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Springer Texts in Education

Michael Shapiro

The Speaking Self:


Language
Lore and English
Usage
Second Edition

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Springer Texts in Education
More information about this series at http://www.springer.com/series/13812

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Michael Shapiro

The Speaking Self: Language


Lore and English Usage
Second Edition

123
Michael Shapiro
New York, NY
USA

ISSN 2366-7672 ISSN 2366-7980 (electronic)


Springer Texts in Education
ISBN 978-3-319-51681-3 ISBN 978-3-319-51682-0 (eBook)
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-51682-0
Library of Congress Control Number: 2016963330

© Springer International Publishing AG 2012, 2017


This work is subject to copyright. All rights are reserved by the Publisher, whether the whole or part
of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations,
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The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this
publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from
the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use.
The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this
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In loving memory of my parents and my wife
the metaphysician
Preface

The first edition of this book appeared as a paperback on August 30, 2012, under
the Create Space imprint and was based on the revised versions of material that had
been posted on www.languagelore.net to that date. The readers’ reviews that have
appeared since the book’s publication (on Amazon.com and elsewhere) have been
unanimous in their praise, and it has become evident that an expanded second
edition, incorporating material written in the intervening four years (including
essays gathered under a seventh chapter, “The Psycholinguistic Pathos of Everyday
Life”), is both warranted and bound to garner an even larger readership.
As with the first edition, glossaries have been provided for each new essay but
have been broadened to define items for an audience that will include the readers
whose first language is other than English. Judging by statistical data and the
proliferation of usage manuals in the last decade, there is a great appetite among
readers all over the globe for information about English as it is spoken and written
in America, particularly in the media. This is only to be expected given that in the
twenty-first century English—the American variety in particular—has become the
world’s lingua franca.
It is hoped that this book, which examines and analyzes linguistic phenomena
of the most multifarious variety, will satisfy the interests of an ever-expanding
international audience.

Michael Shapiro

vii

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Preface to the First Edition

This book is not a usage manual in the conventional sense. It is a sui generis series
of compact, self-contained essays, arranged into chapters by broad topic categories
of problematic points of linguistic usage in contemporary American speech and
writing, and cast in an uncompromisingly analytical style that is nevertheless
accessible to any educated reader with a love of words, an inquisitiveness about
language and an appetite for exegesis.
The author’s project has been motivated in large part by the assumption that
there exists a huge and entirely untapped reservoir of interest among the listening
and reading public in questions of pronunciation, grammar, and etymology that has
not been satisfied by other sources.
It is based on the author’s blog, www.languagelore.net, many of whose posts
have been revised and adapted for the present purpose. Judging by the countries of
visitors to the Web site, there is an audience for this book outside the anglophone
world, particularly in Germany, Brazil, the Netherlands, Russia, and Ukraine.
The bias of the author is unabashedly prescriptivist. It is formed by a
long-standing theoretical interest in and empirical observation of English usage,
oral and written. Much of the material for analysis is drawn from the language of
contemporary media, both print and broadcast. The discussion of examples fre-
quently opens out on a perspective that takes in deeper questions of value and
society in America as revealed in present-day language use.
The essays that comprise the chapters are what might be called linguistic
vignettes. They call attention to the points of grammar and style in contemporary
American English, especially in cases where the language is changing due to
innovative usage, including what older generations of speakers would consider
errors in speech and writing.
The chapter headings are not meant to be mutually exclusive, which results in a
certain amount of overlap, as when pronunciations have stylistic as well as phonetic
outcomes, or when word formation is included under syntax. There are no
sub-chapters because the detailed index is meant to serve as a convenient way of
facilitating any search for specific topics. This also allows for the order of entries
within chapters to be similarly loose.

ix
x Preface to the First Edition

A book which deliberately mimics the miscellany genre and eschews the format
of a strictly academic presentation driven by an argument will of necessity strike
some readers as lacking guidance about the ordering and selection of its entries. The
six chapter headings can only mitigate the impression of randomness in part, but the
book is not meant to be read consecutively in any event but sampled repeatedly in
no particular order.
Occasionally, the scope is broadened to subsume languages other than English
(Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Yiddish, German, French, Russian, Japanese), especially
when a comparative perspective helps clarify a historical point of English usage.
The brief concluding chapter on poetics is conceived as a pendant, since it deals
mostly with Russian, the author’s mother tongue and the lifelong focus of his
activities as a scholar.
The mode of presentation differs significantly from conventional usage manuals
by its self-consciously academic diction, which consistently recurs to scholarly
formulations in furtherance of analytical acuity. In every case where an analysis
contains technical or recondite vocabulary, a Glossary precedes the body of the
essay so that a reader unfamiliar with the terminology of linguistics can more easily
follow and make sense of the argument. In cases of doubt as to whether a particular
item should be glossed—and glossed repeatedly—the decision has been to err on
the side of redundancy, since the format of the book is aimed at inviting readers to
browse through the self-sufficient entries rather than necessarily reading them in
consecutive order. The Master Glossary, which provides a completely synoptic
register of all items glossed in the text, can always be consulted in case any
particular essay is opaque as to any item of its technical vocabulary.
The practice of glossing every text is abandoned only in the three epilegomena,
which are meant to summarize the theoretical framework of the book for a strictly
academic audience, while being of possible intellectual interest to the adventurous
general reader as well. The gist of the second epilegomenon is also to be found in
Chapter 2.
Only the epilegomena contain footnotes. In this respect, the text takes a leaf from
Edward Sapir’s classic Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech, whose
author deliberately elided diacritic signs as burdensome to all but the initiate.
Occasionally, the glossaries notwithstanding, readers may find it necessary to
consult a dictionary, but this is taken to be ineluctable, given the variable linguistic
competence and background of the book’s intended audience, which doubtlessly
includes the readers for whom English is not a native or habitual language. The
author’s guiding principles in this respect are his own lifelong word gluttony and
love of dictionary excavation, a delight in the richness of the English language,
which undergirds his conviction that those who encounter unfamiliar words when
reading this book will, more often than not, choose to look them up—and will,
moreover, find the effort rewarding.
The unique form of the book’s presentation is aimed at satisfying the natural
curiosity of readers who are alert to the peculiarities of present-day American
English as they pertain to pronunciation, grammar, and style, and who wish to be
enlightened about them in a way that does not “dumb down” or compromise the

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Preface to the First Edition xi

language in which the explanations are couched. This extends to the book’s tone,
which is guided not by the considerations of political correctness or politesse,
which the author regards as having no bearing on the presentation’s content, but by
the aims that are first and foremost didactic, propaedeutic, and hortatory. At the risk
of offending those readers who will recognize their own speech habits among the
examples brought up for criticism, the tone of the essays is occasionally censorious,
but that is unavoidable if the thrust is distinctly educative and not merely infor-
mative. In other words, no attempt has been made to buffer the book’s stance on
error.
It is hoped that a book which addresses itself to what is technically called
ORTHOEPY, the doctrine and study of correct speech in the broadest sense, will find a
receptive audience among the readers of all ages and backgrounds.
Acknowledgements

Along with the love and encouragement of my daughter Abigail and my brother
Jacob, who also suggested some topics for commentary, the support of several
friends played an important role in the genesis and completion of this book.
Jeffrey Goodman was the first person to urge me to compile a volume based on
my blog posts, and it was his unflagging enthusiasm that finally moved me to
undertake the project.
Robert Hatten and Vincent Colapietro were faithful correspondents, notably and
characteristically generous in their appreciation of my work, as were Raimo Anttila,
Nils Thelin, Michael Holquist, Gary Richmond, and Savely Senderovich.
My old school friend Simon Gamer and his son Jason made it a point to react to
my posts and to emphasize their propaedeutic value, as did Pat Hollander.
Two other Californians with a lively interest in language, Lone Coleman
(a native speaker of Danish) and Seppo Hurme (a native speaker of Finnish), also
provided me with valuable reactions.
The late Carol Pentleton, my Web designer and the designer of all my most
recent books, was an early enthusiast, whose love of language made her an espe-
cially valuable reader.
It is with great pleasure that I acknowledge all who encouraged me, and I
express my abiding gratitude to them.

New York, NY, USA Michael Shapiro

xiii

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Contents

1 Sounds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
1.1 A Stress Shift in a *Triblet of Trisyllables . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
1.2 Adjectival Stress on the Wrong Sylláble. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
1.3 Aphaeresis Engulfs Tsunami . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
1.4 Barbarisms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
1.5 Déjà vu—Not! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
1.6 Der Untergang des Abendlandes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
1.7 Espying the Spondaic Anapest, Absolutely . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
1.8 Female Nasalization: An Apotropaism? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
1.9 Form Follows Function (1): Verb/Noun Stress Alternation . . . . . . 12
1.10 Form Follows Function (2): Vowel Alternation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
1.11 Friends in France (A Vowel Merger) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
1.12 Girlized Intonation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
1.13 Glottally Catching the Football . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
1.14 Going to Rack and Ruin in the ‘Stans . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
1.15 Goslings in Oslo (Medial s before Liquids) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
1.16 Homage to Ignorance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
1.17 Idiosyncratic Pronunciations: Tone-Deafness? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
1.18 Ignorance and the Insistence of the Letter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
1.19 Intrusive r (A Sandhi Phenomenon) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
1.20 Japanese Prosody and Its Distortion in English . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
1.21 Lambasting the Oblivion of Constituent Structure . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
1.22 Lenition, Not Voicing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
1.23 Linguistic Solipsism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
1.24 Manhattan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
1.25 Molière Redivivus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
1.26 Morphophonemics of Nominal Derivation: British Versus
American English . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... 35
1.27 O tempora, o mores! (Isoglosses) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... 37
1.28 Obama and Bush: A Shared Departure from the Linguistic
Norm . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... 38

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1.29 Paronomastic Interference in Language Change . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41


1.30 The “Pin/Pen Merger:” An Example of Neutralization . . . . . . . . . 43
1.31 Reading Pronunciations . . . . . . . . . .R. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44
1.32 Rethinking Phonetic Variation (str! tr) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
1.33 Rhymes with Pomeranian . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
1.34 Router . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48
1.35 Sosal Sicurity (alias Social Security) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
1.36 Sound and Sense in a Language’s Bauplan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52
1.37 Sound over Sense and the Iconic Impulse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
1.38 Stylistics of the Alveolar Flap . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
1.39 Ten Thousand Untruths . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54
1.40 Teutonisms as Barbarisms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56
1.41 The Fading of Oral Tradition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58
1.42 The Hidden Homophony in ‘Icon(ic)’ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59
1.43 The Ideology of Vowel Reduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59
1.44 The Pentagon in Maryland (Sandhi and Prosody) . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61
1.45 The Pronunciation of Beijing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63
1.46 The Temperature in February (Dejotation) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64
1.47 Variation in the Stress of Quadrisyllables . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65
1.48 Verbal Proprioception . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66
1.49 Voiceless Vowels and Vowel Loss . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67
1.50 Yiddishized Enumerative Intonation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68
1.51 A Peculiar Case of Metathesis ([æks] < [æsk]) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69
1.52 The Alveolar Flap and Secondary Stress . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70
1.53 Prosody and Emphasis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71
1.54 Speaking Like One’s Fellows (f.) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72
1.55 Foreign Accents and Their Perception . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73
1.56 Palatalization Across Word Boundaries . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 74
1.57 Accent as Entrée . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76
1.58 Islands of Englessness in Seas of Normativity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76
1.59 Vocal Timbre and Authoritative Speech . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77
1.60 The Dictionary Errs (Rhymes with Purrs) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79
1.61 A Variation on Free Variation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
1.62 Sound-Sense Alignment of Word Class (Interjections) . . . . . . . . . 80
1.63 Secondary Stress and Constituent Structure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82
1.64 Phonetic Indicators of Word Unity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84
1.65 Slave to Ignorance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 86
1.66 Syncope in Consonant Clusters . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 86
1.67 An Alternate Intonational Contour in Sentences with the
Vocative . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 88
1.68 Degrees of Linguistic Self-Awareness (Anosognosia) . . . . . . . . . . 89
1.69 A Unique Case of Vowel Harmony in English (lambaste) . . . . . . 90
1.70 Latino and Its Linguistic Congeners . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91
1.71 Adjectival Derivation (anent short- and long-lived) . . . . . . . . . . . 93

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Contents xvii

1.72 The Fading of Oral Transmission of Linguistic Norms . . . . . . . . . 94


1.73 The Stress of Foreign Nomina Propria (Kiev, Ukraine) . . . . . . . . 95
1.74 The Function of Phonetic Ellipses (Syncope and Voiceless
Vowels) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 96
1.75 Tenues and Mediae in English . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 98
1.76 The Mangling of French by Speakers of American English . . . . . 101
1.77 Assertion Sub Rosa (Lengthening of Clause-Final Unstressed
Syllables in Female Speech) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 102
1.78 Mispronunciations in Ersatz English (colleague) . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103
1.79 Unstressed Vowels and the Demoticization of Vocabulary
(synod, ebola) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103
1.80 Language and Prestige (The Erroneous Pronunciation
of err) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105
1.81 False Analogy (inherent[ly]) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 106
1.82 The Stress of Adverbialized Prepositional Phrases . . . . . . . . . . . . 107
1.83 Of Eths and Thorns . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 108
1.84 Hypermetrical Stress for Emphasis in Adverbs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110
1.85 Desyllabication of /n/ in Consonant Clusters . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111
1.86 Vowel Syncope and Its Functions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 112
2 Meanings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115
2.1 ‘Virtuous’ Redefined. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115
2.2 An Embarrassment of Onomastic Riches . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 117
2.3 Associative Meaning Fields: Interlingual Gaps and Overlaps . . . . 117
2.4 Bad Guys . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 119
2.5 Clichés: Corpses from the Necropolis of Dead Metaphors . . . . . . 120
2.6 Discontinuous Lexica and Linguistic Competence . . . . . . . . . . . . 121
2.7 DO, v., Trans.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 124
2.8 Enjoy! Whatever … (Calques) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125
2.9 Good Work 6¼ Good Job . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126
2.10 Infantilization of Lexis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 127
2.11 Issues 6¼ Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 128
2.12 It’s Chinese to Me . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129
2.13 Just Semantics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130
2.14 *Magnimonious Poster Childs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130
2.15 Memoirs (plurale tantum) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131
2.16 Of Proofs in Puddings and Roosters in Cabbage Soup . . . . . . . . . 132
2.17 The Linguistic Ecology of the Proverb . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133
2.18 Running the Show . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 134
2.19 Semantic Contamination . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 134
2.20 The Evisceration of Meaning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135
2.21 The Jazzification of Musical Terminology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136
2.22 The Last Straw . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 137
2.23 The Onomastic Infantilization of Females. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 137
2.24 The Vocabulary of Self-Delusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 138
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2.25 What’s in a Name? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... 139


2.26 Willy-Nilly . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... 141
2.27 “You’re Correct:” Hyperurbanism as Hypertrophy . . . . . . . . .... 143
2.28 Anglo-Saxon vs. Latinate: The Semantics
of Verbal Inanition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 143
2.29 Conflation via Opacity of Constituent Structure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 144
2.30 Emotive Force and the Sense of Form (Balaam’s Ass) . . . . . . . . . 145
2.31 The Significance of Spontaneous Back-Formations . . . . . . . . . . . 147
2.32 Moldiferate, v. , intr. (Portmanteau Words) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 148
2.33 Disfluent like: Toward A Typology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 149
2.34 A Grammatical Hyperurbanism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150
2.35 Etymology, Re-Cognition, and Knowledge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 151
2.36 The Fixed Distribution of Synonyms in Idioms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 152
2.37 Pity and Its Lexical Congeners . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 152
2.38 Seeing Is Not Hearing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 154
2.39 Multiple, Not Many: The Irruption of Bookishness . . . . . . . . . . . . 155
2.40 American vs. British Versions of Idioms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 156
2.41 The Vogue for Portmanteau Words (*Stupravity) . . . . . . . . . . . . . 156
2.42 Exactly Wrong . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157
2.43 ‘Atrocity’, Not ‘Tragedy’ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157
2.44 Hic Sunt Leones . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 158
2.45 The Frenchification of Spanish Words in English (Chávez) . . . . . 159
2.46 Iconicity in Action (Singulative Deverbal Nouns) . . . . . . . . . . . . 160
2.47 Generational Slippage in the Retention of Obsolescent
Vocabulary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 161
2.48 Terms of Affection and Their Gradience . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 163
2.49 The Rise of multiple as a Substitute for many . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 164
2.50 Misuse of the Word Gentleman . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 165
2.51 Lost in Transliteration (Russian Hypocoristics in English) . . . . . . 166
2.52 Hypertrophic Emphasis in Neology (begrudging[ly]) . . . . . . . . . . 167
2.53 Attenuation of Arbitrariness in the Semantics
of Quantification . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 168
2.54 Well and Good (anent “I’m good”) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 169
2.55 Words in Desuetude . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 170
2.56 The Supersessionist Drift of American English. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171
2.57 “Going Forward” (The Triumph of Agency) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171
2.58 Etymology as Present Knowledge. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 172
2.59 “Heiße Magister, heiße Doktor gar” (Goethe, Faust, Pt. 1,
“Night”) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... 174
2.60 Stomping Ground (Folk Etymology) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... 175
2.61 Words Qualified and Contrasted . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... 176
2.62 The Lure of Latin (Sherlock Holmes and the Science
of Abduction) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... 177
2.63 The Mentality of a Neologism (game-changer) . . . . . . . . . . . .... 180

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2.64 The Supersession of Literal Meaning (Incredibly,


Unbelievably) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 181
2.65 Twerk: An Etymology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 182
2.66 Cultural Differences in the Reception of the Graeco-Roman
Patrimony . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 183
2.67 Soundas an Icon of Sense (meld) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 186
2.68 Ideology and Semantic Change (sex and gender) . . . . . . . . . . . . . 188
2.69 World View and Untranslatability (The Case of Yiddish). . . . . . . 189
2.70 Sinning Against Usage (Dead Last, but Flat Broke) . . . . . . . . . . . 190
2.71 Phrase, Not Term . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 191
2.72 Barba non facit philosophum (The Power of Proverbs) . . . . . . . . 191
2.73 Irrefragably! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 192
2.74 A Semantico-Syntactic Portmanteau (Enjoy!) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 193
2.75 Back-Formation and the Drift toward Linguistic Hypertrophy
in American English . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 194
2.76 The Frisson of Etymological Discovery . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 195
2.77 The Markedness of the Female Sex . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 196
2.78 Pluralia Tantum and Their Contemporary Misconstrual . . . . . . . . 197
2.79 The Vocative and Its Functions in Discourse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 198
2.80 Word Length and Emphasis (incredibly). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 199
2.81 Ticastic so . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 199
2.82 Russian Patronymics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 200
2.83 When Only Learnèd (Recondite, Recherché) Words
Will Do . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 201
3 Style . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 203
3.1 Form as Part of Content (ad Antimetabole et al.) . . . . . . . . . . . . . 203
3.2 Absolutely the All-Purpose Emphatic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 204
3.3 Androgyny and the Feminization of Male Speech . . . . . . . . . . . . 205
3.4 At the End of the Day . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 206
3.5 Catachresis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 207
3.6 Fatuity and the Phatic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 208
3.7 Fatuous Bookishness (“That Said,” etc.) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 209
3.8 Geekish so Aggrandized . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 209
3.9 Gratias otiosae sunt odiosae . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 210
3.10 Heterolingual Interpolations (Latin Phrases) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 211
3.11 Imperfect Learning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 212
3.12 In a Shambles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 213
3.13 Just Plain Folks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 214
3.14 Let Me Be Clear . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 216
3.15 No(t a) Problem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 217
3.16 On the Ground, Boots and All . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 218
3.17 Paralinguistic (Mis)behavior . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 218
3.18 Pauses between Words . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 219
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3.19 Phonostylistics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 219


3.20 Please in the Passive Voice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 220
3.21 Pleonasms and Other Hypertrophies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 221
3.22 Poetic Consciousness and the Language of Thought . . . . . . . . . . 227
3.23 Profanity in the Age of Depravity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 229
3.24 Superfluous Syndeton . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 229
3.25 The Connotative Content of Regional Accents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 230
3.26 The Linguistic Acknowledgment of Human Identity . . . . . . . . . . 230
3.27 The (We)Evil of Banality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 231
3.28 Tinkering with Idioms Through Contamination . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 232
3.29 Stylistic Retention of Unproductive Stress Patterns . . . . . . . . . . . 232
3.30 Metaphors We Die by (Metaphorically) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 234
3.31 The Function of Hieratic Diction (Smite, Smote, Smitten) . . . . . . . 235
3.32 Eloquence as Power . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 236
3.33 Linguistic Self-indulgence and Meaning by Indirection . . . . . . . . 237
3.34 Words as Acts (The Cultural Context) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 237
3.35 Idiomaticity (Anent Freedom and Constraint
in Language Use) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 238
3.36 Forms of Address (The Dignity of Namelessness) . . . . . . . . . . . . 239
3.37 Cacoglossia (Broken English) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 240
3.38 Rife with Error (Extemporaneous Speech) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 241
3.39 Über die Motive des menschlichen Handelns (‘On the Motives
of Human Behavior’) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 242
3.40 Linguistic Decorum and the Meliorative Function
of Language . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 243
3.41 Language as an Aesthetic Object . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 244
3.42 The Promiscuousness of Irony as a Rhetorical Label . . . . . . . . . . 245
3.43 Adjusting Speech to the Linguistic Competence of One’s
Interlocutor(s) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 246
3.44 The Decline of Straight Talk and the Rise
of Linguistic Dross . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 247
3.45 Colloquialism as Emphasis (“ain’t”) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 248
3.46 A Case of Linguistic Atavism (“Kick the Can Down
the Road”) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 249
3.47 Annoying Speech Mannerisms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 250
3.48 Variable Forms of Address as an Indicator
of Social Instability. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 251
3.49 Affectation as Incipient Sound Change . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 252
3.50 Prior to Instead of Before: A Hyperurbanism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 252
3.51 “That’s a (Really) Great/Good/Interesting Question” . . . . . . . . . . 253
3.52 The Communicative Upshot of Uptalk . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 254
3.53 The Perils of Propitiation in Female Speech . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 256
3.54 Grades of Well-Formedness in Language (Cacoglossia) . . . . . . . . 257
3.55 Linguistic Slovenliness as a Failure of Thought . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 258

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3.56 Linguistic Tokens and Grammatical Opacity (“You’re


Welcome.”) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 258
3.57 You Are What You Say (Verbal Tics) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 260
3.58 Emphasis in Spoken English and Its Abuse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 261
3.59 Linguistic Formulas and Sincerity (“Thanks for Asking.”) . . . . . . 262
3.60 The Emotive Use of Dialectal or Non-standard Speech . . . . . . . . 263
3.61 Auto- and Hetero-Referential so . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 263
3.62 The Tyranny of Usage—Literally (Ahem!) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 264
3.63 Ideology and Grammatical Error (The Feminine Pronouns) . . . . . 265
3.64 Gender-Specific Designations of Human Referents: Vacillations
in Usage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 266
3.65 Ersatz English . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 267
3.66 Fossilized Speech and Its Episodic Disinterment
(“вo дни тягocтныx Paздyмий O Cyдьбax мoeй Poдины”) . . . . 268
3.67 Epenthetic N (Neither…Nor) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 269
3.68 Macaronic Language (A Contemporary Specimen) . . . . . . . . . . . . 271
3.69 Latin as the Verbal Weapon of Choice in English . . . . . . . . . . . . 272
3.70 Metalinguistic Commentary in Conversation
(Error and Normativity in Speech) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 273
3.71 Basically the Englishes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 273
3.72 Contraction in Language and Its Stylistic Dimension . . . . . . . . . . 274
3.73 Speaking like a Native (When the Spirit Moves One) . . . . . . . . . 275
3.74 Non-pathological Agrammatism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 276
3.75 Paralinguistic Differences Between the Sexes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 277
3.76 Normativity, Habit, and Willful Mistakes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 278
4 Syntax . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 279
4.1 Different(ly) From/Than . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 279
4.2 ‘Head For’ Versus ‘Head To’ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 281
4.3 Anaphora . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 283
4.4 Back-Formation of Compound Verbs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 284
4.5 Derived Compound Adjectives: gesunkenes Kulturgut? . . . . . . . . 285
4.6 Discourse-Introductory so in Geekish . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 285
4.7 Explaining ‘Advocate For’ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 287
4.8 Fear of the Objective Case . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 288
4.9 Hypertrophic Designations of Past Time: Avoidance of
Placeless Existence? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 289
4.10 “I Could Care Less:” A Conundrum Answered . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 291
4.11 Incorrect Rection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 291
4.12 Passage Out of Passivity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 293
4.13 Pleonastically Extruded Adjectives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 294
4.14 Pluriverbation (Skill Set, Data Point) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 294
4.15 Pronominal Prosopopoeia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 296
4.16 Syntactic Idioms and Imperfect Learning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 297
4.17 The Reality Is . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 297
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4.18 Triumph of the Ungrammatical . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 298


4.19 Truncated Postpositions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 299
4.20 The Emotive Value of Transitivization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 300
4.21 Leaning Obama, Voting Romney . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 301
4.22 Element Order and the Grammar of the Second Amendment . . . . 301
4.23 “It’s OK By Me” As a Syntactic Calque . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 303
4.24 The Vanishing Article in Phraseologisms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 303
4.25 A Case of Pleonasm Syntactically Diagrammatized . . . . . . . . . . . 304
4.26 The Case of the Missing Postposition
(“Thanks for Having Me.”). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 305
4.27 The Ethical Dative, Lost But Not Forgotten . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 306
4.28 Baring the Grammatical Underbelly of a Hypercorrection . . . . . . 308
4.29 Absence of Number Concord in Subject-Predicate Grammar . . . . 309
4.30 Adjectival Government . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 310
4.31 The Tension Between Grammar and Praxis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 311
4.32 Hypertrophic Prepositional Complements of Verbs. . . . . . . . . . . . 312
5 Theory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 315
5.1 Horror Silentii. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 315
5.2 Addiction to “Air Quotes” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 316
5.3 Basically, the Attenuation of Assertory Force . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 316
5.4 Diachrony in Synchrony: Archaisms. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 318
5.5 Epiphenomena of Language Use (Nonce Forms) . . . . . . . . . . . . . 319
5.6 Error Magnified and Exacerbated . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 320
5.7 Error, a Natural History . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 320
5.8 Estrangement by Colloquialism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 321
5.9 Failures of Thought . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 322
5.10 Homo Figurans, Not Sapiens . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 323
5.11 Iconism and Learnèd Plurals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 323
5.12 Leveling Out the Ablaut Pattern in Strong Verbs . . . . . . . . . . . . . 325
5.13 Norm, System, Usage, and the Metalinguistic Function . . . . . . . . 327
5.14 Norms and Correctness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 328
5.15 Professional Argots . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 329
5.16 Repetition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 330
5.17 Stammering as a Cultural Datum . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 331
5.18 Three, Not Two . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 332
5.19 The Meretriciouness of Economy of Effort as Explanans . . . . . . . 333
5.20 Residual Dialectisms as Shibboleths . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 334
5.21 Linguistic Anaesthetics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 335
5.22 The Pragmatistic Force of Analogy in Language Structure
(Homage à Raimo Anttila) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 336
5.23 Differential Consciousness of Language . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 337
5.24 Zero, Nil, and the Philological Method . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 338
5.25 Nicht alles geht nach Regeln (contra Kant) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 339
5.26 Style Reconceived (Toward a Global Theory) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 340

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5.27 The Variability of Inner Speech . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 344


5.28 The Prowess of Systemzwang . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 344
5.29 Cultural Cachinnation as a Paralinguistic Phenomenon . . . . . . . . . 345
5.30 Markedness, Tense-Number Syncretism, and the Etiolation
of the Subjunctive. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 346
5.31 Nominalism and Realism in Linguistics from a Neostructuralist
Perspective . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 348
5.32 Metanalysis as Explanans of a Common Solecism
(*Between You and I) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 351
5.33 Diagrams and Diagrammatization in Language . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 354
5.34 Drift as the Triumph of the Iconic in Language Change
(less vs. fewer) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 356
5.35 Grammar as Fundament of Thought and Knowledge . . . . . . . . . . 358
5.36 The Uniqueness of Human Language: Meaning
by Indirection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 360
5.37 Swimming in Semeiosis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 360
5.38 Is There a Logic of Linguistic Error? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 362
5.39 Style as Troping . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 363
5.40 Statistical Norms of Speech Production . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 370
5.41 Harmony, Linguistic and Musical . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 370
5.42 A Heraclitean Gloss on the Nature of Speech. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 372
5.43 Accent and Dialect Differentiated . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 373
5.44 Prestige and Language Change . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 374
5.45 Of Twits, Twitters, and Tweaks (Sound-Sense Parallelism as
Explanans) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 376
5.46 Language as a Template for the Conceptualization
of Reality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 378
5.47 Productive but Wrong (Childish Linguistic Errors) . . . . . . . . . . . . 379
5.48 The Metalinguistic Function (Free Variation and Self-
Correction) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 381
5.49 Homo habilis and Language: Linguistic Theory
as a Theory of Habit. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 382
5.50 Habit, Consciousness, and the Rule of Grammar . . . . . . . . . . . . . 384
6 Poetics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 387
6.1 Poetry—Not! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 387
6.2 Rhyme and Its Impact . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 389
6.3 The Genius of the Mot Juste . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 391
6.4 Latter-Day Homage to Pushkin: A Linguistic Exemplum . . . . . . . 393
6.5 Sprig of Palestine . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 395
6.6 The Poetic Frisson of Archaism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 397
6.7 “Was unterscheidet Götter von Menschen?” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 399
6.8 When Animals Speak (Gender in Fables) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 400
6.9 A Possible Metrical Substrate for a Phraseological Cliché
(“Exactly Right”) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... 404
xxiv Contents

6.10 The Power of Prosody (“Please exit through


the rear door.”) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 405
6.11 The Metrical Substrate of a Phraseological Cliché II
(“At the End of the Day”) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 406
7 The Psycholinguistic Pathos of Everyday Life. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 409
7.1 Paroemics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 409
7.2 Ronkonkoma . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 410
7.3 Goethe: “Die Nacht schuf tausend Ungeheuer” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 412
7.4 Uncle Misha: “Но с хорошенькими мисс/Я иду на
компромисс!”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ......... 413
7.5 Latin persona ‘mask’ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ......... 414
7.6 Language as a Badge of Authenticity . . . . . . . . . . . . . ......... 415
Epilegomenon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 417
Master Glossary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 423
Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 471

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About the Author

Michael Shapiro Professor Emeritus of Slavic and Semiotic Studies at Brown


University, was born in 1939 in Yokohama (Japan) and grew up speaking Russian,
Japanese, and English. He immigrated to the USA with his parents in 1952 and was
educated in Tokyo, Los Angeles, and Cambridge, Massachusetts. His career as a
teacher and scholar spans over half a century. He has taught at several universities,
including the University of California (Los Angeles and Berkeley) and Princeton,
and served as president of the Charles S. Peirce Society in 1991. He lives in
Manhattan and Manchester Center, Vermont.

Also by Michael Shapiro

Aspects of Russian Morphology: A Semiotic Investigation


Asymmetry: An Inquiry into the Linguistic Structure of Poetry
Figuration in Verbal Art (with Marianne Shapiro)
Hierarchy and the Structure of Tropes (with Marianne Shapiro)
Marianne Shapiro: A Catalogue Raisonné of Her Publications (comp. & ed.)
My Wife the Metaphysician, or Lady Murasaki’s Revenge
Palimpsest of Consciousness: Authorial Annotations of My Wife the Metaphysician,
or Lady Murasaki’s Revenge
Russian Phonetic Variants and Phonostylistics
Structure and Content: Essays in Applied Semiotics (with Marianne Shapiro)
The Peirce Seminar Papers: Essays in Semiotic Analysis, I–V (ed.)
The Sense of Change: Language as History
The Sense of Form in Literature and Language (with Marianne Shapiro)
The Sense of Grammar: Language as Semeiotic

xxv
The Physiognomy of Speech
(In Lieu of an Introduction)

My language is the sum of myself.

—Charles Sanders Peirce

Glossary

idiolect, n.: the speech of an individual, considered as a linguistic pattern


unique among the speakers of their language or dialect
juncture, n.: the transition between two linguistic segments or between an
utterance and preceding or following silence; the phonetic feature that
marks such a transition
paralinguistic, adj. < paralinguistics, n.: the aspects and study of spoken
communication that accompany speech but do not involve words, such as
body language, gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice
phonetics, n.: the system of sounds of a particular language
physiognomy, n.: the mental, moral, philosophical, or political aspect of
something as an indication of its character; characteristic aspect
register, n.: the range of an instrument or a voice
semiotic, adj.: pertaining to elements of or any system of signs, defined as
anything capable of signifying an object (meaning)
sociolect, n.: a variety of a language that is used by a particular social group
suprasegmental, adj./n.: a vocal effect that extends over more than one sound
segment in an utterance, such as pitch, stress, or juncture pattern
timbre, n.: the combination of qualities of a sound that distinguishes it from
other sounds of the same pitch and volume

xxvii

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xxviii The Physiognomy of Speech (In Lieu of an Introduction)

No two people speak exactly alike. Differences in age, sex (women have smaller
larynxes than men), family background, education, class, and geographical
provenience all leave their imprint on individual language use. The ensemble of
features making up a person’s speech is signified by the term IDIOLECT. Each
member of a speech community, moreover, typically belongs to a social group
whose speech is uniform enough to be characterized in its ensemble by the term
SOCIOLECT. There is also a STRATIFICATION of sociolects, encompassing particularities
of speech that owe their origins to social and regional dialects, even as speakers in a
particular sociolect still adhere to the linguistic norm set down in industrialized
societies by the spread of standard languages through increasing literacy and the
uniformity promoted by media language.
If one takes the viewpoint of an attentive listener or interlocutor, who is alter-
nately silent while fulfilling the role of a conversation partner, then the linguistic
behavior of the speaking participants—the physiognomy of speech—can be
observed in all its semiotic plenitude. This includes not only pronunciation (pho-
netics proper) and choice of vocabulary (including verbal idiosyncrasies) but
variable suprasegmental features (such as intonation) as well as peculiarities of
speech production (mushmouthedness, lisps, vocal timbre, and register).
Beyond language sensu stricto are the gestural features—those termed
PARALINGUISTIC—which invariably accompany speech: (1) acoustic manifestations
such as sips (intakes of breath), sighs, grunts, and various other sounds; (2) bodily
movements, including shrugs, arm and hand gestures, head bobs, and inclines; lip,
mouth, eye, and forehead movements, etc. In some languages, these paralinguistic
features are completely codified and have practically univocal interpretations, e.g.,
the sharp intake of breath in Japanese through the lips and teeth that signifies doubt
or hesitation; or the typically less abrupt intake through the mouth in the
Scandinavian languages accompanying some statements, especially those with
concessive meaning.
The upshot of each person’s having an idiolect goes far beyond its practical
utility (as in speech recognition protocols) and plays a salient role in interpersonal
relations. Consciously or not, our EVALUATION of persons with whom we interact is
differentially contingent on their speech traits in the round. Depending on the
importance, we attach to how our interlocutors speak the language we share, their
prestige in our eyes generally rises and falls in the degree to which THEY SPEAK LIKE
US.
Chapter 1
Sounds

Abstract The sounds of English, as of any language, encompass both phonetics


and phonology. This chapter explores and examines in detail how contemporary
speakers of American English often make mistakes by comparison with normative
speech, including placement of stress on the wrong syllable. Examples of similar
phonic data from other languages (mainly Russian and Japanese) are adduced as
useful comparisons and contrasts.

1.1 A Stress Shift in a *Triblet of Trisyllables

Glossary
affix, n.: a word element, such as a prefix or suffix, that can only occur
attached to a base, stem, or root
base, n.: a morpheme or morphemes regarded as a form to which affixes or
other bases may be added
derivational, adj. < derivation, n.: the process by which words are formed
from existing words or bases by adding affixes, as singer from sing or
undo from do, by changing the shape of the word or base, as song from
sing, or by adding an affix and changing the pronunciation of the word or
base, as electricity from electric
inflectional, adj. < inflection, n.: an alteration of the form of a word by the
addition of an affix, as in English dogs from dog, or by changing the form
of a base, as in English spoke from speak, that indicates grammatical
features such as number, person, mood, or tense
medial, adj.: being a sound, syllable, or letter occurring between the initial
and final positions in a word or morpheme
morpheme, n.: a meaningful linguistic unit consisting of a word, such as man,
or a word element, such as-ed in walked, that cannot be divided into
smaller meaningful parts
morphology, n.: the system or the study of (linguistic) form

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017 1


M. Shapiro, The Speaking Self: Language Lore and English Usage,
Springer Texts in Education, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-51682-0_1

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2 1 Sounds

nonce word: a word used only ‘for the nonce’, i.e., for the specific purpose
penult, n.: the next to last syllable
prefix, n.: an affix [vide supra], such as dis- in disbelieve, attached to the front
of a word to produce a derivative word or an inflected form
prosody, n.: a particular system of stress or of versification
root, n.: the element that carries the main component of meaning in a word
and provides the basis from which a word is derived by adding affixes or
inflectional endings or by phonetic change
stem, n.: the main part of a word to which affixes are added
suffix, n.: an affix [vide supra] added to the end of a word or stem, serving to
form a new word or functioning as an inflectional ending, such as-ness in
gentleness, -ing in walking, or -s in sits
suffixation, v.: the process by which a suffix is added to the end of a word or stem
*triblet, n.: a nonce word mimicking triplet [the asterisk denotes a hypo-
thetical form]
versification, n.: the making of verses; the act, art, or practice of metrical
composition; metrical structure; a particular metrical structure or style

More and more often these days one hears the triplet of trisyllabic (common) verbs
ending in /-trib-ute/, namely contribute, distribute, and attribute, being pronounced
with stress on the initial syllable instead of the standard stress on the penult. This
shift has occurred in dialects of British English (and in those of its closest deriva-
tives, notably Australian, New Zealand, South African, and Anglo-Indian) but not in
North American. (Only for the rarer verb retribute ‘to pay back; give in return’does
the Oxford English Dictionary Online list an alternative stress on the first syllable.)
The reason seems clear. Whenever verbs end in a derivational morpheme or
quasi-morpheme like {-ize} or {-ate}, the stress falls typically on the second syl-
lable preceding the suffix, hence ironize like soliloquize, ululate like proliferate,
etc. Even a class of trisyllabic verbs consisting of a mere three or four members
ending in the same sequence of sounds lends itself to reinterpretation as part of
derivational morphology, i.e., as involving suffixation, thence giving rise to the shift
from medial to initial syllable as a contemporary innovation that is consonant with
the historical drift of English prosody.

