Author: Caitlin O'Connell

Investigating Outlander’s Americans – Post 4

Spoilers! If you aren’t up-to-date with Outlander don’t read this. But also, if you’re not up-to-date with Outlander, don’t read anything! Go catch up on Outlander!

Recommended for Time-travelling Bishes, Outlander Observesses, Historical Linguistics Hunnies, and American Dialect Divas.

Hunky 1770s Scotsman Jamie lounges on an armchair smoldering seductively.

This series is about the Starz melodrama Outlander, based on the books by Diana Gabaldon, about a woman from the 1970s who time travels to the 1770s to be with her hunky Scottish beau. If you don’t care about any of that, but are interested in learning about early American English, you’ll do fine. Posts 1-4 in the series discuss what we know about how early Americans spake. But I really think you should watch Outlander though.

Welcome back!

Last time we learned that the Royalists gave Virginia and the Carolinas their distinctive dialect and that Outlander producers don’t care out that. This time we’re going to look at the third and fourth groups of English speakers to arrive in America. This information is from online resources compiled by historical linguist Prof. Edward Vajda at Western Washington University.

The third group of colonists were the Quakers. I’m not going to talk about them since there isn’t any overlap with Outlander. But here’s a table of the features of their dialect anyway.

The Quakers(1675-1725)


Migration: North Midlands of England and Wales to Delaware,
Pennsylvania, and New Jersey

Feature 1: Phonetic features include the pronunciation of a back
rounded [Å] in words such as caught, saw.

Feature 2: Also, the pronunciation of [E] instead of [œ] in bad, and, sack, etc.

Feature 3: Retention of the syllable final [r] in all places.

Words & Expressions: Speakers tried to avoid saying male or female
names for animals that might have sexual connotations (bull, cock, etc.),
and also avoided names of parts of the body: used rock instead of stone
chicken breast/leg =white meat, dark meat.

Influence: a great number of euphemisms because of the above

The last group was the Scot-Irish. This dialect had a huge impact on general American English. It’s also the exact demographic in Outlander. Murtagh and all his friends are these Scots-Irish colonizers, so we should be seeing a lot of this dialect.

Handsome Murtagh furrows his brow and says “Thank Christ.”

However, in the show, Murtagh’s compatriots all appear to be recent arrivals to America. They sound more old world than new. Here is a list of features we could expect to see.

The Scots-Irish (1718-1775)

Migration: North Britain and Northern Ireland to the Appalachian
backcountry
Feature 1: Double negatives not nobody
Feature 2: Pronouns: hit (it), youns, (ye ones), (possessives) hisn, hern,
yorn, theirn  and them (them boys instead of their boys)
Feature 3: A progressive aspect preposition – a (I’m a talking to you)
Feature 4: Compound nouns: men-folk, man-child, kin folks
Feature 5: Verbing nouns and nouning verbs: She prettied herself up, I’ll muscle it up,  He daddied that child.
Words & Expressions: Slow as Christmas, His backbone’s rubbin’ his
belly (very hungry), fixin to, pert near, afeared, beholden, took sick, upped an, swan, swanny (swear), golly, dad blamed.
special distance words: This here, that there, that yonder
Influence: Rural midwest English (because they helped colonize the midwest), and rural southern English.
Scots-Irish Expressions in General American: Faster ‘n greased
lightning, can’t hold a candle to, sharp as a tack, madder ‘n a wet hen,
tuckered out

As you can see, there are a lot of fun and distinctive dialectal features to choose from. And yet, I don’t recall any of Murtagh’s friends using any of these. Again, this really seems like a missed opportunity.

Murtagh dashingly instructs, “Some things are worth the trouble.”

Wouldn’t it have been great to hear some Appalachian Scots-Irish? For example:

Murtagh’s buddy: I’m a fixin’ ta steal that wagon yonder

Murtagh: Ach aye?

Murtagh’s buddy: I’m afeared hit’s pert near faster ‘n greased lightning!

Murtagh: Ach aye!

Murtagh’s buddy: Yorn kin folks are tuckered out.

Murtagh: Ach aye!?

Obviously, the writers of Outlander should give me a call.

Murtagh looks mighty skeptical.

Anyways, it wasn’t until after the Revolutionary War that General American really got going. Western expansion leveled out a lot of the distinctive features of the various east coast dialects from the mid-Atlantic to the Ohio valley. One of the biggest features of General American, which we can thank the Scots-Irish for, is that final [r] sound, which they never dropped.

Exhilarated by battle, Murtagh throws a coy “You’re welcome” over his shoulder.

To recap, we learned that American English was well on its way when Claire and Jamie showed up. It had some unique dialectal features thanks to 4 main groups of colonizers, but also a lot of leveling and uniformity between those groups. So while the depiction of the Americans in Outlander might not be too far off, it is unclear in the show’s portrayal of that time, who is a recent colonizer and who is new-world-born and raised. I suppose I can’t fault the show for that. Rather than showing anachronistic, or inaccurate accents, the show decided to mostly skip dialect opportunities and focus more on the settlers. And maybe that’s for the best.

Murtagh agrees with an “Aye. That’ll do.”
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Investigating Outlander’s Americans – Post 3

Spoilers! If you aren’t up-to-date with Outlander don’t read this. But also, if you’re not up-to-date with Outlander, don’t read anything! Go catch up on Outlander!

