doubt and anti-catholic writings. Also, sodomite collocates with harlot and whore, the only apparent link to sex of any kind.

The other thing is that gay-stuff was just really the most marginal. There was a ton of censorship, with trial records being destroyed and there’s no evidence in the EEBO-v3 of any man self-identifying as ‘into dudes’ because they could have been imprisoned, had their wealth seized, or even been put to death. So what remains in writing is heavily prejudiced, negative, religious, based in mythology, and controlled by the homophobic patriarchy.

Finally there’s the problem of the searching part. Like, what were they to even search the corpus for? They couldn’t search any of our modern terms like homosexual, gay or queer, so then what? What they did was familiarize themselves with the corpus and use their own knowledge and words from the Lexicon of Early Modern English (LEME) and the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary. They also found more words as they went through. Armed with all the terms for homosexuals and male prostitutes who serviced men they could find, they dove in.

What I did

I took all the words McEnery and Baker searched for and all the words they found in EEBO-v3 and presented them in a dictionary format to accompany this post (click here for dictionary). When possible, I’ve included the metadata from the paper like frequency in the EEBO-v3, era, and definition. From my own brain parts I contributed part of speech and pronunciation. The definitions are those that Baker and McEnery arrived at through collocational analysis. Those without definitions weren’t found in the corpus or weren’t used in a way that allowed for analysis.

Example:

² High Frequency is greater than 500 hits in EEBO-v3, Mid Frequency is between 500 and 100, Low Frequency is from 10 to 100, and Infrequent is anything fewer than 10.

Side note: My intention is for this to be fun because some of the words sound ridiculous to our 21st Century ears (he-strumpet comes to mind), but I would like to acknowledge that none of these were kind-hearted terms. They represent oppression and hate written into law. These laws penalized anyone the cis-gendered heter-normative patriarchy found threatening. I went into this study with a love for lexicography, polysemy, and history, but it’s impossible to explore all of these words without experiencing a deep sadness and regret for the centuries of suffering these words represent.

Conclusion

Seems like only people who thought homosexuality was deviant wrote about it and wrote meanly so. There isn’t a single self-referential use of any of these terms in the whole corpus. However, it is definitely interesting that sexual orientation was at least referenced because there are scholars who claim that homosexuality wasn’t conceivable at that time. These words seem to argue against that.

Also cool is that there are so many different terms. Which to me says that there wasn’t just one concept of a man who was into “gay stuff,” but a variety of different ways to get involved. Sodomy could lead to execution, but ganymede and catamite weren’t accompanied by legal sentences. My favorite realization is that effeminacy wasn’t considered an indicator of sexuality. Apparently, it began to be associated with male homosexuality in the next century at which time guys who were afraid of retribution had to stop kissing each other in greetings and holding hands in public. Finally, it’s interesting that foreign languages and ancient Greek and Roman sources played a big role. And many authors described “these people” and “their acts” as being outside of England. So xenophobic.

Baker and McEnery have one final note for corpus linguists: get back to the text and get into concordancing. It’s called close reading and it involves looking beyond your five word context. Try it. I know I will be.

This article is great for lexicography bishes, history bishes, corpus bishes, and queer bishes.

Click here to proceed to the Dictionary of 17th Century Terms for Homosexual Men

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Mcenery, Tony, and Helen Baker. “The Public Representation of Homosexual Men in Seventeenth-Century England – a Corpus Based View.” Journal of Historical Sociolinguistics, vol. 3, no. 2, Jan. 2017, doi:10.1515/jhsl-2017-1003.

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