1.2 Adjectival Stress on the Wrong Sylláble

Glossary
affix, n.: a word element, such as a prefix or suffix, that can only occur
attached to a base, stem, or root
1.2 Adjectival Stress on the Wrong Sylláble 3

antepenult, n.: the third syllable from the end in a word


base, n.: a morpheme or morphemes regarded as a form to which affixes or
other bases may be added
derivational, adj. < derivation, n.: the process by which words are formed
from existing words or bases by adding affixes, as singer from sing or
undo from do, by changing the shape of the word or base, as song from
sing, or by adding an affix and changing the pronunciation of the word or
base, as electricity from electric
derivative, n.: a derived word
doublet, n.: one of two words or forms that are identical in meaning or value
etymological, adj. < etymology, n.: the origin and historical development of a
linguistic form as shown by determining its basic elements, earliest known
use, and changes in form and meaning, tracing its transmission from one
language to another, identifying its cognates in other languages, and
reconstructing its ancestral form where possible
facultatively, adv. < facultative, adj.: optional
inflected, adj.: modified by inflection [vide infra]
inflectional, adj. < inflection, n.: an alteration of the form of a word by the
addition of an affix, as in English dogs from dog, or by changing the form
of a base, as in English spoke from speak, that indicates grammatical
features such as number, person, mood, or tense
marked: of or relating to that member of a pair of sounds, words, or forms that
explicitly denotes a particular subset of the meanings denoted by the other
member of the pair. For example, of the two words lion and lioness, lion
is unmarked for gender (it can denote either a male or female) whereas
lioness is marked, since it denotes only females
markedness, n.: the evaluative superstructure of all semiotic (‘sign-theoretic’)
oppositions, as well as the theory of such a superstructure, characterized
in terms of the values ‘marked’ (conceptually restricted) and ‘unmarked’
(conceptually unrestricted)
morpheme, n.: a meaningful linguistic unit consisting of a word, such as man,
or a word element, such as -ed in walked, that cannot be divided into
smaller meaningful parts
morphology, n.: the system or the study of (linguistic) form
nominal, adj.: of or relating to a noun or word group that functions as a noun
penult, n.: the next to last syllable
prefix, n.: an affix, such as dis- in disbelieve, attached to the front of a word to
produce a derivative word or an inflected form
prosodic, adj. < prosody, n.: a particular system of stress or of versification
root, n.: the element that carries the main component of meaning in a word
and provides the basis from which a word is derived by adding affixes or
inflectional endings or by phonetic change
segmental, adj.: of or relating to (linear) segments of the speech chain
semiotic, adj.: of or pertaining to signs [vide infra]

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4 1 Sounds

sign, adj.: semiotic, i.e., pertaining to elements of or any system of signs,


defined as anything capable of signifying an object (meaning)
stem, n.: the main part of a word to which affixes are added
stress: the relative force with which a sound or syllable is spoken; the
emphasis placed on the sound or syllable spoken most forcefully in a
word or phrase; placement of an accent on a vowel, either primary (louder
and longer) or secondary (less loud and shorter)
substantive, n.: a noun
suffix, n.: a grammatical element added to the end of a word or stem, serving
to form a new word or functioning as an inflectional ending, such as -ness
in gentleness, -ing in walking, or -s in sits
suprasegmental, adj./n.: a vocal effect that extends over more than one sound
segment in an utterance, such as pitch, stress or juncture pattern
synchronic, adj.: of or relating to the study of phenomena, such as linguistic
features, or of events of a particular time, without reference to their his-
torical context
teleological, adj.: directed toward or fulfilling a telos [vide infra]
telos, n.: an end or goal (Greek)
ultima, n.: the final syllable
versification, n.: the making of verses; the act, art, or practice of metrical
composition; metrical structure; a particular metrical structure or style

Word stress in English can fall on any syllable but is typically circumscribed when
the word is derived, as in the case of adjectives derived from substantives (nouns).
As in all derived entities throughout grammar and culture, derived adjectives are
subordinate in rank (hierarchical value) relative to the substantives from which they
are derived. Moreover, where adjectives are formed by the addition of a suffix to the
nominal base, their subordinate status can be expressed by a different place of stress
in comparison with the deriving noun. Adjectival suffixes that displace the stress in
this way are called “auto-” and “pre-stressed,” the first type pulling the stress onto
itself (Japán > Japanése, grótto > grotésque), the second onto the penult or an-
tepenult (ádjective > adjectíval geriátric > geriatrícian évidence > evidéntiary
Eúrope > Européan, Terpsíchore > Terpsichoréan, Hércules > Hercúléan [i.e., a
stress DOUBLET = both stresses are extant]). Some suffixes occasion such stress shifts
obligatorily; others do so facultatively, depending on the nature of the vowel
(conventionally termed “strong” vs. “weak”), for instance súicide > suicídal,
mícroscope > microscópic, but máyor > máyoral, eléctor > eléctoral,
dóctor > dóctoral, pástor > pástoral, Chíle > Chílean, Ghána > Ghánaian.
The last set of examples is significant in that one often hears these words
mispronounced in contemporary American (and, to a certain extent, British) speech,
specifically with stress on the penult, thus non-standard mayóral, etc.; and
Ghanáian, Chiléian (the spelling is irrelevant). For all three of these particular
items, the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary and the American Heritage
1.2 Adjectival Stress on the Wrong Sylláble 5

Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed., 2006) cite both pronunciations as
equivalent while listing the traditional one first. It is clear historically that the newer
stress is the one on the penult, which raises (NOT “begs!”) the question, why the
shift?
The answer has nothing to do with the phonetic characteristics and everything to
do with the semiotic characteristics of these words. In order to make sense of the
shift, one must recognize the fact that prosody in languages like English—the
(suprasegmental) placement of stress—has a SIGN FUNCTION, and that this function is
coordinated with the function of suffixation. Specifically, where derivational mor-
phology is concerned, as the derivative comes into more widespread use it tends to
assert its independence formally and semantically from the deriving base. This
process gathers strength if and when the derivative all but loses a synchronic
connection with the deriving base, as is the case of pastor > pastoral, where the
meaning of the latter refers to a literary genre and not an agricultural or ecclesi-
astical context (although the latter contexts may ultimately come under the sway of
the more frequent reference, thereby shifting the stress to the penult for all mean-
ings). Cf. áncestor > ancéstral, sépulchre > sepúlchral. Semiotically, what obtains
in the interplay between prosody (stress) and segmental structure (derivation via
suffixation) is a teleological tendency to align the prosodic MARKEDNESS VALUE of the
deriving base with that of the derived form.
Any derived form whose constituent structure is transparent, i.e., where the
semantic link between base and derivative has been preserved, is evaluated semi-
otically as marked by definition. Thus, in the case of the adjectives at issue, their
derived status and hence their marked value tends to occasion the emergence of a
form of the deriving base (here: a noun) that is likewise marked vis-à-vis the
unmarked value of the noun. A shift of stress away from the syllable stressed in the
noun onto another of its syllables closer to the end in the derived adjective produces
a prosodic form of the deriving base that is marked vis-à-vis its unmarked under-
ived counterpart. The markedness value of the adjective is, in other words, mirrored
by the markedness value of its base, thereby promoting the STRUCTURAL COHERENCE
of the form.
Note that this analysis is confirmed by the fate of the adjective banal (< French
banal), where the traditional penultimate stress (with a different initial vowel) has
been all but superseded by stress on the ultima in contemporary English, a reflection
of the fact that the word has lost all semantic links to its etymologically recoverable
deriving base, ban (< Old French < ban ‘proclamation’ < Medieval Latin bannum
[ultimately of Germanic origin]). The word illustrates what happens when the
deriving base is monosyllabic: in the absence of an alternate syllable to which stress
could shift in the derived adjective it falls on the lone other available syllable viz.
that of the suffix.
A more straightforwardly simple way of expressing the process, of course, might
be to say that derivation always tends to promote a contrast between deriving base
and derivative. But this is a specious simplicity: contrast—not just between word
classes—is so often violated as to be practically useless in explaining language
change, whereas the coherence of markedness values is a telos that obtains

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6 1 Sounds

universally in change. The contemporary shift of máyoral to mayóral and Chílean


to Chiléian, etc., is thus to be understood not merely as a violation of the traditional
norm but as a realization of an immanent structural coherence in the derivational
morphology of English.

1.3 Aphaeresis Engulfs Tsunami

Glossary
aphaeretic, adj. < aphaeresis, n.: the loss of one or more sounds from the
beginning of a word, as in till for until
cluster, n.: two or more successive consonants in a word, as cl and st in the
word cluster
elide, v.: to omit or slur over (a syllable, for example) in pronunciation
morpheme, n.: a meaningful linguistic unit consisting of a word, such as man,
or a word
element, such as -ed in walked, that cannot be divided into smaller mean-
ingful parts
phonemically, adv. < phonemic, adj. < phoneme, n.: the smallest phonetic
unit in a language that is capable of conveying a distinction in meaning, as
the m of mat and the b of bat in English

Every language has what are called MORPHEME STRUCTURE RULES. These are gener-
alizations about what combinations of sounds are permitted in certain positions
within morphemes—initial, medial, and final. Some clusters of sounds that are
allowed across morpheme and word boundaries are not so in word-initial or
word-final position. Exceptions may be restricted to foreign borrowings. In English,
accordingly, the combination ts- only occurs word-initially in borrowings such as
tsetse fly. But because this cluster does not conform to native morpheme structure in
word-initial position, it tends to get simplified in the speech of persons who cannot,
or choose not to make the phonetic effort to pronounce an unusual cluster, and the
first consonant is elided in a process that is called by the technical term aphaeresis.
Thus ts > s.
A contemporary illustration of aphaeresis in English is provided by the word
tsunami ‘tidal wave’, which has been borrowed from Japanese. While the
morpheme-initial cluster ts- is completely regular in the donor language (wherein it
functions as a unitary phoneme /c/ rather than as a cluster), it contravenes the rules
of English, thereby lending itself to simplification as [sunámi], a pronunciation
commonly heard these days—alongside the non-aphaeretic [tsunámi]—with refer-
ence to the recent catastrophe in Japan.
1.3 Aphaeresis Engulfs Tsunami 7

Why the second member of the cluster, and not the first, is elided can be accounted
for by the general rule pertaining to initial clusters in English, whereby it is always
the first and not the second member in this position that is elided, as in the pro-
nunciation of words like knight, gnat, psychology, phthisis, etc., whose Old English
form, resp. that of the donor language, involves an initial (unsimplified) cluster.

1.4 Barbarisms

Glossary
barbarism, n.: the use of words, forms, or expressions considered incorrect or
unacceptable
chaconne, n.: a slow, stately dance of the 18th century or the music for it
orthography, n.: (correct) spelling
penultimate, adj. < penult, n.: the next to last syllable
pretonic, adj.: preceding the stress
simulacrum, n.: an image or representation

Tuning in to a classical music station, one hears the announcer introduce a cha-
conne from Jean-Baptiste Lully’s music for Molière’s comédie-ballet, “Le
Bourgeois Gentilhomme.” During his otherwise erudite preamble, uttered in
admirably impeccable “radio-announcer” American English, the speaker repeatedly
mispronounces the title of Molière’s work, specifically the third word. Although it
is evident that he is making an effort to get the French right, the word gentilhomme
[ʒãtii̯ɔ́m] keeps coming out [jɛ̀ntɨlxóu̯m]—a blatant Anglicization that makes no
concession to the phonetics of the original language Phonetically and stylistically,
the pronunciation is what is called a BARBARISM.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed., 2006)
defines a barbarism as “1. An act, trait, or custom characterized by ignorance or
crudity;” also “2.a The use of words, forms, or expressions considered incorrect or
unacceptable;” and “2b. A specific word, form, or expression so used.” The ety-
mology given is:
[Latin barbarismus, use of a foreign tongue or of one’s own tongue amiss, barbarism, from
Greek barbarismos, from barbarizein, to behave or speak like a barbarian, from barbaros,
non-Greek, foreign (imitative of the sound of unintelligible speech).]

In an appended “Usage Note” one is told, moreover, that “The English word
barbarism originally referred to incorrect use of language, but it is now used more
generally to refer to ignorance or crudity in matters of taste, including verbal
expression.”

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8 1 Sounds

There is no reason to expect radio announcers in America, no matter how


cultivated-sounding, to be able to come out with authentic renderings of foreign
words, including names and titles. But when French gentilhomme is mangled to the
degree that it was by our morning announcer, for someone who knows how French
ought to sound this mispronunciation can only be evaluated as a barbarism because
it signifies a lack of effort on the announcer’s part to acquaint himself with so much
as the minimum knowledge of French phonetics needed to make gentilhomme
sound respectable.
It would be just as much a barbarism to render Richard Wagner as [rɨḉ ərd
wǽgnər] instead of the appropriate anglicization [rɨx́ art vágnər] that seeks to
approximate German [rɨx́ ̹art vá:knə]. Of course, with somewhat more exotic lan-
guages like Russian or Czech or Polish, announcers can be excused for anglicizing
composers’ names and the original titles of their works. No one could be accused of
crudity or lack of good taste for pronouncing Shostakovich [ʃɔ̀stəkóu̯vɨç] with a full
initial vowel and penultimate secondary stress instead of the authentic [ʃəstʌkóviç],
which in Russian has only one stress and appears with pretonic vowels that are of
lesser duration and quality (called “reduced” in Russian phonetics) than the values
of their stressed counterparts. [Note: Russian is a language whose orthography does
not reflect the change of vowel values in unstressed positions.] Such pronunciations
—even those where the stress has been shifted to conform to English patterns, as in
Glázunov [glázunɔ̀v] vs. the authentic Glazunóv [gləzunóf] (with one stressed
syllable and a devoiced final consonant)—have always been accepted as belonging
to the repertory of cultivated anglicizations. The game way in which announcers are
now trying to cope with the Russian President’s name, Dmitri Medvedev, by
eschewing the traditional anglicization in such surnames whereby the primary stress
is shifted to the initial syllable from its proper (Russian) place on the second
syllable—thus [mɛ́dvɛdɛ̀v]—and opting for a simulacrum of the original
[m’idv’éd’if], is not to be taken as a barbarism.
Speaking of barbarisms and the rendering of foreign words or names, the inverse
of pronouncing gentilhomme as [jɛ̀ntɨlxóu̯m] is also worthy of note in the speech of
radio announcers. Here I have in mind the rebarbative irruption (especially) of
authentic Spanish pronunciations in what is otherwise native English speech. Thus,
there are announcers who habitually pronounce every Spanish word of their
utterances in English as if they were speaking Spanish—particularly their own
name, when they identify themselves—i.e., without conceding one iota to the
customary anglicization of such items. Now, while one can understand such
speakers’ desire to display their knowledge of Spanish as a sign of abiding fealty to
the Latino community DESPITE their accentless English, one cannot help evaluating it
as a barbarism when one hears Adolfo Lopez pronounce his name [adólfo lópɛs],
with the stressed closed vowel [o] of Mexican Spanish in the forename and the final
voiceless consonant [s] in the surname—instead, respectively, of the stressed open
vowel of English Dalton and the voiced final consonant of blazes.
Both kinds of pronunciations—that of the mangled gentilhomme and of the
hypercorrect Adolfo Lopez-—are of a piece. In the apt imagery of the Russian
idiom, rézat’úxo (peзaть yxo), they are barbarisms because they ‘cut [one’s] ear’.
1.5 Déjà vu—Not! 9

1.5 Déjà vu—Not!

Glossary
diphthongal, adj. < diphthong, n: a complex speech sound or glide that
begins with one vowel and gradually changes to another vowel within the
same syllable, as (oi) in boil or (ai) in fine
glide, n.: the transitional sound produced by passing from the articulatory
position of one speech sound to that of another, specifically a sound that
has the quality of one of the high vowels, and that functions as a con-
sonant before or after vowels, as the initial sounds of yell and well and the
final sounds of coy and cow
malapropism, n.: ludicrous misuse of a word, especially by confusion with
one of similar sound
offglide, n.: a glide produced by the movement of the vocal organs from the
articulatory position of a speech sound to a position of inactivity or to the
articulatory position of an immediately following speech sound

When it comes to mispronunciations of foreign phrases in American English, the


French locution déjà vu takes the gâteau. This phrase’s popularity rose with the
jocund twist it received in the winged variant, “It’s deja vu all over again,”
excogitated by Yogi Berra, the erstwhile New York Yankee catcher with a penchant
for malapropism.
Americans habitually garble the second word of this phrase, making it sound like
the French word vous ‘you [pl.]’, despite the fact that a passable simulacrum of the
French pronunciation is easily rendered by pronouncing it like English view
(without the diphthongal offglide, of course).
One is yet again reminded here of the popular Japanese proverb, Ikken kyo ni
hoete banken jitsu o tsutau (一犬嘘に吠えて万犬実お伝う), which loosely trans-
lated means ‘One dog barks out a lie and ten thousand dogs take it up as the truth’,
and must surely figure as not only a principle of canine behavior but of all cultural
change, including language.

1.6 Der Untergang des Abendlandes

Glossary
Cheshire-ly, adv. < Cheshire Cat: a fictional cat, known for its distinctive
grin, popularized by Lewis Carroll’s in his Alice’s Adventures in
Wonderland

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10 1 Sounds

Der Untergang des Abendlandes: “The Decline of the West” (German; title of
a book by Oswald Spengler [1st ed., 1918])
Husserl, Edmund: German-Jewish phenomenologist (1859–1938)
simulacrum, n.: an image or representation
solecistically, adv. < solecistic, adj. < solecism, n.: a nonstandard usage or
grammatical construction; an impropriety, mistake, or incongruity

Having heard my father, a student of Husserl, frequently referring to ideas imbibed


during his residence between the wars in Freiburg and Leipzig, I used to tell my
students that the truth could only be expressed in German. Naturally, they took this
to be just another of my unfunny jokes and smiled Cheshire-ly. But I meant what I
said, hence the title of this essay.
When a journalist (Robin Wright) who is the author of many books on Arab
politics and the recipient of numerous awards (including a MacArthur Foundation
Grant, popularly known as the “Genius Award”) is heard in a television interview
(MSNBC, 8/22/11) ignorantly and solecistically mispronouncing the verb mete in
the phrase mete out justice to rhyme with met instead of meet, can one simply chalk
this up to imperfect learning?
No, one cannot and should not. Over and above the fact that this mistake is yet
another example of bookish words no longer being the coin of the formal spoken
realm, extemporaneous public discourse in America being only the palest simu-
lacrum of anything approaching eloquence, the decline in speech culture among
educated persons is the surest sign of a fundamental failure of thought, the kind that
prefigures cultural collapse. Spengler would no doubt have agreed.

1.7 Espying the Spondaic Anapest, Absolutely

Glossary
alliteration: n., the repetition of the same sounds or of the same kinds of
sounds at the beginning of words or in stressed syllables
anapest, n.: a metrical foot composed of two short or unstressed syllables
followed by one long or stressed one, as in the word seventeen
foot, n.: a unit of poetic meter consisting of stressed and unstressed syllables
in any of various set combinations
hypermetrical, adj.: having one or more (stressed) syllables beyond those
normal to the meter
prosodic, adj. < prosody, n.: a particular system of stress or of versification
segmental, adj.: of or relating to (linear) segments of the speech chain
1.7 Espying the Spondaic Anapest, Absolutely 11

spondaic, adj. < spondee, n.: a metrical foot consisting of two long or
stressed syllables; a foot with a hypermetrical stress
ternary, adj.: composed of three or arranged in threes
ultima, n.: the last syllable of a word

The contemporary ubiquity of absolutely as the expression of a high degree of


affirmative emphasis (instead of yes, oh yes, very much, etc.) is often accompanied
by a hypermetrical stress on the initial syllable, which means that the stress of this
anapestic adverb becomes spondaic, i.e., with a ternary foot bearing two stressed
syllables instead of one. Incidentally, this case of spondee resembles the more
general expression of emphasis in French, where the obligatory stress on the ultima
is augmented by a second stress on the initial syllable, as in fOrmidAble or
mErveillEUx (capitals signifying stressedness).
The occurrence of the spondee in the anapestic word absolutely is to be
explained as yet another discursive implementation in English of the poetic function
(focus on the message for its own sake), structurally of a piece with alliteration,
with which it shares the feature of repetition of identical elements, here manifested
in its most basic form, that of DOUBLING, and as a prosodic rather than a segmental
feature. In turn, the possibility of spondee helps explain the otherwise unmotivated
rise to monopoly status of absolutely as the preferred form of emphatic affirmation
in contemporary English.

1.8 Female Nasalization: An Apotropaism?

Glossary
abductive, adj. < abduction, n.:: the formation or adoption of a plausible but
unproven explanation for an observed phenomenon; a working hypothesis
derived from limited evidence and informed conjecture.
apotropaism, n.: An act or ritual conducted to ward off evil or danger
nasalization, n.: to make nasal or produce nasal sounds
phonetic, adj.: of, relating to, or being features of pronunciation that are not
phonemically distinctive in a language, as aspiration of consonants or
vowel length in English; pertaining to phonetics, i.e., the study of speech
sounds from the acoustic or articulatory point of view
soft palate: the movable fold, consisting of muscular fibers enclosed in a
mucous membrane, that is suspended from the rear of the hard palate and
closes off the nasal cavity from the oral cavity during swallowing or
sucking
velum, n.: the soft palate

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Nasalization is the production of a sound while the velum is lowered, allowing the
breath stream to pass through the nose instead of the mouth during the sound’s
production. There are nasal consonants and nasal vowels, but beyond this charac-
terization, one notes that some speakers have a strong nasalization of their entire
utterances, whether they contain nasal sounds or not (= “talking through one’s
nose”). This observation pertains especially to the speech of contemporary
American females of the younger generation (adolescents, college students, and
beyond).
Anything, including phonetic features, which serves to mitigate or attenuate the
directness of an utterance, can be interpreted as a means of forestalling disagree-
ment or deflecting potential risk. Could this phenomenon, therefore, qualify as an
apotropaism? Given the several other ways that the latter has been chronicled in
earlier essays, it is at least an educated guess, hence a plausible abductive inference
and amenable to testing.

1.9 Form Follows Function (1): Verb/Noun Stress


Alternation

Glossary
derivative, n.: a derived word
derived, adj.: be a derivative of
isomorphism, n., A one-to-one correspondence between the form of two items
or contexts; strict parallelism of form
marked, adj. > markedness: vide infra
markedness, n.: the evaluative superstructure of all semiotic (‘sign-theoretic’)
oppositions, as well as the theory of such a superstructure, characterized
in terms of the values ‘marked’ (conceptually restricted) and ‘unmarked’
(conceptually unrestricted)
mimetic, adj.: using imitative means of representation
nominal, adj.: of or pertaining to a noun or an adjective
nominalization, n.: the process or result of forming a noun or noun phrase
from a clause or a verb
parallelism, n.: the use of identical or equivalent forms in corresponding
words, clauses, or phrases
stress: the relative force with which a sound or syllable is spoken; the
emphasis placed on the sound or syllable spoken most forcefully in a
word or phrase; placement of an accent on a vowel, either primary (louder
and longer) or secondary (less loud and shorter)
1.9 Form Follows Function (1): Verb/Noun Stress Alternation 13

Why do we say perféct when we mean the verb and pérfect when we mean the noun
or adjective? There exists a whole set of such contrasts, called MINIMAL PAIRS, in
which the verbal stress is on the final syllable and the nominal stress—meaning
either that of a noun or an adjective—is on the initial. Think of prodúce vs.
próduce, conflíct vs. cónflict, insért vs. ínsert, frequént vs. fréquent, and so on.
Most of the members of such pairs each consist of two syllables, so that the contrast
between final and initial stressed syllable holds.
Although, loosely speaking, ACCENT and STRESS can refer to the same thing, in the
parlance of linguistics, strictly speaking, STRESS is the term used to mean the
emphasis placed on the sound or syllable spoken most forcefully in a word or
phrase. This is the meaning foregrounded in the mimetic joke about “putting the
stress on the wrong sylláble.”
The syllable that has that kind of emphasis in a word is called STRESSED and syllables
that don’t are called UNSTRESSED. In English, words can have both a primary and a
secondary stress—several in the case of secondary, but only ONE primary stress.
However, there are also verb/noun pairs where the stress falls on a different
syllable, and each contrasting word consists of more than two syllables, e.g.,
envélop vs. énvelope, interchánge vs. ínterchange, reprimánd vs. réprimand, etc.
Even though in some of these cases the stress need not contrast—réprimand with
initial stress does double duty for many speakers as both a verb and a noun—the
important and unalterable fact is that no matter how many syllables the word has, if
there is a contrast at all, the stress in the verbal form will be NON-INITIAL, i.e., be on
one or more syllables closer to the end than in that of the nominal form. Moreover,
and just as importantly, THE REVERSE IS NEVER TRUE: there are no English verb/noun
pairs which contrast by having an initial stress in the verbal form and a non-initial in
the nominal form.
The same invariable relationship between verbal and nominal holds for cases
where the noun is an obvious product of NOMINALIZATION, i.e., where a verb phrase is
turned into a noun, thus fill ín (“John filled in for Mary”) vs. fíll-in (“John was a
fill-in for Mary”), or rent a cár (“You can rent a car at the airport”) vs. rént-a-car
(“There’s a rent-a-car at the airport”). Whereas in the first member of each of these
pairs the primary stress falls on the final syllable, its nominalized counterpart has
primary stress on the initial syllable. We say, therefore, that the stress in the nominal
form has SHIFTED in comparison to the verbal form from which it has been DERIVED.
We should always ask ourselves, Why? in such cases. Here the answer lies in the
special kind of parallelism—called an ISOMORPHISM—between on the one hand, the
RELATIONAL VALUE of the verb as a category and the RELATIONAL VALUE of the noun
(more accurately: the nominal form) as a category; and, on the other hand, the
corresponding RELATIONAL VALUES of the positions of stress in each category. Now,
what distinguishes verbs from nouns is that every verb NECESSARILY MAKES
REFERENCE TO TIME, whereas a noun DOES NOT When a category in language is
defined vis-à-vis another category by necessary reference vs. non-necessary refer-
ence to some feature of sound or sense, the first category is characterized as
MARKED, and the second as UNMARKED. “Marked” here means “relatively restricted in
(conceptual) scope,” and “unmarked” means “relatively unrestricted in (conceptual)

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14 1 Sounds

scope.” This meaning translates the opposition of marked vs. unmarked into such
values as “uncommon” vs. “common,” “atypical” vs. “typical,” and so on.
As with all linguistic oppositions, the same is true when it comes to the relational
value of the position of stress in the words and phrases under consideration here. In
English, for historical reasons, the initial syllable has come to be the “typical” or
“unrestricted” syllable, as far as bearing the primary stress is concerned. This
translates into the fact that stress on the initial is UNMARKED, whereas stress on
non-initial syllables is MARKED.
It is this PARALLELISM OF FORM between grammatical category and position of stress
that accounts for and answers the question, why the difference in stress?: non-initial
stress correlates with verbal (i.e., non-nominal) forms, and initial stress correlates
with non-verbal (i.e., nominal forms). More significantly: marked category goes with
marked stress position, unmarked category with unmarked stress position.
At its core, language always displays such isomorphisms. It is these correlations
of value that enable linguistic facts to cohere and to form a structure, to be learned
by new generations of speakers, and to be perpetuated in the history of a language.

1.10 Form Follows Function (2): Vowel Alternation

Glossary
diphthong: A complex speech sound or glide that begins with one vowel and
gradually changes to another vowel within the same syllable, as (oi) in
boil or (ai) in fine
marked: of or relating to that member of a pair of sounds, words, or forms that
explicitly denotes a particular subset of the meanings denoted by the other
member of the pair. For example, of the two words lion and lioness, lion
is unmarked for gender (it can denote either a male or female) whereas
lioness is marked, since it denotes only females
protensity: category of phonological distinctive features comprising the
acoustic opposition tense vs. lax, defined by the longer (vs. reduced)
duration of the steady state portion of the sound, and its sharper defined
resonance regions in the spectrum
schwa: a mid-central neutral vowel, typically occurring in unstressed sylla-
bles, as the final vowel of English sofa; The symbol (ə) used to represent
an unstressed neutral vowel and, in some systems of phonetic transcrip-
tion, a stressed mid-central vowel, as in but.
stress: the relative force with which a sound or syllable is spoken; the
emphasis placed on the sound or syllable spoken most forcefully in a
word or phrase; placement of an accent on a vowel, either primary (louder
and longer) or secondary (less loud and shorter)
1.10 Form Follows Function (2): Vowel Alternation 15

Suppose you were reading something—either out loud or to yourself—in which a


perfectly familiar word appeared, but one which you pronounced differently—
probably, without hesitation—because in context it was clearly a verb rather than an
adjective. That’s what would happen in sentences like “It is impossible for any
creature to adequate God in his eternity” or “The aptest terms to commensurate the
longitude are hard to determine.” (NB: these verbs may strike one as obsolete, but
they are attested in The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia [1906]; not so The
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language [4th ed., 2006].) In both
cases, the final syllable -ate would be pronounced with a diphthong [ei] and
secondary stress; and this final vowel would differ from that of the adjective–which
is pronounced with a [ə] (schwa) in the final syllable and no secondary stress. This
particular vowel alternation is completely regular in all verb/adjective pairs ending
in -ate, such as delegate, advocate, etc. What is interesting, however, is the dis-
tribution of the alternating vowels: diphthong in the verb, schwa in the adjective.
Again, as with the distribution of stress in verb/noun pairs, the explanation has to
do with the alignment or coordination of sounds with meanings But this time there
is a twist. The alignment is not replicative as it was with verb/noun pairs—the
marked stress aligning itself with the marked category (verbs), the unmarked stress
with the unmarked category (nouns). Instead, it is complementary, which means
that oppositely valued vowels go with oppositely valued categories. Using the same
terminology as before, namely the markedness values of the entities in question, we
note that the unmarked vowel—here the diphthong, which is unmarked for the
phonological category of tenseness (protensity) —appears in the marked category,
viz. the verb, whereas the schwa—which is marked for the category of tenseness as
a lax vowel—appears in the unmarked category, viz. the adjective.
Mutatis mutandis, the same phenomenon—i.e., complementary alignment—is to
be observed with adjective/noun pairs such as depraved/depravity, sane/sanity,
malign/malignity, divine/divinity, where the unmarked (tense) diphthong in the
stressed syllable—[ɛi] or [ai]—of the adjective alternates with the marked
(lax) vowel—[æ] or [ɨ]—of the noun, since nouns are unmarked and adjectives
marked within the category of nominals (nouns and adjectives). It is the ALIGNMENT
OF SOUND AND MEANING that explains the vowel alternation.

1.11 Friends in France (A Vowel Merger)

Glossary
ninepins, n.: a bowling game in which nine wooden pins are the target
skittles, n.: a British form of ninepins, in which a wooden disk or ball is
thrown to knock down the pins

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In the last twenty years or so, much attention has been paid to something like a new
Great Vowel Shift in North American English, which in some respects resembles
the original Great Vowel Shift, a major change in the pronunciation of English that
took place in England between 1350 and 1500. Part of this development in con-
temporary American English is the merger between stressed [ɛ] and [æ] such that
the traditional pronunciation of the former merges with that of the latter, which
results, for instance, in the word friends sounding like France, or best sounding like
bast, etc. This new pronunciation can be heard from mostly youngish female
speakers in particular, although occasionally younger males also exemplify it.
Which brings me to the origin of this post, since it may be of more than passing
interest to regular readers. While listening to a classical music station this morning
(WMHT-FM), I perked up my ears when the female announcer introduced the next
piece, Mozart’s Trio for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano in E-flat major, also known as
the Kegelstatt Trio (K. 498). But where she intended to be understood as saying
“friends” in describing the companions with whom Mozart customarily played
skittles—the German word for ‘skittles’ being Kegel, hence Kegelstatt ‘bowling
alley’, where musical myth has Mozart composing this trio—what I heard her say
was “France,” then quickly realized my misperception and identified its cause. After
all, nothing could mar the pleasure of hearing it again: I had played the clarinet part
many times in my youth, with my mother Lydia Shapiro at the piano; then later in
life with my wife, Marianne Shapiro.
As Mozart says to Salieri in Pushkin’s “little tragedy” Mozart and Salieri:
“Кoгдa бы вce тaк чyвcтвoвaли cилy/Гapмoнии!” (‘If only all could so feel the
power of harmony!‘).

1.12 Girlized Intonation

Glossary
apotropaic, adj.: intended to ward off evil or danger
girlize, v.: ‘render as by, or to resemble, a girl’ (here a nonce word, i.e., a
word created ‘for the nonce/occasion’)
intonation, n.: the use of changing pitch to convey syntactic information
patois, n.: the special jargon of a group; cant, i.e. [here], monotonous talk
filled with platitudes (French)

While the near-ubiquity of interrogative intonation instead of traditional declarative


intonation in subordinate clauses in the speech of young females has often been
remarked (and called by the less-than-felicitous term “uptalk”), it now needs to be
observed that this feature has begun spreading to the speech of young males and not
just of adolescents. (It is also occasionally appropriated by not-so-young females in
1.12 Girlized Intonation 17

a pathetic effort to sound girlishly modern, as in the cloyingly off-putting patois of


the NPR [“Fresh Air”] interviewer, Terry Gross [b. 1951].)
Although it is clear that the substitution of interrogative for declarative intona-
tion can have the function of communicating the indecisiveness or unsureness of the
speaker in making an assertion (“do you follow me?,” “do you know what I’m
saying?” being implied as well), there is also a more general meaning attaching to
this kind of change in intonation pattern. The deployment of the interrogative where
no explicit question is being asked is tantamount to conceding in advance the
rightness or force of an assertion, analogous in its purport to the typically feminine
apotropaic smile that is so common in American culture.
In this respect, younger males are only belatedly mimicking the self-protective
tactics known to women from the beginning of time, and of increasing utility to
both sexes in a milieu where predisposing or maintaining anodyne interpersonal
relations is of superordinate value.

1.13 Glottally Catching the Football

Glossary
affective, adj.: concerned with or arousing feelings or emotions; emotive
allophone, n.: a predictable phonetic variant of a phoneme
apocope, n.: the loss of one or more sounds from the end of a word, as in
Modern English sing from Middle English singen
coda, n.: anything that serves to round out, conclude, or summarize
glottal, adj. < glottis, n.: the opening between the vocal cords at the upper
part of the larynx
hypocorism, n.: a name of endearment; a pet name
hypocoristic, n.: a word belonging to affective vocabulary
nasal, adj.: articulated by lowering the soft palate so that air resonates in the
nasal cavities and passes out the nose, as in the pronunciation of the
consonants (m), (n), and (ng) or the nasalized vowel of French bon
occlusion, n.: closure at some point in the vocal tract that blocks the flow of
air in the production of an oral or nasal stop
orthographic, adj. < orthography, n.: (correct) spelling
phonostylistic, adj. < phonostylistics, n.: the study of the stylistic implications
of phonetic variation, or, more generally, of different kinds of sounds
plosive, adj.: of, relating to, or being a speech sound produced by complete
closure of the oral passage and subsequent release accompanied by a burst
of air, as in the sound (p) in pit or (d) in dog
stop, n.: one of a set of speech sounds that is a plosive or a nasal

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There is a sound in English called a GLOTTAL CATCH or GLOTTAL STOP which is a stop
consonant articulated without release and having glottal occlusion as a secondary
articulation, as in the Scottish articulation of the sound t of little, bottle, etc. This
sound is present in nearly all dialects of English as an allophone of /t/ in syllable
codas and is symbolized orthographically as an apostrophe, e.g., sto’p, tha’t, kno’ck,
wa’tch, lea’p, soa’k, hel’p, pin’ch, etc. It also occurs in word-final position, where it
is represented with a p, as in yep for yes and nope for no. To generalize, the incidence
of a glottal catch at the end of a syllable is a kind of APOCOPE, i.e., a TRUNCATION.
It is also a PHONOSTYLISTIC datum, in that it is characteristic of informal speech
and is not normative of neutral or formal style. In this respect, as a species of
truncation (of the syllable), it fits into the general pattern whereby informality is
achieved via ABBREVIATION vis-à-vis its formal counterpart.
One aspect of informal or colloquial style is the AFFECTIVE meaning of abbrevia-
tion, specifically its close association with the phenomenon known as HYPOCORISM (as
in baby talk). This form of endearment is typical, for instance, of pet names, wherein
abbreviated versions of their full neutral or formal counterparts are the norm.
In this light it becomes clear why the word football is commonly heard uttered
by ardent fans and followers of the sport with a glottal catch for the t ending the first
constituent of this compound, whatever the stylistic context or the utterer’s dialectal
profile. In such speakers’ value system football is a hypocoristic, hence to be
pronounced uniformly—regardless of context—with a phonetic feature answering
to a term of endearment.

1.14 Going to Rack and Ruin in the ‘Stans

Glossary
diphthong: A complex speech sound or glide that begins with one vowel and
gradually changes to another vowel within the same syllable, as (oi) in
boil or (ai) in fine
marked: of or relating to that member of a pair of sounds, words, or forms that
explicitly denotes a particular subset of the meanings denoted by the other
member of the pair. For example, of the two words lion and lioness, lion
is unmarked for gender (it can denote either a male or female) whereas
lioness is marked, since it denotes only females
mutatis mutandis: ‘the necessary changes having been made; having substituted
new terms; with respective differences taken into consideration’ (Latin)
nomina propria: ‘proper nouns’ (Latin)
nomina sunt odiosa: ‘it would be inappropriate to name names’ (‘names are
odious’ [Latin])
1.14 Going to Rack and Ruin in the ‘Stans 19

Two people (nomina sunt odiosa)—one the female host of a morning news pro-
gram, the other the network’s Pentagon correspondent—are talking to each other on
the radio about the war in Iraq, and each consistently pronounces the name of the
country differently: one says Ir[á]q with what is called a “broad A” (rhymes with
rock) in the linguistic literature, the other says Ir[ǽ]q with what is called a “flat A”
(rhymes with rack). Then the topic switches to Iran, and the same difference in their
rendering of the stressed vowels perdures. But they both say Pakistan and
Afghanistan with flat vowels in the appropriate syllables throughout. When the
male co-host jumps into the conversation, the same distribution of variants applies
to his speech: he has the broad vowel in both Iran and Iraq but the narrow vowel in
the two ‘Stans.
Then a clip is played of a recorded interview with an Army captain in Iraq, who
consistently uses the flat vowel [æ] in his pronunciation of the two countries’
names. This interview is followed by one with an enlisted man, whose stressed
vowel in the two nomina propria conforms to that of the officer but differs in the
value of the initial (unstressed) vowel, which he pronounces with the diphthong [ai]
(rhymes with eye) and secondary stress, viz. [àirǽk]—just as he might the first
vowel of Italian, both blatantly down-market, non-standard pronunciations. The
interviewer in both cases is the network’s (female) Baghdad correspondent. She
consistently—whether interviewing or just reporting from Iraq—maintains the
pronunciation with a flat vowel, i.e. Ir[ǽ]q.
Then an excerpt from the governor of Alaska’s speech to the 2008 Republican
National Convention is broadcast, and she too says what the enlisted man said,
namely [àirǽk], with a diphthong in the first syllable and a flat A in the second
syllable. What’s going on? Why this variation among native speakers of American
English in the rendering of the (stressed) sound A?
Before essaying an answer, one needs to keep in mind the following salient
external facts about the dramatis personae. (1) The two co-hosts of the program
(one based in Washington, the other in Los Angeles) are not in regular contact with
military personnel—unlike both the Pentagon and the Baghdad correspondents;
(2) the Army personnel are members of that social group by definition, differing
only in rank and (probably) education; (3) the Alaskan governor is also the com-
mander of that state’s National Guard and even has a son who is a member of that
unit.
Now for some general data about this variation.
Vacillation between [a] (“broad” A) and [æ] (“flat” A) is a persistent feature of
American speech, particularly in loan words or nomina propria, as in the twofold
pronunciation of the stressed vowel of Colorado, Nevada, Iran, Iraq, Milan, and so
on. Whereas no true-blue Westerner would be caught dead saying Color[á]do or
Nev[á]da, many of them, along with other Americans, do habitually say Ir[á]n, Ir[á]
q, and Mil[á]n, instead of the long-standing and traditional Ir[ǽ]n, Ir[ǽ]q, and Mil
[ǽ]n. In the case of loan words, including designations of foreign places or things,
even where initially there is vacillation between [ɑ] and [æ], as in Viet Nam (cf. the
preference for [nǽm] over [nám] to render the slangy [originally military!] abbre-
viation ‘Nam), American speech in modern times seems to favor pronunciations

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that speakers likely construe as approximating the donor/original language’s


sounds, especially in the case of a smattering of knowledge of foreign, mostly
European, languages. In this respect, American speech has tended to diverge from
traditional British English—and the older American tradition—where anglicization
has long been the norm (cf., for instance, the different rendering of names like Kant
or Dante or of words like pasta and mafia). Viewed from this perspective, pro-
nunciations like Ir[á]n simply conform to a current tendency.
Recently, however, there has been a marked augmentation of the domain
affected by the tendency—specifically, to include unfamiliar words, whether or not
a particular word is ascertainably foreign and “known” to a speaker as such. In this
new situation, the emphasis falls on unfamiliarity: the word in question is either not
part of a speaker’s active vocabulary or is used sporadically. It may have been
acquired from other speakers who are equally unfamiliar with it. In such cases, the
pronunciation is likely to be at variance with the common or traditional pronun-
ciation Take the recently manifested vacillation in the stressed vowel of the jour-
nalistic buzz word (a Sanskrit borrowing), mantra. The foreign provenience of this
word is clearly irrelevant as far as these speakers are concerned. Its new transferred
meaning—that is, anything repeated as a set piece, especially a political slogan, the
dictionary meaning being a type of prayer—is the sense journalists who have the
broad vowel have evidently assimilated and foregrounded. But the traditional
pronunciation m[ǽ]ntra is either unknown or eschewed. I propose to explain this
appearance of [ɑ] for [æ] as deriving from insecure knowledge of the word as such,
not its meaning.
This analysis is confirmed indirectly by cases where unfamiliarity cannot be
invoked as the reason for [ɑ], but markedness could be. In a broadcast some years
ago of his commentary, “The Nature of Things” (Vermont Public Radio), the
naturalist Will Curtis several times pronounced the word habitat with [ɑ] for both of
the relevant (stressed and unstressed) vowels. This untraditional pronunciation of a
word in common use can be chalked up to its valorization as MARKED in the sense
of “special” or “restricted.” When a speaker accords salience or special status to a
word that contains a vowel that can be rendered [ɑ] or [æ], [ɑ] may be utilized as a
means of mirroring the marked value of the word in context. Curtis (whose topic
was the disappearance of habitat for certain flora and fauna) evidently—and
unconsciously—did this with habitat.
This analysis joins hands with the earlier one, in that “unfamiliarity” is one of the
concrete meanings of the abstract designation “marked.” The foreignness of words
lends itself typically to subsumption under the category of marked value, hence the
special or restricted phonetic features commonly found in the pronunciation of
foreign words unless and until they are nativized (if ever). This is especially true of
names. Thus Yasser Arafat, while he was alive and his name constantly being
gibbered in the media, was pronounced with some combination of [ɑ]‘s and [æ]‘s,
although the thoroughly anglicized version—all [æ]‘s—is also extant. I once heard
a speaker wishing to dignify his ownership of the very expensive car called a
Lamborghini pronouncing the first vowel [ɑ] instead of [æ]. The vowel [ɑ], through
its occurrence in what is perceived as American “educated” speech in words like
1.14 Going to Rack and Ruin in the ‘Stans 21

rather, as well as in British English (tomato, banana), has become associated with
marked (=foreign, formal, “high” style) pronunciation, whence its natural utilization
as a phonetic mark of special status.
Imitation of prestige dialects is likely to account for examples like the
garden-variety word pistachio or the name Andrea being pronounced with [ɑ] rather
than the plebeian [æ]. (The recent appearance of the spelling Ondrea to render the
name bears this out.) Occasionally, imitation is rather of a local pronunciation,
specifically in a country (Pakistan) where English is commonly spoken as a second
language. This would account for the bizarre phenomenon of a native speaker of
American English (Julie McCarthy of NPR, reporting from Pakistan with her
off-puttingly prissy accent) in one and the same sentence slavishly pronouncing both
vowels in Pakistan with a broad A but Afghanistan with a flat A throughout.
Now—finally!—we come to an explanation of the strange distribution of broad
and flat A that gave rise to this discussion.
The persons whose speech on the radio served as the source of data about the
variation in the stressed vowel of Iraq and Iran break up into: (A) those who are
familiar with the traditional (i.e. local, in situ) American English pronunciation by
virtue of their contact with military personnel and those close to that speech
community; and (B) those who (unconsciously?) think that the correct pronuncia-
tion should approximate what they take to be the vowel of the source language—
here Arabic and Farsi, respectively. The first group follows the older norm, the
second the emerging one. The same would apply mutatis mutandis to speakers who
have the broad vowel in the relevant syllables of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
All these data speak in favor of the idea that the historically older urge of
Americans to render foreign (European) words “correctly” at the expense of native
phonetic norms has been subsumed, as but one specific manifestation, under the
newer and more general drive for “authenticity.” Truth is (mis-?)identified with the
authentic. Thus, K[á]nt and D[ɑ]nte persist as the only pronunciations in American
speech (where the British norm has K[æ]nt and D[æ]nte) not because of a desire to
acknowledge the foreignness of the names but because nativizing their pronunci-
ation might run the risk of making one’s acquaintance with them seem less than
authentic Hence it is THE AVOIDANCE OF ANYTHING THAT, THROUGH SPEECH, MIGHT BE
TAKEN AS A SIGN OF INAUTHENTIC KNOWLEDGE that seems to explain not only the
proliferation of Ir[á]q and Ir[á]n but pronunciations like m[á]ntra, pist[á]chio and
even h[á]bit[à]t as well.