Recommended for Time-travelling Bishes, Outlander Observesses, Historical Linguistics Hunnies, and American Dialect Divas.

Hunky 1770s beau, Jamie, leans against a wall with a devilish smirk upon his visage.

This series is about the Starz melodrama Outlander, based on the books by Diana Gabaldon, about a woman from the 1970s who time travels to the 1770s to be with her hunky Scottish beau. If you don’t care about any of that, but are interested in learning about early American English, you’ll do fine. Posts 1-4 in the series discuss what we know about how early Americans spake. But I really think you should watch Outlander though.

Welcome back!

If you missed Posts 1 and 2 of this series, follow this link to go back and read them. If you’re not sure why I’m writing about Outlander, maybe the introduction to the series will help?

Stephen Bonnet roguishly and sardonically claims that it is a pleasure to see you again.

Last time we learned that the Puritans gave Boston its distinctive dialect and that Brianna definitely doesn’t have it. This time we’re going to look at the second group of English speakers to arrive in America. This information is from online resources compiled by historical linguist Prof. Edward Vajda at Western Washington University.

The Royalists (or “Cavaliers”) came from south and southwest England and settled in Virginia and the Carolinas. This should be the accent we see the most in Outlander’s Americans. It’s too bad we don’t meet that many of them.

Capt. Stephen Bonnet sagely declares “a wise man leaves the things beyond his power to the gods.

We learned in Post 1 of this series that colonists moved around a lot and so there was a lot of dialect levelling. That’s when everyone mixes together and starts to sound more similar. This is one of the reasons that early American English was relatively uniform.

However, in theory, George Washington, growing up in Virginia would have been more under the influence of this Royalist dialect than any other. The features of this one include that distinctive drawl, loss of Ds and Ts at the end of words (like I tol’ you instead of I told you), and emphasis on the first syllable of words like GUI-tar.

And yet, our brief meeting with young George did not reveal any of these features.

A grimy Stephen Bonnet looks at us condescendingly as if to say “…and?”

The most notable fact about this dialect is that it was the primary influence on Black American English, which then influenced it right back. Here is a table of its features:

The Royalists or Cavaliers (1642-1675)

Migration: From south and southwest England to Virginia and the
Carolinas
Feature 1: That drawl (caused by diphthongalization). House sounded
like haahhse and eggs like aaiggs
Feature 2: loss of final t, d after another consonant: And sounded like an and told sounded like tol
Feature 3: Emphasis placed on the first syllable. Guitar sounded like GUI-tar and July sounded like JU-ly
Words & Expressions: Aksed, ain’t, y’all, bucket (instead of pail),
snickerdoodles, tacky,  varmint, (from vermin), vittles (from victuals),
spitting image of  (from spirit and image of), andthree bricks shy of a load
Influence: A lot of idioms in general standard American English
Black English: Southern dialects were influenced by the English spoken by West Africans when slaves, native speakers of dozens of languages,
were forced to learn English. The dialect of English they created was
primarily influenced by the speech of the southern whites, then it
influenced the speech of southern whites right back.
Shared features: Loss of final t, d after another consonant: Use of double negatives, ain’t, as in early English. Loss of ng: somethin‘, nothin‘, etc.
Unique feature 1: No use of the linking verb ‘to be’  or generalization of
one form for it
Unique feature 2: Emphasis on aspect rather than tense: He workin’  
(right now) vs.  He be workin’.  This is found in many West African
languages.
Unique feature 3: I done gone (from Wolof doon , the completive verb
aspect particle + English ‘done’).
Unique feature 4: Regularization of present tense verb conjugation: He
don’t, he know it.
Unique feature 5: Voiced th in initial position becomes d: dis, dey; in
medial position it becomes v: brother > brovva.Final voiceless th f  with = wif
Words & Expressions: tote bag (tota = carry in Kikonga), hip (Wolof hepicat one who has his eyes wide open), voodoo (obosum, guardian spirit) mumbo jumbo (from name of a West African god), yam (njami/ Senegal), banana (Wolof).  Also, the phrases: sweet talking, every which way, high-five
Influence: All World Englishes

Again, we don’t get to meet a ton of Americans on the show and that feels like a missed opportunity. The only chances we got were the night Claire and Jamie went to the theatah and at Aunt Jocasta’s dinner party to set Brianna up with man. I didn’t notice any of these features in the Americans we met. Did you? Maybe they were all recent transplants and not really locals.

The only black people who get any screen time are Aunt Jocasta’s house slaves, Phaedra and Ulysses. Phaedra has an inexplicable Scottish accent. Even if she learned English from her owner in the house, she’s not a person in a vacuum. I find it hard to believe that she’d go full Scots. She probably would have been influenced by growing up around Ulysses who doesn’t have a Scottish accent or a southern drawl.

Maybe I’m asking too much here, but a few southern American accents and early Black American English here and there would have really set the scene.

Next time on Investigating Outlander’s Americans – Post 4, we’ll look at the Quakers and the Appalachians, arguably the most important influence on American English and what we should see most of on the show.

Grimy Stephen Bonnet bows mockingly and bids us adieu.

Longmore, Paul K. “‘Good English without Idiom or Tone’: The Colonial Origins of American Speech.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, vol. 37, no. 4, 2007, pp. 513–542., doi:10.1162/jinh.2007.37.4.513.

