Tag: Sociolinguistics

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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Effects of gender and verbal aggression on perceptions of U.S. political speakers

It’s the Year of the Woman 2.0, party people. A record number of women are running for office in the American midterm elections. We will see what happens in the coming hours, but it looks like we could soon have more lady leaders and legislators. What better time than now to read Charlotte Nau and Craig O. Stewart’s 2018 paper on how verbal aggression from men and women is evaluated in political speech?

First of all, this article was published in the Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict. The specificity of some of these journals tickles me. I hope they have a special issue for papers on Guys Who Lash Out After You Don’t Respond to their Messages on Tinder.

Verbal aggression is defined in the article in various ways by various smartypants people, but most definitions include an element of targeting the personal- looks, character, brains, abilities, identity, etc- rather than someone’s viewpoints. It comes in a variety of forms: profanity, putting a hex on someone, mocking, threats, or just regular old insults.

The Experiments

Most existing research in this area analyzes attack ads. Nau and Stewart are interested in verbal aggression in speeches and debates rather than media advertising, which is unlikely to have been written and often not even voiced by the candidate.

The first experiment compares male and female verbal aggression and the effect it has on speaker credibility, listener agreement with message, and perceptions of appropriateness. The researchers hypothesized that ladyfolk exhibiting verbal aggression in political speeches will be deemed less credible, less appropriate, less effective in their message, and overall more aggressive than menfolk doing the same.

Sixty-three study participants read 8 excerpts from political speeches on an online platform. There were four message conditions: female aggressive, female non-aggressive, male aggressive, and male non-aggressive.The political speeches were edited from real speeches to remove evidence of party affiliation and controversial topics. Researchers inserted verbal aggression into some of the excerpts- things along the lines of:

Just kidding, it was more like, “You obviously don’t know what you are doing…” and “you’re a hypocrite.” Introductory information for each excerpt gave a fictitious name of the politician and their title as Congresswoman or Congressman thereby revealing the gender. Participants had to rate their agreement with the message, their perceptions of the speaker in categories of credibility and appropriateness, and their overall aggression.

The second experiment was largely the same, but to increase the salience of gender they included images of a  female or male speaker in place of the introductory information that said congresswoman/man. The paper explains the rigorous selection process of the photos and how they were randomly assigned and reassigned to speeches shown to different participants to minimize the effects of attractiveness and other factors on the research. I don’t want to bother with all that right now, so just trust me that it was legit.

Results

From the first experiment they found that messages with verbal aggression were viewed more negatively overall than the messages that did not include personal attacks. This is consistent with other research in this area.

Howeva, the gender comparison analysis was not what they expected. There was not a statistically significant difference between how men and women were judged except in two areas: suitability and overall aggression (suitability was a subcategory of appropriateness.) In the nonaggressive condition samples, women were rated as more aggressive and less suitable than men. But in the verbally aggressive samples men were rated as more aggressive and less suitable than women.

The results of the second experiment- with the pics- were pretty similar. Both men and women were judged more harshly for being verbally aggressive, but the effects were a teensy weensy more negative for women.

The authors concluded that there wasn’t strong enough evidence to confirm their hypothesis on gender differences. They theorize that in spite of evidence that generally women are judged harshly for stereotypically unfeminine behavior like aggression, there must be an exception for political speech where aggression is normative.

Conclusion

Well well well, I think to myself, vaginahavingly. These experiments didn’t yield the kind of headline-grabbing results which I can wokely plaster on my social media about women being unfairly penalized. But that is the thing about research- it can give us perspective on dominant cultural narratives bolstered with anecdotes.

Women’s voices are frequently picked apart as annoying for… reasons, but it seems that in political speech verbal aggression is not an area where we have a significant disadvantage relative to men. I think there’s room to learn more about this area, but until then… Trash talk away, congressbishes. People don’t really like it, but they don’t like it at similar rates in women and men.

This paper is recommended for discourse analysis darlings and sociolinguistic sweetpeas.


Nau, C. & C. O. Stewart. (2018). Effects of gender and verbal aggression on perceptions of U.S. political speakers. Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict. 6(1). 127-148. https://doi.org/10.1075/jlac.00006.nau

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Raciolinguistic ideology and Spanish-English bilingualism on the US labor market: An analysis of online job advertisements

Learn a language, they said. You’ll be more desirable on the job market, they said. Everyone needs to be multilingual to be competitive in this globalized world, they said. Get that dinero, they said.