1.15 Goslings in Oslo (Medial s before Liquids)

Glossary
affix, n.: a word element, such as a prefix or suffix, that can only occur
attached to a base, stem, or root

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case, n.: a distinct form of a noun, pronoun, or modifier that is used to express
one or more particular syntactic relationships to other words in a sentence
cluster, n.: two or more successive consonants in a word, as cl and st in the
word cluster
dental, adj.: articulated with the tip of the tongue near or against the upper
front teeth
fricative, adj.: consonant, such as f or s in English, produced by the forcing of
breath through a constricted passage
lax, adj.: Latin lenis ‘soft’, opposed to fortis ‘strong’ (vide infra under tense
vs. lax)
liquid. n.: a consonant articulated without friction and capable of being
prolonged like a vowel, such as English l and r
marked: of or relating to that member of a pair of sounds, words, or forms that
explicitly denotes a particular subset of the meanings denoted by the other
member of the pair. For example, of the two words lion and lioness, lion
is unmarked for gender (it can denote either a male or female) whereas
lioness is marked, since it denotes only females
medial, adj.: being a sound, syllable, or letter occurring between the initial
and final positions in a word or morpheme
neutralization, n. < neutralize, v.: to suspend an opposition, such that only
one of the two terms of the opposition represents both terms
obstruent, n.: a sound, such as a stop, fricative, or affricate, that is produced
with complete blockage or at least partial constriction of the airflow
through the nose or mouth
suffix, n.: an affix [vide supra] added to the end of a word or stem, serving to
form a new word or functioning as an inflectional ending, such as -ness in
gentleness, -ing in walking, or -s in sits
tense vs. lax: (acoustically) longer vs. reduced duration of the steady state
portion of the sound, and its sharper defined resonance regions of the
spectrum; (genetically) a deliberate vs. rapid execution of the required
gesture resulting in a lastingly stationary articulation
unmarked, adj.: vide supra under marked

Aside from the suffixes for plural number and possessive case in substantives, the
English dental fricatives s and z are not in regular alternation in native words, the
exception being a rare singleton, goose [gu:s] * gosling [gózliŋ], where an s in
medial position before the liquid l is pronounced as its lax counterpart z. This
position of neutralization encompasses loan words with medial s before r as well,
e.g., Israel [ízrəèl].
What is being neutralized here is the distinction between tense and lax obstru-
ents, and the predictable outcome is the unmarked (lax) member of the opposition,
namely z. Note that this suspension of distinctiveness applies to non-medial clusters
of dental fricative + liquid as well—but with reversed values. Thus in the far more
1.15 Goslings in Oslo (Medial s Before Liquids) 23

frequent case of s + l in initial position, only the marked s is possible, as in slip,


slide, etc. This reversal occurs in marked contexts, which individuates initial
position vis-à-vis other positions.
The medial [s] as a variant instead of [z] in the name of the capital of Norway is
a spelling pronunciation evidently supported by its foreign provenience, hence
exhibiting no alternation between s and z (as in goose * gosling). But note withal
the sole normative pronunciation of the Norwegian borrowing quisling with a [z],
i.e., in conformity with native English phonetics.

1.16 Homage to Ignorance

Glossary
fricative, n.: a consonant, such as f or s in English, produced by the forcing of
breath through a constricted passage

In the last few years one hears increasingly the mispronunciation of the word
homage, whose pedigree in English as an Old French loan word goes back to at
least the 13th century (1290 being the date of the earliest OED attestation). Anyone
who has it as a secure item of vocabulary and has actually heard it pronounced by
knowledgeable speakers on both sides of the Atlantic knows that (1) the stress falls
on the first syllable; (2) the initial vowel is the same as in the word palm, whether
pronounced “aichlessly” (with H-dropping) or not, both being correct; (3) the
second vowel is unstressed and, therefore, the same as in the word garbage; ditto
(4) the final consonant. The phonetic transcription is, consequently, [(h)ɑ́mɨǯ].
Younger speakers in America who utter this word can be heard pronouncing it à
la française, i.e., with the stress on the last syllable, no [h], and a final fricative [ž];
thus [omáž].
One Englishman wrote to the NPR Ombudsman in 2004 to alert the network to
this mistake, and his warning is reproduced as follows (Jeffrey A. Dvorkin, “The
Joy of Text,” NPR.org, November 23, 2004):
‘Hom-age … not O-mahj’
Jonathan Leonhart is a listener in London who writes to say that NPR should pronounce the
word “homage” with a soft “H,” as an English and not as a French word:
Could you please circulate a memo to all your NPR correspondents and show hosts…
informing them of the PROPER pronunciation of the word “homage?” The people you hear
most frequently mispronouncing it as a French word are the Hollywood airheads in their
commentary accompaniments on DVDs. “O-mahj… o-mahj… o-mahj” Give me a break.
It’s as pathetic as the classic over-correction “between he and I”–-a semi-literate attempt to
sound “smart,” made so much sadder by how wrong it is.

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Leonhart helpfully includes a link to pronunciation from Merriam-Webster (“an


AMERICAN dictionary,” he hastens to add).

The key word in Mr. Leonhart’s letter is “airheads.” It is ignorance pure and
simple that accounts for this erroneous pronunciation. And it is far from the only
instance of insecure knowledge of one’s own language being at the root of lin-
guistic change.
[Update: Cf. now the repeated mispronunciation of homage by a not-so-young
Englishman, the presenter Mark Coles (BBC World Service, “The Strand,”
10/15/10)]

1.17 Idiosyncratic Pronunciations: Tone-Deafness?

Glossary
aspiration, n.: the pronunciation of a consonant with an aspirate, i.e., the
speech sound represented by English h; the puff of air accompanying the
release of a stop consonant like p or t
front, v.: to cause (a sound) to be pronounced farther toward the front of the
oral cavity
medial, adj.: being a sound, syllable, or letter occurring between the initial
and final positions in a word or morpheme
nasal, adj.: articulated by lowering the soft palate so that air resonates in the
nasal cavities and passes out the nose, as in the pronunciation of the
consonants (m), (n), and (ng) or the nasalized vowel of French bon
phonemically, adv. < phonemic, adj. < phoneme, n.: the smallest phonetic
unit in a language that is capable of conveying a distinction in meaning, as
the m of mat and the b of bat in English
phonetic, adj.: of, relating to, or being features of pronunciation that are not
phonemically distinctive in a language, as aspiration of consonants or
vowel length in English; pertaining to phonetics, i.e., the study of speech
sounds from the acoustic or articulatory point of view
plosive, adj.: of, relating to, or being a speech sound produced by complete
closure of the oral passage and subsequent release accompanied by a burst
of air, as in the sound (p) in pit or (d) in dog
quién sabe?: who knows? (Spanish)
stop, n.: one of a set of speech sounds that is a plosive or a nasal
tone deafness, n. < tone-deaf, adj.: unable to distinguish differences in
musical pitch; (here) unable to perceive nuances or subtleties
velarize, v.: to articulate (a sound) by retracting the back of the tongue toward
the soft palate
1.17 Idiosyncratic Pronunciations: Tone-Deafness? 25

Radio interviews with President Barack Obama (e.g., on the BBC World Service)
show that as a speaker of contemporary American English Mr. Obama has certain
idiosyncrasies. For instance, when speaking of the Taliban (Arabic ṭālibān ‘stu-
dents’), his pronunciation deviates from that of the overwhelming majority of native
speakers by having the sound [i:] after the [l] preceding the unstressed medial
vowel, making it sound like the second vowel of tally rather than that of tulip. This
unwonted pronunciation can occasionally be heard from certain American generals
when interviewed by the media as well.
The source and impulse behind this idiosyncrasy is clearly speech, mostly by
non-natives, that is perceived by some speakers of American English to be “authen-
tic,” namely the pronunciation of the word in Arabic, where the [l] is unvelarized and
fronted, creating the impression that in order to reproduce it in English “authentically”
one needs to render it like the second vowel of tally. Needless to say, neither Mr.
Obama nor the American generals from whom he may have heard this pronunciation
in the first place are known to have any authentic knowledge of Arabic phonetics.
In Mr. Obama’s speech this attempt at phonetic verisimilitude in the pronun-
ciation of a foreign item is of a piece with another of his speech traits, namely
rendering the word Pakistan with the first and last vowels mimicking Pakistani
English [a:], as in father, instead of general American English [æ], as in cat.
It’s an interesting question, pertaining to the cultural determinants of language
use, exactly why certain speakers persist in deviating idiosyncratically from the
overwhelming evidence of the norm to which they are exposed. In the case of
foreign borrowings, contrarian adherence to what they perceive to be “authentic”
seems to be the answer. Perhaps they feel, at some undeterminable psychological
level (quién sabe?), that this phonetic proclivity makes them seem more knowl-
edgeable about the subject of the discourse in which their speech is embedded.

1.18 Ignorance and the Insistence of the Letter

Glossary
faux, adj.: artificial; fake (French)
nomina propria: proper names (Latin)

There is no doubt that reading pronunciations reign supreme when speakers are
ignorant of the traditional pronunciation of a word. This state of affairs is partic-
ularly relevant when the word belongs to the class of nomina propria.
The Cambridge Pronouncing Dictionary (17th ed., 2006) lists only one pro-
nunciation for the name of the country of Bahrain, viz. without the h, and this is the
traditional English version regardless of the authentic Arabic original. Yet Peter
Kenyon, the NPR correspondent reporting from Dubai (“Morning Edition”),

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repeatedly pronounced the word with an h, joining the majority of media repre-
sentatives in their studied ignorance of the established phonetic form.
Ultimately, this kind of mistake is to be adjudged as yet another instance of the
drive toward faux authenticity that besets American speakers of English in par-
ticular, abetted by an attitude that flouts linguistic precedent.

1.19 Intrusive r (A Sandhi Phenomenon)

Glossary
allophonic, adj. < allophone, n.: a predictable phonetic variant of a phoneme,
e.g., the aspirated t of top, the unaspirated t of stop, and the tt (pronounced
as a flap) of batter—all allophones of the English phoneme /t/
aspirated, adj.: pronounced with the initial release of breath associated with
English h, as in hurry; followed with a puff of breath that is clearly
audible before the next sound begins, as in English pit or kit
diagrammatic, adj. < diagram, n.: an icon of relation
epenthetic, adj. < epenthesis, n.: the insertion of a sound in the middle of a
word, as in Middle English thunder < Old English thunor
etymological, adj. < etymology, n.: the origin and historical development of a
linguistic form as shown by determining its basic elements, earliest known
use, and changes in form and meaning, tracing its transmission from one
language to another, identifying its cognates in other languages, and
reconstructing its ancestral form where possible
iconic, adj. < icon, n.: an image; a representation, specifically, a sign related
to its object by similarity
markedness, n.: the evaluative superstructure of all semiotic (‘sign-theoretic’)
oppositions, as well as the theory of such a superstructure, characterized
in terms of the values ‘marked’ (conceptually restricted) and ‘unmarked’
(conceptually unrestricted)
metaphonological, adj.: transcending phonology
orthoepic, adj. < orthoepy, n.: the study of the pronunciation of words; the
customary pronunciation of words
orthographical, adj. < orthography, n.: (correct) spelling
phoneme, n.: the smallest phonetic unit in a language that is capable of
conveying a distinction in meaning, as the m of mat and the b of bat in
English
phonological, adj. < phonology, n.: the study of speech sounds in language or
a language with reference to their distribution and patterning and to tacit
rules governing pronunciation
prescriptivist, adj. < prescriptivism, n.: the support or promotion of pre-
scriptive grammar
1.19 Intrusive r (A Sandhi Phenomenon) 27

sandhi, n.: modification of the sound of a word or morpheme when juxta-


posed with another, especially in fluent speech, as the modification of the
pronunciation of don’t in don’t you from its pronunciation in isolation or
in a phrase like don’t we (Sanskrit)
semiotic, adj.: pertaining to elements of or any system of signs, defined as
anything capable of signifying an object (meaning)
vulgarism, n.: a word, phrase, or manner of expression used chiefly by
uneducated people

At a recent academic conference on “Thinking through Drawing,” two British


rapporteurs addressed the audience in tandem, and both pronounced the word
drawing with an epenthetic [r] between [aw] and [ing], so that the word consistently
came out as [dráwring]. To contemporary American ears this pronunciation—called
the “intrusive r—sounded utterly alien, although it is common in British English as
well as in the dialects of eastern Massachusetts (recall the speech of President
John F. Kennedy) and is of a piece with the so-called “linking r” of I saw[r] it, etc.
The intrusive r being unjustified orthographically and hence etymologically
inauthentic, is not considered to be orthoepic, i.e., not part of the so-called Received
Pronunciation (RP = “The King’s/Queen’s English”), and has in fact traditionally
been regarded as a vulgarism, its use (but not that of linking /r/) banished by
prescriptivists in England since the nineteenth century.
This phenomenon, traditionally subsumed under allophonic variation or auto-
matic alternation, also goes by the name of sandhi, a Sanskrit word meaning
‘joining’ imported into general linguistics about a century ago. Phonological sandhi
rules, as in the case of intrusive [r] beside their secondary binding function (“textual
cohesion”) have two primary functions, systemic and (what has been called)
“metaphonological.” When such rules produce distributions of distinctive feature
values that are diagrammatic of the distinctive or allophonic value of the feature at
issue, as well as of the markedness relations that obtain between different values of
the same feature, they fulfill a systemic function, which is semiotically iconic.
But beyond reflecting the structure of a distinctive feature system iconically, the
distributional facts also constitute the raw material for language acquisition, since
they are the data from which learners infer their phonology. It is in this latter sense
that the sandhi rules may also be said to fulfill a metaphonological function.

1.20 Japanese Prosody and Its Distortion in English

Glossary
morae, pl. n. < mora, n.: the minimal unit of quantitative measure in tem-
poral prosodic systems equivalent in the time value to an average short

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syllable; such a unit used in linguistic analysis especially with reference to


vowel quantity
pitch, n.: a prominence or emphasis given to a word, syllable, or mora by its
difference in pitch from its immediate surroundings
prosody, n.: a particular system of stress or of versification
quadrisyllabic, adj.: containing four syllables
toponym, n.: a place name
ultimate, adj. < ultima, n.: the final syllable

Unlike English, which is a stress language, Japanese is a pitch language, which


means that it has low or high pitch on the morae of vowels, not stress. An English
speaker typically mistakes Japanese high pitch for stress. In some cases, this results
in the relatively undamaged representation of a Japanese word in English, e.g., the
toponym Kyoto has high pitch on the first mora of the long vowel ō of the first
syllable (the second o is short), and when this word is pronounced with initial stress
in English, it sounds more or less authentic. But this doesn’t hold in cases like
Tokyo, where both vowels are long and, moreover, high pitch falls on the first mora
of the following word, hence, for instance, Tokyo desu ‘it’s Tokyo’ has high pitch
on the first syllable of desu ‘is’.
What English speakers tend to do (besides mishearing high pitches as stresses) is
to place a stress where it doesn’t correspond to a Japanese high pitch, as in
Hiróshima/Hiroshíma. This toponym (like Tokyo) has a high pitch that falls on the
first mora of the following word, all three preceding short vowels having low pitch,
but the English rules of stress placement in quadrisyllabic words do not allow for
ultimate stress in what looks like an English compound.
Occasionally, as in the case of the toponym currently made notorious because of
its damaged nuclear reactor, viz. Fukushima, English speakers happen to place a
stress on the vowel corresponding to a vowel with high pitch in the Japanese
original, which makes it (fortuitously) sound authentic to the ear of a Japanese
speaker. Note even here, however, the alternate placement of stress on the element
meaning ‘island’ (shima), following the rules of English prosody, which renders the
original incorrectly.

1.21 Lambasting the Oblivion of Constituent Structure

Glossary
doublet, n.: one of two words or forms that are identical in meaning or value
orthographic, adj. < orthography, n.: (correct) spelling
1.21 Lambasting the Oblivion of Constituent Structure 29

It is a well-known fact that speakers are often oblivious of the constituent structure
of historically compound words when the constituents lose currency with the
passage of time, and that this process may give rise to a (mistaken) new pronun-
ciation alongside the traditional one. This is in fact what has happened to the verb
lambaste, which is now often pronounced /læmˈbæst/ instead of /læmˈbeɪst/.
Moreover, the new pronunciation has been codified by all contemporary dic-
tionaries in the form of an orthographic doublet lambast.
The meaning given by the Oxford English Dictionary Online is “To beat
soundly; to thrash; to ‘whack’. Now colloq. or vulgar.” As to the etymology, it is
cited with a question mark: “? < lam + baste.” Both lam and baste, for that matter,
share a meaning, viz. ‘whip, beat, flog,’ and the only pronunciation of baste is, of
course, /beɪst/.
Neither of the two historical constituents of lambaste with the meaning of
beating or flogging is in current use, hence their fading and oblivion in the com-
pound, which then can be taken to license the mispronunciation. The latter is
currently the more frequently one, at least in American English.
As is so often the case with all the traditional linguistic patrimony, ‘bad money
drives out good’; or as they say in Japanese, akka wa ryooka o kuchiku suru (悪貨
わ良貨を駆逐する).

1.22 Lenition, Not Voicing

Glossary
aspiration, n.: the pronunciation of a consonant with an aspirate, i.e., the
speech sound represented by English h; the puff of air accompanying the
release of a stop consonant like p or t
explanans, n.: that which explains; an explanation (Latin)
fricative, n.: a consonant, such as f or s in English, produced by the forcing of
breath through a constricted passage
idiolect, n.: the speech of an individual, considered as a linguistic pattern
unique among speakers of his or her language or dialect
intervocalic, adj.: between vowels
lax, adj.: Latin lenis ‘soft’, opposed to fortis ‘strong’ (vide infra under tense
vs. lax)
lenited, adj. < lenite, v.: cause lenition (vide supra)
lenition, n.: laxing; production of a lax sound
markedness, n.: the evaluative superstructure of all semiotic (‘sign-theoretic’)
oppositions, as well as the theory of such a superstructure, characterized
in terms of the values ‘marked’ (conceptually restricted) and ‘unmarked’
(conceptually unrestricted)

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neutralization, n.: the suspension of an opposition


obstruent, n.: a sound, such as a stop, fricative, or affricate, that is produced
with complete blockage or at least partial constriction of the airflow
through the nose or mouth
pace: with the permission of; with deference to; used to express polite or
ironically polite disagreement (Latin)
phonetic, adj.: of, relating to, or being features of pronunciation that are not
phonemically distinctive in a language, as aspiration of consonants or
vowel length in English; pertaining to phonetics, i.e., the study of speech
sounds from the acoustic or articulatory point of view
phonological, adj. < phonology, n.: the study of speech sounds in language or
a language with reference to their distribution and patterning and to tacit
rules governing pronunciation
protensity, n.: a phonological feature category defined by the opposition
between tense vs. lax sounds
tense vs. lax: (acoustically) longer vs. reduced duration of the steady state
portion of the sound, and its sharper defined resonance regions of the
spectrum; (genetically) a deliberate vs. rapid execution of the required
gesture resulting in a lastingly stationary articulation

President Barack Obama’s idiolect has a phonetic feature that hasn’t been noticed in
the public press viz. the non-standard pronunciation of the verb congratulate and its
derived verbal noun congratulation(s) with a “voiced” [ǯ] (as in just) for standard
“voiceless” [č] (as in chuck) corresponding to the intervocalic letter t before
u. (One heard it yet again on May 17, 2009 in his commencement address at the
University of Notre Dame.) This is actually a fairly widespread (mis)pronunciation.
In effect, this is the process by which intervocalic fricatives (hissing and hushing
sounds) that are “voiceless” in other positions are rendered with their “voiced”
counterparts between vowels; thus the well-known pronunciation of greasy in
Southern American dialects as grea[z]y.
There is an explanation, but it’s one that necessitates disabusing oneself of the
established characterization of English as a language with distinctive “voicing” in
its obstruent (=true consonant) system and facing the fact that English (like German
and Serbo-Croatian, for example—or Japanese, for that matter, pace the conven-
tional view—and unlike Russian) is rather a language with distinctive “protensity,”
i.e., with the opposition tense vs. lax. Thus the series p, t, k, etc. is to be understood
as being opposed to the series b, d, g, etc. as tense vs. lax.
Two of the features by which obstruents are distinguished in the languages of the
world are VOICING and this so-called PROTENSITY feature. They correspond to the
traditional distinction between FORTIS and LENIS sounds. (The more familiar modern
terms are VOICED VS. VOICELESS and TENSE VS. LAX.) There are several phonetic
1.22 Lenition, Not Voicing 31

properties that accompany the distinction between fortis and lenis sounds, such as
the presence vs. absence of the vibration of the vocal bands, aspiration, and so on.
All of these phonetic properties are in fact relevant in a general sense but not
important to the particular phenomenon at hand, which is the lenition of an inter-
vocalic obstruent, namely [č], resulting in President Obama’s [ǯ]. The reason why it
is a matter of principal importance to call this process by its right name—lenition—
rather than “voicing” is that only then can we understand why it happens at all.
(Note that orthography is helpless here as an explanans, since the letter t is
“voiceless.” )
Noted in an earlier essay was the fact of the neutralization of phonological
distinctions in so-called positions of neutralization, whereby only one of the
opposed terms appears in such positions and “represents” the opposition. Here, the
obstruent that occurs between vowels is in just such a position, and the represen-
tative of the opposition between [č]and [ǯ]—the very one that distinguishes
between, say, batch and badge—is what is conventionally called the “voiced” one,
i.e., [ǯ]. But calling it “voiced” is wrong phonologically, no matter how right it is
phonetically, for the following reason.
The most universal realization of an opposition in a position of neutralization—
in phonology as in all of grammar—is the so-called “unmarked” member of the
opposition, which is defined as the relatively general or unconstrained member, its
“marked” counterpart being relatively specific or constrained for the feature at
stake. One could say that positions of neutralization are diagnostic—for native
learner/speaker and analyst alike—in that they conduce to the evaluative designa-
tion of members of oppositions in terms of markedness, a designation that imparts
sense to form and without which phonology and grammar would cease to be a
coherent structure.
As a general matter, in languages with distinctive voicing in their obstruent
system, the marked member of the opposition is the voiced (lenis) member, and the
voiceless (fortis) member is unmarked. Contrariwise, in languages with distinctive
protensity, it is the tense (fortis) member that is marked and the lax (lenis) one that
is unmarked.
Consequently, those speakers who, like President Obama have a lenited
obstruent in congratulations, where the norm has its unlenited counterpart, are
(unwittingly, of course) simply realizing the natural drift inherent in the sign
function of all positions of neutralization by pronouncing the unmarked lenis sound
for t. It just so happens that the norm in this case overrides the drift, but some
speakers (probably from childhood) are nonetheless impelled by what the Germans
call Systemzwang (“the systemic impetus/force”) to innovate in their individual
grammars along lines that have the inherent potential of becoming the norm in the
long run.
Even in this minute respect, one could say that the president is only being true to
himself as an adherent of the innovating variety of contemporary American English.

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1.23 Linguistic Solipsism

Glossary
Babel, n.: a confusion of sounds, languages, or voices
broad vowel: (here) the a vowel as pronounced like the a in father
diphthong: A complex speech sound or glide that begins with one vowel and
gradually changes to another vowel within the same syllable, as (oi) in
boil or (ai) in fine
faux, adj.: artificial; fake (French)
flat vowel: the vowel a as pronounced in bad or cat
idiosyncratic, adj. < idiosyncrasy, n.: a structural or behavioral characteristic
peculiar to an individual or group; a physiological or temperamental peculiarity
liquid, n.: the speech sounds l and r and their congeners, i.e., articulated
without friction and capable of being prolonged like a vowel
monolingual, adj.: knowing or able to speak only one language
orthographic, adj. < orthography, n.: (correct) spelling
palatal, adj.: produced with the front of the tongue near or against the hard
palate, as the (y) in English young; produced with the blade of the tongue
near the hard palate, as the (ch) in English chin
palatalize, v.: to pronounce as or alter to a palatal sound
phonetic, adj.: pertaining to speech sounds
tone deafness, n. < tone-deaf, adj.: unable to distinguish differences in
musical pitch; (here) unable to perceive nuances or subtleties

While every language is rife with variation, some variants can only be adjudged to
be the wayward product of a kind of tone deafness or linguistic solipsism condi-
tioned more often than not by an unconscious adherence to the orthographic
representation of a word. To cite an example from my own linguistic milieu, I have
a friend who consistently mispronounced the first name of another friend even
though he heard me pronounce it correctly on numerous occasions. This was a case
where the spelling –ai- of the Finnish name Raimo (counterpart of English
Raymond) gave rise to the vowel of English rain instead of the vowel of line.
Eventually, the insistence of the letter yielded to the aural dominance of the sound,
and the name is now pronounced correctly by my friend (and by his wife, who had
originally followed her husband down the primrose path).
But this sort of linguistic solipsism can also persist uncorrected regardless of
numerous audible examples to the contrary, even in the absence of spelling influ-
ence. A prominent case is the speech of President Barack Obama, who consistently
pronounces Taliban with a flat first vowel, a palatalized liquid, and a broad final
vowel, in what seems to be an attempt to imitate a fancied foreign model taken to
be “authentic.” Perversely, the word Afghanistan in his speech is rendered with
1.23 Linguistic Solipsism 33

uniformly flat A‘s (i.e., as in rack), but Pakistan with uniformly broad A‘s (i.e., as in
pock). (The latter pronunciation is doubtless an imitation of Pakistani English.) He
also vacillates between pronouncing Copenhagen correctly and incorrectly, i.e.,
with a broad A instead of the traditional –ay- diphthong of rain—yet another
instance of faux authenticity (not unknown in the speech of miscellaneous other
Americans as well).
At bottom, this kind of idiosyncratic variation is a sign of LINGUISTIC INSECURITY
And no wonder: confronted with having publicly to render the Babel of foreign
names and their variant phonetic forms in English, anyone—but especially a
monolingual speaker like Mr. Obama—can easily come a cropper.

1.24 Manhattan

Glossary
toponym, n.: a place name

There is perhaps no more important island in the world. Those who live there or are
familiar with the correct pronunciation of its name say M[ə]nháttan, with a schwa
in the first syllable, unlike those who either know the correct pronunciation and
choose to ignore it or are simply ignorant of it. (As a former resident of Manhattan
[1980–2003], who has recently come back to the borough to live once again, I can
report that it grates on my ear every time I hear the word mispronounced.)
In the case of Manhattan, Kansas, or Manhattan Beach, California, naturally, the
relevant vowel is not a schwa but the expected [æ].
This case illustrates the possibility that local pronunciations of toponyms may
differ from generally more familiar ones. In the USA, think of towns that carry the
name Vienna, Cairo, and Berlin but diverge phonetically from their form as
designations of foreign cities.

1.25 Molière Redivivus

Glossary
afflatus, n.: a strong creative impulse, especially as a result of divine
inspiration
chevelure, n.: [a head of] hair (French)

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exeunt: ‘they go out’ (Latin); used as a stage direction to indicate that two or
more performers leave the stage
impetigo: a contagious bacterial skin infection, usually of children, that is
characterized by the eruption of superficial pustules and the formation of
thick yellow crusts, commonly on the face (Latin)
lentigo: a small, flat, pigmented spot on the skin (Latin)
momenta medica: ‘medical moments’ (Latin)
morphea scleroderma: a disorder characterized by thickening and induration
(‘hardening’) of the skin and subcutaneous tissue (Latin)
quaternion, n.: a set of four persons or items
redivivus: come back to life; revived (Latin)
roomicule, n.: a little room (nonce word)

I had taken my shirt and jacket off in expectation of having the sutures removed
from my back. There was a knock on the door, and a young woman of the usual
plumpish bespectacled type wearing a white smock entered and introduced herself
as a fourth-year medical student. We shook hands.
She glanced at my file and announced that the result of the biopsy was negative:
the tissue sample they had taken two weeks before was benign. When I inquired
about the abrasion on my right cheek that had impelled me to visit the dermatology
clinic in the first place, she informed me that it was a lentigo, which she mispro-
nounced with stress on the first syllable. I realized, of course, on the model of
impetigo, known to me through acquaintance with my grandchildren’s occasional
skin problems, that the stress was on the penult and that it rhymed with Sligo, the
town in Ireland I had visited once upon a time.
“The team will be in shortly,” added the fourth-year medical student and exited
the roomicule. I was left to cool my heels shirtless, in the usual fashion of such
momenta medica.
Soon there was another knock on the door, and a woman doctor, a resident who
had originally taken the biopsy and sutured the wound, entered, likewise dressed in
a white smock, followed by the fourth-year medical student and two male doctors in
civvies. This was evidently the aforementioned “team,” and they were making their
rounds. Having taken up positions behind me, they all inspected my back
simultaneously.
The woman doctor looked cursorily at the file and confirmed the original diagnosis.
Then she announced that the “team” would go out to confer about what they had
observed. “This is what they used to call a consilium,” I remarked to the fourth-year
medical student, who was bringing up the rear as the group exited. That flotsam of
Russian vocabulary (from Latin ‘council’) had suddenly swum up into my cortex and
produced the medical term. Her opaque smile signaled total incomprehension.
Soon the resident and the fourth-year student reentered the room, without the
male doctors. “It’s a morphea scleroderma,” intoned the resident, “and if you want
to have it removed you can come back in two weeks.” I declined but pursued the
1.25 Molière Redivivus 35

matter of my cheek. “What about the lentigo,” said I,” putting the stress on the
proper syllable with its Sligo rhyme. “How did it come about?”
“The lentigo,” she said, repeating the incorrect initial stress, “is probably the
cumulative result of exposure to the sun.” “I see,” said I. She then deftly removed
my sutures.
“Would you object if I took a photograph of your back?,” asked the dermatol-
ogist. “I’d like to have it for the record and to show my colleagues.”
“No, I wouldn’t object,” I answered, whereupon she took out a digital camera
and snapped it. I saw the flash out of the corner of my eye. Exeunt the two female
medicos.
Putting my shirt and jacket back on, I exited the clinic and entered the hall with
its quaternion of elevators. One of the male doctors who had examined me, a
youngish man in a sports coat, sporting the right sort of Hollywoodian chevelure,
entered the elevator with me.
“It was like a scene out of Molière” I said, smiling. Of course, I had misre-
membered L’Amour Médecin (“The Love Doctor”), with its squadron of doctors,
conflating it with Le Malade Imaginaire (“The Imaginary Invalid”), where a doctor
explains that opium is a soporific due to its virtus dormitiva (‘dormitive virtue’).
Molière’s doctor was subsequently made the target of derision in the philosophy of
science as the utterer of a fallacy but was defended by my hero Charles Peirce, who
pointed out the pragmatistic validity of his definition. My memory of Peirce’s
discussion had doubtless conjured up the allusion to Molière.
The doctor said nothing. His look of total incomprehension as we descended
punctured the afflatus I was feeling at my literary mot juste. My shoulders slumped.
We both got off the elevator on the ground floor and walked toward the exit, into
the effulgently Westwoodian light of day.

1.26 Morphophonemics of Nominal Derivation: British


Versus American English

Glossary
affix, n.: a word element, such as a prefix or suffix, that can only occur
attached to a base, stem, or root
allomorph, n.: any of the variant forms of a morpheme. For example, the
phonetic (s) of cats, (z) of pigs, and (iz) horses are allomorphs of the
English plural morpheme {s}
base, n.: a morpheme or morphemes regarded as a form to which affixes or
other bases may be added
derivational, adj. < derivation, n.: the process by which words are formed
from existing words or bases by adding affixes, as singer from sing or
undo from do, by changing the shape of the word or base, as song from

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sing, or by adding an affix and changing the pronunciation of the word or


base, as electricity from electric
derivative, n.: a derived word
dialectology, n.: the study of dialects; the body of data available for use in the
systematic study of a dialect or group of related dialects
front, adj.: designating vowels produced at or toward the front of the oral
cavity, such as the vowels of green and get
intervocalically, adv. < intervocalic, adj.: occurring between vowels
laxing, n. < lax, v. < lax, adj.: Latin lenis ‘soft’, opposed to fortis ‘strong’
(vide infra under tense vs. lax)
marked, adj. > markedness: vide infra
markedness, n.: the evaluative superstructure of all semiotic (‘sign-theoretic’)
oppositions, as well as the theory of such a superstructure, characterized
in terms of the values ‘marked’ (conceptually restricted) and ‘unmarked’
(conceptually unrestricted)
morpheme, n.: a meaningful linguistic unit consisting of a word, such as man,
or a word element, such as -ed in walked, that cannot be divided into
smaller meaningful parts
morphophonemics, n.: the changes in pronunciation undergone by allo-
morphs of morphemes as they are modified by neighboring sounds, as the
plural allomorphs in cat-s, dog-s, box-es, or as they are modified for
grammatical reasons in the course of inflection or derivation, as house
versus to house and housing
mutatis mutandis: the necessary changes having been made; having substi-
tuted new terms; with respective differences taken into consideration
(Latin)
neutralization, n.: the suspension of an opposition
nominal, adj.: of or relating to a noun or word group that functions as a noun
obstruent, n.: a sound, such as a stop, fricative, or affricate, that is produced
with complete blockage or at least partial constriction of the airflow
through the nose or mouth
palatal, adj.: produced with the front of the tongue near or against the hard
palate, as the (y) in English young; produced with the blade of the tongue
near the hard palate, as the (ch) in English chin
palatalized, adj. < palatalize, v.: to pronounce as or alter to a palatal sound
phonetic, adj.: of, relating to, or being features of pronunciation that are not
phonemically distinctive in a language, as aspiration of consonants or
vowel length in English; pertaining to phonetics, i.e., the study of speech
sounds from the acoustic or articulatory point of view
semiotic, adj.: pertaining to elements of or any system of signs, defined as
anything capable of signifying an object (meaning)
stem, n.: the main part of a word to which affixes are added
stem-final, adj.: occurring at the end of a stem
1.26 Morphophonemics of Nominal Derivation: British Versus American English 37

suffix, n.: an affix [vide supra] added to the end of a word or stem, serving to
form a new word or functioning as an inflectional ending, such as -ness in
gentleness, -ing in walking, or -s in sits
tense vs. lax: (acoustically) longer vs. reduced duration of the steady state
portion of the sound, and its sharper defined resonance regions of the
spectrum; (genetically) a deliberate vs. rapid execution of the required
gesture resulting in a lastingly stationary articulation
toponym, n.: a place name
voicing, n.: expiration of air through vibrating vocal cords, used in the pro-
duction of vowels and voiced consonants

With Tunisia being so much in the news of late, one constantly hears (on the BBC
Word Service, for instance) the British variants of the adjective and substantive
derived from the toponym Tunis namely Tunisia and Tunisian. In British English s
(stem-final z being rare) before a derivational suffix beginning in a front vowel—like
–ia or –ian—unpalatalized while optionally undergoing “voicing” (actually, laxing)
intervocalically, hence the pronunciations [tunɪziə] and [tunɪziə], where American
English changes the stem-final consonant to a palatal [ʒ], hence [tuníʒə] and [tuníʒən]
(note also the tense stressed vowel in the American version, where British has a lax
vowel). The same ces (mutatis mutandis) hold for words like Parisian and Asian.
The systematic upshot is a semiotic one. British English does not mark nominal
derivation here beyond adding a suffix, whereas American English does, in the form
of the marked obstruent {ʒ} < [z], and the marked tense vowel [í].
This is a good illustration of a widespread phenomenon in language, particularly
frequent in dialectology, whereby identical contexts allow of diverging morpho-
phonemic treatments and produce variation across languages and language families,
as well as dialects.
In this particular case, one could adjudge British English to be (expectedly) more
conservative than American, since the former chooses to preserve the phonetic
identity of the final obstruent and the stressed vowel of the deriving base in the
derivative, whereas the latter changes them to their marked counterparts, thereby
choosing to underscore the derivative’s semiotic status—its hierarchical value—at
the expense of phonetic uniformity between base and derivative.

1.27 O tempora, o mores! (Isoglosses)

Glossary
dialectology, n.: the study of dialects; the body of data available for use in the
systematic study of a dialect or group of related dialects

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doublet, n.: one of two words or forms that are identical in meaning or value
isogloss, n.: an isogloss being a geographic boundary line delimiting the area
in which a given linguistic feature occurs
phonic, adj.: of, relating to, or having the nature of sound, especially speech
sounds
winged, adj.: of or relating to words or phrases which, first uttered or written
in a specific literary context, have since passed into common usage to
express a general idea

Whenever there is recurrence in news accounts to the Souris River in North Dakota
and the havoc wreaked by it, anyone with even a smattering of Yiddish cannot help
being put in mind of the word tsuris ‘trouble, distress, woe, misery’ (pl., < Hebrew
ṣārāh), which has also found its way into dictionaries of contemporary English.
Given the phonic closeness of the word to the riverine name, its aptness as a
descriptor for the calamity in North Dakota needs no demonstration.
The form of the word actually has a doublet, namely tsores, and the alternation
u/o of the root vowel corresponds to what is more or less a north-south isogloss in
Yiddish dialectology. Apropos, before I came to America and heard the Yiddish
word from a variety of speakers of American English, I only knew it as tsores,
particularly in my father’s frequent citation of his staircase wit Uncle Misha’s
Russo-Jewish variation on Cicero’s winged phrase, “O tempora, o mores! O vre-
mena [Russian ‘times’], o tsores!”