Luu, Chi. “When Did Colonial America Gain Linguistic Independence?” Jstor Daily, Jstor, 4 July 2017, daily.jstor.org/colonial-america-gain-linguistic-independence/.

S, R. “Accents and Anachronisms: What Did People Sound like in 18th Century America?” TURN to a Historian, 4 May 2015, spycurious.wordpress.com/2015/05/04/accents-and-anachronisms-what-did-people-sound-like-in-18th-century-america/.

Vajda, Edwards “The Dialects of American English.” Linguistics 201: The Origin of Language, pandora.cii.wwu.edu/vajda/ling201/test3materials/AmericanDialects.htm.

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Investigating Outlander’s Americans – Post 2

Spoilers! If you aren’t up-to-date with Outlander don’t read this. But also, if you’re not up-to-date with Outlander, don’t read anything! Go catch up on Outlander!

Recommended for Time-travelling Bishes, Outlander Observesses, Historical Linguistics Hunnies, and American Dialect Divas.

Hunky 1770’s beau, Jamie, leans sulkily and sweatily against a wall baring his sculpted pecs.

This series is about the Starz melodrama Outlander, based on the books by Diana Gabaldon, about a woman from the 1970s who time travels to the 1770s to be with her hunky Scottish beau. If you don’t care about any of that, but are interested in learning about early American English, you’ll do fine. This series discusses what we know about how early Americans spake. But I really think you should watch Outlander though.

Welcome back!

If you missed Post 1 of this series, follow this link to go back and read it. If you’re not sure why I’m writing about Outlander, maybe the introduction to the series will help?

Sir John Grey blushingly confesses how good it is to see you.

Last time we learned that the American accent in 1770 was definitely a thing, but it wasn’t too far off from British dialects. We also learned that because they were all wandering around and class mixing, their speech wasn’t a marker of social status in the same way it had been in the old world.

For example, “Paul K. Longmore’s “Good English without Idiom or Tone”: The Colonial Origins of American Speech notes that many colonists pronounced “cover as kivver, engine as ingine, yesterday as yisterday, yes as yis, and Sarah as Sary.” While these would have been low class pronunciations in England, colonial Americans didn’t care about all that baloney anymore.

A flummoxed Sir John Grey declares “Dear God in heaven.”

Ya, but what did they sound like?? I know, but we can’t ever really know for sure for sure. On Spycurious, a website devoted to a show called TURN: Washington’s Spies, contributor, ‘RS’, points to sources that claim that there were different American dialects then as there are now. He points out that colonists had a relatively sparse education despite fairly high rates of literacy and due to this (and fewer spelling conventions) people often spelled phonetically.

This is a great clue. Another great clue from RS is David Hackett’s book about Paul Revere’s life and the letters of the time which show the characteristics of the modern Boston accent we’ve come to know and feel some kind of way about.

So there was the beginning of a Boston accent, was there? I had to learn more.

Sir John Grey, his interest piqued, suspects there is more to this story.

So I found online resources compiled by historical linguist, Prof. Edward Vajda, at Western Washington University. He said that there were four main migrations of English speaking people to American before 1776.

I will tell you about one of those migrations now, but you’ll have to wait for future posts to read about the other 3.

The first were the Puritans starting in 1629. They came from East Anglia to Massachusetts and gave us the Bostonian dialect. This is interesting because Claire keeps telling everyone that she’d been in Boston for the last 20 years, and Brianna is a true Bostonian native, and no one’s like, really? You don’t sound like it. Here are a list of the features from Prof. Vajda that Claire and Bri totally don’t have.

The Puritans (1629-1640)

Migration: From East Anglia to Massachusetts
Feature 1: Caught or bought had an [o] sound instead of a low [a] sound
Feature 2: Deleted R at the end of syllables. Far sounded like fah
Feature 3: Added R after a final schwa. Cuba sounded like Cuber
Words & Expressions: Cuss from curse, conniption fit, pesky, snicker, cool as a cucumber, three sheets to the wind
Influence: Affected dialects from Maine to Wisconsin especially Chicago and New York English
New York English: After the British took possession of the Dutch colony
of Nieuw Amsterdam (Manhattan you guys) in 1664 there was a rapid
conversion of Dutch speakers to English
Shared features: caught or bought had an [o] sound instead of a low [a]
sound. Deleted R at the end of syllables.
Unique feature 1: th sounded like d → them, these were dem, dese
Unique feature 2: er => [schwa + y]  thirty purple birds = theuty peuple
beuds uh in final position  were = wuh
Unique feature 3: [oi] → [er] oil = erl (a later development)
Unique feature 4: I want you to (do something) → I want you should (do
something)

These are all features of the distinctive modern Bostonian dialect too and yet Brianna and Claire don’t have any of them. And fine, Claire’s a Brit and so was Frank, so Brianna wouldn’t have all of them, but would she really believably have none at all? And, if she lacks all Bostonian features because her parents are English, she would definitely have a couple Britishisms like “at the weekend” or “the loo” or something. But nah, she just speaks general, standard, non-regional American English. Now that’s something to think about.

Brianna and Sir John Grey look anxiously at each other. They know we’re on to them!

Next time on Investigating Outlander’s Americans – Post 3, I’ll tell you about the second group of immigrants that shaped American English.