In education and work environments language is often characterized as a skill that can be leveraged in this little system we call capitalism. Dr. Nic Subtirelu is skeptical of this. In his 2017 paper, “Raciolinguistic ideology and Spanish-English bilingualism on the US labor market: An analysis of online job advertisements,” he unpacks how the rhetoric of language skills as human capital doesn’t capture the IRL economic experience of language minorities.

Are Spanish-English bilinguals in the United States earning the promised cold hard cash? While there is evidence that Spanish-English bilinguals outearn Spanish monolinguals, it seems that Spanish-English bilinguals don’t get a pay bump over English monolinguals. Hand-wringing reports of how Americans don’t learn foreign languages and will be ill-equipped in the global economy seem to ignore the millions of bilingual Latinxs in the U.S. Raise your hand if you think racism has something to do with that.

Raciolinguistics

Subtirelu applies a raciolinguistic ideology lens to the issue. Raciolinguistics is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the study of the relationships between race and language- both how language is used to construct race and how race theory applies to linguistics. For example, people who hold antiblack and racist attitudes are likely to have a negative view of African American English (AAVE). For the record, AAVE is a legit dialect with its own sophisticated grammar and a unique phonology.


According to raciolinguistic concepts U.S. Latinxs are racialized and therefore their English and Spanish are deemed non-standard and ‘deficient’ compared to the English of white Americans or the Spanish of Spaniards.

Subtirelu argues that U.S. employers conceive of Spanish in two ways. First, It’s a world language, which has economic value because it could be leveraged in international trade to ganar dinero. (Mexico is one of the United States’ biggest trading partners.) Second, Spanish is also conceived of as a local language, which has economic value because it can be used to hablar con U.S. Spanish speakers in customer service scenarios.

When employers orient toward Spanish as a world language for fancypants corporate jobs, they disregard U.S. Latinx bilingualism, but when employers need Spanish as a local language they are likely to hire bilingual U.S. Latinx workers. But do those language skills come with a wage premium? Existing research points to no.

The Study

He pulled 74,000 job advertisements from an online job board to identify how many jobs prefer or require Spanish-English bilingualism. And what those jobs are. And the difference in pay between those jobs and similar jobs without bilingual requirements. And which job descriptions conceive of Spanish as a world or local language. And any difference in pay among those.

On average advertisements that did *not* mention Spanish had a higher salary listed than those that required or preferred Spanish-English bilingualism. Spanish was also more likely to be mentioned in ads that had low education and experience requirements. A matched sample contrasting jobs in the same states with comparable education and experience level showed that jobs that had *no* Spanish-English bilingual requirement paid an average of $3,500 more.

Digging into the jobs that require Spanish reveals even more not coolness. The handful of high paying jobs oriented to Spanish as a world language, with language about performing audits in South America, international accounting, international distribution, etc. The slightly larger number of middle paying jobs were primarily nonprofit and education jobs that oriented to Spanish as a local language. By far the largest group were low paying ($15,000-27,000) frontline customer service jobs that conceived of Spanish as a local language.

Additional uncoolness alert: the higher paying job ads were more likely to use language like speak fluent Spanish and the low wage jobs were much more likely to use the word bilingual. Subtirelu hypothesizes that the label bilingual was serving as a code for a more ‘nativelike’ authenticity than the label fluent and may carry some racial undertones. As an academic he has to hedge his impressions with qualifications and soft language, but we here at LinguaBishes are mere lowly linguistics groupies and I have no problem claiming with undue confidence that bilingual is probably code for Latinx in these ads and fluent was code for a suit who double-majored in accounting and Spanish.


Conclusion

While the job ads showed a demand for Spanish-English bilingualism, the most demand was in lower paying jobs that oriented toward Spanish as a local language and were probably recruiting Latinxs.

The electoral success of Donald Drumpf on a nativist platform, the botched federal government response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and ICE ‘mistakenly’ detaining U.S. citizens that are Latinx are just a few signs that many whites don’t view Latinxs as sufficiently American. This research shows that this denigration extends to their bilingual skills, which are not financially valued in the job market despite capitalist rhetoric extolling the benefits of a multilingual workforce.

Though this has all been rather disheartening, it’s important for linguistic research to continue shedding light on whose languages and dialects have built-in privileges and who is given a pat on the head and a low wage job for their language skills.

This paper is recommended for bilingual bishes, sociolinguistics stans and anti-racists.


Subtirelu, N.C. (2017). Raciolinguistic ideology and Spanish-English bilingualism on the U.S. labor market: An analysis of online job advertisements. Language in Society, 46(4), 477-505. DOI:10.1017/S0047404517000379

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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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