1.28 Obama and Bush: A Shared Departure


from the Linguistic Norm

Glossary
aspiration, n.: the pronunciation of a consonant with an aspirate, i.e., the
speech sound represented by English h; the puff of air accompanying the
release of a stop consonant like p or t
desinence, n.: grammatical ending
devoicing, n. < devoice, v.: to pronounce (a normally voiced sound) without
vibration of the vocal chords so as to make it wholly or partly voiceless
explanans, n.: that which explains; an explanation (Latin)
fricative, n.: A consonant, such as f or s in English, produced by the forcing of
breath through a constricted passage
idiolect, n.: the speech of an individual, considered as a linguistic pattern
unique among speakers of his or her language or dialect
intervocalic, adj.: between vowels
1.28 Obama and Bush: A Shared Departure from the Linguistic Norm 39

lax, adj.: Latin lenis ‘soft’, opposed to fortis ‘strong’ (vide infra under tense
vs. lax)
lenited, adj. < lenite, v.: cause lenition (vide supra)
lenition, n.: laxing; production of a lax sound
liquid, n.: the speech sounds l and r and their congeners, i.e., articulated
without friction and capable of being prolonged like a vowel
markedness, n.: the evaluative superstructure of all semiotic (‘sign-theoretic’)
oppositions, as well as the theory of such a superstructure, characterized
in terms of the values ‘marked’ (conceptually restricted) and ‘unmarked’
(conceptually unrestricted)
nasal, adj./n.: articulated by lowering the soft palate so that air resonates in
the nasal cavities and passes out the nose, as in the pronunciation of the
consonants (m), (n), and (ng) or the nasalized vowel of French bon; a
nasal consonant
neutralization, n.: the suspension of an opposition
obstruent, n.: a sound, such as a stop, fricative, or affricate, that is produced
with complete blockage or at least partial constriction of the airflow
through the nose or mouth
pace: with the permission of; with deference to; used to express polite or
ironically polite disagreement (Latin)
phonetic, adj.: of, relating to, or being features of pronunciation that are not
phonemically distinctive in a language, as aspiration of consonants or
vowel length in English; pertaining to phonetics, i.e., the study of speech
sounds from the acoustic or articulatory point of view
phonological, adj. < phonology, n.: the study of speech sounds in language or
a language with reference to their distribution and patterning and to tacit
rules governing pronunciation
protensity, n.: a phonological feature category defined by the opposition
between tense vs. lax sounds
sign-theoretic, adj.: pertaining to sign (semiotic) theory
semiotic, adj.: vide infra
sign, adj.: semiotic, i.e., pertaining to elements of or any system of signs,
defined as anything capable of signifying an object (meaning)
sonorant, n.: a usually voiced speech sound characterized by relatively free
air flow through the vocal tract and capable of being syllabic, as a vowel,
liquid, or nasal
tense vs. lax: (acoustically) longer vs. reduced duration of the steady state
portion of the sound, and its sharper defined resonance regions of the
spectrum; (genetically) a deliberate vs. rapid execution of the required
gesture resulting in a lastingly stationary articulation
voicing, n.: expiration of air through vibrating vocal cords, used in the pro-
duction of vowels and voiced consonants

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As different as their linguistic backgrounds are, Presidents Barack Obama and


George W. Bush share one phonetic trait (at least), which happens to be a
non-standard (dialectal) feature of American English namely the “devoicing” of
obstruents after sonorants in final position This happens most frequently in the case
of the desinence {-s} of the possessive and the plural; hence in their speech what in
standard English is [–z] comes out as [-s]. The final sound in doors, bills, moons,
rooms, where a liquid or a nasal consonant is followed by what would be pro-
nounced [-z], is rendered by them both as [-s]. If the more expansive definition of
sonorant is used to include vowels as well, then for Messrs. Obama and Bush one
can observe the same “devoicing” after stem-final vowels, except that it is not as
sustained as in position after consonants.
How to explain this phonetic departure from the norm in speakers who in (most)
other respects, albeit in varying degree, speak Standard American English? Is it a
willful distortion? an instance of imperfect learning? a spelling pronunciation? No,
it is none of these.
In order to understand this trait, we must first disabuse ourselves of the con-
ventional definition of the sound at issue as “devoiced,” i.e., the “voiceless”
counterpart of “voiced” /z/. From the strictly phonetic point of view, English [s] is
indeed voiceless, and [z] voiced, hence the seeming aptness of the designation of the
process observed in the two presidents’ speech as a “devoicing.” Traditionally, these
obstruents are classified as, respectively tenuis and media (pl. tenues/mediae). In the
languages of Europe, this phonetic distinction translates into the phonological
opposition between either the protensity feature (tense vs. lax) or the sonority feature
(voiceless vs. voiced). In a language like French, for instance, the paired series of
obstruents s/z, p/b, t/d, k/g, etc. are all opposed by the feature tense vs. lax, whereas
in Russian they are opposed by the feature voiceless vs. voiced. These features are
phonologically distinctive in these two languages. However, from the phonetic point
of view, they typically go together in the physical realization of the sounds at issue,
such that while the French /s/, for instance, is phonologically tense, it is also pho-
netically (non-distinctively, redundantly) voiceless (the vocal bands do not vibrate in
its production); conversely, its counterpart /z/ differs from it phonologically by being
lax but is phonetically (non-distinctively, redundantly) voiced (the vocal bands do
vibrate in its production). In Russian, the same phonetic parallelism holds despite the
difference in phonological values: Russian distinctively voiceless obstruents are
redundantly tense, their voiced counterparts redundantly lax.
Unfortunately, descriptions of English have persisted in misidentifying which of
these conjugate designations are distinctive, which redundant. All those phonetic
traits that typically obtain in the realization of the media (“voiced”) members of the
obstruent series in a language like French (or German, Serbian, and Croatian, for that
matter)—such as delayed onset of voicing, incomplete voicing, etc.—also pertain to
English. But hierarchically these phonetic data are ancillary to the understanding of
which feature is distinctive, which non-distinctive. The surest diagnostic in all such
cases is not the phonetic realization per se but the manifestation of the two values of
the phonological opposition in mutually exclusive contexts—otherwise known as
positions of neutralization. Typically, in positions of neutralization, it is the so-called
1.28 Obama and Bush: A Shared Departure from the Linguistic Norm 41

unmarked member that appears to the exclusion of its marked counterpart. Thus, in
Russian, in final position before a pause the distinction obtaining elsewhere between
voiced and voiceless obstruents is suspended, and it is the unmarked voiceless
member that appears; hence rod [rot], xleb [xl’ep], voz [vos], etc.
The phonetic implementation of the opposition is not just a physical event: it is a
sign of the relational values that define the opposition. That is the function of
neutralization: it implements in sign-theoretic terms the values that define the
phonological structure as a system. Without this sign function of the phonetic
implementation, the phonology of a language would be neither a structure nor
systematic—and would be neither learnable nor perpetuable. THE SIGN FUNCTION IS
THE RAISON D’ÊTRE OF THE PHONETIC IMPLEMENTATION. Pace all the standard hand-
books, it has nothing to do with such purely physical (phonetic) considerations as
“economy of effort” or “assimilation.”
The interesting thing about neutralization is that while it is typically manifested
without exception, this is the case only when the conditions of its manifestation are
either positional or make reference to distinctive rather than redundant features. In
the case at hand, Messrs. Obama and Bush’s trait of “devoicing” final desinences
after liquids and nasals, what we have is a kind of neutralization that also has a sign
function, but a slightly different one from straightforward neutralizations in which
the unmarked term appears to the exclusion of the marked term of the opposition.
The fact that voicing is non-distinctive in English liquids and nasals—while being
normally voiced but positionally also voiceless, these sonorants cannot be opposed
by the feature voiced vs. voiceless (unlike, say, Burmese)—is something that the
phonology of English manifests sequentially as a sign-theoretic fact by allowing, as
a matter of idiolectal variation, for either the “voiced” (i.e., lax/media) value [z] of
the norm to appear after them; or, as in the speech of Messrs. Obama and Bush, the
non-normative [s]. Here the typical result of neutralization—the appearance of the
unmarked member, which would be the phonetic realization of /z/, alias [z] in
English—does not obtain in non-normative speech precisely because the neutral-
ization makes reference to a PHONETIC POSITION (initial, medial, final), not to a
SEQUENTIAL PHONETIC CONTEXT.
Messrs. Obama and Bush’s departure from the norm follows as a matter of
course, once we understand that the very indifference to a tense or lax realization of
{s] as the possessive/plural desinence in English is wholly coherent with the
semiotic nature of the phonetic realization, which is to signify the
non-distinctiveness of protensity in sonorants.

1.29 Paronomastic Interference in Language Change

Glossary
alliteration, n.: the repetition of the same sounds or of the same kinds of
sounds at the beginning of words or in stressed syllables

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binomial, n.: something consisting of or relating to two names or terms


etymologically, adv. < etymological, adj. < etymology, n.: the origin and his-
torical development of a linguistic form as shown by determining its basic
elements, earliest known use, and changes in form and meaning, tracing its
transmission from one language to another, identifying its cognates in other
languages, and reconstructing its ancestral form where possible
etymon, n.: a foreign word from which a particular loan word is derived
paronomastic, adj. < paronomasia, n.: a play upon words in which the same
word is used in different senses or words similar in sound are set in
opposition so as to give antithetical force

While alliteration has a very old pedigree in English and is the source of innovation
in phraseology (despite blatant redundancies; cf. the odious binomials skill set and
price point, to name only two contemporary cases), PARONOMASIA has been neglected
as a source of false analogy that gives rise to variant pronunciations. The American
English rendering of the word machination(s) with the sound [ʃ] instead of [k]
for -ch-, while manifestly produced by analogy with machine, should probably not
be attributed solely to the influence of the latter, as will be made clear below.
The Oxford English Dictionary Online has the following entry for this word:

machination n. An instance of plotting or (usually malicious) contrivance; an intrigue, plot,


or scheme. Now usu. in pl.
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˌmak ʃn/, /ˌmaʃ ʃn/, U.S. /ˌmækəˈneɪʃən/, /
ˌmæʃəˈneɪʃən/.
Etymology: < Anglo-Norman and Middle French machination plotting, wicked con-
trivance or stratagem (13th cent. in Old French) and its etymon classical Latin
māchinātiōn-, māchinātiō machine-making, piece of machinery, stratagem (rare in this
sense in classical Latin, although attested in post-classical Latin in British sources from
960) < māchināt-, past participial stem of māchinārī + -iō. Compare Italian macchi-
nazione plot, machine, siege engine (14th cent.), Catalan maquinació plot (late 14th
cent.). The pronunciation with /ʃ/, due to the influence of machine n., was recorded in
Webster (1961); the presence of an entry in the B.B.C.’s Recommendations for
Pronouncing Difficult Words (S.P.E. Tract No. XXXII, 1931), p. 28, recommending the
traditional pronunciation, may be indirect earlier evidence for the existence of the
pronunciation with /ʃ/.

Besides the influence of machine, one should also consider the same sort of
paronomastic interference that has produced a derived meaning, in American
English, for the verb meld, namely ‘mixing together’, even though the original
meaning was ‘announce’ and had nothing to do with ‘mixing’. The new meaning is
the product of conflating meld with weld, i.e., where only the initial consonant need
be interchanged for the new sense to ensue. In the case of machination(s), the false
analogy stems from the sound-alikes mesh (cf. enmesh) and (much less-likely)
mash. The original sound of the Anglo-Norman word is undercut by its etymo-
logically inauthentic association with a verb that suggests something like what takes
place in and results from a plot, intrigue, or malicious contrivance.
1.30 The “Pin/Pen Merger:” An Example of Neutralization 43

1.30 The “Pin/Pen Merger:” An Example of Neutralization

Glossary
marked, adj., markedness, n.: vide supra (Latin ‘see above’)
nasal, adj.: articulated by lowering the soft palate so that air resonates in the
nasal cavities and passes out the nose, as in the pronunciation of the
consonants (m), (n), and (ng) or the nasalized vowel of French bon
neutralization: n., the suspension of an opposition, such that only one of the
two terms of the opposition represents both terms
phonology: n., the study of speech sounds in language or a language with
reference to their distribution and patterning and to tacit rules governing
pronunciation; The sound system of a language
tertium non datur: ‘no third term obtains’ (Latin)

One of the most recognizable traits of American speech in the South and Southwest
is the so-called “pin/pen merger,” a shorthand phrase meant to designate the
non-distinction of the front vowels /i/ and /e/ before the nasal consonants /m, n, ŋ/.
The vowel that appears in this position is identified with the realization of the high
front vowel in pin, whim, and sing. Speakers who have this trait do not distinguish
between the pronunciation not only of minimal pairs like pin and pen or fin and fen
but of any word that has a front vowel before a nasal consonant (whatever the
spelling), so that one hears m[ɪ]mber for Standard American English m[ɛ]mber,
m[ɪ]ntality for SAE m[ɛ]ntality, etc.
People who have this trait need not be speaking in an identifiable dialect. In fact,
it may be the only remnant of a regionalism in what is otherwise SAE speech. For
instance, just this morning I heard three announcers/reporters on NPR (Renée
Montagne, Deborah Byrd, Richard Harris) who display this trait but are otherwise
speakers of the standard.
Thus, despite the constant migration of people from place to place over their
lifetimes, the impact of education and the media typically results in an American
standard that is largely free of dialectal or regional traits—with the prominent
exception of this one, which is properly to be labeled a NEUTRALIZATION.
A neutralization is the reduction (G Aufhebung) of an opposition to one of its two
terms. Technically, one speaks here of the realization of an opposition in a position
of neutralization (= context). Typically, an opposition that is neutralized in a certain
context is realized as (identified with) one of its two terms—to the exclusion of the
other, but also of any third term: tertium non datur.
Despite the familiarity of the “pin/pen merger” to linguists as a fact of dialect
geography, its status and attendant meaning specifically as a neutralization have not
become part of language lore. Neutralizations throughout grammar (i.e., not only in
phonology) have an interesting sign function. In positions of neutralization it is
normal for the realization of the opposition to be identified with the unmarked

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(generic) term. Thus, for instance, when the sex of the referent is immaterial one
finds words of the unmarked masculine gender referring to both sexes (“Man is an
animal.”). In the case of the two front vowels in question, /ɪ/ as a high vowel is
unmarked vis-à-vis the marked non-high /ɛ/ in the opposition high/non-high. Hence
this phonological case conforms in sign function to the general principle that it is
the unmarked member of the opposition that appears as the representative of the
opposition in a position of neutralization.
In language the sign function of neutralization is unitary—whatever the concrete
realization, depending on context, to which it is uniformly sensitive. Neutralization
is a fundamental means by which both users (initially, qua learners) and analysts—
unconsciously in the first case, consciously in the second—are provided with the
material evidence that linguistic variation is not haphazard but structurally coherent,
where coherence is measured by the systematic, patterned cooccurrence of units and
contexts in tandem.

1.31 Reading Pronunciations

Glossary
ablative, adj.: of, relating to, or being a grammatical case indicating separa-
tion, direction away from, sometimes manner or agency, and the object of
certain verbs (found in Latin and other Indo-European languages); the
ablative case; a form in this case
diphthong, n: a complex speech sound or glide that begins with one vowel
and gradually changes to another vowel within the same syllable, as
(oi) in boil or (ai) in fine
monophthong, n.: a single vowel articulated without change in quality
throughout the course of a syllable, as the vowel of English bed
nomina propria: proper nouns (Latin)

What is traditionally called spelling pronunciation is actually a misnomer: it should


be called reading pronunciation because all such incorrect pronunciations actually
arise in the process of reading unfamiliar words rather than spelling them. Modern
dictionaries such as The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
(4th ed., 2006) typically dignify these errors by listing them alongside the tradi-
tionally correct form. For example, the reading pronunciation of equinox, with the
same first vowel as echo, is given (second) after the form with the same first vowel
as equal.
For the most part, reading pronunciations arise in words of Latinate
(Anglo-Norman) origin, specifically and primarily as concerns the vowels of a
given word. (Here, British English has a long and venerable tradition of Anglicizing
1.31 Reading Pronunciations 45

the pronunciation by rendering the vowels as diphthongs.) Hence, for instance,


instead of pronouncing pace ‘with the permission of; with deference to’ (< Latin
pāce, ablative of pāx ‘peace’) as [pɛí si:] to rhyme with racy, speakers who have
never actually heard this word uttered by a knowledgeable person will pronounce it
[pɑč́ ɛi], i.e., the stressed first vowel to rhyme with pocket, the unstressed second
with hay, in accordance with the misguided American practice that makes Latin into
a kind of Italian; and in fact it is this pronunciation of pace that is registered in The
American Heritage Dictionary, which lists it first.
It is ignorance of the traditional Anglicized pronunciation—nothing more,
nothing less—that accounts not only for the erroneous pronunciation of Latinate
vocabulary but of foreign nomina propria like Ossetia/Ossetian and Iran/Iranian.
In each such instance, the traditional diphthong of the stressed vowel is replaced by
a monophthong that is the result of a reading pronunciation.

R
1.32 Rethinking Phonetic Variation (str! tr)

Glossary
assimilation, n.: the process by which a sound is modified so that it becomes
similar or identical to an adjacent or nearby sound. For example, the prefix
in- becomes im- in impossible by assimilation to the labial p of possible
cluster, n.: two or more successive consonants in a word, as cl and st in the
word cluster
creole, n.: a person of mixed Black and European ancestry who speaks a
creolized language, especially one based on French or Spanish
creolize, v.: to make Creole; cause to adopt Creole qualities or customs; to
cause to become a creolized language
diagram, n.: a type of sign in which relations at one level (form) are repli-
cated at another level (meaning)
diagrammatize, v.: make (into) a diagram (of)
dialectal, adj. < dialect, n.: a regional or social variety of a language dis-
tinguished by pronunciation, grammar, or vocabulary, especially a variety
of speech differing from the standard literary language or speech pattern
of the culture in which it exists
individualism, n.: an individual characteristic; a quirk
isomorphism, n.: identity or similar form or shape or structure
liquid. n.: a consonant articulated without friction and capable of being
prolonged like a vowel, such as English l and r
marked, adj. > markedness: vide infra
markedness, n.: the evaluative superstructure of all semiotic (‘sign-theoretic’)
oppositions, as well as the theory of such a superstructure, characterized

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in terms of the values ‘marked’ (conceptually restricted) and ‘unmarked’


(conceptually unrestricted)
palatal, adj.: produced with the front of the tongue near or against the hard
palate, as the (y) in English young; produced with the blade of the tongue
near the hard palate, as the (ch) in English chin
patois, n.: the special jargon of a group
phonetic, adj. < phonetics, n.: the system of sounds of a particular language
phonology, n.: the study of speech sounds in language or a language with
reference to their distribution and patterning and to tacit rules governing
pronunciation
semiotic, adj.: pertaining to elements of or any system of signs, defined as
anything capable of signifying an object (meaning)

A phonetic trait of some contemporary speakers of American English R is the pro-


nunciation of initial [s] in the triconsonantal cluster –str- as a palatal [ ] (the initial
sound of show),
R so that in
R this change-in-progress words like strength and street
sound like [ tréŋh] and [ tríyt].
One linguist has noticed it in the pronunciation of some North Carolinians and
therefore tends to think of it as a dialectal feature of South/South Midland speech.
Another is cautious about giving it a regional label and has taken it to be an
individualism, more likely to be Southern than Northern. This trait occurs com-
monly in Jamaica, West Indies, when speakers of the creole patois are going up the
social scale, and has also been reported in New Zealand English.
What is interesting about this phonetic development is its particularity as regards
the presence of /tr/ in the cluster. Other consonantal clusters involving initial /s/ do
not undergo the change, so that, for instance, words like spleen, spring, etc., are
unaffected. Since /r/ and /l/ are both liquids, it would seem to be some property of /r/
and /t/ as compared to /l/ and /p/ that would likely account for the change.
In order to solve this problem, one needs to stop thinking of sound changes as
narrowly grounded in the physical substance of (articulatory) phonetics, particularly
when it comes
R to assimilation. There is no straightforward physicalR similarity
between [ ] and [r] in American English, so even if the change of [s] to [ ] “across”
[t] before [r] were reckoned to be a kind of assimilation “at a distance,” that would
still leave unexplained the absence of a change in the context of [l] and [p].
A semiotic view of phonetic variation, by contrast, does provide an explanatory
framework, and does so in a unitary way that fits the epistemological requirement of
always seeking to reveal the isomorphism of structure between phonology and
grammar. That framework
R is expressed in terms of MARKEDNESS.
The sounds / /, /t/, and/r/, in English as in other languages, are MARKED for
certain phonological features, meaning a superordinate semiotic value—relative
restrictedness in conceptual scope—which is absent in /s/, /p/, and /l/, making the
latter UNMARKED for the same features.
R
1.32 Rethinking Phonetic Variation (str! tr) 47

What the change at issue demonstrates, therefore, is the INTERPRETATIVE MAPPING


of SEMIOTIC VALUE into physical substance at the core of language.
R The phonetic
sequence /str/ changes in the pronunciation of some speakers to / tr/ as a process by
which the identity of /r/ and /t/ as marked sounds is instantiated. The effects of
linguistic rules are, here as elsewhere, invariably the way in which language
manifests—to speakers, learners, and analysts alike—the system of values that
informs linguistic structure. Phonetic effects in other words are a DIAGRAM of
phonological values Nothing could more succinctly encapsulate the idea of
PHONOLOGY AS SEMIOTIC or as essentially anent linguistic change, the idea that THE
TELOS OF LANGUAGE CHANGE IS THE DIAGRAMMATIZATION OF MEANING IN FORM.

1.33 Rhymes with Pomeranian

Glossary
diphthong: a complex speech sound or glide that begins with one vowel and
gradually changes to another vowel within the same syllable, as (oi) in
boil or (ai) in fine
monophthongal, adj. < monophthong, n.: a single vowel articulated without
change in quality throughout the course of a syllable, as the vowel of
English bed
solecism, n.: a nonstandard usage or grammatical construction; an impro-
priety, mistake, or incongruity

Since Iran is so much in the news these days, it is no wonder that one constantly
hears, not only this proper noun, but its derived adjective (mis)pronounced by
people in the media and those whose speech is influenced by such opinion makers,
etc.
As in the case of Iraq, the pronunciation of Iran with a broad stressed vowel (as
in the name Ron) is decidedly not in conformity with traditional English phonetics
—British or American. It stems ultimately from the foreigner’s misplaced repro-
duction in English of the Persian vowel, which is then mimicked by native speakers
who (unconsciously?) choose what they must imagine to be “authentic” over what
would otherwise be dictated by native phonetics.
More to the point, the derived adjective Iranian, whose stressed vowel has
always been [éi] (i.e., a diphthong) and not the monophthongal replica of the Farsi
speaker’s un-English stressed vowel, is repeatedly heard from native English
speakers who have no knowledge of any foreign language, let alone Persian. This
kind of phonetic solecism appears to be licensed by the very same desire for
“authenticity” that manifests itself when speakers wish their interlocutors to eval-
uate them as being “in the know.”

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1.34 Router

Glossary
agentive, adj.: of or relating to a linguistic form or construction that indicates
an agent or agency, as the suffix -er in singer
base, n.: a morpheme or morphemes regarded as a form to which affixes or
other bases may be added
deriving, adj. < derive, v.: to generate (one structure) from another or from a
set of others
high, adj.: of or relating to vowels produced with part of the tongue close to
the palate, as in the vowel of tree
iconic, adj. < icon, n.: an image; a representation, specifically, a sign related
to its object by similarity
lexical: adj.: pertaining to the lexicon or to words
lexicon, n.: the morphemes of a language considered as a group
marked, adj. > markedness: vide infra
markedness, n.: the evaluative superstructure of all semiotic (‘sign-theoretic’)
oppositions, as well as the theory of such a superstructure, characterized
in terms of the values ‘marked’ (conceptually restricted) and ‘unmarked’
(conceptually unrestricted)
phonic, adj.: of, relating to, or having the nature of sound, especially speech
sounds
semiotic, adj.: pertaining to elements of or any system of signs, defined as
anything capable of signifying an object (meaning)
telos, n.: goal (Greek)
unrounded, adj.: pronounced with the lips in a flattened or neutral position

Word histories are often characterized by twists and turns. A good example is
router, which is derived from the word route (of Anglo-Norman provenience, i.e.,
Middle English < Old French < Latin). In contemporary American English the
alternate form of the deriving base [raʊd], rhyming with rout instead of root, clearly
stems from a reading (=spelling) pronunciation and is still typically listed second in
the dictionaries.
Of course, anyone who knows the song “Route 66” (lyrics by Bobby Troup) will
not fail to give the word route in the refrain its proper “British” pronunciation, as in:
If you ever plan to motor west,
Travel my way, take the highway that is best.
Get your kicks on route sixty-six.

The persistence of [ruːt] (and the total inappropriateness of [raʊd]) here is to be


explained by the poetic design in its phonic aspect: the internal rhyme kicks/sixty-six
1.34 Router 49

utilizes the high unrounded vowel /i/, which dictates the presence of the corre-
sponding high rounded vowel /u/ in route.
By contrast, the new meaning of router (it has several older ones) connected
with internet technology is unexceptionally pronounced [ˈraʊdər] on this side of the
Atlantic. Here is its complete entry from the Oxford English Dictionary Online:
router, n.
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈruːtə/, U.S. /ˈraʊdər/
Etymology: < route v. + -er suffix1.
Electronics and Computing.
A device, circuit, algorithm, etc., which serves to determine the destinations of
individual incoming signals; esp. a device which receives data packets and
forwards them to the appropriate computer network or part of a network.
1968 Nucl. Physics A. 116 549 A router circuit sent the coincidences from the first
unit to be stored in the first 200 channels of the pulse-height analyser and those
from the second to the last 200 channels.
1970 Nucl. Instruments & Methods 85 64/2 A ‘router’ switched the output of the
detector to each of the subgroup in succession.
1986 Science 28 Feb. 976/2 The router can pick a component of the node address
that is not zero and send the message in a direction in which that component of
the node address is one.
1990 Pract. Computing Sept. 85/3 This enables printers with Apple’s built-in
network, Localtalk, to be connected to Ethernet‥without the need for an
expensive gateway or router.
2006 Hi Life No. 5. 34/1 If you add a Wi-Fi router to your broadband link you’ll be able
to access the internet via Wi-Fi-equipped laptop from any room in your home.
The explanation in the case of the derived word is its MARKED STATUS, i.e., an
agentive in –er that is an object, not a person, hence conducing to the iconic
pronunciation with the marked vowel /aw/.
This is a good illustration of markedness agreement (between sound and sense)
being a definitive—if only potential—telos of language change, not a necessary
one. British English, by contrast with American, has not yet exploited the semiotic
potential inherent in this particular case of lexical development.

1.35 Sosal Sicurity (alias Social Security)

Glossary
compactness, n. < compact, adj.: a phonological distinctive feature value
represented acoustically in a relatively narrow, central region of the
auditory spectrum and a higher concentration of energy (opposed to non-
compact [vide infra])

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compositum, n.: a compound word


compounding, n.: the process of creating a compound (word)
dental, adj.: articulated with the tip of the tongue near or against the upper
front teeth
derivational, adj. < derivation, n.: the process by which words are formed
from existing words or bases by adding affixes, as singer from sing or
undo from do, by changing the shape of the word or base, as song from
sing, or by adding an affix and changing the pronunciation of the word or
base, as electricity from electric
front, adj.: designating vowels produced at or toward the front of the oral
cavity, such as the vowels of green and get
hissing, adj.: pertaining to a higher-pitch sibilant sound similar to a sustained
s
hushing, adj.: pertaining to a lower-pitch sibilant sound similar to a sustained
sh
marked: of or relating to that member of a pair of sounds, words, or forms that
explicitly denotes a particular subset of the meanings denoted by the other
member of the pair. For example, of the two words lion and lioness, lion
is unmarked for gender (it can denote either a male or female) whereas
lioness is marked, since it denotes only females
medial, adj.: being a sound, syllable, or letter occurring between the initial
and final positions in a word or morpheme
morphology, n.: the system or the study of (linguistic) form
non-compact, adj.: a phonological distinctive feature value represented
acoustically in a relatively non-central region of the auditory spectrum and
a lower concentration of energy (opposed to compact [vide supra])
obstruent, n.: a sound, such as a stop, fricative, or affricate, that is produced
with complete blockage or at least partial constriction of the airflow
through the nose or mouth
palatal, adj.: produced with the front of the tongue near or against the hard
palate, as the (y) in English young; produced with the blade of the tongue
near the hard palate, as the (ch) in English chin
palatalization, n.: to pronounce as or alter to a palatal sound
phoneme, n.: the smallest phonetic unit in a language that is capable of
conveying a distinction in meaning, as the m of mat and the b of bat in
English
phonemically, adv. < phonemic, adj.: serving to distinguish phonemes or
distinctive features
phonetically, adv. < phonetic, adj.: of, relating to, or being features of pro-
nunciation that are not phonemically distinctive in a language, as aspi-
ration of consonants or vowel length in English
protensity: category of phonological distinctive features comprising the
acoustic opposition tense vs. lax, defined by the longer (vs. reduced)
1.35 Sosal Sicurity (alias Social Security) 51

duration of the steady state portion of the sound, and its sharper defined
resonance regions in the spectrum
semiotic, adj.: pertaining to elements of, or any system of signs, defined as
anything capable of signifying an object (meaning)
sibilant, n.: a sibilant speech sound, such as English s, sh, z, or zh
substantive, n.: a noun
tense, adj. vs. lax, adj.: (acoustically) longer vs. reduced duration of the steady
state portion of the sound, and its sharper defined resonance regions of the
spectrum; (genetically) a deliberate vs. rapid execution of the required
gesture resulting in a lastingly stationary articulation
typologically, adv. < typological, adj. < typology, n.: comparative study of
languages or aspects of languages as to their structures rather than their
historical relations
unmarking, n.: the change from a marked to an unmarked value

Many speakers of American English have long been mispronouncing the phrase
social security by assimilating the medial hushing sound /ʃ/ (=sh) of the first word
to the initial hissing sound /s/of both, so that the phrase comes out sounding like
this: [sósəlsikyúritiy].
This change—for it is a change—can straightforwardly be reckoned a case of
(so-called) ASSIMILATION AT A DISTANCE, but this would be a unique instance of
/ʃ/ > /s/ in any context, let alone a non-contiguous one in English, hence suspect as
an assimilation. Typologically, as is true of /s/ before /i/ in the phrase at issue, the
directionality is rather from /s/ to /ʃ/ and not the reverse, i.e., a garden-variety case
of palatalization, observable in the histories of many languages, where a dental
(here the hiss-sibilant) becomes a palatal (here the hush-sibilant) before a front
vowel (here /i/).
The replacement of /ʃ/ by /s/ in non-normative speech is to be explained
otherwise, specifically as an UNMARKING The palatal /ʃ/ is marked for compactness
whereas the dental /s/ is unmarked for this feature. Additionally, it is important to
keep firmly in mind that the unique change at issue occurs only in this fixed phrase,
where the context is a compound (consisting of an adjective plus a substantive).
Now, it is a fact that the process of composition (as, for that matter, derivational
morphology generally) is often accompanied by an unmarking of the individual
constituents that go to make up the compositum. What this means is that some
marked aspect of an individual constituent is replaced by its unmarked counterpart
when that constituent enters into a compound.
Taking the same process in a non-Indo-European language like Japanese for
comparison, one sees that compounding regularly involves the replacement of a
phonetically voiceless (actually, a phonemically tense) obstruent, at the beginning
of the second constituent of the compound, by its phonetically voiced
(resp. phonemically lax) counterpart, e.g., fuufu ‘husband and wife’ + kenka

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‘quarrel’ > fuufugenka ‘marital strife’—and never the other way around. Tenseness
being marked and laxness unmarked for obstruents in languages with phonemic
protensity (like English, Japanese, Serbian, Croatian, German, or French), the
replacement of the initial /k/ of the second constituent kenka by /g/ is clearly an
unmarking, completely parallel to the replacement in the phrase social security of
the medial /ʃ/ by /s/.
This phrase in American English, moreover, has a superordinate meaning that is
not simply an additive product of social + security. Thus the replacement of the
hushing by the hissing sibilant is completely consistent with the nature of com-
position, namely the subordination of individual constituents to the resultant
compound both formally and semantically. The normative pronunciation of the first
constituent does not, of course, undermine the status of the phrase as a compound.
But compared to the non-normative pronunciation, it has simply not exploited the
semiotic potential attendant on compounding that the latter has done.

1.36 Sound and Sense in a Language’s Bauplan

Glossary
alliterative, adj. < alliteration: n., the repetition of the same sounds or of the
same kinds of sounds at the beginning of words or in stressed syllables
Bauplan, n.: building plan, blueprint (German)
collocational, adj. < collocation, n.: an arrangement or juxtaposition of
words or other elements, especially those that commonly co-occur, as
rancid butter, bosom buddy, or dead serious
in potentia: in potentiality; potentially (Latin)
paronomasia, n.: a play upon words in which the same word is used in
different senses or
words similar in sound are set in opposition so as to give antithetical force

The levels of patterning in language consist of (1) system i.e., everything functional
that is productive in a language, including usage that exists in potentia; (2) norms,
i.e., usage that is historically realized and codified in a given speech community;
and (3) type, i.e., the specific Bauplan or underlying design of a language.
Within the compass of the third level, namely Bauplan, falls a language’s
predilection for collocational structure, as in proverbs and paronomasia generally.
One language’s meat can be another’s poison. Thus, a typical alliterative sequence
of English like neither kith nor kin is utterly alien to Japanese, where in a proverb
like Horeta me ni wa abata mo ekubo 惚れた目には痘痕も靨 ‘to a lover’s eyes
even a pockmark is a dimple’ (= “Love is blind.”), sound offers no support to sense.
1.37 Sound over Sense and the Iconic Impulse 53

1.37 Sound over Sense and the Iconic Impulse

Glossary
dactylic, adj. < dactyl, n.: a metrical foot consisting of one accented syllable
followed by two unaccented or of one long syllable followed by two
short, as in flattery
iconic, adj. < icon, n.: an image; a representation, specifically, a sign related
to its object by similarity
metric, adj.: pertaining to (poetic) meter
QED < quod erat demonstandum ‘which was to be demonstrated’ (Latin)
ternary, adj.: pertaining to a poetic meter consisting of units (feet) with three
syllables

In recent years the old phrase to make a long story short has undergone a shortening
of its own: “long story short.” This distorted version of the original can be heard
from the mouths of younger speakers (in their 20 s and 30 s). Here is an expla-
nation of the change.
First, the new form has a metric pattern that demonstrates the typical triumph of
sound over sense, in that it is now cast in dactylic meter, i.e., a ternary meter with
stress on the first syllable. The new phrase has four syllables, wherein the main
stress falls on the first of the initial three (“lóng story”) followed by the single
stressed syllable (“short”) of a truncated second dactyl.
Second, the new version makes a covert iconic citation of the meaning of the
older one, to wit: long story short is the result of applying the sense of to make a
long story short TO ITSELF. QED

1.38 Stylistics of the Alveolar Flap

Glossary
allophone, n.: a predictable phonetic variant of a phoneme.
alveolar, adj.: formed with the tip of the tongue touching or near the inner
ridge of the gums of the upper front teeth, as the English (t), (d), and (s);
relating to the jaw section containing the tooth sockets
alveoli, pl. n. < alveolus, n.: a tooth socket in the jawbone
dental, adj.: articulated with the tip of the tongue near or against the upper
front teeth
flap, n.: a sound articulated by a single, quick touch of the tongue against the
teeth or alveolar ridge, as (t) in water
intervocalic, adj.: occurring between vowels

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nasal, adj.: articulated by lowering the soft palate so that air resonates in the
nasal cavities and passes out the nose, as in the pronunciation of the
consonants (m), (n), and (ng) or the nasalized vowel of French bon
neutralization: n., the suspension of an opposition, such that only one of the
two terms of the opposition represents both terms
orthographic, adj. < orthography, n.: (correct) spelling
phoneme, n.: the smallest phonetic unit in a language that is capable of con-
veying a distinction in meaning, as the m of mat and the b of bat in English
plosive, adj.: of, relating to, or being a speech sound produced by complete
closure of the oral passage and subsequent release accompanied by a burst
of air, as in the sound (p) in pit or (d) in dog
post-vocalic, adj.: following a vowel
stop, n.: one of a set of speech sounds that is a plosive or a nasal

The voiced consonant one hears in American English (among other varieties of
English) between vowels post-tonically (=after the stress) in words like bitter and
bidder is called an alveolar flap a sound articulated with the tip of the tongue placed
against the alveolar ridge and the vocal bands vibrating. This allophone of the
phonemes /t/ and /d/, symbolized [D], is also heard after the post-vocalic nasal /n/,
so that international is typically pronounced [-nD-].
The identical intervocalic pronunciation of orthographic t and d can create an
unintended comic effect when the words in question belong to two stylistically quite
incompatible sectors of the lexicon. Thus the Swiss name Blatter (the surname of
the FIFA president, Sepp Blatter), which Americans understandably pronounce
with an alveolar flap, makes the man sound like a component of human anatomy.
What has not been remarked elsewhere, however, is the stylistic restriction on
such a neutralization of the difference between /t/ and /d/, namely in formal speech.
But less-than-careful speakers, even radio announcers, do allow themselves to carry
over their informal phonetic habits into formal diction, with noticeable effect. Thus
the male radio voice one hears announcing the name of the organization Public
Radio International after its programs habitually fails to articulate the appropriate
formal variant [t]—i.e., the dental stop—in the third word, substituting the alveolar
flap instead, which makes him sound less than sober.

1.39 Ten Thousand Untruths

Glossary
antepenultimate, adj. < antepenult, n.: the third syllable from the end in a
word
1.39 Ten Thousand Untruths 55

bossa nova, n.: a Brazilian dance characterized by the sprightly step pattern of
the samba and a subtle bounce
copula, n.: a verb, such as a form of be or seem, that identifies the predicate of
a sentence with the subject
genitive, adj.: of, relating to, or being the grammatical case expressing pos-
session, measurement, or source
nominative, adj.: of, relating to, or being the case of the subject of a finite verb
(as I in I wrote the letter) and of words identified with the subject of a
copula, such as a predicate nominative
oblique, adj.: any grammatical case but the nominative or vocative (called
direct)
penultimate, adj. < penult, n.: the next to last syllable

One of the possible unpredictable paths that language development can take is
exemplified by the assimilation of loan words wherein something that is at variance
with the linguistic patterns of the donor language is adopted by the borrowing
speech community anyway, and only owing to the imputed prestige of the first
transmitter(s) of the mistaken form.
One is reminded here of the popular Japanese proverb—Ikken kyo ni hoete
banken jitsu o tsutau (一犬嘘に吠えて万犬実お伝う)—which, loosely translated,
means ‘One dog barks out a lie, and ten thousand dogs take it up as the truth’.
This sort of situation must be what explains the consistent misstressing one hears
in the Anglophone media of the Slavic surnames of tennis players, particularly of
the swarm of Russian women that inhabit the current ranks of tennis professionals.
Take the names of two prominent women, Maria Sharapova and Svetlana
Kuznetsova, who are among the many playing on the pro circuit. The monolingual
TV announcers who have to struggle with the pronunciation of their surnames
follow what is now the established norm in tennis parlance, with penultimate stress
in the first name and antepenultimate stress in the second, i.e., Sharapóva and
Kuznétsova. Note that both surnames have four syllables and end in –a (the Russian
feminine ending). Accordingly, following the native English stress pattern for such
quadrisyllabic items, they should both be pronounced with main stress on the
penultimate syllable, i.e., as in bòssa nóva or, for that matter, pàneg´yric.
Now, it so happens that both of the English adaptations are wrong from the point
of view of their authentic form in Russian. In these women’s native language it is
Sharápova, which like all Russian family names in –ov/-ova goes back to a pos-
sessive adjective derived from a nominal base (here the dialectal sharáp ‘theft’) and
mimics the fixed stress on the second syllable of the stem throughout its paradigm
(Nom sharáp, Gen sharápa, etc.); and it is Kuznetsóva (< kuznéts ‘blacksmith’),
because it follows the stress pattern Nom kuznéts, Gen kuznetsá, etc., with stress on
the first syllable of the suffix (=ending) in the oblique cases, which corresponds to
the penult in the derived feminine surname in the nominative case.

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By rights, if one is going to pronounce both names according to English stress


rules, then both Sharapova and Kuznetsova should have stress on the penult. This
would be at odds with the authentic Russian stress in the first case but would
coincide with it in the second. It would, of course, take only a very small effort to
pronounce them both “correctly,” since Sharápova would fit the model of
unfláppable (which is quadrisyllabic in English despite its trisyllabic orthography,
the final vowel being silent, but a reduced vowel being pronounced between the
final two consonants), and Kuznetsóva would conform to the type Manitóba.
Consequently, the two mistaken stresses—from the point of view of Russian—in
Sharapóva and Kuznétsova—are of an UNEQUAL DEGREE OF INAUTHENTICITY OR
FALSITY from the point of view of English. The first misstressing comes about
simply from the application of normal English stressing rules to quadrisyllabic
names of foreign origin. But the second is only explicable as a mistake pure and
simple, one that was first made by an American or British speaker—doubtless a TV
commentator—but whose prestige licensed its endless repetition as the accepted
form by the myriad listeners who (naturally) took it at face value.

1.40 Teutonisms as Barbarisms

Glossary
affricate, n.: a complex speech sound consisting of a stop consonant followed
by a fricative; for example, the initial sounds of child and joy
alveolar, adj.: formed with the tip of the tongue touching or near the inner
ridge of the gums of the upper front teeth, as the English (t), (d), and (s);
relating to the jaw section containing the tooth sockets
atavism, n.: the return of a trait or recurrence of previous behavior after a
period of absence
base, n.: the root or stem of a word or a derivative; the uninflected form of a
verb
echt, adj.: real; genuine (German)
elide, v.: to omit or slur over (a syllable, for example) in
pronunciation
epenthetic, adj. < epenthesis, n.: the insertion of a sound in the middle of a
word, as in Middle English thunder < Old English thunor
fortis, adj.: ‘strong’ (Latin), opposed to lenis ‘soft’
fricative, n.: a consonant, such as f or s in English, produced by the forcing of
breath through
a constricted passage
lenis, adj.: ‘soft’ (Latin), opposed to fortis ‘strong’
obstruent, n.: a sound, such as a stop, fricative, or affricate, that is produced
with complete blockage or at least partial constriction of the airflow
through the nose or mouth
1.40 Teutonisms as Barbarisms 57

schwa: a mid-central neutral vowel, typically occurring in unstressed sylla-


bles, as the final vowel of English sofa; the symbol (ə) used to represent
an unstressed neutral vowel and, in some systems of phonetic transcrip-
tion, a stressed mid-central vowel, as in but
substratum, n.: an indigenous language that contributes features to the lan-
guage of an invading people who impose their language on the indigenous
population
typological, adj. < typology, n.: comparative study of languages or aspects of
languages as to their structures rather than their historical relations
velar, adj.: articulated with the back of the tongue touching or near the soft
palate, as (g) in good and (k) in king

English may be a Germanic language but aside from words borrowed long ago (like
kindergarten) there seem to be very few outright Germanisms in the language
today (not counting Yiddishisms, hence the use of the term “Teutonisms”)
although quite some time ago Marianne Shapiro (with her acute sense of such
matters) noticed the penetration, into ad-speak particularly but not only—perhaps as
latent typological atavisms—of such constructions as doctor-tested and even user-
friendly (which latter formation doubtless derives from computer lingo) as evidence
for a plausible Germanic substratum in contemporary American English.
Recently, in American media language, the German preposition/prefix über has
cropped up as a prefix with all form classes, signifying (apparently) some sort of
extreme degree of whatever is designated by the base. How über- came into English
is not clear to me; it is not attested in either the Oxford English Dictionary Online or
any American dictionary. Needless to say, journalists who use this prefix appear not
to have any German. I consider it a fatuous barbarism.
In that vein, one morning (9/18/08) I heard a reporter on the radio (Stacey
Vanek-Smith, “Marketplace Morning Report,” American Public Media, KPCC-FM
89.3, Pasadena) read the words Sturm und Drang (”Storm and Stress”) as
[stɜŕ məndrɑŋ́ ], where (1) the vowels of the first and last words–-the two
nouns–-were those of English term and wrong, respectively, and the consonant of
the first word was [s] rather than the correct [š]; and (2) the conjunction was
unstressed, elided the final consonant [t] (German lenis obstruents being realized as
fortis in syllable-final position), and had a schwa for the German [u].
Now, a radio announcer reading from a text that she probably had very little to
do with writing may certainly be excused for not pronouncing the phrase for an
eighteenth-century German cultural movement in a way that conformed in every
detail with German phonetics, but there is, after all, The American Heritage
Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed., 2006), which lists Sturm und Drang
and gives the pronunciation as [shtoorm unt dräng], so why not look it up—
especially since it is more than likely that the utterer had no German and no
knowledge of what this phrase meant, even in context? Here the mispronounced
Teutonism is a barbarism.