Longmore, Paul K. “‘Good English without Idiom or Tone’: The Colonial Origins of American Speech.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, vol. 37, no. 4, 2007, pp. 513–542., doi:10.1162/jinh.2007.37.4.513.

Luu, Chi. “When Did Colonial America Gain Linguistic Independence?” Jstor Daily, Jstor, 4 July 2017, daily.jstor.org/colonial-america-gain-linguistic-independence/.

S, R. “Accents and Anachronisms: What Did People Sound like in 18th Century America?” TURN to a Historian, 4 May 2015, spycurious.wordpress.com/2015/05/04/accents-and-anachronisms-what-did-people-sound-like-in-18th-century-america/.

Vajda, Edwards “The Dialects of American English.” Linguistics 201: The Origin of Language, pandora.cii.wwu.edu/vajda/ling201/test3materials/AmericanDialects.htm.

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Investigating Outlander’s Americans – Post 1

Spoilers! If you aren’t up-to-date with Outlander don’t read this. But also, if you’re not up-to-date with Outlander, don’t read anything! Go catch up on Outlander!

Recommended for Time-travelling Bishes, Outlander Observesses, Historical Linguistics Hunnies, and American Dialect Divas.

A shirtless hunky 1770’s beau, Jamie, looks dangerously at his foes.

This series is about the Starz melodrama Outlander, based on the books by Diana Gabaldon, about a woman from the 1970s who time travels to the 1770s to be with her hunky Scottish beau. If you don’t care about any of that, but are interested in learning about early American English, you’ll do fine. This series discusses what we know about how early Americans spake. But I really think you should watch Outlander though.

If you missed the introduction to the series follow this link to go back and read it. If you’re not sure why I’m writing about Outlander, it might help?

It is canon in TV Land that all period pieces use various English accents to show The Past and it would truly be jarring to viewers to aim for linguistic accuracy. I get it and I’m fine with it.

However, from Outlander’s season four premier America the Beautiful, I couldn’t stop wondering “Is this American accent anachronistic?” Was there already a distinct dialectal difference between England and the New World before America was even a thing?

Sure there had been several generations of colonists living in what was to become America, but wasn’t there some pop-linguistics circulating that claimed that colonists preserved their English more than their compatriots back home? And that British English changed faster than American English and so the English in the present-day colonies is actually closer to Shakespearean English than that spoken in modern UK?

Young Ian adorably proclaims that he’s tired of our blethering.

This long list of questions spurred me to the world wide web for answers. The first source I found about this is my favorite contributor to JSTOR DAILY, Chi Luu. She asserts that there was a distinct American dialect of English by Outlander times. She also points out that it was actually viewed with approval. This is surprising due to the low-key insecurity speakers of American English have when compared to many UK English dialects.

She quotes an Englishperson from 1770 who said it was weird that colonists came from every language background across Europe, but still manage to have an English that was ”uniform, and unadulterated.”

So when Claire meets a young George Washington at a party, and his English is sort of East-coast-boarding-school-proper, it might be accurate.

Outlander’s young George Washington tells us he spent his youth in Virginia.

Another weird thing from that time, is that one couldn’t easily guess where a colonist was from by the way they talked. One piece of evidence for this is that there are wanted ads for escaped indentured servants from the UK that include which UK dialect they spoke. This shows that their speech stood out against the standard American dialect of the time (Luu, 2017).

As we know from Outlander, colonists had to move around a lot for colonizing reasons. You know, like when you sell your daughter’s husband to the first Indigenous people you see and they march him up to New York and then your daughter’s like, “But I wanted to keep him!” and then you have to go all the way up there and try to buy him back?

Brianna tells us that we don’t know what her feelings are.

They also had to continuously interact with other colonizers of all classes. Back home, they might have stayed within linguistic boundaries, but that was not an option in the New World. Outlander’s scenes of Wilmington show people class-mixing all over town! That’s an environment ripe for linguistic leveling. This is a phenomenon I touched on in Joining the Western Region: Sociophonetic Shift in Victoria.

So what did it actually sound like though? We don’t and can’t really know for sure, but apparently it was still very similar to British English. I’ll tell you more about that next time on Investigating Outlander’s Americans – Post 2.


Longmore, Paul K. “‘Good English without Idiom or Tone’: The Colonial Origins of American Speech.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, vol. 37, no. 4, 2007, pp. 513–542., doi:10.1162/jinh.2007.37.4.513.

Luu, Chi. “When Did Colonial America Gain Linguistic Independence?” Jstor Daily, Jstor, 4 July 2017, daily.jstor.org/colonial-america-gain-linguistic-independence/.

S, R. “Accents and Anachronisms: What Did People Sound like in 18th Century America?” TURN to a Historian, 4 May 2015, spycurious.wordpress.com/2015/05/04/accents-and-anachronisms-what-did-people-sound-like-in-18th-century-america/.

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Investigating Outlander’s Americans – Introduction

Spoilers! If you aren’t up-to-date with Outlander don’t read this. But also, if you’re not up-to-date with Outlander, don’t read anything! Go catch up on Outlander!

Recommended for Time-travelling Bishes, Outlander Observesses, Historical Linguistics Hunnies, and American Dialect Divas.