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When native speakers of American English habitually pronounce Köchel (the


abbreviated form of G Köchelverzeichnis, used to designate Mozart’s oeuvre after
the surname of his cataloguer) as [kɜŕ šəl]–-thus mangling the original language’s
phonetics with an epenthetic [r] and an alveolar instead of a velar fricative-–one has
come to expect it as the usual anglicized version. Moreover, pronouncing it in the
echt-German way would now doubtless itself be evaluated as a barbarism as well.

1.41 The Fading of Oral Tradition

Glossary
lexis, n.: the aggregate of a language’s words (vocabulary as distinguished
from grammar)
mиp пpaxy ee (mír práxu eë): ‘may peace be on her remains’ (Russian); cf.
‫( עליה השלום‬aleha ha-shalom) ‘may peace be upon her’ (Hebrew);
olevasholem (Yiddish)
orthoepic, adj. < orthoepy, n.: the study of the pronunciation of words; the
customary pronunciation of words

The advent of the digital revolution is only the latest phase in the eclipse of the oral
tradition in language use by practices derived from the sphere of the written word.
Thus when a radio announcer mispronounces chicanery by rendering the stressed
vowel so as to rhyme with can rather than cane, he is clearly relying on a habit of
reading, not speaking, which produces American English [æ] instead of (British
English) Anglicized [ā]. One can safely guess that he has never actually heard the
word pronounced by a speaker who knows the correct form.
Never hearing some words of English lexis is clearly becoming the common
experience of a growing number of speakers of American English. This is evidently
what accounts for the establishment of incorrect stresses like cónsummate (the
adjective, not the verb) among even educated speakers for what in the English oral
tradition is consúmmate [kənˈsʌmət] (cf. the differential designations for the cor-
responding entry in the Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary, 16th ed.).
On an autobiographical note, it was in fact only when I first heard the word
pronounced correctly from a paragon of English diction, my late wife Marianne (of
blessed memory) that I changed my own prosodic habits to comport with those of
someone who had evidently imbibed it herself from her early orthoepic models and,
more importantly, embodied its meaning in her own person. Mиp пpaxy ee.
1.42 The Hidden Homophony in ‘Icon(ic)’ 59

1.42 The Hidden Homophony in ‘Icon(ic)’

Glossary
homophony, n. < homophonic, adj.: having the same sound
pons asinorum: ‘bridge of fools [asses]’ (Latin); the fifth proposition of the
first book of Euclid’s Elements, which states that the angles at the base of
an isosceles triangle are equal

No one exposed to contemporary media language can have missed the gross
overuse of the words icon and iconic in American English. The grotesque surfeit of
their occurrence has reached the point where the Los Angeles Times has reportedly
banned them from its pages (along with legend and legendary as applied to
persons).
How to explain their rise to ubiquity? The terminologization of icon in
computer-speak could be a contributory factor, but a more proximate cause may
lurk in something virtual, viz. the homophony of the initial vowel with the words
I and eye. Nothing is more important to the notional content of the contemporary
meanings of icon and iconic than their epitomic connotations of SELFHOOD (as
embodied in the first person singular pronoun) and of SEEING (as embodied in name
of the organ of sight). This explanation rises in plausibility when seen as a variation
on Euclid’s pons asinorum as applied to language.

1.43 The Ideology of Vowel Reduction

Glossary
au fond: at bottom; fundamentally (French)
gestalt, n.: a physical, biological, psychological, or symbolic configuration or
pattern of elements so unified as a whole that its properties cannot be
derived from a simple summation of its parts (German)
icon, n.: an image; a representation, specifically, a sign related to its object by
similarity
polysyllable, n.: a word containing more than one syllable
reduction, n.: any of various changes in the acoustic quality of vowels, related
to changes in stress, sonority, duration, loudness, articulation, or position
in the word, which makes the reduced vowels shorter as well
schwa: a mid-central neutral vowel, typically occurring in unstressed sylla-
bles, as the final vowel of English sofa; the symbol (ə) used to represent

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an unstressed neutral vowel and, in some systems of phonetic transcrip-


tion, a stressed mid-central vowel, as in but
semiotic, adj.: vide infra
sign, adj.: semiotic, i.e., pertaining to elements of or any system of signs,
defined as anything capable of signifying an object (meaning)
stress, n.: the emphasis placed on the sound or syllable spoken most force-
fully in a word or phrase
toponym, n.: place name
ultima, n.: final syllable

It is not altogether uncommon among the Indo-European languages to have what is


called vowel reduction in unstressed syllables, by which is meant the substitution
(typically, in a polysyllabic word, but not only) of a shorter and partially displaced
vowel for what would otherwise, under stress, be a so-called full vowel This
happens, for instance, in standard Russian and Bulgarian, as it does in English.
The difference between the two Slavic languages and English is that whereas
vowel reduction is completely regular in the native vocabulary of the former, it is
subject to much variation in the latter. Thus a word like candidate can be pro-
nounced either with secondary stress and retention of the full vowel in the final
syllable, or with no secondary stress and the pronunciation of a schwa (ə) in the
ultima. The character of the stress and the character of the vowel are linked: primary
stress goes with full vowels, secondary stress or unstressedness with schwa. Any
secondarily stressed or unstressed syllable can contain a schwa: the a in adept, the
e in synthesis, the i in decimal, the o in harmony, the u in medium, the y in syringe
are all schwas.
The appearance of schwas differs somewhat as between British and American
English In standard British English, schwa regularly appears in some words where
American pronunciation retains a full vowel cf. the differential phonetics of pen-
tagon, Amazon, businessman, and even legislature. The case of the toponym
Birmingham (Alabama vs. England) is a perfect illustration. Of course, in large part
the two versions of English have the same vowel in unstressed syllables, but there
is a marked propensity in British speech for schwas to occur where they do not in
American. This means that where American English has a reduced vowel, so will
British—but not vice versa.
One of the sign functions of vowel reduction is to underscore the unity of the
word, that its constituents are subordinate to the unified integrity of the word as a
whole, as a gestalt. Thus when, in British but not American English, the element
man in businessman loses its full vowel character in this compound, it is IN THAT
MEASURE also subordinated in value to the semantic unity of the compound. This is a
matter of semantic hierarchy constituents of words are always subordinate in
meaning to that of the whole word of which they are parts. Vowel reduction and
concomitant absence of secondary stress are a sign, therefore, of the word’s unity,
of the parts being subordinate to the whole.
1.43 The Ideology of Vowel Reduction 61

The difference between British and American speech in the distribution of


reduced vowels in polysyllables is not au fond a matter of mere phonetics but of
mentality. By consistently reducing vowels that are unreduced in American
English, British English emphasizes the VALUE OF THE WHOLE at the expense of the
PARTS, whereas American speech tends to give equal value to the vowels of sec-
ondarily stressed syllables.
This phenomenon can be interpreted as a sign—an ICON, in fact, in that word’s
proper semiotic sense—of what is fundamentally an ideological difference, always
necessarily historical, between the two Englishes: British English here emphasizes
the superordinate historical value (unconsciously) placed by its speakers on the
UNITY OF THE NATION manifested linguistically, whereas American English by giving
nearly equal value to part and whole, aligns itself ideologically with its enduring
history as a revolutionary product, to this day less a nation than an uneasy feder-
ation of disparate states.

1.44 The Pentagon in Maryland (Sandhi and Prosody)

Glossary
affix, n.: a word element, such as a prefix or suffix, that can only occur
attached to a base, stem, or root
bound, adj.: being a form, especially a morpheme, that cannot stand as an
independent word, such as a prefix or suffix
distinctive, adj.: phonemically relevant and capable of conveying a difference
in meaning, as nasalization in the initial sound of mat versus bat
iconic, adj. < icon, n.: an image; a representation, specifically, a sign related
to its object by similarity
idiolect, n.: the speech of an individual, considered as a linguistic pattern
unique among speakers of his or her language or dialect
indexical, adj. < index, n.: a sign that is related to its object (meaning) by
contiguity
markedness, n.: the evaluative superstructure of all semiotic (‘sign-theoretic’)
oppositions, as well as the theory of such a superstructure, characterized
in terms of the values ‘marked’ (conceptually restricted) and ‘unmarked’
(conceptually unrestricted)
medial, adj.: being a sound, syllable, or letter occurring between the initial
and final positions in a word or morpheme
morpheme, n.: a meaningful linguistic unit consisting of a word, such as man,
or a word element, such as -ed in walked, that cannot be divided into
smaller meaningful parts
phonetic, adj.: of, relating to, or being features of pronunciation that are not
phonemically distinctive in a language, as aspiration of consonants or

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vowel length in English; pertaining to phonetics, i.e., the study of speech


sounds from the acoustic or articulatory point of view
phonological, adj. < phonology, n.: the study of speech sounds in language or
a language with reference to their distribution and patterning and to tacit
rules governing pronunciation
prosody, n.: a particular system of stress or of versification
reduced, adj. < reduction, n.: any of various changes in the acoustic quality of
vowels, related to changes in stress, sonority, duration, loudness, articula-
tion, or position in the word, which makes the reduced vowels shorter as well
schwa: a mid-central neutral vowel, typically occurring in unstressed sylla-
bles, as the final vowel of English sofa; the symbol (ə) used to represent
an unstressed neutral vowel and, in some systems of phonetic transcrip-
tion, a stressed mid-central vowel, as in but
semiotic, adj.: pertaining to elements of or any system of signs, defined as
anything capable of signifying an object (meaning)
suffix, n.: an affix [vide supra] added to the end of a word or stem, serving to
form a new word or functioning as an inflectional ending, such as -ness in
gentleness, -ing in walking, or -s in sits

As has been adverted to in earlier essays, unstressed vowels are often rendered
differently in British and American English. The word pentagon in British English is
thus heard with two reduced vowels, namely schwas, in its unstressed syllables—
[pɛn ́ təgən]—whereas in American only the medial vowel is reduced, hence
[pɛń təgòn] . Conversely, British speakers regularly keep the vowel of the constituent
{-land} unreduced in pronouncing the American state Maryland, which no American
would do. The same distribution applies to most other words containing this con-
stituent, e.g., inland, although free variation is possible in some (like mainland) .
Vowel reduction in unstressed syllables is one species of phonological alterna-
tion that goes by the name of SANDHI, a Sanskrit term that has been used in linguistic
analysis for more than a century. (It is usually pronounced [sǽndi], like the first
name “Sandy,” or [sɑː́ ndi], identical with “Sunday” for some British English
speakers.) Variations and alternations at the boundaries of constituents is one of the
core instantiations of sandhi Phenomena associated with phonological sandhi rules
of this sort have two basic functions in language, one SYSTEMIC the other TEXTUAL.
Their systemic function is ICONIC, in that they produce distributions of phonetic
values in utterances which reflect the distinctive, resp. allophonic value of the
features in question, and the markedness relations that hold between values of the
same feature opposition. Their textual function, on the other hand, works to signal
cohesion between elements and is thereby INTEGRATIVE, which is to say that this
function is INDEXICAL: it signals, for instance, that constituents of the word in
question are connected to each other in patterns of internal cohesion.
The upshot of this semiotic account is to enable the understanding of variation in
language as something coherent, not arbitrary. When the constituent {-land} in
1.44 The Pentagon in Maryland (Sandhi and Prosody) 63

mainland is treated (=“understood”) as a bound element subordinate to the meaning


of the whole, its vowel loses its stress in the compound, resulting in vowel re-
duction hence [mɛí nlənd]. Conversely, lack of secondary stress and concomitant
vowel reduction is a sign that a semantic hierarchy has determined the particular
phonetic form of the word, resulting in the full vowel [a] instead of a schwa. This is
an immanent structural fact of the variety of English of those speakers who
implement this pronunciation. When the constituent in question retains a secondary
stress, and the word is consequently pronounced [mɛí nlànd] , the semantic hier-
archy accords (nearly) equal rank to both constituents. Its status as a compound is
less distinct than in the form with no secondary stress and a schwa. Speakers whose
idiolect manifests the unreduced form of the vowel, therefore, have a different
understanding of the hierarchical status of the two constituents in question from
those whose speech here manifests vowel reduction.

1.45 The Pronunciation of Beijing

Glossary
affricate, n.: a complex speech sound consisting of a stop consonant followed
by a fricative; for example, the initial sounds of child and joy
disyllabic, adj.: consisting of two syllables
fricative, n.: a consonant, such as f or s in English, produced by the forcing of
breath through a constricted passage
orthographic, adj. < orthography, n.: a method of representing a language or
the sounds of language by written symbols; spelling

Many speakers of American English—for instance, the current Secretary of State,


Hillary Clinton—pronounce the name of the capital of China with a medial fricative
[ʒ] despite the fact that it is written with a j, which in native words like judge and
adjudicate, etc., is uniformly (i.e., regardless of position) an affricate [dʒ], as it is,
for that matter, in the donor language (Chinese) as well. Why, then, the fricative?
The answer lies in the spread of Italian dialectal—viz., Sicilian and Neapolitan
—pronunciation in American English, which was brought to the United States by
Italian immigrants speaking non-standard Italian, in which a word like parmigian
(o) (the cheese) has a medial fricative instead of the standard Italian affricate.
Americans who pronounce the fricative rather than the affricate in Beijing are thus
unwittingly generalizing what they take to be the appropriate foreign—viz.
Sicilian/Neapolitan—pronunciation and extending it to ANY borrowing with
orthographic j, evidently taking the fricative to be “authentic” in such words.
This is akin to the mistaken generalization that results in all foreign disyllabic
names regardless of origin having final stress on the model of French, which

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accounts for the occasional mispronunciation by Americans of Russian names like


Lenin and Stalin.

1.46 The Temperature in February (Dejotation)

Glossary
coda, n.: the consonant sounds of a syllable that follow the nucleus
dejotation, n.: the elision of a liquid or a glide following a consonant and
preceding the medial vowel of a syllable
elide, v. > elision, n.: omission of an unstressed vowel or syllable; the act or
an instance of omitting something
gestalt, n.: a physical, biological, psychological, or symbolic configuration or
pattern of elements so unified as a whole that its properties cannot be
derived from a simple summation of its parts (German)
glide, n.: the transitional sound produced by passing from the articulatory
position of one speech sound to that of another, specifically a sound that
has the quality of one of the high vowels, and that functions as a con-
sonant before or after vowels, as the initial sounds of yell and well and the
final sounds of coy and cow
high, adj.: of or relating to vowels produced with part of the tongue close to
the palate, as in the vowel of tree
iconic, adj. < icon, n.: an image; a representation, specifically, a sign related
to its object by similarity
liquid. n.: a consonant articulated without friction and capable of being
prolonged like a vowel, such as English l and r
medial, adj.: being a sound, syllable, or letter occurring between the initial
and final positions in a word or morpheme
nucleus, n.: the part of a syllable having the greatest sonority
obstruent, n.: a sound, such as a stop, fricative, or affricate, that is produced
with complete blockage or at least partial constriction of the airflow
through the nose or mouth
onset, n.: the part of a syllable that precedes the nucleus
orthography, n.: (correct) spelling
palate, n.: the roof of the mouth in vertebrates having a complete or partial
separation of the oral and nasal
phonology, n.: the study of speech sounds in language or a language with
reference to their distribution and patterning and to tacit rules governing
pronunciation
semiotic, adj.: pertaining to elements of or any system of signs, defined as
anything capable of signifying an object (meaning)
sonority, n.: the degree to which a speech sound is like a vowel
1.46 The Temperature in February (Dejotation) 65

The common words temperature and February are often pronounced with
vowel elision and/or DEJOTATION, by which latter is meant here the dropping of a
LIQUID or GLIDE following a consonant and preceding the medial vowel, resulting
in phonetic variation, viz. [témpəchur] and [fébyueri], alongside the pronunci-
ations that are guided by orthography. In the case of February the dropping of
r after b does not alter the fact that the glide (transcribed by the letter y here)
remains regardless of which variant is heard in contemporary (American)
English.
Someone unfamiliar with the arcana of structural linguistics may wonder why
such an elision takes place despite the orthography. The reason lies in the nature of
the relation between speech sounds and their implementation. Every speech sound
has a content that is manifested in actual utterances in such a way as to reveal—to
both learner and user—just what that content is. In semiotic terms, this is to say
there is an ICONIC RELATION between the sounds and the rules of their implementa-
tion. The rules of a language’s phonology are a map of its distinctive features. In
other words, the rules of combination of linguistic units (here: sounds) are a
function of the units’ makeup.
In the case of the two words at issue, one needs also to realize that speech sounds
do not occur in isolation but are grouped together in syllables, which are the basic
gestalt domains of speech. A syllable is defined by three POSITIONS: the NUCLEUS—
usually a vowel—and two MARGINS, namely the ONSET and the CODA which are
resp. the initial and the final sounds in the syllable, preceding and following the
vocalic nucleus. Taking a monosyllable like sprat as a handy example, the onset
consists of spr- and the coda of t.
Returning to temperature and February, in each case there is an extant pro-
nunciation that is at variance with the orthography whereby the liquid r in onset
position following an obstruent is elided before the vowel. The sound change that is
constituted by this elision falls under the compass of a general process, namely
DEJOTATION. The function of all such changes is to produce an ICON of the relation—a
DIAGRAM—between UNIT and CONTEXT, here between sound and syllable. It is
through processes of this kind that all languages remain true to their nature as
structures (patterns) and are NOT merely agglomerations of facts. This is, indeed, THE
LOGIC GOVERNING ALL LINGUISTIC VARIATION.

1.47 Variation in the Stress of Quadrisyllables

Glossary
orthographic, adj. < orthography, n.: a method of representing a language or
the sounds of language by written symbols; spelling
post-tonic, adj.: occurring after the stressed syllable

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reduced, adj. < reduction, n.: any of various changes in the acoustic quality
of vowels, related to changes in stress, sonority, duration, loudness,
articulation, or position in the word, which makes the reduced vowels
shorter as well
schwa: a mid-central neutral vowel, typically occurring in unstressed sylla-
bles, as the final vowel of English sofa; the symbol (ə) used to represent
an unstressed neutral vowel and, in some systems of phonetic transcrip-
tion, a stressed mid-central vowel, as in but

English stress rules deal with quadrisyllables in a variety of ways, including the
distribution of reduced vowels in post-tonic syllables, and in some cases, moreover,
exploiting differences between American and British English. A word like saxo-
phonist in British English is pronounced with stress on the second syllable and a
reduced vowel (schwa) in the third, but never in American, where the primary stress
invariably falls on the initial, and a secondary stress is heard on the third syllable.
Cf. the stress contróversy, at least as one of two contemporary variants in British
but never in American English.
The frequent word innovative has primary stress on the initial and secondary
stress on the third syllable in American English, whereas in British English there is
no secondary stress, all unstressed syllables being reduced, i.e., with a schwa for
orthographic o and a where American English has the diphthongs [oʋ] and [eɪ],
respectively.
[Personal Note: The potential stress pattern in this word corresponding to that of
saxóphonist has not been exploited in any variety of English known to me—with
the exception of individual usage, namely in the speech of my late wife, Marianne
Shapiro (1940–2003), the most versatile and accomplished American Italianist of
the twentieth century. ‫ עליו השלום‬aleha ha-shalom.]

1.48 Verbal Proprioception

Glossary
onomastic, adj.: of, relating to, or explaining a name or names
proprioception, n.: the unconscious perception of movement and spatial
orientation arising from stimuli within the body itself

Users of language, whether native or foreign, differ in the degree to which they are
aware of what they say phonetically and grammatically. Thus non-native speakers
are often unaware of making mistakes and do nothing to correct themselves even
when exposed to repeated exemplars of the correct forms. But this is also true of
1.48 Verbal Proprioception 67

native speakers, particularly when confronted with variation and the necessity to
choose the correct variant.
An example of the latter phenomenon was heard this week from President
Obama in connection with the G8 economic summit that was held in L’Aquila,
Italy, in 2009. The latter town’s name in Italian is pronounced with the stress on the
initial syllable. Mr. Obama must have heard this pronunciation numerous times, but
he (and some others on the radio) mispronounced it, putting the stress on the medial
syllable. It is perhaps not surprising to hear this from a speaker of English who
speaks no foreign languages and generally seems to be uncomfortable with foreign
onomastic items. But in the face of ample evidence to the contrary, a speech habit
that goes against such evidence can only be chalked up to a lack of verbal pro-
prioception, a strange defect in someone who is (otiosely) praised for his rhetorical
skills and does not lack for education.

1.49 Voiceless Vowels and Vowel Loss

Glossary
allegro, adj.: in a quick, lively tempo (Italian)
aphesis, n.: the loss of an initial, usually unstressed vowel, as in cute from
acute
apocope, n.: the loss of one or more sounds from the end of a word, as in
Modern English sing from Middle English singen
high, adj.: of or relating to vowels produced with part of the tongue close to
the palate, as in the vowel of tree
indexical, adj. < index, n.: a sign that is related to its object (meaning) by
contiguity
lento, adj.: in a slow tempo (Italian)
phonology, n.: the study of speech sounds in language or a language with
reference to their distribution and patterning and to tacit rules governing
pronunciation
segmental, adj.: of or relating to (linear) segments of the speech chain
semiotic, adj.: pertaining to elements of or any system of signs, defined as
anything capable of signifying an object (meaning)
syncopate, v.: to shorten (a word) by syncope
syncope, n.: the shortening of a word by omission of a sound, letter, or
syllable from the middle of the word
unvoice, v.: to pronounce (a normally voiced sound) without vibration of the
vocal chords so as to make it wholly or partly voiceless

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Many languages exhibit voiceless vowels, by which is meant the pronunciation of a


vowel sound in certain contexts without the vibration of the vocal bands.
Voicelessness typically precedes vowel loss, as in English lone from alone or round
from around. This sort of phenomenon can be observed in the speech of Barack
Obama, who routinely either unvoices or drops the initial vowel in America(n), as
does the (cloying) radio host Ira Glass (“This American Life”) , illustrating what is
called APHESIS, defined as the loss of a short unaccented vowel at the beginning of a
word.
The loss of a vowel and/or an adjacent consonant can also occur in the middle or
end of a word, in which case it is called syncope (medial syllables, as in bos’n for
boatswain) or apocope (final syllables, as in sing < Old English singan). Such
phonetic processes are first observed historically in colloquial or allegro tempo
varieties of speech (for instance, the so-called loss of the “jers” [=supershort
vowels] in medieval Slavic) and are then generalized to all styles regardless of
tempo. In Japanese the high vowels i and u are regularly syncopated between
voiceless consonants in all styles unless emphasis is called for, in which case they
can be reinstated in lento tempo. French routinely syncopates medial vowels in
neutral (elliptical) speech (cf. maintenant, etc.), reinstating them when called for in
explicit style.
What vowel loss illustrates is the INDEXICAL FUNCTION of contextual variation in
language. Aphesis and syncope are always tied to specific phonetic contexts, and
they are thus SIGNS—INDEXES, to be precise—of both the value of the vowel
involved, on one hand, and the value of the consonants in the segmental context, on
the other. This semiotic grounding of the phenomena at issue insures the solidarity
between rules and contexts, absent which the phonology of a language—like all the
components of grammar—would not be the coherent system that it is.

1.50 Yiddishized Enumerative Intonation

Glossary
a lokh n kop: like a hole in the head (Yiddish)
intonation, n.: the use of changing pitch to convey syntactic information
lexical, adj. < lexicon, n., pl. lexica: the words of a language considered as a
group

American English intonation (unlike British English is not characterized by steep


rises and falls However, there is one case where a rise is followed by a significant
fall, and that is in enumerations, e.g., “Moishe wants the jump suit, the aviator
glasses, the parachute all to be the best.” The intonation curve of all three enu-
merated objects first rises and then markedly falls. This is an entirely
1.50 Yiddishized Enumerative Intonation 69

un-Anglo-Saxon pattern, but it can nevertheless be heard increasingly often ema-


nating from the mouths of decidedly gentile speakers utterly oblivious of the
intonation’s origin.
It owes its existence to Yiddish (ultimately from Slavic, namely Russian) and
can be added to lexical importations (meshugge, shlep, mamzer, etc.) that have been
registered by normative dictionaries as borrowed from Yiddish and that now belong
to the stock of English vocabulary. This we needed like a lokh n kop!

1.51 A Peculiar Case of Metathesis ([æks] < [æsk])

Glossary
ceteris paribus: with all other factors or things remaining the same (Latin)
epiphenomenon, n.: a secondary phenomenon that results from and accom-
panies another
marked, adj.: of or relating to that member of a pair of sounds, words, or
forms that explicitly denotes a particular subset of the meanings denoted
by the other member of the pair. For example, of the two words lion and
lioness, lion is unmarked for gender (it can denote either a male or female)
whereas lioness is marked, since it denotes only females
reflex, n.: a form or feature that reflects or represents an earlier, often
reconstructed, form or feature having undergone phonetic or other change
semiotic, adj.: pertaining to elements of or any system of signs, defined as
anything capable of signifying an object (meaning)
stridency < strident, adj.: of the articulation of a consonantal sound: char-
acterized by friction that is comparatively turbulent. Also as n., a con-
sonant articulated in this way

Metathesis is the name of a process in language whereby the position of (typically)


two sounds is inverted so that the historically preceding sound in a sequence
exchanges places with its succeeding companion. In the history of English, this
process is largely confined to sequences involving a liquid (l, r), as in third com-
pared to three, wherein the vowel and the liquid have exchanged places in the
ordinal numeral.
An example of metathesis that can be heard in Southern American English (but
not only; cf. especially the speech of African-Americans regardless of region) is
[æks] instead of standard [æsk] for ask. (Etymologically, this verb goes back to
Middle English asken, from Old English ācsian, āscian.) Judging by examples of
metathesis in this word attested from Old English (e.g., in Chaucer), this is a very
old change in the language, and reflexes of both forms can be found dialectally in
both England and America.

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How to explain the persistence of the non-standard form in American English?


As in all cases of change, one must look for a rationalized explication of variety, not
just for an ad hoc phonetic epiphenomenon or vagary of pronunciation. In semiotic
terms, this instance can be explained as an implementation of a general principle
governing the order of elements in grammar, whereby (ceteris paribus) the
unmarked term precedes the marked term. Thus the etymologically correct order of
the two consonants in the cluster in question, s and k, happens to contravene the
normal cooccurrence of unmarked element before marked, /s/ being marked for the
feature of stridency and /k/ being unmarked. The reversal of their order by
metathesis in [æks] can thus be explained as a reversion to norm as applied to the
sequence of markedness values in the consonant cluster.

1.52 The Alveolar Flap and Secondary Stress

Glossary
alveolar, adj.: formed with the tip of the tongue touching or near the inner
ridge of the gums of the upper front teeth, as the English t, d, and s
flap, n.: a sound articulated by a single, quick touch of the tongue against the
teeth or alveolar ridge, as t in water
nasal, adj.: articulated by lowering the soft palate so that air resonates in the
nasal cavities and passes out the nose, as in the pronunciation of the
consonants m, n, and ng or the nasalized vowel of French bon
plosive, adj.: of, relating to, or being a speech sound produced by complete
closure of the oral passage and subsequent release accompanied by a burst
of air, as in the sound p in pit or d in dog
reduction, n.: the use an unstressed vowel or no vowel at all instead of a
stressed vowel
semiotic, adj.: pertaining to elements of or any system of signs, defined as
anything capable of signifying an object (meaning)
stop, n.: one of a set of speech sounds that is a plosive or a nasal (vide supra)

In recent years there has been a marked tendency among younger speakers of
American English for the alveolar flap [D], which is the sound that appears as the
contextual variant of the phonemes /t/ and /d/ before unstressed syllables, to be
replaced with a full stop [t] and [d]. Thus, the word student, which in
standard/traditional American English is pronounced with an alveolar flap pre-
ceding the unstressed vowel, is heard in the speech of adolescents and young adults
with a fully plosive [d] instead of [D]. Concomitantly, in this speech variant the
unstressed vowel in student has a lesser degree of both quantitative and qualitative
1.52 The Alveolar Flap and Secondary Stress 71

reduction, meaning that it approximates to its stressed variant [ɛ] as in tent, instead
of the normative [ə] or [ɨ] in position after primary stress.
The probable reason for the eclipse of the alveolar flap in this position is not
difficult to find. It has to do with the decline of fully reduced unstressed vowels
throughout contemporary English pronunciation, a tendency spearheaded by
younger speakers, possibly due the influence of the printed/digitized word. There is,
more specifically, a symmetry or parallelism between the semiotic value of
reduction in the consonant and reduction in the (post-tonic) vowel. The alveolar flap
is, after all, a reduced variant of the basic plosive sound, in the sense that flapping is
an attenuation of the acoustic and articulatory force that characterizes the unflapped,
fully plosive basic variant t or d. Similarly, an unstressed vowel is a reduced
contextual variant of the basic vowel. In both cases, therefore, it is a reduction that
occurs, illustrating the linguistic principle which dictates that units and contexts
(and their variants) ARE ALWAYS GOVERNED BY PATTERNS OF COOCCURRENCE.

1.53 Prosody and Emphasis

Glossary
anapestic < anapest, n.: a metrical foot composed of two short syllables
followed by one long one, as in the word seventeen
dissyllabic, adj.: consisting of two syllables
hypertrophy, n.: a nontumorous enlargement of an organ or a tissue as a result
of an increase in the size rather than the number of constituent cells
iambic, adj. < iamb, n.: a metrical foot consisting of an unstressed syllable
followed by a stressed syllable or a short syllable followed by a long
syllable, as in delay
overdetermination, n.: the idea that a single observed effect is determined by
multiple causes at once, any one of which alone would be enough to
account for the effect
prosodically < prosodic < prosody, n.: a suprasegmental phonological fea-
ture such as intonation and stress; also: such features collectively; the
patterns of stress and intonation in a language
suprasegmental, adj./n.: a vocal effect that extends over more than one sound
segment in an utterance, such as pitch, stress, or juncture pattern

Greater than normal force in the stressing of a word is the most common way of
producing emphasis, which in American English concomitantly produces a
lengthening of the stressed vowel (“That doughnut was sóoo good!”). There is,
however, a slightly different way of heightening emphasis, and that is by reducing
to zero the number of contiguous unstressed vowels between stressed syllables. It

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is, in fact, this way that has led to the supersession of the phrase “Thanks very
much” over the last decade or more by “Thanks so much.” Because the combination
very much is trisyllabic and tending toward an anapestic pronunciation (stronger
stress on the third of three consecutive syllables), one currently hears much more
frequently its equivalent “Thanks so much,” in which the relevant phrase is dis-
syllabic and prosodically iambic.
The emphasis the word so imparts to the phrase so much is enhanced by the
latter’s being monosyllabic, exceeding that imparted by its anapestic alternate, with
its unstressed medial syllable. In an age when all forms of linguistic hypertrophy are
gaining at the expense of plainspokenness in American English, this particular case
of emphasis is especially interesting because the quantitative criterion (here: fewer
syllables) yields to the supervening prosodic one in exemplifying the continuing
drift toward overdetermination in the contemporary language.

1.54 Speaking Like One’s Fellows (f.)

Glossary
apotropaic, adj.: intended to ward off evil or danger
apotropaism, n.: an act or ritual conducted to ward off evil or danger
atavism, n.: the return of a trait or recurrence of previous behavior after a
period of absence; throwback
buccal, adj.: of or relating to the cheeks or the mouth cavity
castrato, n.: a male singer castrated in boyhood so as to retain a soprano or
alto voice
falsetto, n.: a forced voice of a range or register above the natural
semiotically < semiotic, adj.: pertaining to elements of or any system of
signs, defined as anything capable of signifying an object (meaning)
timbre, n.: the combination of qualities of a sound that distinguishes it from
other sounds of the same pitch and volume

No matter what the language, the speech of women and men differs—to a greater or
lesser extent depending on the language, traditional Japanese, for example, being an
extreme case—even though all human beings in a homogeneous social group tend
to speak like each other. Biological sex is a determinant of speech production, in the
first place, because the size of the organs involved in articulation (like the larynx,
the oral and thoracic cavities, etc.) are typically larger in men than in women.
Women, therefore, normally use a higher register (pitch) than do men to produce
speech sounds, although under special circumstances (like falsetto or castrato) men
and women are both capable of speaking with uncharacteristically high or low
pitch.
1.54 Speaking Like One’s Fellows (f.) 73

In contemporary American English, because of the general tendency among


younger women and girls in particular toward apotropaic strategies (the “apotropaic
smile” being one such largely unconscious device) , the increasingly dominant
place of articulation in the buccal cavity is toward the back. This gesture involves
retracting the lips and narrowing their aperture, all of which constricts the vocal
tract and contributes to the impression of constraint on the hearer that is notably
absent in the speech of males of the same age.
As an ensemble with the intonational and vocal timbre peculiarities of con-
temporary female speech noted here in earlier sections, these apotropaisms can only
be evaluated as an atavism that runs semiotically athwart—and threatens in part to
undermine—the aims and gains of the women’s movement.

1.55 Foreign Accents and Their Perception

Glossary
encomia [pl.], n.: compliments; words of praise
lingua franca: a medium of communication between peoples of different
languages (Italian ‘Frankish tongue’)
nota bene: note well (Latin)
physiognomic < physiognomy, n.: the mental, moral, philosophical, or
political aspect of something as an indication of its character; character-
istic aspect

With the contemporary spread of English—particularly the American variety—as a


world-wide lingua franca has come the inevitable concomitant of foreigners
speaking the language with an accent, including immigrants to Anglophone areas.
Depending on linguistic aptitude and the stage in life when English is acquired as a
non-native language, the degree to which a speaker’s accent is perceived as foreign
by native Americans, Britons, Canadians et al. will vary. This physiognomic feature
of speech can have a significant influence on interpersonal relations. Ultimately,
assuming that a foreign accent is not so thick as to be impenetrable by native and
non-native interlocutors, it becomes just another feature of a person’s profile, an
identifying mark no different from someone’s hair style or the color of their eyes.
The greater the degree of grammatical mastery of a foreign language by a
non-native speaker, the less of an impediment to fluid communication is that per-
son’s accent In some relatively rare cases, a foreign language is mastered to such a
degree of fluency that it passes for native and cannot be distinguished from the
norm in a given speech community. Here is an interesting and instructive instance.
My late wife Marianne Shapiro (née Goldner), the most accomplished and
versatile American Italianist of the twentieth century, was born in Budapest and

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immigrated to New York at the age of three speaking her native Hungarian (which
she retained into adulthood) and not a word of English. She quickly acquired an
accentless American English, spoken with impeccable diction and exemplary
mellifluousness. (By contrast, her younger brother, who was born in New York,
grew up speaking the local dialect i.e., with r-lessness and all the appropriate
vowels.) As a teenager she learned French, then Italian, both of them in school and
both of which she spoke without the trace of an accent to the point that in France
and Italy (where she had never lived for more than a year) she was routinely taken
for a native speaker. Curiously, given the Italian linguistic situation, in which
speakers typically retain some trace of a regional standard, the only thing that
attracted any attention was precisely this absence of a local substratum, occasion-
ally eliciting the comment, “You speak like a radio announcer,” following on the
query, “Where are you from?”
In France, where the natives are not noted for issuing encomia of foreigners’
French, she would routinely receive the bouquet, uttered with unmasked admira-
tion, “You speak like a Parisian!”
Another interesting case of perception of foreigners’ speech is the one that used
to obtain before Japanese came to be spoken by a wider circle of foreigners, as it is
today among non-native business people resident in Japan. In the old days, it was
not uncommon for a Japanese to resort to baby talk or some other distortion of
normal adult speech when addressing or answering a foreigner—even (nota bene)
when what came out of the mouth of the foreigner was flawless standard Japanese.
The perceptual disharmony created between a white person’s physiognomy and the
perfectly native simulacra of their Japanese interlocutors’ supposedly unique tongue
was evidently so disorienting to the latter as to occasion this bizarre specimen of
linguistic behavior.
Here is a variation on this theme. My brother Jacob, a fluent speaker of Japanese,
tells a story that somewhat mimics the situation described above, to wit: one day
after the war, when he was driving around and lost his way in the Japanese
countryside, he stopped a farmer to ask directions, but the farmer waved him off,
saying, “I don’t understand English,” even though Jacob’s question had been
framed in standard Japanese.

1.56 Palatalization Across Word Boundaries

Glossary
dental, adj.: articulated with the tip of the tongue near or against the upper
front teeth
fricative, n., adj.: consonant, such as f or s in English, produced by the forcing
of breath through a constricted passage
intervocalic, adj.: occurring between vowels
1.56 Palatalization Across Word Boundaries 75

laxing, n. < lax, adj.: Latin lenis ‘soft’, opposed to fortis ‘strong’ (vide infra
under tense vs. lax)
nasal, adj.: articulated by lowering the soft palate so that air resonates in the
nasal cavities and passes out the nose, as in the pronunciation of the
consonants (m), (n), and (ng) or the nasalized vowel of French bon
orthographic, adj. < orthography, n.: (correct) spelling
palatalization, n. < palatal, adj.: produced with the front of the tongue near
or against the hard palate, as the [y] in English young; produced with the
blade of the tongue near the hard palate, as the [č ] in English chin
plosive, adj.: of, relating to, or being a speech sound produced by complete
closure of the oral passage and subsequent release accompanied by a burst
of air, as in the sound [p] in pit or [d] in dog
semiotic, adj,: pertaining to elements of or any system of signs, defined as
anything capable of signifying an object (meaning)
stop, n.: stop, n.: one of a set of speech sounds that is a plosive or a nasal
tense vs. lax: one of the set of phonological distinctive feature in a language
(like English) with distinctive tenseness, defined(acoustically) as longer
vs. reduced duration of the steady state portion of the sound, and its
sharper resonance regions of the spectrum; and (genetically) as a delib-
erate vs. rapid execution of the required gesture resulting in a lastingly
stationary articulation
yod, n.: the voiced glide or spirant sound /y/ that is the first sound of the
English word yes

When the sounds /t d s / occur before yod (orthographic y or u), they undergo a
phonetic change called palatalization, by which is meant a replacement of the dental
stop or dental fricative by a palatal consonant, viz. (respectively) /č dʒ š ž/. Hence,
within a word the combination /t/ + /u/, as in mature, is typically pronounced with a
[č]; /d/ + /u/, as in adulation, with a [dʒ]; /s/ + /u/, as in usual, with a [ž] (note the
intervocalic laxing of s) This intra-word palatalization can be suspended in
hyper-careful pronunciation, which for some speakers is in fact the norm, as in
[mətʋr] instead of [məčʋr].
Palatalization generally does not occur across word boundaries, however, with
some exceptions. Thus the interjection gotcha, which is a contraction of got you,
used to indicate understanding or to signal the fact of having caught or defeated
another, is an orthographic rendering of the process of palatalization of [t] before
[y].
Similarly, many speakers pronounce the combination this year (in allegro
tempo) with a [š] for /s/. In this latter phrase the functional upshot of the phonetic
change does not remain at the level of sound. In semiotic terms, it is a change that
promotes textual cohesion since it as an index of the bound character of the two
words. The word boundary separating this from year is elided in the process of
creating a compound.

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1.57 Accent as Entrée

The advent of the sociolinguistic institution known as a standard language no earlier


than two centuries ago ushered in an immediately perceptible cultural criterion
according to which the accent of a speaker that deviated from the norm acted as a
barrier in rising up the socioeconomic ladder. Thus, in a well-known case, British
subjects whose speech did not conform to the King’s/Queen’s English—otherwise
dubbed “RP” (for “Received Pronunciation”) , i.e., typically the accent of Oxford
and Cambridge University graduates—were routinely ruled out of the competition
for places in the foreign service and in positions of authority in government and
business circles.
The American situation is somewhat less straightforward. Standard American
English (“SAE”) has never been a strict speech requirement for aspirants to high
office, witness the recent examples of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, both speakers
of a variety of Southern American dialects. For African-Americans however, SAE
is a practically indispensable vehicle in the climb up the class ladder, notably
exemplified today by Barack and Michelle Obama (both graduates of Ivy League
universities [Columbia and Princeton, resp.] and Harvard Law School). Not
speaking in Black English is demonstrably a prerequisite to advancement in most
walks of American life save the entertainment industry, where the speech of the
criminal underclass may even be the norm in certain genres (like hip hop).
When it comes to foreign accents in America, there is an interesting variegation
of the sociocultural picture such that racial and ethnic membership is perceived as a
license to deviation from the norm. A prominent example is Henry Kissinger, who
has steadfastly maintained his Dr. Strangelove German accent in English, despite
having immigrated to the United States as a teenager, and has nonetheless risen to
become a Harvard professor and a Secretary of State. This case illustrates the fact
that as long as a person’s non-standard American speech cannot be identified
phonetically with any native American dialect it need not be an impediment to their
socioeconomic ascendancy.