1970 Claire longingly leans on a magical stone with hunky beau, 1770 Jamie, longingly leaning on the other side

This series is about the Starz melodrama Outlander, based on the books by Diana Gabaldon, about a woman from the 1970s who time travels to the 1770s to be with her hunky Scottish beau. If you don’t care about any of that, but are interested in learning about early American English, you’ll do fine. This series discusses what we know about how early Americans spake. But I really think you should watch Outlander though.

Like any good Outlander fan, I have a healthy dose of skepticism for the portrayal of the 1700’s. Of course, I’m not an historian- I wholeheartedly believed Roger’s teal and mustard-colored, velveteen shants-suit was historically inaccurate, but come on. That guy looked ridiculous.

Roger comically rolls down a hill in his ridiculous teal and mustard-colored, velveteen shants-suit

But it turns out that the outfit was accurate and it motivated me to do some real research on some of my other questions about the show’s portrayal of the time.

For example:

  1. Why does Fergus have a lingering French accent despite being adopted to Scotland before puberty?
  2. How did Young Iain acquire Cherokee so quickly?
  3. Why does Phaedra, a slave in North Carolina, have a Scottish English accent?
  4. Why aren’t Claire, Brie, or Roger ever once questioned about their modern British, American, and Scottish English dialects? It would be so hard not to drop modern slang all over the 1700’s!
  5. Finally, are the American accents in the show anachronistic?

While these are all questions worth answering, for this series I’m only going to attempt to answer question 5.

So without further ado, please enjoy Investigating Outlander’s Americans – Post 1.

Jenny scoldingly declares that ’tis a fool’s errand.
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Field Notes from 2018’s Adventures in Applied Linguistics

Happy Birthday to us! We’ve been doing the bish thing for a year, so I guess we have to do that tired old practice of recapping because like Kylie, we had a big year.

TL;DR – following is a list of our plans for 2019 and a recap of what we learned in 2018.

This is a still from Kylie Jenner's 2016 New Year Resolutions video. It shows her head and shoulders with the quote "like, realizing things..."
This is a still from Kylie Jenner’s 2016 New Year Resolutions video. It shows her head and shoulders with the quote “like, realizing things…”

#goals

    1. We’re looking for guest writers. So if you know any other linguabishes, send them our way.
    2. We’re diversifying our content to include not just peer-reviewed articles in academic papers, but also conference papers, master’s theses, and whatever else strikes our fancies.
    3. We’re planning to provide more of our own ideas like in the Immigrant v. Migrant v. Expat series (posts 1, 2, and 3) and to synthesize multiple papers into little truth nuggets.
    4. Hopefully it won’t come up, but we’re not beyond dragging any other racist garbage parading as linguistics again.

Plans aside, here’s all the stuff we learned. We covered a lot of topics in 2018, so it’s broken down by theme.

Raciolinguistics and Language Ideology

We wrote 5 posts on language ideology and raciolinguistics and we gave you a new word: The Native-speakarchy. Like the Patriarchy, the Native-speakarchy must be dismantled. Hence Dismantling the Native-Speakarchy Posts 1, 2, and 3. Since we had a bish move to Ethiopia, we learned a little about linguistic landscape and language contact in two of its regional capitals. Finally, two posts about language ideology in the US touch on linguistic discrimination. One was about the way people feel about Spanish in Arizona and the other was about Spanish-English bilingualism in the American job market. 

This is a gif of J-Lo from the Dinero music video. She’s wearing black lingerie and flipping meat on a barbecue in front of a mansion. She is singing “I just want the green, want the money, want the cash flow. Yo quiero, yo quiero dinero, ay.”

Pop Culture and Emoji

But we also had some fun. Four of our posts were about pop culture. We learned more about cultural appropriation and performance from a paper about Iggy Azalea, and one about grime music. We also learned that J.K. Rowling’s portrayal of Hermione wasn’t as feminist as fans had long hoped. Finally, a paper about reading among drag queens taught that there’s more to drag queen sass than just sick burns.

Emojis aren’t a language, but they are predictable. The number one thing this bish learned about emojis though is that the methodology used to analyze their use is super confusing.

This is a gif of of the confused or thinking face emoji fading in and out of frame.

Lexicography and Corpus

We love a dictionary and we’ve got receipts. Not only did we write a whole 3-post series comparing the usages of Expat v. Immigrant v. Migrant in three different posts (1, 2, and 3), but we also learned what’s up with short-term lexicography, and made a little dictionary words for gay men in 1800’s.

Sundries

These comprise a grab bag of posts that couldn’t be jammed into one of our main categories. These are lone wolf posts that you only bring home to your parents to show them you don’t care what they think. These black sheep of the bish family wear their leather jackets in the summer and their sunglasses at night.

This is a black and white gif of Rihanna looking badass in shades and some kind of black fur stole.

Dank Memes

Finally, we learned that we make the dankest linguistics memes. I leave you with these.

 Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more in 2019!

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Paper Drags: Do Linguistic Structures Affect Human Capital?

In case you’ve been off linguistics Twitter for the last week, you should know that it coniptioned last Wednesday. This is what happened.

A study was dropped (ya, academics drop papers) that claimed that in countries where the dominant language allowed pronouns to be omitted, education suffered.

There were a lot of hot takes with linguists sashaying into Twitter for an opportunity to drag this quote unquote study.

TL;DR: the study ignores current work in the field, doesn’t collaborate, uses sloppy methods, and arrives at biased results.

Here are the problems with it as mined from Twitter:

Research:

This study by Horst Feldmann (2018) is not based on current research in linguistics. The “recent” research in that is referenced in the introduction is a baloney economics study from 2013 by M. Keith Chen. It was dragged in its own time for its interpretation of the now infamous Theory of Linguistic Relativity.

Theory of Linguistic Relativity: This a nearly century old study that claimed that an individual’s thoughts are restrained by the languages they speak. It is also known as Whorfianism.

A heck-ton of studies over the last 100 years have attempted to prove or disprove this theory. These days, linguists generally accept that language does or might have some effect on thought, but that we’re not quite sure how large that affect is or might be. I’m not going to get into it here, but if you want to learn more, get reading!

Feldmann, like Chen before him, ran with what we call the strong version of the hypothesis. He boldly claims that “…language shapes speakers’ mental representation of reality…” which it doesn’t. If Feldmann had studied linguistics, he would have known that.

This leads us to the second major issue:

Author expertise:

@gretchenmcculloch compared this type of study to a linguist writing an economics paper. @sesquiotic pointed out that the study was not even co-authored by a linguist. He tweeted that the study has a “crib-toy use of linguistics” and that its chain of reasoning and supposition is patently problematic.

This is all a part of the invisibility of the linguistics field. @adamCSchembri pointed out that somehow, linguists aren’t considered experts by academicians in other fields.

But since Feldmann went ahead and decided to act the linguist anyway, let’s look at his premise:

The premise:

The premise of the paper is that there are languages that license the dropping of the pronoun before a verb. That’s true. A common example is Spanish whose speakers could say “yo hablo” (I speak), but can use just the “hablo” part if they want. Ok, so that’s an incredibly overly simplified explanation, but that’s for another time.

What Feldmann got wrong was claiming that English does not license the dropping of the pronoun. Actually speakers of English do it all the time. For example “do you speak English?” “Sure do!” or “Guess so.”

Yep, that’s pronoun drop. So the premise is wrong. This brings us to the bad linguistics of it all:

Bad linguistics:

@sesquiotic: the study doesn’t include actual linguistics and makes some pretty big claims about linguistics.

This paper is full of bad linguistics so here’s a list of a few that came up on Twitter:

  1. Misspelling hablo as ablo
  2. Studying 103 languages, but not mentioning which ones
  3. Mentioning spoken language, but not including any in their data
  4. Not defining or citing language variables used in regression tables
  5. Grouping together languages without acknowledging language families
  6. Using English example sentences that no one has ever uttered (I speak)
  7. Claiming that V-S-O languages are the most common, but not backing it up with evidence
  8. Referencing “ancient cultural values” and the “distant past” without defining what those things are or researching language history

@eviljoemcveigh: the linguistics is garbage so regression methods, covariates, and other statistical decisions are uninformed.

What do you get when you take an outdated hypothesis, add a false premise, and stir in some bad linguistics?

The conclusion:

Feldmann concludes that dropping a pronoun has a “negative effect of human capital” and that speakers of those languages have less education. Many people on Twitter were reminded of a similar conclusion by the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster in an open letter to the Kansas School Board.

The thing is, if you’re not putting in solid research and defined linguistic variables, the conclusion is moot. Feldmann’s conclusion is punching down at countries with less access to education and claiming that no one’s to blame because language. But there are guilty parties in the disparities in education around the world. A linguistics website isn’t the best place to learn about them, but this paper isn’t just bad linguistics, it’s bad anthropology, bad economics, and bad statistics, bad research design, and bad critical thinking.

This bish’s conclusion? Sashay away, Feldmann!

Special thanks to Joe McVeigh (@Eviljoemcveigh), Lee Murray (@MurrayLeeA), Gretchen McCulloch (@GretchenAMcC), James Harbeck (@sesquiotic), and Nic Subtirelu (@linguisticpulse).

Recommended for no bishes!

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Feldmann, Horst. “Do Linguistic Structures Affect Human Capital? The Case of Pronoun Drop.” Kyklos: International Review for Social Sciences, 8 Nov. 2018, doi:10.1111/kykl.12190.

Chen, M. Keith (2013). The Effect of Language on Economic Behavior: Evidence from Savings Rates, Health Behaviors, and Retirement Assets, American Economic Review. 103(2): 690‐731.

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Emoji Grammar as Beat Gestures

Emoji Grammar as Beat Gestures

If you’re a Lingua Bish, you probably know about celebrity linguists Dr. Gretchen McCulloch😻 and Dr. Lauren Gawne 😻. In their presentation at the 1st International Workshop on Emoji Understanding and Applications in Social Media in June (2018), they presented their research to answer the question once and for all, Are emojis a language 🤔? But actually, Gretchen and Lauren always use emoji as the plural for emojis, (bishes don’t) and their research question was “If languages have grammar and emoji are supposedly a language, then what is their grammar?”

If you try to compare emojis to language, the closest you’ll get is word units. Of all the bits of a language, emojis are most similar to words, but language is so much more than a bunch of words. It has parts of speech and structure (and so many other things). Emojis often affect the tone of text or add a layer of emotion😏, but Lauren and Gretchen think that’s just a small part of it because their effect isn’t always straightforward. To compare emojis to words, they decided to look at the most used word sequences and compare them to the most used emoji sequences. They hypothesized that if emoji sequences are repeated they should be considered “beat” gestures, but what is that even?