1.58 Islands of Englessness in Seas of Normativity

Glossary
digraph, n.: a group of two successive letters whose phonetic value is a single
sound (as ea in bread, ng in thing) or whose value is not the sum of a
value borne by each in other occurrences (as ch in chin, where the value is
[t] + [sh])
1.58 Islands of Englessness in Seas of Normativity 77

faux, adj.: resembling something else that is usually genuine and of better
quality; not real (French)
indecorous, adj.: not proper; conflicting with accepted standards of propriety
or good taste or good breeding
nasal, adj.: articulated by lowering the soft palate so that air resonates in the
nasal cavities and passes out the nose, as in the pronunciation of the
consonants (m), (n), and (ng) or the nasalized vowel of French bon
orthographically, adv. < orthographic, adj. < orthography, n.: a method of
representing the sounds of a language by written or printed symbols
plebes, n.: the general populace
plosive, adj.: of, relating to, or being a speech sound produced by complete
closure of the oral passage and subsequent release accompanied by a burst
of air, as in the sound p in pit or d in dog
stop, n.: one of a set of speech sounds that is a plosive or a nasal (vide supra)
tropism, n.: (with reference to people) a natural or innate instinct, tendency, or
impulse; (now more generally) a preference, an inclination
velar, adj.: articulated with the back of the tongue touching or near the soft
palate, as (g) in good and (k) in king

“Dropping one’s g’s” in gerunds and present participles (and the nouns derived
therefrom) is typical of colloquial and non-standard (dialectal) speech of all regions
and stereotypically of Cockney, Southern American English, and African American
Vernacular English. (The word eng is the linguistic term for the velar nasal stop
sound rendered orthographically by the digraph –ng.) It can also be an (uncon-
scious?) affectation in the speech of Standard American English speakers who make
a point of showing their solidarity with the plebes by recurring to englessness as a
linguistic badge of their democratic outlook.
One can hear this kind of (faux-?) linguistic solidarity being manifested by
Bayard Winthrop, the CEO of the company American Giant, on the December 8,
2012 broadcast of the NPR program “All Things Considered Weekend.” The
irruption of englessness in otherwise utterly normative speech deployed in an utterly
neutral context, can only be interpreted as pandering to the current tropism toward an
indecorous lowbrowishness among educated speakers (cf. Barack Obama).

1.59 Vocal Timbre and Authoritative Speech

Glossary
diagrammatic, adj. < diagram, n.: an icon of relation
gainsay, v.: to speak against, deny

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icon, n.: an image; a representation, specifically, a sign related to its object by


similarity
larynx, n.: voice box; vocal cords
register, n.: the range of a voice or instrument; spec. the particular range of
tones which can be produced in the same way and with the same quality
seemliness, n. < seemly, adj.: conforming to accepted standards of good form
or taste
semeiotically, adv. < semeiotic, adj. < semeiotic, n.: Peirce’s sign theory
timbre, n.: the character or quality of a musical or vocal sound (distinct from
its pitch and intensity) depending upon the particular voice or instrument
producing it, and distinguishing it from sounds proceeding from other
sources

While language has its own, strictly autonomous linguistic norms, it is also a
cultural phenomenon and therefore dependent on broader cultural norms. When it
comes to vocal timbre and vocal register speakers of American English generally
display a fairly wide spectrum of loudness and quality along the high/low axis. In
the latter respect, male speakers (whose larynxes are larger than that of females)
typically utilize the lower vocal range, as contrasted with females, who favor the
higher one. In some cultures, like the Japanese, it is considered unseemly for a
female voice to be low, just as it is for a male voice to be high. No such rigid criteria
of seemliness or appropriateness apply to the contemporary American situation.
However, there is no gainsaying the fact that high voices in American males and
low ones in females are perceived differently. Any person who speaks American
English is perceived to have greater authority when their habitual vocal timbre and
vocal register are at the lower end of the scale. Thus males who speak with a
squeaky voice run the risk of being identified as effeminate—with all the properties
that designation connotes. Similarly, female voices that are inordinately high tend
to be identified with immaturity and lack of authority. Conversely, a female who
speaks in a low vocal register is automatically judged to have greater authorita-
tiveness. Her voice alone already associates her more closely with male speech,
with its default perception as authoritative vis-à-vis female speech.
It should be pointed out that the high-low scale with respect to vocal timbre and
register is not culturally arbitrary and is semeiotically natural, i.e., diagrammatic.
There is a natural relation, on the one hand, between the substantiality of the
acoustic signal on the physical side and the substantiality—alias authoritativeness—
of the linguistic content (words) carried by that signal, on the other. The lower
register, when used for speech, is acoustically more robust in every way in com-
parison to the higher one. The association between the timbre of the spoken word
and the authoritativeness of what is said is thus semeiotically sealed regardless of
the content, with all this implies for the relation between gender and power.
1.60 The Dictionary Errs (Rhymes with Purrs) 79

1.60 The Dictionary Errs (Rhymes with Purrs)

Glossary
diagrammatization, v. < diagram, n. : (in Peirce's sign theory) an icon of
relation
icon, n.: (in Peirce’s sign theory) a sign exhibiting a similarity relation to its
object (meaning)
idem, pron.: the same
markedness, n.: the evaluative superstructure of all semiotic (‘sign-theoretic’)
oppositions, as well as the theory of such a superstructure, characterized
in terms of the values ‘marked’ (conceptually restricted) and ‘unmarked’
(conceptually unrestricted)
schwa, n.: an unstressed mid-central vowel that is the usual sound of the first
and last
vowels of the English word America
Peirce, n.: Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914), American logician and scientist
semeiotically, adv. < semeiotic, adj. < idem, n.: Peirce’s sign theory
substantive, n.: noun
teleologically, adv. < teleological, adj. < teleology, n.: the doctrine or study of
ends or final causes, esp. as related to the evidences of design or purpose in
nature; also transf. such design as exhibited in natural objects or phenomena

In the Merriam-Webster Unabridged (2013) under the definition of the verb err
one finds the following information:
Usage Discussion of ERR
The sound of the letter r often colors a preceding vowel in English, so that the originally
distinct vowels of curt, word, bird, and were are now pronounced the same. Originally err
and error had the same first vowel, but over time err developed the pronunciation \ˈər\ as
well. Commentators have expressed a visceral dislike for the original pronunciation \ˈer\;
perhaps they believe that once usage has established a new pronunciation for a word there
can be no going back. By this reasoning, though, we should embrace the once established
innovative pronunciations of gold \ˈgüld\ and Rome \ˈrüm\ (as seen in Shakespeare’s pun
on Rome and room in Julius Caesar I.ii.156). For these two words the English language has
returned to the older forms, and no sound reason prevents us from accepting again the \ˈer\
pronunciation of err, which is today also the more common variant in American speech.

In defending the modern mispronunciation of this word, what the contributors to


this dictionary have failed to take into account are the markedness relations that
support the traditional norm. The verb is the marked grammatical category (due to
its obligatorily explicit reference to time, lacking in the nominal categories of
substantive and adjective). Hence we should expect the vowel implemented in the
verb to be the marked vowel (here schwa), as opposed to the unmarked /e/ of the
noun error and the adjective errant. And that is exactly what we get.

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This particular distribution of vowels, as between the two opposed grammatical


categories, is what is semeiotically called an ICON OF RELATION, i.e., a
DIAGRAM. Language over time (teleologically) always tends toward a patent
diagrammatization of sound and sense, as the case of err demonstrates.

1.61 A Variation on Free Variation

Glossary
datum, n.: something that is given either from being experientially encoun-
tered or from being admitted or assumed for specific purposes; a fact or
principle granted or presented; something upon which an inference or an
argument is based or from which an intellectual system of any sort is
constructed
persona, n.: the social front, facade, or mark an individual assumes to depict
to the world at large the role in life that he is playing
purport, n.: meaning conveyed, professed, or implied

When linguists speak of “free variation,” they have instances like the variable pro-
nunciation of economics in mind, where the initial vowel can be pronounced in two
ways—[ekəˈnämiks, ˌēk-]—without there being any change in the stylistic or nor-
mative purport, some speakers habitually preferring one or the other of the variants.
A slight departure from this pattern is the case where one and the same speaker
pronounces one of the two variants on one occasion and the other on another
occasion, even as close to each other as in two parts of the same sentence.
This kind of inconsistency was heard this morning (March 20, 2013) from the
American humorist Garrison Keillor on NPR during his daily segment “The
Writer’s Almanac,” in which he pronounced the initial vowel of the title word
almanac [ˈȯl-mə-ˌnak, ˈal-] in both of the ways attested in current American
English. Anyone familiar with this speaker’s quirky personality (at least on the air)
would likely not be surprised to be apprised of this speech datum, since it clearly is
of a piece with his persona.

1.62 Sound-Sense Alignment of Word Class (Interjections)

Glossary
conative, adj. < conation, n.: the conscious drive to perform apparently
volitional acts with or without knowledge of the origin of the drive
1.62 Sound-Sense Alignment of Word Class (Interjections) 81

glide, n.: the transitional sound produced by passing from the articulatory
position of one speech sound to that of another, specifically a sound that
has the quality of one of the high vowels, and that functions as a con-
sonant before or after vowels, as the initial sounds of yell and well and the
final sounds of coy and cow
iconically, adv. < iconic, adj. < icon, n.: (in Peirce’s sign theory) an image; a
representation, specifically, a sign related to its object by similarity
iconicity, n.: the conceived similarity or analogy between the form of a sign
(linguistic or otherwise) and its meaning
liquid, n.: a consonant articulated without friction and capable of being
prolonged like a vowel, such as English l and r
nasal, adj., n.: articulated by lowering the soft palate so that air resonates in
the nasal cavities and passes out the nose, as in the pronunciation of the
consonants /m), /n/, and /ng/ or the nasalized vowel of French bon; a nasal
consonant
obstruent, n.: a sound, such as a stop, fricative, or affricate, that is produced
with complete blockage or at least partial constriction of the airflow
through the nose or mouth
Peirce: Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914), American logician and scientist,
modern founder of sign theory
phatic, adj.: employing or involving speech for the purpose of revealing or
sharing feelings or establishing an atmosphere of sociability rather than
for communicating ideas
phonologically, adv. < phonological, adj. < phonology, n.: the study of
speech sounds in language or a language with reference to their distri-
bution and patterning and to tacit rules governing pronunciation; the
system of contrastive and phonotactic relations among the speech sounds
of a particular language
phonotactic, adj. < phonotactics, n.: the branch of linguistics concerned with
the rules governing the possible phoneme sequences in a language or
languages; these rules as they occur in a particular language
referential, adj. < reference, n.: the action or fact of applying words, names,
ideas, etc., to an entity; the relation between a word or expression and that
which it denotes; the entity or entities denoted by a word or expression, a
referent (freq. contrasted with sense)
sign, n.: anything that is capable of signifying an object (meaning)
sign, adj. = sem(e)iotic, adj.: pertaining to elements of or any system of signs
(vide supra)
sonorant, n.: a usually voiced speech sound characterized by relatively free
air flow through the vocal tract and capable of being syllabic, as a vowel,
liquid, or nasal
sonority, n.: the degree to which a speech sound is like a vowel

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The sounds of contemporary American English (as of all Englishes) fall into five
classes: obstruents (=“true” consonants), vowels, liquids, nasals and glides. The
latter four are called sonorants. By contrast to the obstruents, they are “vowel-like”
in virtue of having significantly greater sonority. The glides (sometimes called
“semi-vowels”) are comprised by the sounds /w, j, h/ and are of special interest in
English because these sounds are defined as being neither consonantal nor vocalic.
They behave more like consonants than vowels but are not “true” consonants
because of their definition phonologically as non-consonantal. They are thus out-
liers in the system of English sounds.
This marginal phonological status is mirrored iconically by their preponderance
in the sound structure of the word class where they typically occur, viz. interjec-
tions An interjection—unlike verbs, nouns, and generally words proper, which have
a referential function—has only a phatic and/or a conative function. It is thus at the
functionally restricted end of the scale of word classes, just as are the glides
phonologically. Here we have a case of linguistic iconicity that affects the entire
system of sound-sense alignments that makes language a coherent structure and not
merely an aggregate.

1.63 Secondary Stress and Constituent Structure

Glossary
affix, n.: a sound or sequence of sounds or, in writing, a letter or sequence of
letters occurring as a bound form attached to the beginning or end of a
word, base, or phrase or inserted within a word or base and serving to
produce a derivative word (as un- in untie, -ate in chlorate, -ish in
morning-after-ish) or an inflectional form (as
-s in cats) or the basis of part or all of a paradigm (as L -n- in vinco “I
conquer,” vincit “he conquers” as contrasted with the perfect tense forms
vici “I have conquered,” vicit “he has conquered”)
agentive, adj.: Of or relating to an agent or agency; indicating or having the
semantic role of an agent
base, n.: the simple form from which the derivatives and inflected forms of a
word arise; the uninflected or unaffixed form of a word
constituent, n.: any meaningful element of a linguistic form
derivational, adj. < derivation, n.: formation of a word from a more primitive
word or root in the same or another language; origination as a derivative
factitious, adj.: not genuine, intrinsic, natural, or spontaneous; inauthentic;
artificially created or developed; made up for a particular occasion or
purpose; arising from custom, habit, or convention
morphological, adj. < morphology, n.: the system or the study of (linguistic)
form
1.63 Secondary Stress and Constituent Structure 83

post-tonic, adj.: occurring after the stressed syllable


prosodic, adj. < prosody, n.: a particular system of stress or of versification
segmental, adj. < segment, n.: a unit forming part of a continuum of speech or
(less commonly) text; an isolable unit in a phonological or syntactic
system
semantic, adj.: pertaining to meaning, esp. word meaning
sensu stricto: in the strict sense (Latin)
suffix, n.: an affix occurring at the end of a word, base, or phrase
suprasegmental, adj.: a vocal effect that extends over more than one sound
segment in an utterance, such as pitch, stress, or juncture pattern

English is a language with primary and secondary stress which means that words
typically have one and only one syllable with a strongly individuated stress (pri-
mary stress) but may also have syllables with weaker stress (secondary stress). The
longer the word, the more likely is the incidence of secondary stress. Thus a word
like disestablishmentarianism (which The Oxford English Dictionary Online
defines as ‘advocacy of disestablishment’ and qualifies by noting “usu. only as a
factitious long word”) is pronounced with one primary stress (on the sixth syllable)
and one secondary stress (on the third syllable) sensu stricto, the remaining eight
syllables being unstressed.
Whether a word has constituent structure (=has more than one identifiable
semantic or morphological element) may play a role in assigning a secondary stress
to one of the syllables, but need not. Thus agentives in {-er/-or} like writer,
prestidigitator, etc.—regardless of length—all treat this derivational suffix as being
unstressed, i.e., bearing no secondary stress. On the other hand, in the contemporary
speech of American adolescents—and of younger speakers of American English
generally—a common word like student is increasingly to be heard with a clear
secondary stress on the element [-ent], which is completely at variance with the
traditional norm. This change may be due to the conceivable reconstrual of this
element as a suffix, since the base [stud-] also occurs in study and studious, thereby
lending plausibility to the analysis of student as having a constituent structure.
Note, moreover, that no other interpretation can explain the emergence of sec-
ondary stress in this word as a change in contemporary American English
pronunciation.
Why such a secondary stress does not also emerge in agentives in {-er/-or} may
be due to the fact of the difference in length between post-tonic elements. If we
regard {-ent} as an emergent morphological constituent (suffix) as a result of, or
concomitant with, its being assigned secondary stress by younger speakers, then the
fact of its having three sounds rather than two (by comparison with {-er/-or}) may
be the threshold for such a change. This analysis would be wholly consistent with
the general situation in English (and language in general), whereby suprasegmental
(prosodic) features like stress are invariably dependent on the segmental structure,
including the derivational morphology of words.

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1.64 Phonetic Indicators of Word Unity

Glossary
affix, n.: a word element, such as a prefix or suffix, that can only occur
attached to a base, stem, or root
base, n.: a morpheme or morphemes regarded as a form to which affixes or
other bases may be added
constituent, n.: any meaningful element of a linguistic form
dental, adj.: articulated with the tip or blade of the tongue against or near the
upper front teeth
deriving, adj. < derivation, n.: formation of a word from a more primitive
word or root in the same or another language; origination as a derivative
fricative, adj.: consonant, such as f or s in English, produced by the forcing of
breath through a constricted passage
glide, n.: the transitional sound produced by passing from the articulatory
position of one speech sound to that of another, specifically a sound that
has the quality of one of the high vowels, and that functions as a con-
sonant before or after vowels, as the initial sounds of yell and well and the
final sounds of coy and cow
marked, adj. < markedness, n.: the evaluative superstructure of all semiotic
(‘sign-theoretic’) oppositions, as well as the theory of such a super-
structure, characterized in terms of the values ‘marked’ (conceptually
restricted) and ‘unmarked’ (conceptually unrestricted)
morpheme, n.: a meaningful linguistic unit consisting of a word, such as man,
or a word element, such as -ed in walked, that cannot be divided into
smaller meaningful parts
morphology, n.: the system or the study of (linguistic) form; a study and
description of word-formation in a language including inflection,
derivation, and compounding; the system of word-forming elements and
processes in a language
palatalization, n. < palatalize, v. < palatal, adj. < palate, n.: the roof of the
mouth consisting of the structures that separate the mouth from the nasal
cavity
prefix, n.: an affix, such as dis- in disbelieve, attached to the front of a word to
produce a derivative word or an inflected form
root, n.: the element that carries the main component of meaning in a word
and provides the basis from which a word is derived by adding affixes or
inflectional endings or by phonetic change
segmental, adj. < segment, n.: a unit forming part of a continuum of speech or
(less commonly) text; an isolable unit in a phonological or syntactic
system
1.64 Phonetic Indicators of Word Unity 85

semeiotically, adv. < semeiotic, adj. (< semeiotic, n..): of or pertaining to


signs [vide infra]
sign, adj.: semiotic, adj.: pertaining to elements of or any system of signs,
defined as anything capable of signifying an object (meaning)
stem, n.: the main part of a word to which affixes are added
stop, n.: a consonant in the articulation of which there is a stage (as in the t of
apt, the p of apt, and the g of tiger) when the breath passage is completely
closed at the nose by raised velum and elsewhere by lips, tongue, or
glottis
suffix, n.: an affix [vide supra] added to the end of a word or stem, serving to
form a new word or functioning as an inflectional ending, such as -ness in
gentleness, -ing in walking, or -s in sits
velum, n.: soft palate

The word in English (as in all Indo-European languages) may or may not have a
constituent structure, so that its unity may be simple or complex. Affixes are added
on to roots and bases in derived words, complicating the structure. The constituent
parts of the word are all ultimately subordinated to the unity of the whole, and the
process of word formation may be accompanied by phonetic alternations of the base
or root.
Thus, for instance, a word like penitentiaryR is the product of penitent + –iary,
and comports the change of stem-final /t/ to / /, yielding the pronunciation /ˌpɛnɪ
ˈtɛnʃəri/. This change is called PALATALIZATION because the dental stop of the
deriving base is replaced by the palatal fricative in the derived form. The change is
part of the regular alternation in English derivational Rmorphology (but not only)
between the consonants /t d s z/, on the one hand, and / tʃ ʒ /, on the other, before
the front vowel /i/ or the glide /j/; hence consent * consensual, tort * tortuous,
grade * gradual, process * processual, Paris * Parisian, use * usury,
seize * seizure, etc. The derived form is marked in comparison R to the unmarked
deriving base, hence the appearance of the marked sound / / in place of the
unmarked /t/, etc. The alternation of stem-final consonants is a SIGN of the hier-
archical relation between the two forms (quite apart from the presence of the suffix
in the derived form).
It should be noted that American and British usage in the forms at issue is not
always the same. Before the suffix {-ian}, for instance, the British form does not
palatalize the stem-final consonant, hence Christian is [ˈkrɪstjən] in British English
but [ˈkrɪstʃən] in American; and Parisian in Brit. [pəˈrɪzɪən] as contrasted with U. S.
[pəˈriʒ(ə)n]. This also applies to non-derived words like prescient, for which Brit. is
[ˈprɛsɪənt] but U. S. [ˈprɛʃ(i)ənt]; cf. fustian Brit. [ˈfʌstɪən] but U. S. [ˈfʌstʃən], etc.
Linguists have, for the most part, not understood the function of phonetic
alternation outside a purely segmental (linear) phonetic context, but it is clear from
the examples cited here that palatalization contributes to the structural unity of the

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word and is thereby SEMEIOTICALLY significant. The word as a structural unit


always tends to subordinate its parts to itself as a whole and in the case of
derivational morphology (including word formation) the deriving base’s being
altered in its stem-final consonant in the process of derivation is a SIGN that the
base has been rendered subordinate in the context of a derived form.
A useful check on this analysis can be seen in the process of what is called
UNIVERBATION, where two or more words are contracted into, or treated as, one.
In the case of palatalization across morpheme boundaries within the word, the
process described above applies without fail, whereas across word boundaries
(where there is no pause) it may apply optionally, as in the phrase this year
pronounced frequently in American English with [ʃ] instead of [s] for the last
consonant of this (cf. gotcha [ˈgɒtʃə] for got you).

1.65 Slave to Ignorance

A native speaker of American English (as of any other language) can make a
mistake in pronunciation simply because of their ignorance of the word family to
which the mispronounced item belongs. Thus, for instance, on the June 5, 2013
installment of the NPR program “Morning Edition” a reporter mispronounced
slavishly to rhyme with lavishly, evidently unaware of the fact that the adjective
slavish is derived from slave and has the primary meaning ‘of or characteristic of a
slave or slavery’.
Pronunciations that are at variance with the established norm are typically to be
explained as arising from ignorance of one’s language in the round, which in the
digital age is clearly to be ascribed in turn to a paucity of book learning among
speakers who otherwise pass for being nominally literate.

1.66 Syncope in Consonant Clusters

Glossary
cluster, n.: a group of successive consonants
episodically, adv. < episodic, adj.: occurring, appearing, or changing at
usually irregular intervals
extant, adj.: currently or actually existing
grave vs. acute: a phonological distinctive feature of vowels and obstruents
iconic, adj. < icon, n.: (in Peirce’s sign theory) an image; a representation,
specifically, a sign related to its object by similarity
markedness, n.: the evaluative superstructure of all semiotic (‘sign-theoretic’)
oppositions, as well as the theory of such a superstructure, characterized
1.66 Syncope in Consonant Clusters 87

in terms of the values ‘marked’ (conceptually restricted) and ‘unmarked’


(conceptually unrestricted)
medial, adj.: being, situated, or occurring in the middle
multiply, adv.: in a multiple manner; in several or many ways
obstruent, n.: a true consonant, i.e., characterized by friction and plosion
phonetic, adj. < phonetics, n.: the study and systematic classification of the
sounds made in spoken utterance as they are produced by the organs of
speech and as they register on the ear and on instruments
phonological, adj. < phonology, n.: the science of speech sounds including
especially the history and theory of sound changes in a single language or in
two or more related languages considered together for comparative purposes
purview, n.: range of sight, vision, understanding, cognizance, or knowledge
semeiotic, adj. < semeiotic, n.: C. S. Peirce’s theory of sign (see infra)
sign, n.: anything that is capable of signifying an object (meaning)
strident vs. mellow: a phonological distinctive feature of obstruents
supervenient, adj.: coming after (and in connection with or as a consequence
of) an existing situation, condition, etc.; subsequent; occurring as a
change or addition
syncopate, v.: to cut short or contract (a word) by omitting one or more
syllables or letters in the middle
syncope, n.: contraction of a word by omission of one or more syllables or
letters in the middle

English like some other languages (e.g., Russian), has so-called simplification rules
whereby a consonant (usually medial) will drop out of a cluster in pronunciation
Thus words like glisten, hasten, whistle, trestle, etc. are pronounced without the [t]
before /n/ and /l/. A cluster like /-rtg-/in mortgage drops the [t] as well. In fact the
sound /t/ in medial position in a cluster of three consonants typically syncopates
(drops out) whatever consonants surround it. Other consonants also may syncopate
episodically, viz. the [b] in clamber, although in this case a (non-traditional)
spelling pronunciation is also extant, whereby the [b] is retained (cf. limber).
While the common explanation of such cases of syncope has resorted to phonetic
factors such as the notorious “economy/ease of effort,” a systematic phonological
purview makes it clear that what is at stake is the SEMEIOTIC RELATION
between the supervenient phonological (markedness) values of the sounds involved
and the rules of combination (the phonetic pattern) determining pronunciation.
Specifically, the rules of combination are an ICON OF THE PHONOLOGICAL
VALUES. In the particular case of consonant syncope, what the rules map/mirror
are the fact that the consonant syncopated is MULTIPLY MARKED for one rel-
evant feature or another. Thus /t/ is marked for both the features grave vs acute and
strident vs. mellow, so the fact that it drops out from the relevant consonantal
cluster is to be properly regarded as an iconic realization of its feature definition in
the phonological structure of English.

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1.67 An Alternate Intonational Contour in Sentences with


the Vocative

Glossary
conative, adj. < conation, n.: the conscious drive to perform apparently
volitional acts with or without knowledge of the origin of the drive
imperative, adj.: of, relating to, or being the grammatical mood that expresses
the will to influence the behavior of another (as in a command, entreaty,
or exhortation)
mode/mood, n.: the grammatical category embodying the distinction of form
in a verb to express whether the action or state it denotes is conceived as
fact or in some other manner (as command, possibility, or wish)
vocative, n.: of, relating to, or being a grammatical case marking the one
addressed

Every linguistic utterance takes place in a communicative context defined by thes-


peaker’s orientation and the latter’s associated function.When the orientation is
toward establishing contact the function is called PHATIC; when toward the content,
REFERENTIAL; when toward the code, METALINGUISTIC; when toward the
addressee, CONATIVE when toward the addresser, EMOTIVE when toward the
message, POETIC. In English the conative function is illustrated by sentences
utilizing a verb in the imperative mode or where the addressee is addressed directly
in the vocative.
The structural relatedness in language of the imperative and the vocative cate-
gories can be seen in the recent emergence in English (on both sides of the Atlantic)
of an unusual intonational pattern for the vocative as an alternate to the traditional
one, namely a pattern involving a dropping of the voice on the word for the person
named rather than before it.
Thus, instead of saying “Good morning, Mark” with an intonation involving a
drop of the voice at the end of “morning,” this new version postpones the drop until
after “Mark.”
Conation is the only factor that binds the two categories and explains the
assimilation of vocative to imperative in this case of linguistic change in progress.
1.68 Degrees of Linguistic Self-Awareness (Anosognosia) 89

1.68 Degrees of Linguistic Self-Awareness (Anosognosia)

Glossary
anosognosia, n.: an inability or refusal to recognize a defect or disorder that is
clinically evident
medial, adj.: being a sound, syllable, or letter occurring between the initial
and final positions in a word or morphememorpheme, n.: a meaningful
linguistic unit consisting of a word, such as man, or a word element,
such as -ed in walked, that cannot be divided into smaller meaningful
parts
veracious, adj.: marked by truth

It is reasonable to assume that speakers vary in the degree to which they are aware of
how they speak their native language. Specifically, they may not always be aware of
the fact that in some cases they have silently chosen from a range of variants that
may characterize the pronunciation of a certain word. In an extreme case, moreover,
the choice of a possible variant may be at odds with what is extant and habitual in the
language, particularly as this pertains to the names of persons, where variation is
usually strictly constrained by the preference of the person who bears the name.
Here is what can only be called a quasi-pathological case heard on NPR Radio.
In a broadcast of Weekend Edition Saturday, the host, Scott Simon (whose lin-
guistic manner, incidentally, can only be characterized as pompously precious),
while interviewing a correspondent, Scott Horsley, several times mispronounced
the latter’s name by rendering the medial s of his surname as a [z] instead of
Horsley’s own version with [s]. This kind of lack of self-awareness borders on what
is called anosognosia in the mental health literature, defined as a ‘deficit of
self-awareness, a condition in which a person who suffers a certain disability seems
unaware of the existence of his or her disability’.
A possibly related case pertaining to linguistic self-awareness—also from a
recent exchange between two NPR correspondents, Robert Siegel and Michele
Keleman, this time on All Things Considered—involved the pronunciation of Iran
and Iranian (about which see Sect. 1.14). Siegel several times pronounced these
words correctly, i.e., according to the traditional English norm, to rhyme with ran
and Pomeranian, whereas Keleman consistently used the forms influenced by
foreign speakers (specifically, Iranians) to rhyme with Ron and raunchy. Over the
course of an exchange that lasted several minutes, neither speaker deviated from
their respective preferred pronunciation.
The degree to which interlocutors confronted with variant linguistic forms are
aware of the variation as it occurs is an open question. In the particular case of Iran
and Iranian, native speakers who ignore, or are ignorant of, the traditional norm
should be informed of the possible deficit in status and power that is comported by a

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deviation from traditional English phonetics in the direction of a foreign mispro-


nunciation, amounting to an unintended concession as to which of the interlocutors’
utterances are valid or veracious.

1.69 A Unique Case of Vowel Harmony in English


(lambaste)

Glossary
assimilatory, adj. < assimilate, v.: to be or become similar or alike
dative, adj.: of a grammatical case: marking typically the indirect object of a verb
lambaste, v.: to assault violently: beat, pound, whip
phonological, adj. < phonology, n.: the study of speech sounds in language or
a language with reference to their distribution and patterning and to tacit
rules governing pronunciation; the sound system of a language
root, n.: the element that carries the main component of meaning in a word
and provides the basis from which a word is derived by adding affixes or
inflectional endings or by phonetic change
succeed, v.: follow

Vowel harmony is a type of assimilatory phonological process involving vowels


separated by consonants—i.e., not adjacent to each other—that occurs in some
languages. In languages with vowel harmony, there are constraints on which
vowels may be found in adjacent or succeeding syllables. For example, a vowel at
the beginning of a word can trigger assimilation in a vowel at the end of a word.
The Uralic group (like Finnish and Hungarian) and Turkic (like Turkish and Tatar)
are prominent instances of language families with vowel harmony. Thus in
Hungarian, város ‘city’ has the dative form városnak, whereas öröm ‘joy’ has
örömnek: the dative suffix has two different forms -nak/-nek. The -nak form appears
after the root with back vowels (a and o are both back vowels), whereas -nek
appears after the root with front vowels (ö and e are front vowels).
English does not have vowel harmony as a regular phenomenon, but a trace of
this process may account for the strange case of the common mispronunciation in
both British and American English of the verb lambaste as [lambást], which is a
compound consisting of the verbs lam and baste, both of which mean ‘to beat
soundly, thrash, cudgel’. Since the pronunciation of the second unit baste is
invariably [béyst], the pronunciation of the compound ought not to vary from
[lambéyst], but it does anyway. Only vowel harmony, where the vowel of lam
influences that of baste, suggests itself as an explanation for this deviation.
1.70 Latino and Its Linguistic Congeners 91

1.70 Latino and Its Linguistic Congeners

Glossary
allegro, adj.: in a quick, lively tempo (Italian)
alveolar, adj.: of or relating to the alveolus, i.e., the socket of a tooth, or to the part
of a jawbone which contains the tooth sockets; a speech sound, esp. a con-
sonant articulated by placing the tongue against or near to the alveolar ridge
alveolar flap: a sound produced by briefly tapping the alveolar ridge with the
tongue
barbarism, n.: an instance of the the use of words, forms, or expressions
considered incorrect or unacceptable
bizarrerie, n.: something bizarre (French)
congener, n.: a member of the same kind or class with another, or nearly
allied to another in character
dental, adj.: articulated with the tip of the tongue near or against the upper
front teeth
diphthongal, adv. < diphthong, n.: a complex speech sound or glide that
begins with one vowel and gradually changes to another vowel within the
same syllable, as [oi] in boil or [ai] in fine
glide, n.: the transitional sound produced by passing from the articulatory
position of one speech sound to that of another, specifically a sound that
has the quality of one of the high vowels, and that functions as a con-
sonant before or after vowels, as the initial sounds of yell and well and the
final sounds of coy and cow
intercalation, n. < intercalate, v.: to insert between or among existing
elements
intervocalic, adj.: occurring between vowelslax, adj.: see infra under tense vs. lax
license, n.: excessive liberty; abuse of freedom; disregard of law or propriety;
an instance of this
nasal, adj., n.: articulated by lowering the soft palate so that air resonates in
the nasal cavities and passes out the nose, as in the pronunciation of the
consonants (m), (n), and (ng) or the nasalized vowel of French bon; a
nasal consonant
neutralize, v.: to suspend an opposition, such that only one of the two terms
of the opposition represents both terms
phonetically, adv. < phonetic, adj. < phonetics, n.: the system of sounds of a
particular language
plosive, adj., n.: of, relating to, or being a speech sound produced by complete
closure of the oral passage and subsequent release accompanied by a burst
of air, as in the sound (p) in pit or (d) in dog
post-tonic, adj.: occurring after the stressed syllable
pretonic, adj.: occurring before the stressed syllable

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purview, n.: the range or limit of authority, competence, responsibility,


concern, or intention
sc., adv.: scilicet (Latin); used to introduce more detailed information, or to
specify a referent: that is to say, to be specific; namely, to wit
sign, n.: anything that is capable of signifying an object (meaning)
stop, n.: one of a set of speech sounds that is a plosive or a nasal
tense vs. lax: (acoustically) longer vs. reduced duration of the steady state portion
of the sound, and its sharper defined resonance regions of the spectrum;
(genetically) a deliberate vs. rapid execution of the required gesture resulting
in a lastingly stationary articulationvocable, n.: a word considered only as a
sequence of sounds or letters rather than as a unit of meaning

Latino speakers of American English often substitute a Spanish version of the word
Latino while speaking English. What this amounts to phonetically is pronouncing
the pretonic vowel in the first syllable unreduced—[a] instead of [ə]—and the
post-tonic vowel without a diphthongal off-glide—[o] instead of [oʊ]. Moreover,
the typical American English intervocalic rendering of the dental /t/ as what is
called an alveolar flap and notated [ɾ] is replaced in the Spanish-tinged version by
the dental stop [t]. Finally, the stressed vowel /i/ in this version sounds unlike the
American English one by being correspondingly more tense after [t] than what is
heard after the alveolar flap. (The alveolar flap is what appears between vowels in
American English as the representative of both /t/ and /d/, i.e., neutralizing the
tense/lax distinction between these dental stops, so that writer and rider sound the
same in colloquial [allegro tempo] speech.)
The intercalation of alien phonetic features in one’s otherwise native American
speech is evidently done in order to serve as a sign or badge of the speaker’s
allegiance to their linguistic and cultural heritage, but (as was pointed out at 1.34
above) this phonetic trait can only be evaluated stylistically as a barbarism,
regardless of the ultimate motivation.
Speakers who use both Spanish and American English habitually may vary in
the degree to which they permit themselves this departure from the normal
American pattern. This license is especially defensible when it comes to the pho-
netic profile of one’s own name—especially one’s surname—which is, of course,
largely within a speaker’s exclusive purview, regardless of whether it calls attention
to itself (and thereby to the speaker’s cultural value system). For a linguistic purist
(like the author), however, hearing the consistent pronunciation of a surname like
Gonzalez with a blatantly Spanish accent as the closing tag of a radio reporter’s
self-identification (sc. Sarah Gonzalez, WNYC) on the heels of an otherwise
perfectly native stream of American English vocables can only be mentally con-
signed to the realm of linguistic bizarreries.
1.71 Adjectival Derivation (anent short- and long-lived) 93

1.71 Adjectival Derivation (anent short- and long-lived)

Glossary
affix, n.: a word element, such as a prefix or suffix, that can only occur
attached to a base, stem, or root
anent, prep.: in reference to, concerning
base, n.: a morpheme or morphemes regarded as a form to which affixes or
other bases may be added
denominal, adj.: derived from a noun
derive, v.: to trace the origin, descent, or derivation of
deverbal, adj.: derived from a verb
morpheme, n.: a meaningful linguistic unit consisting of a word, such as man,
or a word element, such as -ed in walked, that cannot be divided into
smaller meaningful parts
orthography, n.: correct spelling; spelling system
prefix, n.: an affix, such as dis- in disbelieve, attached to the front of a word to
produce a derivative word or an inflected form
ramify, v.: to separate into divisions or ramifications
stem, n.: the main part of a word to which affixes are added
suffix, n.: a grammatical element added to the end of a word or stem, serving
to form a new word or functioning as an inflectional ending, such as -ness
in gentleness, -ing in walking, or -s in sits
usurpation, n. < usurp, v.: to employ wrongfully

Adjectives can be derived from other parts of speech in a number of ways,


including simple suffixation (e.g., adjective > adjectival). Interestingly, the adjec-
tival suffix can itself be derived from another part of speech, as is the case where the
past participle suffix
{-(e)d} is added to a noun (e.g., red-breasted < red-breast) .
There are two common compound adjectives that utilize the word life as their
deriving base, viz. short-lived and long-lived, that are often mispronounced, a mistake
abetted by the ambiguity of the orthography. Since the element -lived coincides in
spelling with the past tense form, this triggers the pronunciation of the second element
of the compound adjectives in question as [lɪvd] instead of the correct [laɪvd].
The usurpation of the noun life as the deriving base by the participial form with –
ed in this mistaken pronunciation is of interest because it may also betoken an
unconscious reconstrual by speakers who favor it that rests on the difference
between a denominal and a deverbal sense for such adjectives. The derivation from
a nominal base (i.e., life) that underlies the traditional normative pronunciation
implies that the compound adjective in question is giving expression to one sense in
the ramified range of meanings that the noun subsumes—notably, with an enhanced

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reference to the qualitative meaning of duration. By contrast, when understood as


being derived from a verbal base and pronounced to coincide with the past tense of
live, the sense of the compound adjective backgrounds the meaning of duration and
focuses instead on the endpoint of the action involved in the verb.

1.72 The Fading of Oral Transmission of Linguistic


Norms

Glossary
digraph, n.: a group of two successive letters whose phonetic value is a single
sound (as ea in bread, ng in thing) or whose value is not the sum of a value
borne by each in other occurrences (as ch in chin, where the value is [t] + [sh])
milieu, n., pl. milieux: the physical or social setting in which something
occurs or develops (French)
orthographic, adj. < orthography, n.: orthography, n.: a method of repre-
senting the sounds of a language by written or printed symbols
penultimate, adj.: one before the last
phonetic, adj, < phonetics, n.: the system of sounds of a particular language
withal, adv.: on the other hand; for all that; nevertheless

One accelerated development of the advent of the digital age as far as language is
concerned is the diminishing role of orality in the transmission of linguistic norms.
This was observed the other day (in February 2014) when a young woman writer (no
doubt, a member of the so-called “millennial generation”) was being interviewed on
NPR about an article she had written for the National Geographic concerning the
situation in present-day Syria. In describing life in Damascus, she mispronounced the
words Damascene (adjective < Damascus) and sepia, rendering the penultimate
consonant (for the second sound of the digraph –sc-) of the first word as [k] instead of
the correct [s], and the initial stressed vowel of the second word as [e] instead of [i].
This sort of error arises because the speaker has obviously never been exposed to
the words’ correct pronunciation. There are simply no oral milieux in which a
youngish speaker of American English—doubtless, college-educated withal—can
hear words such as the two at issue pronounced correctly. Knowledge of such
vocabulary items now tends to come about solely from an acquaintance with them
in written form, where the ambiguity of their orthographic representation gives rise
to a phonetic choice that is exercised without benefit of an oral precedent from an
authoritative source—hence incorrectly, as often as not.
1.73 The Stress of Foreign Nomina Propria (Kiev, Ukraine) 95

1.73 The Stress of Foreign Nomina Propria (Kiev, Ukraine)

Glossary
appellation, n.: a name or title by which a person, thing, or clan is called and
known
constituent, n.: a functional unit of a grammatical construction, as a verb,
noun phrase, or clause
dissyllabic, adj.: having two syllables
et al, abbrev.: et alia ‘and all the rest/others’ (Latin)
extant, adj.: currently or actually existing
NB, abbrev.: nota bene ‘note well’ (Latin)
nomina propria: proper names (Latin)
polysyllable, n.: word with more than one syllable
rustic, n.: one who is rude, coarse, or dull

With the incessant bleating of the media about the Ukrainian crisis comes the usual
mispronunciation of foreign nomina propria (proper nouns), specifically the stress of
polysyllables. There is no reason, of course, to expect broadcasters (hosts, presenters,
correspondents et al.) to have any knowledge of foreign languages, let alone the Slavic
ones, but there are well-established traditional norms in English for the placement of
stress in items such as Kiev and Ukraine that are being flouted seemingly at every turn.
The capital of Ukraine, Kiev, has initial stress in both Ukrainian and Russian.
However, in line with the general tendency of American English to subject all
foreign place names in particular to what I have called the “Frenchification rule”
(=stressing the last syllable, especially with dissyllabic items), one constantly hears
the stress being displaced to the second syllable, producing Kiév instead of Kíev.
The situation of Ukraine seems to take a directly reverse direction, rendering
standard Ukráine as Úkraine, with stress on the first rather than the second syllable.
(Interestingly—though not strictly relevantly—the older Russian norm has stress on
the second syllable of Укpaинa, whereas the contemporary norm evinces stress on
the third syllable.) Here the culprit is the dialectal undercurrent (Southern American
English) which tends to equalize all dissyllabic items without constituent structure
(NB!) by placing their stress on the first syllable, as in dialectal gúitar for normative
guitár; note the extant extension to items with more than two syllables, as in
dialectal ínsurance for normative insúrance.
In a strange twist of linguistic irony, those Americans who otherwise speak
standard English but pronounce Ukraine with stress on the initial vowel are
unwittingly turning the name of the country into something less dignified than what
would be accorded the appellation of a full-fledged nation by recurring to what
sounds in American English like its “hick” version. This actually mirrors the

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attitude of older Russians toward Ukraine, which in pre-Revolutionary times was


called “Little Russia” and its inhabitants uniformly considered rustics.

1.74 The Function of Phonetic Ellipses (Syncope and


Voiceless Vowels)

Glossary
assimilation, n. < assimilate, v.: to render (a sound) accordant, or less dis-
cordant (to another sound in the same or a contiguous word); also intr.
capacious, adj.: not narrow or constricted; marked by ample scope
continuant, n.: a consonant that may be continued or prolonged without
alteration for the duration of an emission of breath; an open consonant
diacritic, adj.: serving to distinguish, distinctive
elide, v.: to suppress or alter (something, such as a vowel or syllable) by
elision [vide infra]
elision, n.: the act or an instance of dropping out or omitting something
elliptic, adj. < ellipsis, n.: omission of one or more words or elements that are
obviously understood but must be supplied to make a construction
grammatically complete (as in “all had turned out as expected” for “all
had turned out as had been expected”)
explanantia, n. pl. < explanans, n.: the explaining element in an explanation;
the explanatory premisses (Latin)
iconic, adj. < icon, n.: an image; a representation, specifically, a sign related
to its object by similarity
indexical, adj. < index, n.: a sign that is related to its object (meaning) by
contiguity
nasal, adj.: articulated by lowering the soft palate so that air resonates in the
nasal cavities and passes out the nose, as in the pronunciation of the
consonants (m), (n), and (ng) or the nasalized vowel of French bon
orthography, n.: (correct) spelling
phoneme, n.: the smallest phonetic unit in a language that is capable of
conveying a distinction in meaning, as the m of mat and the b of bat in
English
phonetic, adj. < phonetics, n.: the system of sounds of a particular language
phonological, adj. < phonology, n.: the study of speech sounds in language or
a language with reference to their distribution and patterning and to tacit
rules governing pronunciation
plosive, adj.: of, relating to, or being a speech sound produced by complete
closure of the oral passage and subsequent release accompanied by a burst
of air, as in the sound p in pit or d in dog
1.74 The Function of Phonetic Ellipses (Syncope and Voiceless Vowels) 97

schwa, n.: a mid-central neutral vowel, typically occurring in unstressed


syllables, as the final vowel of English sofa; the symbol (ə) used to
represent an unstressed neutral vowel and, in some systems of phonetic
transcription, a stressed mid-central vowel, as in but
semeiotic, adj., n. < semeiosis, n.: the process of signification, sign action
sign, n.: anything that is capable of signifying an object (meaning)
stop, n.: stop, n.: one of a set of speech sounds that is a plosive or a nasal
(vide supra)
syncopation, n. < syncopate, v. < syncope, n.: the shortening of a word by
omission of a sound, letter, or syllable from the middle of the word
tense vs. lax: one of the set of phonological distinctive feature in a language
(like English) with distinctive tenseness, defined(acoustically) as longer
vs. reduced duration of the steady state portion of the sound, and its
sharper resonance regions of the spectrum; and (genetically) as a delib-
erate vs. rapid execution of the required gesture resulting in a lastingly
stationary articulation
typologically, adv. < typological, adj. < typology, n.: the study of classes with
common characteristics; classification, esp. of human products, behavior,
characteristics, etc., according to type; the comparative analysis of struc-
tural or other characteristics; a classification or analysis of this kind
voicing, n.: the action or process of producing a speech or breath sound with
vibration of the vocal cords; the change of a sound from voiceless to voiced

Ellipsis understood in its most capacious sense as an omission of linguistic material


wherever it occurs includes phonetic phenomena such as syncope and voicelessness
(=absence of voicing) in vowels. Typically, such ellipses occur in the so-called
ELLIPTIC CODE of any language, by contrast with the EXPLICIT CODE,
wherein the full variety of the relevant material does appear. Often the elliptic code
version of a word is generalized as a matter of linguistic change and renders the
explicit code version antiquated, then displaces it from the language altogether.
Thus a word like listen—as the orthography, which still reflects an older period in
the history of English, indicates—has two vowels but is typically pronounced either
without the second vowel, viz. [ˈlɪsn], where the final consonant is syllabified, or
with a schwa before the [n], i.e., [ˈlɪsən].
The “explanation” of phenomena such as the syncopation of the second vowel of
listen may seem to be purely phonetic, i.e., to be couched in terms of the phonetic
properties of the consonant involved and that of its context. Accordingly, the dropping
of the sound /t/ here would be ascribed to (1) its definition as a “voiceless” (properly,
tense) stop; and (2) the presence of the preceding (immediately contiguous) sound /s/
(a “voiceless” continuant) before an /n/ (a nasal continuant) . This garden-variety
appeal to phonetic context (both simultaneous and sequential), however, obscures the
fact that phenomena of this kind have a PHONOLOGICAL FUNCTION, which has

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nothing to do with economy of effort or other such physical explanantia that have
traditionally seduced linguists.
Phonological implementation rules (as they are called) make iconic reference to
the distinctive (diacritic) feature values that constitute phonemes in the sound
system of every language; and indexical reference to the sequential context in
which phonemes occur in speech. Thus, in an item like listen (or whistle, for that
matter), the fact of syncope in this context is a sign that makes reference to both the
constitution of the sound syncopated and to the sounds of the context in which the
syncope occurs. It has, in other words, essentially to do with semeiosis—with
phonology as semeiotic—and only secondarily with physical (=phonetic) reality.
Syncope is routinely aligned as a form of simplification with other linguistic
phenomena where a sound is dropped or a feature elided. Accordingly, one should
regard the “omission” of voicing in vowels in definable contexts as typologically
homogeneous, hence an example of simplification as well. Thus in English, secon-
darily stressed or unstressed vowels in the context of immediately following nasals
routinely appear as voiceless in the elliptic code. An example is the way the NPR
reporters/hosts Eleanor Beardsley and Ira Glass pronounce the initial vowel of the
words NPR (the abbreviation of “National Public Radio”) and American (of “This
American Life”), respectively—Beardsley with a voiceless [e] and Glass with a
voiceless [ə] (schwa). The indexical function of vocalic voicelessness is triggered by
(refers to) the voiced character of the neighboring nasals (/n/ and /m/, resp.), which
(incidentally) belies the knee-jerk notion that this is a kind of phonetic “assimilation.”

1.75 Tenues and Mediae in English

Glossary
arytenoid, adj.: relating to or being either of two small cartilages to which the
vocal cords are attached and which are situated at the upper back part of
the larynx
aspirate, adj.: pronounced with an immediately following h-sound in a syl-
lable in which the h is not usually represented (as in English)
concomitant, n.: accompanying or attending especially in a subordinate or
incidental way: occurring along with or at the same time as and with or
without causal relationship
correlation, n.: (in phonology) distinctive feature
distinctive, adj.: having the quality of distinguishing; serving or used to
distinguish or discriminate; applied spec. in linguistics to a phonetic
feature that is capable of distinguishing one meaning from another
evince, v.: show, display, contain
1.75 Tenues and Mediae in English 99

generative, adj. [=transformational]: pertaining to a grammatical theory that


generates the deep structures of a language and relates these to the surface
structures by means of transformations
glottal, adj. < glottis, n.: the space between the vocal fold and arytenoid
cartilage of one side of the larynx and those of the other side
larynx, n.: voice box, vocal cords
media, adj., pl. mediae: ‘intermediate in degree of aspiration’ (Latin)
obstruent, n.: a sound, such as a stop, fricative, or affricate, that is produced
with complete blockage or at least partial constriction of the airflow
through the nose or mouth
phonetically, adv. < phonetic, adj.: of, relating to, or being features of pro-
nunciation that are not phonemically distinctive in a language, as aspi-
ration of consonants or vowel length in English
phonological, adj. < phonology, n.: the study of speech sounds in language or
a language with reference to their distribution and patterning and to tacit
rules governing pronunciation; the system of sounds in (a) language
protensity, n.: category of phonological distinctive features comprising the
acoustic opposition tense vs. lax, defined by the longer (vs. reduced)
duration of the steady state portion of the sound, and its sharper defined
resonance regions in the spectrum
repose, v.: to depend or be based on
semeiotic, n.: a system of signs
sign, n.: anything capable of signifying an object (meaning)
subsume, v.: to bring (an idea, principle, etc.) under another; to instance or
include (a case, term, etc.) under a rule, category, etc.
syncategorematic, adj.: pertaining to a unit or category which cannot be used
by itself but only toegther with another unit or units, such as an adverb,
preposition, or conjunction
tacit, adj.: silent, unspecified
tense vs. lax: one of the set of phonological distinctive feature in a language
(like English) with distinctive tenseness, defined(acoustically) as longer
vs. reduced duration of the steady state portion of the sound, and its
sharper resonance regions of the spectrum; and (genetically) as a delib-
erate vs. rapid execution of the required gesture resulting in a lastingly
stationary articulation
tenuis, adj., pl. tenues: ‘thin, slight, aspirate’ (Latin)
tenure, n.: the action or fact of holding anything material or non-material
typological, adj. < typology, n.: the study of classes with common charac-
teristics; classification, esp. of human products, behavior, characteristics,
etc., according to type; the comparative analysis of structural or other
characteristics; a classification or analysis of this kind

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The terms ‘tenues’ and ‘mediae’ have traditionally been used to denote the series of
obstruents (=true consonants) associated with the letters p, t, k, s, etc. and b, d, g, z,
etc.., respectively.
From the phonological point of view, tenues and mediae subsume two distinc-
tive features in terms of which they can be opposed: voiced vs. voiceless and tense
vs. lax. The distinctive feature voiced vs. voiceless presents, from a logical view-
point, two contradictory opposites whose physical counterparts are the presence vs.
absence of glottal vibrations. A distinctively voiced media is thus normally con-
stituted by the corresponding tenuis with superimposed glottal vibrations. Since
voicing and tenseness are syncategorematic features, there obtains a normal com-
plementary distribution of their physical correlates such that, in languages with
distinctive voicing (like Russian), voiced obstruents are phonetically lax and
voiceless ones phonetically tense. At the same time, in comparison to languages
(like English) which have distinctive tenseness, languages evincing distinctive
voicing manifest tenues which are normally relatively lax and tenuis stops which
are relatively unaspirate (aspiration being a concomitant of distinctive tenseness,
not voicelessness).
The distinctive feature tense vs. lax, on the other hand, is composed of two
contrary opposites—greater vs. lesser protensity—typically implemented as a dif-
ference between tenues and mediae in the relative duration of the release portion
and the tenure portion.
Despite the availability of a rich phonetic literature since at least the time of the
pioneering English phonetician Henry Sweet (1845–1912), contemporary pho-
nologists (including those of the generative stripe and their latter-day offshoots)
have continually vacillated in their interpretation of English tenues and mediae,
with the voiced vs. voiceless feature posited as distinctive more often than not. The
great Russian phonologist Nikolai Trubetzkoy (1890–1938) even claimed in his
Principles of Phonology that it is “impossible to say whether in English a corre-
lation of tension (i.e., protensity) or a correlation of voice is present”.
A refutation of this latter view is implicit in the several essays above where the
theory of phonology underlying the analysis reposes on the fundamental principle
that the sound system of a language is a semeiotic a system of signs. Once the
semiotic workings of the system are charted, using phonological implementation
rules as a sign of the underlying hierarchy defining the sounds (phonemes), the
membership of English in the typological group of languages (e.g., Japanese, Latin,
Ukrainian, etc.) evincing protensity and not voicing in their tenues and mediae
becomes irrefutable.
1.76 The Mangling of French by Speakers of American English 101

1.76 The Mangling of French by Speakers of American


English

Glossary
coup de grâce: a blow by which one condemned or mortally wounded is ‘put
out of his misery’ or dispatched quickly; hence fig. a finishing stroke, one
that settles or puts an end to something (French)
dissyllabic, adj.: consisting of two syllables
intercalate, v.: to insert between or among existing elements
nasal, adj.: articulated by lowering the soft palate so that air resonates in the
nasal cavities and passes out the nose, as in the pronunciation of the
consonants m, n, and ng or the nasalized vowel of French bon
orthography, n.: (correct) spelling
syncopate, v.: to shorten (a word) by syncope
syncope, n.: the shortening of a word by omission of a sound, letter, or
syllable from the middle of the word
vocable, n.: a word considered only as a sequence of sounds or letters rather
than as a unit of meaning

When native speakers of one language try to reproduce the words of another language,
the results will vary naturally and understandably with the linguistic skills of the
imitators. In this respect, the speakers of certain languages—Japanese in particular
comes to mind—have a deservedly bad reputation for their utter inability to refrain
from mangling the vocables of foreign languages. In this respect, speakers of English
are somewhere in the middle of the scale of success when it comes to this task.
Speakers whose native language is American English do not, as a rule, fare well
with French, despite the ubiquity of French borrowings in English and the fre-
quency of French words and phrases that happen to be intercalated in English
utterances as a matter of course. Particularly glaring examples are items that end in
–eur in French (like entrepreneur and liqueur), which are typically rendered with
the vowel of English pure rather than the more authentic vowel of sir. The latter is
certainly within the grasp of an English speaker, who typically mangles the French
by modeling their pronunciation on the orthography. Also badly served are words
that end in –oir, such as the frequent item noir of film noir, which are regularly
distorted by having the final [-r] omitted in utterances containing them by
Americans. Cf. the all-too-common mispronunciation in the media (as pointed out
to the author by his brother Jacob) of the phrase coup de grâce (literally ‘stroke of
grace [=mercy]’) with the final consonant of grâce missing, making it sound
ludicrously like gras ‘grease’ instead of ‘mercy’!
Lately, because of its prominence in world affairs, the designation of the orga-
nization of doctors who go by the appellation Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors

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Without Borders) comes in regularly for mispronunciation in the mouths of


members of the American media. The first word, Médecins, is actually easy to
reproduce, once one knows that the second vowel is syncopated (dropped) in
French, hence dissyllabic and not trisyllabic, and that the final vowel is equivalent
to the nasal vowel of English aunt.
The upshot of all this distortion is inescapable, namely the deep-seated idea in
the American psyche that FRENCH IS AN EXOTIC LANGUAGE, with a hope-
lessly wayward phonetics that lies beyond the reach of speakers of American
English. Vive la France!

1.77 Assertion Sub Rosa (Lengthening of Clause-Final


Unstressed Syllables in Female Speech)

Glossary
apotropaic, adj. < apotropaism, n.: an act or ritual conducted to ward off evil
or danger
marked, adj. < markedness, n.: the evaluative superstructure of all semiotic
(‘sign-theoretic’) oppositions, as well as the theory of such a super-
structure, characterized in terms of the values ‘marked’ (conceptually
restricted) and ‘unmarked’ (conceptually unrestricted)
sub rosa: privately, secretly, in strict confidence; unspoken, tacit (Latin)

One increasingly noticeable feature of the language of younger female speakers in


contemporary American English is the lengthening of clause-final syllables, both
open (ending in a vowel) and closed (ending in a consonant), in unstressed sylla-
bles. Thus words like America and negotiation, when occurring at the end of
clauses, routinely have hyper-long unstressed vowels in the speech of women but
not of men, most noticeably when the syllable is followed by a pause.
One possible explanation is compensatory. Lengthened syllables (syllables of
greater duration) are always marked vis-à-vis their normal counterparts, and this
marked character can serve the function of emphasis sub rosa. Speech in which this
occurs can be interpreted as an attempt covertly to convey assertory meaning where
overt assertion would undermine the apotropaic flag under which women’s speech
—in American English, but not only—generally flies.
1.78 Mispronunciations in Ersatz English (Colleague) 103

1.78 Mispronunciations in Ersatz English (Colleague)

Glossary
consummate, adj.: of the highest degree; absolute, total; supreme; of a person:
fully accomplished, supremely skilled
dissyllabic, adj.: consisting of two syllables
ersatz, adj.: a substitute or imitation; usually, an inferior article instead of the
real thing (German)
faux, adj.: false, fake, ersatz (French)
prosody, n.: a suprasegmental phonological feature such as intonation and
stress; also: such features collectively; the patterns of stress and intonation
in a language

Having given a name at 3.65 (below) to the species of faux English that abounds in
this age of linguistic globalization, perhaps an example is in order, viz. colleague,
with the stress on the second syllable instead of the first. This incorrect rendition of
the word is frequently produced by non-native speakers of English from South Asia
and Africa, who have evidently not assimilated the rule of English prosody (ac-
centuation) that regularly places the main stress of dissyllabic substantives on the
first syllable.
It is interesting to learn that historically this word was (according to the Oxford
English Dictionary Online) “still commonly accented on the second syllable” in the
17th century, having come into English from French in the 16th
(“Etymology: < French collègue, < Latin collēga, one chosen along with another, a
partner in office, etc.; < col- together + legĕre to choose, etc.”). Varieties of English,
including dialects, typically differ in where they place the main stress of certain
words. Cf. ínsurance in Southern American English (SAE) instead of insúrance.
Over time, even in SAE, a stress that was current in earlier times may recede, e.g.
consúmmate (adj.), which has all-but-disappeared from the language except in the
speech of especially careful and knowledgeable members of the community.

1.79 Unstressed Vowels and the Demoticization


of Vocabulary (synod, ebola)

Glossary
demoticization, n. < demiticize, v. < demotic, adj.: of or relating to the peo-
ple; popular, common; (n.) ordinary colloquial speech; the everyday
language of ordinary people

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dissyllabic, adj.: consisting of two syllables


doublet, n.:. one of two words (in the same language) representing the same
ultimate word but differentiated in form, as cloak and clock, fashion and
faction.
marked, adj. < markedness, n.: the evaluative superstructure of all semiotic
(‘sign-theoretic’) oppositions, as well as the theory of such a super-
structure, characterized in terms of the values ‘marked’ (conceptually
restricted) and ‘unmarked’ (conceptually unrestricted)
phonetic, adj. < phonetics, n.: the system of sounds of a particular language
provenience, n.: origin
reduction, n. < reduced, adj.: of a vowel sound: articulated less distinctly
than a stressed vowel; weakened and centralized; that has become more
obscure than the vowel of which it is a reflex
reflex, n.: a phonemic, grammatical, or vocabulary element as found in a
language in a form determined by development from an earlier stage of
the language
schwa, n.: a mid-central neutral vowel, typically occurring in unstressed
syllables, as the final vowel of English sofa; the symbol (ə) used to
represent an unstressed neutral vowel and, in some systems of phonetic
transcription, a stressed mid-central vowel, as in but
sign, n.: anything that is capable of signifying an object (meaning)

English has a large stock of non-native vocabulary (i.e., words not of Germanic or
Anglo-Norman provenience) whose pronunciation may still reflect their foreign
origin. Typically, once such a word passes into common use, its pronunciation
adjusts itself correspondingly to conform to traditional phonetic norms. At any
intermediate stage between initial entry into English vocabulary and complete
demoticization, there is usually some fluctuation involving doublets (two competing
variants) before a historical resolution toward one as normative.
This process can be observed with two words that are currently in the news,
synod (< late Latin synodus, < Greek rύmodo1 assembly, meeting, astronomical
conjunction, < rύm syn- prefix + ὁdό1 way, travel; reinforced later by French
synode (16th cent.) and ebola (< Ebola, the name of a river and district in north-
western Zaire, where an outbreak of haemorrhagic fever occurred in 1976). The
Oxford English Dictionary Online gives the following variant pronunciations for
ebola: Brit. /iːˈbəʊlə/, / /, /ɛˈbəʊlə/, U.S. /ɪˈboʊlə/; but for synod all dic-
tionaries register only one, namely /ˈsɪnəd/, despite the fact that one constantly
hears the unstressed syllable pronounced with the full vowel of odd rather than the
schwa alongside the normative pronunciation with the schwa.
In both words the American English pronunciation of something other than a
reduced vowel ([ə] in synod and [ɪ] in ebola) in the unstressed syllable should be
interpreted as a sign of its evaluation as a word of foreign origin. The value,
specifically the markedness value, of the sounds at issue is what is at stake here.
1.79 Unstressed Vowels and the Demoticization of Vocabulary (synod, ebola) 105

The appearance of a full vowel in unstressed position in dissyllabic words in


English is marked, whereas that of a reduced vowel is unmarked. This follows from
the value of reduced vowels as unmarked vis-à-vis their full vocalic counterparts.
One way that demoticization of foreign words proceeds is by the gradual replace-
ment of the marked vowel by the unmarked.
When persons who have either never heard the normative pronunciation of a word
like synod or do not have it in their vocabulary start using it, the first result is to mark
it as foreign by utilizing a full vowel (what might be called the “spelling pronun-
ciation,” although the correct designation should be “reading pronunciation”) rather
than the correct reduced vowel. In the speech of such persons the ultimate trajectory,
when they have been exposed to sufficient instances of its use, is demoticization in
the form of vowel reduction. The same is predictably true of ebola, as can already be
heard in the pronunciation of some speakers of American English today.

1.80 Language and Prestige (The Erroneous


Pronunciation of err)

Glossary
doublet, n.: one of two words or forms that are identical in meaning or value
phonetics, n.: e system of sounds of a particular language
sic transit gloria mundi: ‘thus passes the glory of the world’ (Latin); a
catchphrase expressing the impermanence of things
vis-à-vis: in comparison with; as compared with

As was characterized from a different perspective in an earlier post (“Prestige and


Language Change”), prestige is a precious commodity, no matter where it manifests
itself in society, and language is no exception. There are still prestige dialects in
various countries of the world that are: (1) varieties of the language associated with the
capital city that have been canonized as standard, usually by Academies of Sciences
(e.g., Parisian French in France, Muscovite Russian in Russia), but not only (cf. Tokyo
Japanese in Japan); (2) by tradition deriving largely from the class dominance of its
speakers, as in England, where RP (“Received Pronunciation”) is the variety of
English spoken by the upper classes, as at Oxbridge (=“the Queen’s English”) .
America is an interesting case because Standard American English (SAE) is not
legislated by an academy and not associated with the capital or any major city but
rather with a wide territorial swath extending from the Middle West to the West Coast.
Prestige in America when it comes to language seems to accrue to speakers who
speak “correctly.” There is a long tradition in America of correct speech codified in
grammar books and taught in schools to children regardless of their geographical
location. When it comes to phonetics, of course, territorial dialects that depart from

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SAE are alive and well, and continue to be spoken by persons with a higher
education as well as by “just plain folks.”
In this context, it is interesting to note that when one hears a speech error uttered
by a person who otherwise speaks perfect SAE, there may be an automatic negative
evaluation on the part of the hearer resulting in a drop in the utterer’s prestige.
A good example of this from the broadcast media was manifested on November 18,
2014 in the report of Julie Ravener on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” who pronounced
the verb err to rhyme with air instead of the correct purr. (cf. 1.60 above). Now,
Ravener’s pronunciation of this word is far from unique and has been slowly but
surely displacing the traditional one during the last several decades. The derivation
of this error is not hard to find: it comes from the generalization of the pronunciation
of the associated noun error as the statistically dominant word vis-à-vis the verb.
Failure to observe tradition in speech by resorting to an erroneous pronunciation
—no matter how widespread—always runs the risk of affecting the prestige of both
the speaker personally and that of the content of the utterance containing the speech
error. Once the pronunciation that started life as an error commands enough users to
eclipse the traditional variant, prestige becomes irrelevant in assessing the new
doublet simply because knowledge of tradition always tends to fade with time as
older speakers die out and are succeeded by generations that are ignorant of the
earlier prestige form. Sic transit gloria mundi.

1.81 False Analogy (inherent[ly] )

Glossary
affix, n.: a word element, such as a prefix or suffix, that can only occur
attached to a base, stem, or root
base, n.: a morpheme or morphemes regarded as a form to which affixes or
other bases may be added
deriving, adj. < derivation, n.: the process by which words are formed from
existing words or bases by adding affixes, as singer from sing or undo
from do, by changing the shape of the word or base, as song from sing, or
by adding an affix and changing the pronunciation of the word or base, as
electricity from electric
morpheme, n.: a meaningful linguistic unit consisting of a word, such as man,
or a word element, such as -ed in walked, that cannot be divided into
smaller meaningful parts
prefix, n.: an affix, such as dis- in disbelieve, attached to the front of a word to
produce a derivative word or an inflected form
requiescat in pace: ‘rest in peace’ (Latin)
root, n.: the element that carries the main component of meaning in a word
and provides the basis from which a word is derived by adding affixes or
inflectional endings or by phonetic change
1.81 False Analogy (inherent[ly]) 107

suffix, n.: a grammatical element added to the end of a word or stem, serving
to form a new word or functioning as an inflectional ending, such as -ness
in gentleness, -ing in walking, or -s in sits
yore, n.: time past and especially long since past

Languages develop largely along rational lines, and (proportional) analogy is often
at the bottom of a particular development. However, as was noted earlier in several
cases, e.g.,. on the pronunciation of the verb err and the government of the
adjective courteous, the source of the analogy can be erroneous or false. This is
what obtains in the common (all but exclusive) pronunciation of the adjective
inherent (more frequently represented by the related adverb inherently), wherein the
stressed vowel is made to rhyme with that of the much more frequent verb inherit
rather than the actual deriving verb inhere, whose stressed vowel rhymes with here.
False analogy stems from imperfect learning and is a failure of thought.
Requiescat in pace, oh, book learning of yore!

1.82 The Stress of Adverbialized Prepositional Phrases

Glossary
facultative, adj.: optional
prosodic, adj. < prosody, n.: a suprasegmental phonological feature such as
intonation and stress; also: such features collectively; the patterns of stress
and intonation in a language

When prepositions govern personal pronouns, as in stick to it, go with him, proud of
it, etc., the primary stress falls on the preposition, and the prepositional phrase is
adverbialized, i.e., functions as an adverb, hence the stress pattern, since adverbs
normally bear the phrasal stress when immediately preceded by the verb they
modify (e.g., go quickly, write slowly, breathe deeply, etc.). This also happens when
the preposition is a compound, as in look up to him, the stress falling invariably on
the first component of the compound.
With first or second person pronouns stress on the preposition is facultative,
whereas with the third person pronoun it, it is obligatory. This pattern is to be
explained by the fact that as the neuter member of the category the third person is
less central in the hierarchy of pronominal personhood compared to the first and
second persons, hence less capable of bearing the stress in the prosodic structure of
adverbialized prepositional phrases.

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1.83 Of Eths and Thorns

Glossary
deictic, adj., n.: of or relating to a word, the determination of whose referent is
dependent on the context in which it is said or written
dental, adj.: articulated with the tip of the tongue near or against the upper
front teeth
desinence, n.: a grammatical ending
digraph, n.: a group of two successive letters whose phonetic value is a single
sound (as ea in bread, ng in thing) or whose value is not the sum of a
value borne by each in other occurrences (as ch in chin, where the value is
[t\] + [sh])
fricative, adj., n.: consonant, such as f or s in English, produced by the forcing
of breath through a constricted passage
grapheme, n.: the class of letters and other visual symbols that represent a
phoneme or cluster of phonemes,
interdental, adj.: formed with the tip of the tongue protruded between the
upper and lower front teeth
intervocalic, adj.: occurring between vowels
liquid, adj., n.: a consonant articulated without friction and capable of being
prolonged like a vowel, such as English l and r
markedness, n.: the evaluative superstructure of all semiotic (‘sign-theoretic’)
oppositions, as well as the theory of such a superstructure, characterized
in terms of the values ‘marked’ (conceptually restricted) and ‘unmarked’
(conceptually unrestricted)
orthographic, adj. < orthography, n.: a method of representing a language or
the sounds of language by written symbols; spelling
phoneme, n.: the smallest phonetic unit in a language that is capable of
conveying a distinction in meaning, as the m of mat and the b of bat in
English
phonetic, adj. < phonetics, n.: the study and systematic classification of the
sounds made in spoken utterance as they are produced by the organs of
speech and as they register on the ear and on instruments
phonological, adj. < phonology, n.: the study of speech sounds in language or
a language with reference to their distribution and patterning and to tacit
rules governing pronunciation
protensity, n.: category of phonological distinctive features comprising the
acoustic opposition tense vs. lax, defined by the longer (vs. reduced)
duration of the steady state portion of the sound, and its sharper defined
resonance regions in the spectrum
tense, adj. < tense vs. lax: (acoustically) longer vs. reduced duration of the
steady state portion of the sound, and its sharper defined resonance
1.83 Of Eths and Thorns 109

regions of the spectrum; (genetically) a deliberate vs. rapid execution of


the required gesture resulting in a lastingly stationary articulation
voiced, adj. < voicing. n.: expiration of air through vibrating vocal cords,
used in the production of vowels and voiced consonants

The word “eth” is the name of a letter used in earlier versions of English
orthography (among other Germanic writing systems) for the so-called voiced
(inter) dental fricative, this grapheme being pronounced th (pronunciation)with the
same voiced sound, viz. [ɛð]. (The proper phonological designation is “lax,” not
“voiced,” since English is a protensity language, not a voicing language.) The
symbol inherited from Old English resembles a reversed numeral with a stroke
through the stem. While contemporary English orthography has dropped this item
from its inventory, its phonetic/phonological counterpart, the voiceless (inter)dental
fricative called “thorn” and represented in transcription by the Greek theta, i.e., [h],
survives as the digraph th.
The pronunciation of orthographic th in present-day English varies in large part
with its position in the word (initial, medial/intervocalic, final), and secondarily
with the word class to which a given item belongs. Taking the latter first, the
deictics (demonstrative pronouns) this, that, there, thus, and thither, along with the
personal pronoun they, all have initial eth, whereas non-pronominals have thorn,
e.g., thistle, thatch, thorn, etc. Intervocalic th is exceptionlessly pronounced with
eth, as in blather, hither, lather, etc. The directional deictic thither can be pro-
nounced either with a medial eth or a thorn.
In the case of plural forms of items ending in th in the singular, there is a regular
assimilation such that eth appears before the {-s} desinence realized phonetically
as [z],
e.g., path is sg. [pah] but pl. [paðz], etc.
The distribution of eth and thorn in the immediate vicinity of a liquid (l and
r) depends on which liquid it is and on their position in the word. In initial position
before /r/, the pronunciation is regularly “voiceless” (throne, thrust, etc.), but
medially it is “voiced” before r (e.g., brethren) and “voiceless” after r (e.g.,
arthritis), as it is after l (e.g., wealth).
An interesting case of distribution is that of the noun/verb pair with final th, viz.
bath/bathe. Instead of the correlation expected from markedness theory of the
marked sound (here, the tense thorn) obtaining in the marked category (the verb),
we have an instance of complementation rather than replication, the markedness
values being reversed (the marked sound appearing in the unmarked category and
vice versa). Perhaps this distribution is to be explained as a garden-variety case of
markedness DOMINANCE, since the two interdental sounds eth and thorn already
constitute a marked (restricted) class in the phonology of English to begin with.

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1.84 Hypermetrical Stress for Emphasis in Adverbs

Glossary
hypermetrical, adj.: having one or more (stressed) syllables beyond those
normal to the meter
juncture, n.: the manner of transition between two consecutive speech sounds
or between a speech sound and a pause
meter, n.: systematically arranged and measured rhythm in verse
prosodic, adj. < prosody, n.: a suprasegmental phonological feature such as
intonation and stress; also: such features collectively; the patterns of stress
and intonation in a language
suprasegmental, adj.: of or relating to significant features of pitch, stress, and
juncture accompanying or superadded to vowels and consonants when the
latter are assembled in succession in the construction of a speaker-to-hearer
communication

All languages have prosodic (suprasegmental) systems that encompass different


ways of giving prominence to certain syllables in the word via stress (loudness),
pitch (high or low), or length/duration (long or short). English is a stress language,
in which the position of stress is mobile and can fall on any syllable (unlike, for
instance, Czech, which has fixed stress on the initial syllable; or French, with stress
on the final syllable). Occasionally word classes in English can be differentiated
solely by stress, as in noun/verb pairs like pérmit/permít, cómbat/combát, etc.
Stress is also used to give emphasis to words. This can be accomplished by
increasing the loudness of the stressed syllable beyond its normal degree; or by
stressing syllables that are normally unstressed or bear secondary rather than pri-
mary stress.
Emphatic stress of the latter sort in particular can be called “hypermetrical”
(adopting the term from verse analysis), by which is meant a stress on a syllable over
and above the normal distribution. This is evidently what has happened in the recent
history of American English as regards certain adverbs in {-ly} such as apparently,
supposedly, etc., wherein some speakers are putting a hypermetrical stress on the final
syllable for emphasis in addition to the normal primary stress on a medial syllable.
1.85 Desyllabication of /n/ in Consonant Clusters 111

1.85 Desyllabication of /n/ in Consonant Clusters

Glossary
Bauplan, n.: building plan, blueprint (German)
desyllabication, n. < desyllabicate, v.: to cause or undergo the loss of a
syllable
epenthetic, adj. < epenthesis, n.: the occurrence of an intercalated consonant
(such as a homorganic stop after a nasal consonant) or vowel in a suc-
cession of speech sounds without a counterpart in etymon or in orthog-
raphy (such as [t] in [ˈfents] fence or [ə] in [ˈathəˌlēt] athlete)
liquid. n.: a consonant articulated without friction and capable of being
prolonged like a vowel, such as English l and r
nasal, adj., n.: articulated by lowering the soft palate so that air resonates in
the nasal cavities and passes out the nose, as in the pronunciation of the
consonants m, n, and ng or the nasalized vowel of French bon
open, adj.: pronounced with a relatively wide opening of the mouth and the
tongue held low in it
orthography, n.: a method of representing a language or the sounds of lan-
guage by written symbols; spelling
phonetic, adj. < phonetics, n.: the system of sounds of a particular language
and their study
sonority, n.: the degree to which a speech sound is like a vowel
syllabic, n.: a vocal sound capable by itself of forming a syllable, or con-
stituting the essential element of a syllable
teleological, adj. < teleology, n.: the doctrine or study of ends or final causes,
esp. as related to the evidences of design or purpose in nature; also transf.
such design as exhibited in natural objects or phenomena
typologically, adv. < typological, adj. < typology, n.: comparative study of
languages or aspects of languages as to their structures rather than their
historical relations

American English in the last decade or more has manifested a phonetic change
whereby what was previously a syllabic /n/ in the clusters /dnt/ and /tnt/ at the end
of words has instead developed an epenthetic [ɛ] preceding it. Accordingly,
whereas the older normative pronunciation of words like student, hadn’t, didn’t,
and patent typically had no vowel before [n], now the younger generation of
speakers inserts an unstressed open mid-vowel [ɛ] before it.
The explanation for this change has to do with the kind of language English is
typologically, namely a consonantal language, and not a vocalic language. All
languages of the world are divided into these two basic types. The vocalic lan-
guages have evolved through a series of phonological changes which seem to

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manifest general tendencies to change consonants to vowels, to use consonants as


syllabics, to develop new syllables by vowel insertion, to simplify consonant
sequences, etc. By contrast, the consonantal languages have maintained complex
consonant clusters but have manifested a tendency to suppress the sonority of
liquids and nasals. Vocalic languages evince a tendency to vocalize consonants,
whereas the consonantal languages suppress the natural sonority of consonants.
Contemporary American English, as a consonantal language, by desyllabicating
the nasal sonorant /n/ in the clusters /tnt/ and /dnt/, is thus just fulfilling its typo-
logical Bauplan. This is its teleological fate, as the long-term goal of change in
language, as in evolution generally, is determined ultimately by the conformity of
any individual change to the type of outcome that it implements.

1.86 Vowel Syncope and Its Functions

Glossary
liquid, adj., n.: a consonant articulated without friction and capable of being
prolonged like a vowel, such as English l and r
nasal, adj., n.: articulated by lowering the soft palate so that air resonates in
the nasal cavities and passes out the nose, as in the pronunciation of the
consonants /m/, /n/, and /ng/ or the nasalized vowel of French bon; a nasal
consonant
nomina propria: proper names (Latin)
orthographically, adv. < orthographic, adj. < orthography, n.: a method of
representing a language or the sounds of language by written symbols;
(coreect) spelling
phonetic, adj. < phonetics, n.: the system of sounds of a particular language
phonological, adj. < phonology, n.: the study of speech sounds in language or
a language with reference to their distribution and patterning and to tacit
rules governing pronunciation
semeiotic, adj. < semeiotics, n.: the theory of signs, esp. that of C. S. Peirce
sine qua non: somebody or something indispensable (Latin)
sonorant, n.: a usually voiced speech sound characterized by relatively free
air flow through the vocal tract and capable of being syllabic, as a vowel,
liquid, or nasal
syllabic, adj.: a vocal sound capable by itself of forming a syllable, or con-
stituting the essential element of a syllable
syncopate, v. < syncope, n.: the shortening of a word by omission of a sound,
letter, or syllable from the middle of the word
viz., abbrev.: videlicet (Latin) = that is to say; namely; to wit: used to
introduce an amplification, or more precise or explicit explanation, of a
previous statement or word
1.86 Vowel Syncope and Its Functions 113

Vowels that appear in one form of a word may be elided in speech (and even in
writing) depending on the context especially between consonants but not only. This
elision (called “syncope”) occurs in many languages of the world including
European languages like English or Russian and is typically the product of a
historical process, wherein earlier “full vowel” forms (i.e., unsyncopated) alternate
with newer forms that omit the vowel in question. The occurrence of syncope is
routinely associated with the stylistic dimension of language, specifically with the
so-called “elliptic code, ” and contrasted with the “explicit code” wherein the vowel
in question appears unelided. (These terms were introduced for the first time into
the discourse of linguistics in the author’s book, Russian Phonetic Variants and
Phonostylistics [University of California Press, 1968]). The elliptic form tends to be
generalized over time at the expense of the explicit one, as often happens under the
appropriate circumstances in the pronunciation of nomina propria, including
English (British) place names such as Leicester (pronounced [‘lɛstər]); cf. the
colloquial syncopated pronunciation of the British English word governor as
[‘ɡʌvnə(r)], occasionally rendered as guvna orthographically to reflect the collo-
quial phonetics.
In English the archetypical instance of syncope is in contractions. Thus, for
example, the subject-verb combination “I am” is characteristic of the explicit code
but is reduced to “I’m” (where the apostrophe marks contraction) in the elliptic
code.
Certain phonetic contexts are more likely to induce syncope than others. The
occurrence of a vowel in an unstressed syllable is a sine qua non by itself. From that
basic starting point, the occurrence of an adjacent sonorant in the syllable—more
specifically, a nasal consonant like /n/ or/m/—often leads to the unstressed vowel
being dropped, as when heaven is pronounced (esp. in British English) in the
second syllable without the vowel and a syllabic nasal.
Traditional phonetic explanations of vowel syncope rely on such notions as
economy of effort, but this is clearly inadequate, even though items in the elliptic
code tend to be pronounced faster than their counterparts in the explicit code. The
function of vowel syncope is rather the usual semeiotic one, viz. of mapping the
hierarchy of distinctive features that define a phoneme through its instantiation
contextually in speech. Thus vowels—which are defined as [+vocalic] and
[-consonantal]––signify this definition in connected speech by being liable to
syncope, the only speech sounds which function that way in the rules of imple-
mentation characterizing a phonological system.

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Chapter 2
Meanings

Abstract Meaning is understood in this chapter not only as semantics (lexis =


word meaning) but as morphology, both lexical and derivational, in an overarching
cultural context. Etymological analysis is invoked where relevant, as are examples
pertaining to classes of words like onomastics and social/professional jargons.
Contemporary English vocabulary is seen as the cumulative result of diverse his-
torical residues, and the frequent oblivion of older meaning norms is specified
wherever generational and cultural differences lie at its root.

2.1 ‘Virtuous’ Redefined

Glossary
affix, n.: a word element, such as a prefix or suffix, that can only occur
attached to a base, stem, or root
base, n.: a morpheme or morphemes regarded as a form to which affixes or
other bases may be added
Christological, adj. < Christology, n.: the theological study of the person and
deeds of Jesus; a doctrine or theory based on Jesus or Jesus’s teachings
deriving, adj. < derivation, n.: the process by which words are formed from
existing words or bases by adding affixes, as singer from sing or undo
from do, by changing the shape of the word or base, as song from sing, or
by adding an affix and changing the pronunciation of the word or base, as
electricity from electric
root, n.: the element that carries the main component of meaning in a word
and provides the basis from which a word is derived by adding affixes or
inflectional endings or by phonetic change
stem, n.: the main part of a word to which affixes are added

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017 115


M. Shapiro, The Speaking Self: Language Lore and English Usage,
Springer Texts in Education, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-51682-0_2
116 2 Meanings

Apropos of the concluding thoughts in the authorial note appended to “The Genius of
the Mot Juste” (Chap. 6.2), the second entry under the word virtuous in The
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed., 2006) defines it as
‘possessing or characterized by chastity; pure: a virtuous woman’. The example cited
is straight out of the King James version of the Old Testament (Proverbs 31: 10). This
version is closer to the Hebrew tradition than any previous English translation when it
comes to the non-Christological portions of the Old Testament; cf. the following
translations of the word in question in its fuller Proverbial context:
10 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
11 The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of
spoil.
12 She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. (King James Version)
10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. (New International
Version)
10 aleph mulierem fortem quis inveniet procul et de ultimis finibus pretium eius
11 beth confidit in ea cor viri sui et spoliis non indigebit
12 gimel reddet ei bonum et non malum omnibus diebus vitae suae (Vulgate)
10 .‫ ִמי יְִמָצא; ְוָרֹחק ִמְּפִניִנים ִמְכָרהּ‬,‫ַחיִל‬-‫שת‬ ֶׁ ‫ י ֵא‬A woman of valor who can find? for her
price is far above rubies.
11 .‫ ֹלא ֶיְחָסר‬,‫שָלל‬ ָׁ ‫ ֵלב ַּבְעָלהּ; ְו‬,‫ יא ָּבַטח ָּבהּ‬The heart of her husband doth safely trust in
her, and he hath no lack of gain.
12 .‫ ְיֵמי ַחֶּייָה‬,‫ָרע– ֹּכל‬-‫ יב ְּגָמַלְתהוּ טוֹב ְוֹלא‬She doeth him good and not evil all the days of
her life. (The Masoretic Text, i.e., the authoritative Hebrew text of the Jewish
Bible)
The latter text is traditionally glossed as follows:
1. She is a virtuous woman—a woman of power and strength. ‫ אשת חיל‬esheth
chayil, a strong or virtuous wife full of mental energy
2. She is invaluable; her price is far above rubies—no quantity of precious stones
can be equal to her worth.
The deriving base of the adjective in question is Latin virtus; cf. Greek ἀqesή,
both of which mean something like ‘moral excellence’. In turn, Latin virtus is
derived from vir ‘man, hero’. This last meaning was doubtless what the translators
who rendered the King James version must have had in mind, since they followed
the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible. Hence the meaning ‘a woman of valor’,
which is precisely the definition answering to the purport of the authorial note in
Chap. 6.