Beat Gestures and Emojis

So gestures are a different type of communication🖐. They are not a language and they don’t have grammar. 

a beat gesture and definitely cool

One type of gesture is the “beat” gesture. It is characterized by its absence of meaning and its repetitive nature. You use beat gestures when you talk with your hands👐 and most gestures politicians make during speeches are beat gestures.

not cool and not a beat gesture

However, when a really cool person bobs their open palms up and down in the air above their head, you know it means “raise the roof”, so this is not a beat gesture. It seems like emojis act the same way as beat gestures, often repetitive and often with no inherent meaning unless accompanied by words🤯.

The Emoji Corpus

Gretchen and Lauren used a SwiftKey emoji corpus to check out sequences of two, three, and four emojis. That means that they looked for groups of emojis that often appear together. They looked for the 200 most common sequences and noticed that the top sequences used just one repeated emoji. These were the top 10 sequences in the SwiftKey emoji corpus:

The Word Corpus

Then they used the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) to check out word sequences to compare to the emoji sequences. The COCA contains around 500 million words from things like news outlets and websites👩‍💻. In the 200 most common word sequences, they found almost no repetition. The only time words were repeated, were in the cases of “had had” and “very very very.” However, these didn’t even make the top 200. And yes, that could just be because the COCA is formal and perhaps a corpus of informal language would have yielded different results. For example you might get instances of what linguists call the ‘salad-salad reduplication’ (2004) as in “it’s salad salad🥗, not ham salad or jello salad”. It’s the same as “OMG you like like them 😲??” or “It’s Saturday. Tonight I’m going out out💃,” but this bish is digressing. 

Comparing Words to Emojis

The point is, where words are very rarely repeated in a sequence, it appears that emojis are. You’re probably like, “but I send 2-4 emojis at a time and they don’t repeat.” Ya, you might, but I bet they’re pretty similar like 5 different hearts💝💘💖💗💓, or the hear-no-evil monkeys🙈🙉🙊, or allll the dranks🍾🍹🍸🥃🍷🥂🍺. So ya, sometimes they’re all different, but if so, they’re likely on a theme.

But even though emojis can be more repetitive than speech or writing, most emojis occur next to words and not in sequences. Even where emojis occur without words, it’s mostly just one or two at a time and usually in response to a previous message. Guess who else usually partners with words? You guessed it, beat gestures👊! 

It seems like emojis and beat gestures have a lot in common. Let’s list the ways: 

  1. no grammatical structure
  2. no inherent meaning unless accompanied by words
  3. often repeated
  4. often add emphasis

Maybe emojis and beat gestures should get a room already 👉👌😜.

Conclusion

Basically the idea is just to shift the way we think of emojis. Thinking of them as a new language with grammar won’t get research far. Gretchen and Lauren might be on to something by considering emojis to be a type of gesture. Emojis don’t have their own grammar, but they work with our written grammar. They add emphasis, just like beat gestures do with our spoken grammar. So, it’s unlikely that emojis can ever be a full language. If they ever start exhibiting structural regularities in corpus studies though, and start languagifying, I’m sure Gretchen and Lauren will be there to catch it.

This paper is great for emoji bishes👯‍, anyone who texts📱, corpus bishes, and lingthusiasts👸🏻👸🏿👸🏼👸🏾.

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In: S. Wijeratne, E. Kiciman, H. Saggion, A. Sheth (eds.): Proceedings of the 1st International Workshop on Emoji Understanding and Applications in Social Media (Emoji2018), Stanford, CA, USA, 25-JUN-2018, published at https://ceur-ws.org

Ghomeshi, Jila, et al. “Contrastive Focus Reduplication in English (The Salad-Salad Paper).” Natural Language & Linguistic Theory, vol. 22, no. 2, 2004, pp. 307–357., doi:10.1023/b:nala.0000015789.98638.f9.

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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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Joining the Western Region: Sociophonetic Shift in Victoria

One thing that’s always bothered me is the lack of language documentation in rural Canada. Studies of Canadian English represent urban areas. And look, I get it: rural Canadians are spread out thinly across the true north strong and free. Most people live in the urban centers and documenting Canada’s rural dialects would be kind of a big deal. But that means that any  claims on “BC English” are about speakers in noVancouver and even though the population of the city is really diverse, linguistics studies there typically aren’t.

Google says it takes about 18 hours to drive from Vancouver to Fort Nelson.

Even if these studies were more diverse, we’d be no closer to understanding how people in, like, Fort Nelson speak.

And the thing about that that bothers me is that something like 20% of the population in Canada lives rurally. We don’t know what they sound like or what they’re saying to each other.

All of that’s a rant for another time, but you might understand how excited I was when I can across  Rebecca Roeder, Sky Onosson, and Alexandra D’Arcy’s paper  (2018) “Joining the Western Region: Sociophonetic Shift in Victoria” which looks at the way some British Columbians who are not Vancouverites talk. While Victoria isn’t exactly rural, it is definitely not Vancouver and sometimes that’s enough.

The Study

The purpose of this study was to try to describe the English in Victoria, BC, something this intrepid trio of scholars has been working on for a long time. They used certain linguistic features to conduct a study of language change over time. The participants were 14-98 years old and from diverse backgrounds. 

Speaking of backgrounds, can anyone guess where the first Final Destination was filmed?

Victoria (slash “hi mom!”)

Victoria is sort of a mini Victorian-era England. It’s on what we call The Island, a short ferry ride or flight from Vancouver.  It’s an isolated city of around 370,000 people. It was a Hudson’s Bay trading post in 1843 and became a city in 1862. It became the capital of the province in 1971. Private school teachers were imported from England right up to WWII setting the bar for the prestige dialect. And just picture this, I said it was on an island, right? Ya, well it didn’t get regular ferry service to the mainland until 1960. Even though there are now people who commute regularly to the mainland, I have met people who have never been off the island. And I didn’t know this, but the particularly British-y area of Victoria is referred to as the “tweed curtain.” It’s a small, wealthy community with a marina and tea shops (RIP The Blethering Place, tea shop of yore). One would think this modern history of isolation would have some effect on the dialect, no? Well yes, apparently there’s some kind of accent there though its features vary and the population that exhibits them is an aging minority.

Methods

The inquisitive trio used the Synchronic Corpus of Victoria English (SCVE), part of the Victoria English Archive which is comprised of 162  interviews with primarily British-descended Victorians. The speakers range from 1st to 6th generation Victorian (14-98 years old). Some were even related.

For anyone still guessing, maybe “Garrick’s Head” rings a bell

 The Sounds

The Sounds Wait what?

Victoria English 

The Canadian Shift

Ok so, the vowels in lit, #blessed, and sass (vowels kit, dress, and trap if you’re new to LinguaBishesare produced at the same height in the mouth for many English dialects. “Height” refers to where your tongue is when you make a sound. In the Canadian Shift, the vowels in kit, dress, and trap started to lower sometime before 1950. This resulted in a really noticable change among baby boomers. The shift slowed down for Torontonians, but if you’re a Canadian woman under 40, then you might be as much as a generation ahead in the shift than guys you know. The Shift is more recent in Victoria, perhaps because of its relative isolation. Even though it started later, the youth speak really similarly to other Canadians, which means there was a whole lotta change in a little bit of time. Also because of this late start, older Victorians have higher vowels than their peers across the country.

Raising of ban and bag

Y’all have probably heard, in Canada, we say bag [bg] not bag [bæg](same with dragon, wagon, and rag). Also, young Canadians in BC and the prairies do the same thing with ban. (See LinguaBishes Vowel Chart) In Victoria, ban and bag are at the same place regardless of age or gender. This shows that it’s probably a solid Victorian feature that’s at least eighty-five years old.

Back-Vowel Fronting

A back-vowel is a vowel that you make with in the back of your mouth. Like in “Karen, that’s some hot goss.” Fronting means making the sounds more towards the front of your mouth. It is very common in British Columbia. Back-vowel fronting is a systemic process in Victoria. Your goats, your boots, and your foots seem to be pronounced slightly more in the front of the mouth by women. 
Yod Yod is the insertion of a y sound before a vowel. Tune is a great example. Yodders (many speakers of British dialects) pronounce the word like tyune or even chyune. In American English, yod is disappearing and in Canada, it is disappearing slower because it is considered prestigious. Contrary to previous research, this study found yod to be a stable feature in Victoria, but because it is appearing mainly in the word too, it could be another example of back-vowel fronting.

When did the airport ever look like this?

Results

Our three linguists took their results and compared them to the Phonetics of Canadian English thing (PCE) compiled by Boberg (2008). They examined these features across “apparent time” which basically just means they took the age of the speaker into consideration. Their results were pretty close to Boberg’s PCE, but they found trap to be higher and lot-thought-palm higher and backer like Californian English.

OK, so… ?

After world War II, the English school teachers stopped arriving in Victoria and regular ferry service started. Victoria opened up and experienced a quick population growth. This made is a ripe ground for dialect leveling or “phonological simplification.” This could have been when back-vowel fronting and the vowel shift happened.

And…? 

So Victorians, especially young Victorians, mostly speak the same as the majority of western Canadians. Basically anyone under the age of 80 speaks a variety that has leveled out to include the Canadian shift and back-vowel fronting. 

BUT the whole aforementioned yod situation shows that Victoria English is holding onto its history. That and the ban/bag raising are hold-outs that were probably unchanged throughout the 20th century. Whereas the low-back merger could have started in Canadian English around 150 years before it got to Victoria. If that’s true, then Canadian English isn’t a single entity that progressed westward during expansion, but a multi-sourced group of dialects. To me, it says we need more surveys of the varieties of BC English from other areas around the province that aren’t Vancouver.

fin

This article is great for phonetics and acoustical analysis bishes, dialect bishes, Canadian bishes, and of course, Final Destination bishes.


Roeder, R., Onosson, S., & D’Arcy, A. (2018). Joining the Western Region: Sociophonetic Shift in Victoria. Journal of English Linguistics,46(2), 87-112. doi:10.1177/0075424217753987

Roeder, Rebecca & Onosson, Sky & D’Arcy, Alexandra. (2015). Simultaneous innovation and conservation: Unpacking Victoria’s vowels.

Boberg, C. (2008). Standard Canadian English. Standards of English,159-178. doi:10.1017/cbo9781139023832.009
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