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2.2 An Embarrassment of Onomastic Riches 117

2.2 An Embarrassment of Onomastic Riches

Glossary
ex parte: from or on one side only, with the other side absent or unrepresented
(Latin)
krepier, v.: to die (Yiddish)
onomastic, adj.: of, relating to, or explaining a name or names
orthography, n.: (correct) spelling
patrial, n.: the word for the name of a country or place and used to denote a
native or inhabitant of it

Listening to the radio and hearing one’s namesake, Jeff Schapiro (never mind the
German variant orthography) of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, expatiating on the
vagaries of Virginia politics, one was reminded yet again of the seeming perfusion
in America of the surname that derives from that of the Jewish residents of the
medieval German city of Speyer, who eventually migrated to Eastern Europe,
including Lithuania. In fact (according to my father, whose ancestors came from
Radoshkovichi in what is now called Belarus), there were so many Shapiros in
Vil’na (the Russianized name of the capital, Vilnius) during the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries that some of them changed their name to Vilenkin, a
Yiddish-Russian hybrid deriving from their patrial.
Not all Shapiros are created equal. When in the nineteenth and twentieth cen-
turies Jews immigrated to America from the Pale of Settlement in their thousands,
many of them arrived at Ellis Island in New York bearing unpronounceable Polish,
Ukrainian, Byelorussian, and Bessarabian names. This apparently didn’t sit well
with immigration officials, so in order to simplify matters, they frequently assigned
the name Shapiro ex parte to these onomastically-impaired newcomers (Cohen and
Levy not being suitable because of tribal restrictions).
As they used to say in the Soviet Union before it krepiered, “Dva mira—dva
Shapiro” (“Двa миpa—двa Шaпиpo” [rhymes in Russian]) ‘Two worlds—two
Shapiros’.

2.3 Associative Meaning Fields: Interlingual Gaps and


Overlaps

Glossary
derivational, adj. < derivation, n.: the process by which words are formed
from existing words or bases by adding affixes, as singer from sing or
118 2 Meanings

undo from do, by changing the shape of the word or base, as song from
sing, or by adding an affix and changing the pronunciation of the word or
base, as electricity from electric
etymology, n.: the origin and historical development of a linguistic form as
shown by determining its basic elements, earliest known use, and changes
in form and meaning, tracing its transmission from one language to
another, identifying its cognates in other languages, and reconstructing its
ancestral form where possible
etymon, n.: a foreign word from which a particular loan word is derived
forma mentis: form of mind; mental framework (Latin)
interlingual, adj.: of, relating to, or involving two or more languages
morphology, n.: the system or the study of (linguistic) form
Peircean, adj.: of, pertaining to, or deriving from the philosophy of C.
S. Peirce (1839–1914)
root, n.: the element that carries the main component of meaning in a word
and provides the basis from which a word is derived by adding affixes or
inflectional endings or by phonetic change

All languages have meaning fields, which is to say that words enter into associative
networks formed by connotative variants that extend basic dictionary meanings into
semantic nooks and crannies that accommodate subsidiary concepts. In the
European languages that share Latin and Greek etyma as historical points of
departure, post-medieval and modern developments do not necessarily dovetail,
producing interesting differences in semantic utilization of recognizably similar or
identical roots. An interesting case in point are the Latin and Greek antecedents of
two common words, grammar and letter, in English and Russian.
In English the word grammar is given the following etymology in The American
Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed., 2006):
Middle English gramere, from Old French gramaire, alteration of Latin grammatica, from
Greek grammatikē, from feminine of grammatikos, of letters, from gramma, grammat-, letter

In Russian the word is grammatika (гpaммaтикa), which adheres more closely


to the Greek etymon. The latter, as it is captured in the above etymology, derives
from the word for ‘letter’, which shows us how rules of language structure (alias
grammar) and the symbols of written language were directly associated in Greek
derivational morphology.
Our English word letter, by contrast, has the following Latin etymology (also
from the AHD): “Middle English, from Old French lettre, from Latin littera.” The
adjective literal and the substantive literature no longer maintain the double t of the
original and have departed from the Latin sense to configure the modern meanings
we have today that are still rooted in the concept of being “lettered.”
In Russian, the word litera, also from the same Latin patrimony, now has only a
somewhat recondite meaning, viz. ‘letter’ (archaic) and ‘type’ (the typographical

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2.3 Associative Meaning Fields: Interlingual Gaps and Overlaps 119

entity), although the word for ‘literature’ is practically the same as in English,
namely literatura. Whereas English uses literal to mean ‘adhering strictly to the
letter’, by contrast Russian resorts for this meaning to the adjective bukval’nyj,
derived from the word bukva ‘letter’, which is of proto-Germanic provenience
(whence E book; cf. G Buch ‘book’) and shows up as a borrowing from the same
source and with the same meaning in all of the Slavic languages.
Russian deviates from Germanic and Romance, however, in how it treats the
word borrowed from another version of Greek gramma, namely grammata (pl.)
‘letters’. This comes into Russian as a singular noun gramota (гpaмoтa), with the
primary meaning ‘letters, the alphabet’, as in (yчитьcя гpaмoтe) ‘learn one’s let-
ters’, i.e., ‘learn how to read and write’, whence the adjective gramotnyj ‘literate’.
It is at this point that English and Russian part company when it comes to
associative meaning fields and just here we can discern how words determine not
just thought but one’s forma mentis, depending on the semantic peculiarities of
one’s native language.
Where English uses the word competent to denote either the person or the
product that shows a certain level of skill or accomplishment, the older and
(practically) demotic word for this concept in Russian is gramotnyj (гpaмoтный),
although kompetentnyj also exists as a newer vocabulary item. There is thus a
strong association in Russian between being ‘lettered’ and being ‘competent’ that is
scanted in English, despite the extended meaning of literate. This gives rise in
Russian to phrases like gramotnyj kompozitor ‘competent composer’ and gramotno
napisano ‘competently composed’ [of music] which define a whole conceptual field
that is denied to its English counterparts.
One would be hard put to find a more perspicuous proof of pragmatism (in the
Peircean sense) than this differential mapping of associative fields in the two
languages.

2.4 Bad Guys

Glossary
characterological, adj. < characterology, n.: the study of character, especially
its development and its variations
hypocoristic, adj.: endearing; belong to affective vocabulary
subcutaneously, adv. < subcutaneous, adj.: (here, figuratively) beneath the
surface, subtle, relatively imperceptible

The phrase bad guys has been used incessantly by the media—and by ordinary
speakers influenced by media language—as a handy substitute for enemy or ter-
rorist in referring to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. This can perhaps be understood
120 2 Meanings

as a convenient covering reference to an enemy that does not belong historically to


the conduct and nomenclature of traditional warfare. They wreak evil and are
“bad,” but they are often not soldiers in the conventional sense, since they may not
belong to a conventional army.
But the use of this phrase is semantically fraught with the wrong connotations,
for the following reasons. First, guy is a colloquialism that is associated with an
informal attitude to the referent that is, moreover, at least stylistically neutral if not
entirely hypocoristic in contemporary English. Second, and more tellingly, the
phrase derives from the world of Hollywood motion pictures, where evildoers of all
sorts have always been referred to as “bad guys,” in opposition to “good guys,”
when denominating the characterological identity of the dramatis personae of movie
(and, by extension, television, etc.) plots.
There is thus a strong current of trivialization whenever the enemy and terrorists
are referred to by this phrase. This colloquialization has the unintended effect of
MINIMIZING the evil wrought by them, just as does its frequent equivalent bad
actors. Both must be expunged from public discourse because any reference to the
enemy or to terrorists that even subcutaneously allows for a quasi-endearing
evaluation of their status can result in a weakening of the resolve to defeat them. It
is thus a failure of thought that should not be countenanced for moral as well as
rhetorical reasons.

2.5 Clichés: Corpses from the Necropolis


of Dead Metaphors

Glossary
necropolis, n.: a cemetery, especially a large and elaborate one belonging to
an ancient city
trope, n.: a figure of speech using words in nonliteral ways, such as a
metaphor
tropological, adj. < tropology, n.: the use of tropes in speech or writing

There once lived a woman who hated clichés. This essay is intended to explicate her
linguistic animus.
Clichés exist in every language. They are typically old, worn-out, fatigued fig-
ures of speech which have fossilized through constant use into words and phrases
that have a rigid meaning and are repeated ad nauseam because they render
complex semantic relations compactly.
Here is a contemporary example, in context, of a tired trope, perfect storm
(meaning ‘a confluence of events that drastically aggravates a situation’):

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2.5 Clichés: Corpses from the Necropolisof … 121

“You had this perfect storm where in his Middle East speech Obama didn’t explain very
well what he meant by ‘land swaps,’ Netanyahu was so upset by the mention of 1967
borders that he basically mischaracterized the president’s proposal for four days, and as a
result the whole visit became hyperpartisan at a time when Israel was looking for bipartisan
support from the United States,” said David Makovsky, director of the Project on the
Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (James
Kitfield, “Netanyahu’s ‘Unvarnished Truth’ Tour,” www.theatlantic.com, 5/25/11)

Instead of saying “a confluence of events” the writer has resorted to the tired
cliché, “perfect storm.” It may be more apt than usual, given the politically fraught
context, but it is nonetheless a token of a mental slovenliness that elicits stylistic
contempt. Perhaps only a deliberate revivification of the phrase via semantic dis-
interment (e.g., “the perfect storm didn’t have much wind at its back”) could ever
hope to rescue this freshly-laid corpse—along with all its lifeless congeners—from
their tropological resting place. RIP would be a fitter fate.

2.6 Discontinuous Lexica and Linguistic Competence

Glossary
aureole, n.: a circle of light or radiance surrounding the head or body of a
representation of a deity or holy person; a halo or aura
conjugate, adj.: joined together, especially in a pair or pairs; coupled
differentia specifica: distinctive feature (Latin)
déformation professionnelle: a tendency to look at things from the point of
view of one’s own profession rather than from a broader perspective
(French)
etymological, adj. < etymology, n.: the origin and historical development of a
linguistic form as shown by determining its basic elements, earliest known
use, and changes in form and meaning, tracing its transmission from one
language to another, identifying its cognates in other languages, and
reconstructing its ancestral form where possible
Hippocratic, adj. < Hippocrates, n.: Greek physician who laid the founda-
tions of scientific medicine by freeing medical study from the constraints
of philosophical speculation and superstition
idiolectal, adj. < idiolect, n.: the speech of an individual, considered as a
linguistic pattern unique among speakers of his or her language or dialect
lexicon, n., pl. lexica: the words of a language considered as a group
metricist, n.: a specialist in the study of metrics (versification)
peripeteia, n., pl.: a sudden change of events or reversal of circumstances,
especially in a literary work
122 2 Meanings

risus sardonicus: ‘sardonic smile’ (Latin), a highly characteristic, abnormal,


sustained spasm of the facial muscles that appears to produce grinning,
most often as a sign of tetanus
vilipend, v.: to view or treat with contempt; despise

It is a truism of linguistics that the grammars of native speakers are discontinuous,


by which is meant the principle of language competence encompassing the idea that
no two speakers have exactly the same grammar of the language they share as
native speakers. To a very large extent, precisely what is discontinuous is their
vocabularies, their command of the lexical stock of the language. They may also
have a differential knowledge of syntax, but since syntax is the technique (rules) by
which words are combined into phrases, sentences, and discourses, the focus is
properly on the lexicon, hence the discontinuities between speakers’ grammars
come down to the knowledge of words.
This whole topic constitutes a missing chapter from standard accounts of lin-
guistic competence. Here is some material that might go toward filling the lacuna.
Within one adult speaker’s grammar or knowledge of their native language, a
profile of competence can be characterized variously by reference to such param-
eters as active versus passive knowledge, knowledge of specialized (technical)
vocabulary, acquaintance with foreign languages etymological knowledge (i.e.,
knowledge of word origins, including historically earlier stages of the native lan-
guage), dialectal material, and literary texts in the round, including but not limited
to poetry and folkloric data (nursery rhymes, riddles, etc.). This may be taken as an
exhaustive inventory of the diverse sources that constitute the lexical stock of a
given individual’s idiolect.
To perhaps a greater extent than other idiolectal features, a speaker’s vocabulary
is never completely fixed or static. Even beyond childhood and adolescence, when
the greatest accretions to one’s lexical knowledge occur, there is always the pos-
sibility of adding to one’s vocabulary. This comes about naturally through contact
with different linguistic milieux, geographical as well as social, and with written
texts whose complete comprehension may demand looking in dictionaries and
thereby acquiring new vocabulary items—a process that goes on ceaselessly as long
as one remains open to new texts, fresh milieux, and heretofore unassimilated
knowledge.
No matter how similar phonetically or grammatically the speech is of members
of a relatively homogeneous speech community, there are always differences in
style and discourse between individuals. These may be a function of education and
family history as well as of idiosyncrasy (personality). One particularly interesting
differentia specifica is the use of foreign words and phrases in one’s native speech
(including writing). In contemporary English, the traditionally most likely items of
this sort are from Latin and French, followed in no particular order of frequency by
Greek, German, and Italian. This intrusion of foreign locutions may be conditioned
by the speaker’s profession. Thus college professors of French quite often pepper

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2.6 Discontinuous Lexica and Linguistic Competence 123

their native English with French words, even where perfectly good English
equivalents would do. Perhaps this is a kind of linguistic badge—what the French
call déformation professionnelle—that is flashed to parade not only their special
knowledge but their solidarity with their profession and the country whose language
and literature they profess. In some cases, of course, the foreign locution may in fact
supply a particular stylistic flavor that the native equivalent may lack.
A good illustration of the employment of foreign words and phrases, including
literary citations, inserted in an otherwise perfectly English oral discourse can be
found in that masterpiece of narrative, Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Sign of
Four. Here are three such cases that issue from the mouth of Sherlock Holmes, in
the latter two of which Holmes’s is actually a slightly inaccurate version:
[Latin] “Quite so They are in a state of extreme contraction, far exceeding the usual rigor
mortis. Coupled with this distortion of the face, this Hippocratic smile, or ‘risus sardon-
icus,’ as the old writers called it, what conclusion would it suggest to your mind?”
[French] “He can find something,” remarked Holmes shrugging his shoulders. “He has
occasional glimmerings of reason. Il n’y a pas des sots si incommodes que ceux qui ont de
l’esprit!”
[correct version: Il n’y a point de sots si incommodes que ceux qui ont de l’esprit.—
François de la Rochefoucauld, Maximes, no. 451. English translation: ‘There are no fools so
troublesome as those who have some wit’.]
[German] “And I,” said Holmes, “shall see what I can learn from Mrs. Bernstone, and from
the Indian servant, who, Mr. Thaddeus tells me, sleeps in the next garret. Then I shall study
the great Jones’s methods and listen to his not too delicate sarcasms. ‘Wir sind gewohnt das
die Menschen verhöhnen was sie nicht verstehen.’ Goethe is always pithy”
[correct version: Wir sind gewohnt, daß die Menschen verhöhnen / Was sie nicht verstehn,
(which continues) Daß sie vor dem Guten und Schönen, / Das ihnen oft beschwerlich ist,
murren; / Will es der Hund, wie sie, beknurren?—Goethe Faust, Part 1, ll. 1205-09.
Munich: Beck, 2007, p. 43. Bayard Taylor’s English translation (New York: Collier Books,
1963, p. 113): ‘Of course we know that men despise / what they don’t comprehend; / the
Good and Beautiful they vilipend, / finding it oft a burdensome measure. / Is the dog, like
men, snarling displeasure?’]
(“Sherlock Holmes Gives a Demonstration,” The Sign of Four, ch. 6, in Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle, The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, I: The Novels, ed. Leslie S. Klinger. New
York: Norton, 2006, pp. 278, 280, 282.)

The question of “flavor” is conjugate with another essentially emotive value of


language, viz. what may be called the “semantic aureole” of a word (to borrow a
phrase coined by Russian metricists for the study of verse forms). Each individual’s
life experience includes certain language items that have a particular, singular,
emotional resonance—their “aureole”—that is of idiosyncratic derivation. Here is
an anecdote to illustrate this phenomenon.
While boarding an airplane for a recent flight from Cleveland to Los Angeles,
painted on the fuselage I noticed the words “Continental Airlines. The airline that
flies to more international destinations than any other U. S. airline.” That made me
124 2 Meanings

think of the drink called the continental, which I had ordered at a restaurant in
Vermont just days before, which segued into Fred Astaire and the song he sings
called “The Continental” in the movie “Flying Down to Rio,” which I saw on
television long ago. For some reason, this then triggered a chain of memories
associated with the international word continental that occurs in all European
languages, including Russian, particularly as a designation of certain buildings, like
hotels.
More precisely, a true story came bobbing up from the backwater of my
memory, which had been recounted to me many years before by my father about his
cousin, a certain “Diadia Misha” (Russian for ‘Uncle Misha’), who ended up in
Paris after the Russian Revolution, became an arms dealer there between the World
Wars, and lived to be a centenarian. Uncle Misha was living in Kiev when the
Revolution broke out and was arrested as a bourgeois—therefore, considered an
enemy of the people—by the Communists when they seized control of the city, and
was brought before a people’s tribunal to be tried. The penalty of death by firing
squad in such cases was not out of the question, and it hovered over our poor Uncle
Misha. However, after questioning him, the president of the tribunal suddenly
announced that he was free to go. Naturally, Uncle Misha’s relief and incredulity
knew no bounds. Then the president came over to him and, extending his hand, said
(in Russian), “Ia iz Kontinentalia” [Я из Кoнтинeнтaля] (‘I’m from the
Continental’). At first, Uncle Misha was completely flummoxed. But then he rec-
ognized the president as a waiter from the restaurant at the Hotel Continental in
Kiev, where he had eaten many times, and whom he had been in the habit of tipping
generously. These munificent gratuities now turned out to be Uncle Misha’s
salvation.
Such are the peripeteia that define the course of one’s life. One can understand
why the word continental should have a special associative aura in my lexicon—
and that of no other person outside my family.

2.7 DO, v., Trans.

Glossary
nonce word: a word used only ‘for the nonce’, i.e., for the specific purpose
Vermontian, adj.: ‘pertaining to Vermont’ (nonce word)

Do is undoubtedly the most protean verb in the English language. All one has to do
to be convinced of this fact is to look under the entry in the Oxford English
Dictionary Online.
A man and a woman, both of a certain age, come into a Vermontian tavern and
sit down at the bar. They each order a glass of wine. When the bartender pours the

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2.7 DO, v., Trans. 125

drinks, there is some confusion as to which patron wishes the white wine, which the
red, so the female customer says: “He does the white, and I do the red” [emphasis
added]. A strange utterance under the circumstances, no?
Whatever could she have meant? That her male companion habitually drinks
white wine, and she red, implying that this distribution is at odds with the norm for
the two sexes? It’s impossible to interpret the woman’s utterance with certainty.
One is reminded of the fact that just as characters in novels don’t always know
their own motives, so with people in real life.

2.8 Enjoy! Whatever … (Calques)

Glossary
calque (=loan translation), n.: a form of borrowing from one language to
another whereby the semantic components of a given term are literally
translated into their equivalents in the borrowing language. English su-
perman, for example, is a loan translation from German Übermensch
echt, adj.: real; genuine (German)
paralinguistic, adj. < paralinguistics, n.: the aspects and study of spoken
communication that accompany speech but do not involve words, such as
language, gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice
patois, n.: the special jargon of a group
semiotic, adj.: pertaining to elements of or any system of signs, defined as
anything capable of signifying an object (meaning)
sociolectal, adj. < sociolect, n.: a variety of a language that is used by a
particular social group
univerbal, adj. < univerbation, n.: the creation of one word from two or more

The ubiquitous interjection “Enjoy!,” minus its otherwise normative direct object
and pronounced-with emphatic intonation as a one-word sentence, can be heard
from speakers of American English, particularly as addressed to their customers by
waiters and waitresses. Little do they realize that this usage must have originated in
the language of Yiddish speakers in New York an idiom influenced by the over-
whelmingly Slavic—specifically, Russian—milieu from which these speakers’
ancestors immigrated to the New World. That this special use in American English
of an Anglo-Norman word (Middle English enjoien, from Old French enjoir) could
have a Russian provenience via Yiddish has not generally been acknowledged,
doubtless owing to (1) the rarity of a thorough knowledge of Russian among those
who concern themselves with Yiddish borrowings into English; (2) the ignoral of
CALQUES as the likely source.
126 2 Meanings

Here the Russian item serving as the model for a Yiddish-influenced loan
translation into English are the imperative forms of the verb naslazhdát’sia
(нacлaждaтьcя), i.e., naslazhdájsia (нacлaждaйcя [sg.]) and naslazhdájtes’
(нacлaждaйтecь [pl.]). What might weaken this motivation is the fact that Yiddish
seems to have no univerbal equivalent. Also: (1) Russian does not use the imper-
atives of the verb naslazhdat’sia (нacлaждaтьcя) in a way that would validate the
Yiddish borrowing—and thereby the usage—of “Enjoy!” in contemporary
American English; and (2) any such calque would consequently have to be moti-
vated by Yiddish speakers’ flawed knowledge of idiomatic Russian usage.
It should be noted that the proper author of this attribution’s line of thought is
Marianne Shapiro. With her matchless etymological acumen, she recalled from her
own New York childhood that the use of “Enjoy!” originated with (and was
popularized by) its frequent occurrence in the speech of Molly Goldberg in the
long-running American radio and television show, The Goldbergs (excogitated by
the native New Yorker, Gertrude Berg, née Tillie Edelstein, who also played its lead
character).
The transplanted version of the New York Yiddish milieu would also seem to be
the source of the slang use in American speech of whatever, notably in its echt
r-less form, viz. [wʌtɛ́və]. This was the pronunciation used repeatedly, for instance,
by the main character, Archie Bunker, on the 1970s television show, All in the
Family, shot in Hollywood but set in New York City (Queens). The use of this
word may have originated earlier in the Yiddishized patois of female Hollywood
show business types (wives and girlfriends of producers?), whence it migrated into
general American speech via popular films (like Clueless) that featured the soci-
olectal mannerisms of female Southern Californians known as “Valley girls.”
Its ultimate semiotic pedigree could perhaps be traced to an unusual variety of
calqueing namely the loan translation into speech of a (wordless) gesture—a shrug
of the shoulders, inclination of the head, elevation of the hands, or all three—
signifying the semantic amalgam now embedded in the word. These are in fact just
the paralinguistic body movements commonly associated with Yiddish/(-ized)
speech.

2.9 Good Work 6¼ Good Job

Glossary
axiological, adj. < axiology, n.: the study of the nature of values and value
judgments
superordination, n.: higher rank, status, or value

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2.9 Good Work 6¼ Good Job 127

What used to be the standard way in American English of complimenting someone


on a job well done, viz. “good work!” has largely been replaced by the phrase
“good job.” This change in usage is underlain by a shift in the value system, as an
analysis of the two variable words reveals.
The difference comes down to the fact that work applies as a noun to the
AESTHETIC value of the object resulting from an action. We habitually designate, for
instance, art objects as works, not jobs. One can be “good at one’s job” but not
“good at one’s work.” One’s work can be one’s job, and in the latter sense job can
connote one’s duty, whereas work does not. And so on.
This kind of trip through the connotations of the words at issue will always abut
in the conclusion that the accomplished result of what we do when we designate the
series of actions as job or work makes the first word concentrate on the acts and not
on the product in the traditional usage that rewards the aesthetic value of the
product with the designation work.
This value did not accrue in the past to job. Now it does, meaning a hierarchical
superordination of the ACTION over the RESULT. In this way, American culture
reinforces the axiological dominance of process over result that can be encapsulated
in the motto “you are what you do.”

2.10 Infantilization of Lexis

Glossary
apotropaic, adj.: intended to ward off evil or danger
infantilism, n.: a state of arrested development in an adult, characterized by
retention of infantile mentality; marked immaturity, as in behavior or
character
lexis, n.: the aggregate of a language’s words (vocabulary as distinguished
from grammar)
neologism, n.: newly-minted word
timbre, n.: the combination of qualities of a sound that distinguishes it from
other sounds of the same pitch and volume
tropism, n.: [here used figuratively] the turning or bending movement of an
organism or a part toward or away from an external stimulus, such as
light, heat, or gravity
vocable, n.: a word considered only as a sequence of sounds or letters rather
than as a unit of meaning

Up until a certain age American children, like children in other countries, articulate
the vocables of their native language in a childish way because their linguistic
abilities are commensurate with their physical development in other respects.
128 2 Meanings

Whereas until about forty years ago these childish speech patterns were outgrown
from pre-adolescence on, it is now typical of the speech of young American women
in particular to retain what used to be purely puerile traits into adulthood. This
recessive infantilization of language broadly affects the vocal timbre as well as the
intonation of female adult speakers, to the point where a young American woman
who doesn’t sound like a superannuated child is exceptional. (Those who are
familiar with female speech patterns in Japanese will immediately recognize the
cross-cultural similarity to the contemporary American situation.) Whether speak-
ing like a child into adulthood is to be reckoned an apotropaic linguistic adaptation,
of a piece with other behavioral strategies calculated to forestall conflict, is an open
question.
Infantilization can also affect lexis as well as phonetics. The current preference
for the Lallwörter (German ‘nursery words’) “mom,” “dad,” and “kid” instead of
their grownup counterparts “mother,” “father,” and “child” is clearly an example of
this phenomenon. With increasing frequency, public speech (both oral and written)
refers to “single mom” and “stay-at-home mom” regardless of the stylistic register
of the context in which these phrases are embedded. In fact, the media routinely
eschew designating parents by their stylistically neutral names. Particularly jarring
is the neologism “grandkid,” connoting as it does (regardless of the age of the child)
yet another instance of an American cultural tropism toward a state of permanent
infantilism—here tellingly of BOTH the grandchild AND the grandparent.

2.11 Issues 6¼ Problems

Glossary
forma mentis: form of mind; mental framework (Latin)

Change in linguistic usage can be motivated by a variety of factors, including a


concomitant change in ideology or value system. With respect to the latter, the
ubiquitous contemporary American substitution of the word issue for problem is a
good case in point.
The increasing tendency to avoid problem in favor of issue is a sign of an
ideological change in values whereby nothing is judged to be inherently prob-
lematic or in need of correction on its face. So is the frequent recurrence in public
discourse to the word challenge instead of problem. In this attitude, which underlies
the word usage, everything pertaining to the social or personal sphere is potentially
unproblematic and automatically amenable to repair in the long run, hence one
encounters only challenges rather than problems. Consequently, for instance, there
are no longer any health problems, only health issues, and one has issues, not
problems.

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2.11 Issues 6¼ Problems 129

Fortunately, this delusionary forma mentis—a failure of thought—cannot intrude


into the mathematical sciences, since such obfuscation is systematically rooted out
as the enemy of clarity, hence of solubility and, ultimately, of truth.

2.12 It’s Chinese to Me

Glossary
derivational: adj. < derivation: n., the study, process, or result of word
formation
lexical: adj., pertaining to the lexicon or to words
morphology: n., the study of (linguistic) form

Many languages have a phrase corresponding to It’s Greek to me to signify that


something is incomprehensible or makes no sense to the utterer/writer. The English
version may have started in the Middle Ages as a translation of the Latin phrase,
Graecum est, non legitur ‘It’s Greek, [hence] not readable’, at a time when
knowledge of Greek among scribes was on the wane.
When it comes to other languages (Arabic, French, Hebrew, Russian, among
others) however, it is Chinese that is most commonly referred to, and what is meant
specifically is the writing system rather than the spoken language. This is confirmed
by the Japanese version, sanbun kanbun ‘gibberish’,” where the literal meaning of
the two components is ‘prose’ (sanbun) + ‘Chinese script’ (kanbun). Russian ki-
tajskaja gramota (китaйcкaя гpaмoтa) ‘Chinese charter/alphabet’ also makes
explicit reference to the script.
All the Slavic languages have in fact incorporated what can be interpreted as the
ultimate degree of unintelligibility of speech by likening the speakers of one foreign
language in particular—German—to those who cannot speak at all, namely mutes:
R nemeckij [jazyk] (нeмeцкий язык) ‘German [language]’, etc., takes its formal
and semantic designation from the Common Slavic adjectival base nem- ‘mute’.
In English, when we want to single out speech or writing as crabbed, misce-
genated, or full of incomprehensible words—and, therefore, evaluated as a degra-
ded form of language—we typically resort to words like jargon, lingo, pidgin,
patois, and argot; or to derivatives utilizing the suffix-ese, as in bureaucratese,
legalese, etc.—doubtless derived in the first instance from an extension of the
morphology of the word Chinese.
Speaking of jargon (which is probably of French—at any rate, of Romance—
provenience), it is interesting to note that in pre-revolutionary Russian (the lan-
guage of my parents), the word жapгóн was also in common use to mean Yiddish,
specifically by Jews themselves. Speakers of Yiddish evidently felt no pejorative
taint in resorting to a label in Russian that reflects their rich mother tongue’s hybrid
(German, Hebrew, Slavic) grammatico-lexical makeup.
130 2 Meanings

2.13 Just Semantics

Glossary
anamnesis, n.: the complete history recalled and recounted by a patient
hyperplasia, n.: an abnormal increase in the number of cells in an organ or a
tissue with consequent enlargement
hypertrophy, n.: a nontumorous enlargement of an organ or a tissue as a result
of an increase in the size rather than the number of constituent cells

The endocrinologist wore a white coat to match the thatch of white hair sur-
mounting his pate and wrote my anamnesis down hurriedly without looking up,
occasionally repeating his questions because he hadn’t heard my answers. (The
doctor was hard of hearing but, typical of his profession, obviously hadn’t bothered
to remedy the condition.)
When my narrative came to benign prostatic hyperplasia, I interrupted to ask
about the difference between ‘hyperplasia’ and ‘hypertrophy’, since the condition is
vernacularly known as ‘enlargement’. His answer, pronounced with what passed for
a smile, was: “That’s just semantics.” Then, evidently embarrassed, he backed up
and gave a short definition of each of the terms.
This common denigration of the science of meaning is particularly unfortunate
coming from a physician, who of all professionals should be sensitive to the pro-
found bond between words and feelings, hence to the prominent role language and
its precise use play in the healing arts.

2.14 *Magnimonious Poster Childs

Glossary
catachresis, n.: the misapplication of a word or phrase; the use of a strained
figure of speech, such as a mixed metaphor
contamination, n.: the process by which one word or phrase is altered because
of mistaken associations with another word or phrase; for example, the
substitution of irregardless for regardless by association with such words
as irrespective

As is well known, even adults speaking their native language occasionally make
grammatical mistakes. These can be slips of the tongue, which may then be cor-
rected in the same breath. But they may also be out and out errors which go

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2.14 *Magnimonious Poster Childs 131

uncorrected for one or another reason, including lack of awareness on the utterer’s
part that an error has been committed.
Errors are not uniformly of the same kind. Roughly speaking, they fall into two
main categories, motivated and unmotivated. The first category subsumes those that
lend themselves to some kind of reasoned explication; the second, those that are
catachrestic pure and simple.
On the National Public Radio program “Morning Edition” (VPR, January 24,
2011), the co-host, Renee Montagne, was interviewing the economics editor of The
Wall Street Journal, David Wessel, who uttered the phrase “one of the poster
childs,” i.e., failed to say the grammatically correct form of the plural, children.
This mistake allows for a quasi-explanation, in that there exists at least one
precedent for a deviation from the normal plural, namely in the phrase still lifes
(when speaking of an art object). Here a distinction is being made between the
plural of life in the ordinary sense (lives) and its special transferred sense in the case
of a genre of pictorial representation.
No such explication of motivatedness in the grammatically strict sense is
available, however, for the blunder the same host made in the interview a few
minutes later, when she uttered (without self-correction) the mangled form *mag-
nimonious instead of the correct magnanimous. This instance of catachresis was
evidently the simple product of contamination between adjectives that sound
vaguely alike (sanctimonious? parsimonious?).

2.15 Memoirs (plurale tantum)

Glossary
lexical, adj. < lexicon, n., pl. lexica: the words of a language considered as a
group
plurale tantum: occurring only in the plural (Latin)

The traditional designation of an autobiographical account as a literary genre has


always gone by the name memoirs, in the plural, not the singular. Recently,
however, writers and readers have begun referring to it exclusively in the singular,
viz. memoir. This change can in part be accounted for by the fact that of all
contemporary literary genres memoirs was the only one whose designation occurred
in the plural only, the singular being reserved for other kinds of written account
such as a memorandum, notice, special study, monograph, or history. The change,
therefore, can be seen as a lexical normalization.
A possibly covert other reason for the change is the simple fact that speakers and
writers—particularly of American English—are ignorant of the original meaning of
the word, namely ‘remembrances’ or ‘memories’. The (French) form that took root
132 2 Meanings

in English to mean the genre obscures its origin and its attendant meaning, hence
facilitating the new recurrence to the singular and the oblivion of the traditional
plural.

2.16 Of Proofs in Puddings and Roosters in Cabbage Soup

Glossary
alliterative, adj. < alliteration: n., the repetition of the same sounds or of the
same kinds of sounds at the beginning of words or in stressed syllables
catachrestic, adj. < catachresis, n.: the misapplication of a word or phrase, as
the use of blatant to mean ‘flagrant’; the use of a strained figure of speech,
such as a mixed metaphor
deverbal: adj. (also deverbative), formed from a verb; used in derivation from
a verb; n., a deverbative word or element
faiblesse: n., weakness (French)
metanalysis: n., a boundary shift
terminus ad quem: a goal or finishing point; a final limiting point in time
(Latin)

English—as everybody knows—has a faiblesse for alliterative phrasing, but this


otherwise appealing poetic ornament can also turn itself into a false friend by
inducing a loss of sense. Such is the case of the degradation of the proverb The
proof of the pudding is in the eating, which is at least as old as the seventeenth
century in England, perhaps older.
As was demonstrated yet again on the NPR program, “Morning Edition”
(KPCC, Pasadena, 10/2/08), in responding to the co-host’s question about the
impending Vice Presidential debate, the correspondent Mara Liasson (otherwise a
model of good diction and of uncatachrestic speech) reduced this proverb to The
proof is in the pudding, as is now commonly done (cf. my Letter to the Editor,
“Sour Pudding,” Barron’s, August 17, 1998, p. 46). The reason for this degraded
version, which apparently has been around since the 1950s, if not earlier, is
nowhere mentioned by the several bloggers who have treated of it but is clear
nonetheless: we are dealing here with the proverbial sacrifice of meaning to sound
as a terminus ad quem of linguistic change.
Notice: “proof in the pudding” is utterly meaningless, even if one understands
proof to have the older meaning “test,” as in The exception proves the rule. It IS
perfectly understandable, of course, in the authentic version, “The proof of the
pudding is in the eating.”
This sort of counter-sensical development can be seen in other languages as well.
The Russian locution popast’ kak kur vó shchi (пoпacть кaк кyp вó щи) ‘land in

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2.16 Of Proofs in Puddings and Roosters in Cabbage Soup 133

the (cabbage) soup, get into a mess’ is known to every Russian speaker in just that
form but is actually a historically degenerate version of the phrase popast’ kak kur v
óshchip (пoпacть кaк кyp в óщип) ‘end up being plucked like a rooster’, where kur
‘cock, rooster’ is the archaic or dialectal word for Modern Russian petux, and
óshchip is the suffixless deverbal noun ‘plucking [clean]’ < oshchipat’ ‘pluck
[clean]’.
Notice: the meaninglessness of the contemporary form, where the final conso-
nant [p] of óshchip has been apocopated, occasioning a metanalysis and a con-
comitant reinterpretation (v óshchip > vó shchi), and the preposition in vó shchi
appears irregularly with the stressed full vowel [ó], is exactly parallel to the English
example. Just as proofs are not to be found as ingredients of puddings, no recipe—
Russian or otherwise—calls for a rooster to go into cabbage soup, although such a
bird can sensibly end up getting plucked.

2.17 The Linguistic Ecology of the Proverb

Glossary
lexica, pl. n. < lexicon, n.: the words of a language considered as a group
paroemic, adj. < paroemia, n.: a proverb or adage; aphorism
paronomasia, n.: a play upon words in which the same word is used in
different senses or words similar in sound are set in opposition so as to
give antithetical force

Every language has proverbs. English, Russian, and Japanese have not only the
largest lexica but also the greatest number of proverbs with the most comprehensive
Japanese proverb dictionaries approaching a six-figure total. English in all its
varieties differs from Russian and Japanese in the ecological prominence of pro-
verbs in actual use, which is to say that speakers and writers of English no longer
habitually recur to proverbs. When was the last time you uttered the words—or
heard anyone else say—A stitch in time saves nine?
By contrast, Russians and Japanese sprinkle their speech with proverbs at every
turn. This paroemic predilection has nothing to do with the speaker’s class or
education, nor with urban versus agrarian social context. When a Russian resorts to
the proverb na net i suda net—literally, ‘to a NO there’s no justice/court’—to
express resignation before an insuperable impasse, they are employing a piece of
paronomasia that conveys its meaning with a poetic punch not available to a purely
discursive statement.
Beyond paronomasia, there is also the frequent special force of figuration con-
jured up in proverbs that is colligated with their analogical imagery. When a
Japanese says setchin-mushi mo tokorobiiki (雪隠虫も所贔屓) ‘even the dung
134 2 Meanings

beetle loves its own bailiwick’, a whole world far removed from contemporary
mores comes to life that endows the utterance’s context with a particular purport.
The linguistic ecology of modern-day English is, by comparison, all the poorer for
having abjured the paroemic riches at its disposal.

2.18 Running the Show

Glossary
Anglophone, adj.: pertaining to an English-speaking person, especially one in
a country where two or more languages are spoken
forma mentis: form of mind; mental framework (Latin)

No other language than English has expressions with equivalents for the word show
to mean being in charge (“running the show”). In fact, the modern European
languages (cf. R shou) have borrowed E show for varieties of theatrical presentation
because they lack equivalents that would straddle the whole semantic range of this
useful little word. But what the expression betrays is something much deeper, going
to the most fundamental characterization of the English nation, to wit, that THE
WHOLE WORLD IS A STAGE. Shakespeare was only putting into words what has been
known about his nation from the beginning of time. (That outlook also accounts for
the fact that English philosophers have no metaphysics.)
Apropos, note the spread of words like actor and player in contemporary
Anglophone discourse as substitutes for participant and other words meaning
‘person in charge, important personage’. What’s uppermost for the English forma
mentis as expressed in language use is “putting on a good show” and “making a good
show of it,” hence the typical British expression “good show!” to signify approval.

2.19 Semantic Contamination

Glossary
catachrestic, adj. < catachresis, n.: the misapplication of a word or phrase;
the use of a strained figure of speech, such as a mixed metaphor
fillip, n.: a spur or impetus; an embellishment that excites or stimulates

When words or phrases occupy adjacent or overlapping semantic fields they may
begin to interfere with each other in the sense that one contaminates the other,
thereby changing usage such that the contaminated version supplants the earlier one.

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This has happened recently in the American English catachrestic construction


“good-paying job,” which has all but replaced the traditional “well-paying job”
(with or without the hyphen). It is a further instance of the usurpation of the
adjective/adverb “well” by “good.”
In analyzing how and why this has happened, one must start by comparing the
constructions “good job” and “well paid.” The compound adjective “well-paying”
is the result of adjectivizing “well paid.” Note that one can say “The job/John is
well paid” but not “*The job/John is good paid.” The component “well” is then
supplanted by “good,” a result of contamination with “good job.” A good job is
now preeminently taken to be a well-paying job: whatever else it may entail, the
level of remuneration is primary and is reflected in the change to “good-paying.” So
there is an underlying value change that motivates the change.
The same may be said of the now ubiquitous “I’m good” for “I’m well” in the
speech of persons under a certain age (45?). As possibly in the previous case, “well”
is all but avoided when juxtaposed with a human agent because it has been relegated
to the meaning field associated with health (cf. the neologism “wellness”). “Feeling
good” is evidently not the same as “feeling well” (cf. the difference between “I
[don’t]/feel good” and “I [don’t]/feel well). A fillip comes from the extancy of “I
don’t feel good about it” but not “*I don’t feel well about it.” Cf. the standard “She
paid him well” with the dialectal or nonstandard “She paid him good.”

2.20 The Evisceration of Meaning

Glossary
bathetic, adj. < bathos, n.: insincere or grossly sentimental pathos; banality;
triteness
nullity, n.: the state of being null or nothing: want of efficacy or force;
nothingness

When the first Gulf War (“Desert Storm”) broke out, I invented a joke, which goes
as follows:
Question: “Where’s Kuwait?”
Answer: “Between a rock and a hard place.”

Now, whatever humor this inanity may exhibit depends on the new pronunci-
ation of Iraq as [ɨrɑ́k] instead of the traditional [ɨrǽk].
But what I want to concentrate on is the non-jocular sense of the answer, which
everybody knows is a fixed expression meaning “confronted with equally
unpleasant alternatives and few or no opportunities to evade or circumvent them.”
136 2 Meanings

Why do Americans use this utterly flat locution? No self-respecting originator of


English proverbs would ever have coined such a phrase. The English nation gave us
“a stitch in time saves nine.” It gave us “In for a penny, in for a pound.” But “a
hárd place?” How bathetic can you get?
“Hard place,” with its obligatory primary stress on hard to signify a derived
compound, carries absolutely no punch at all. It’s the veriest dishrag semantically,
with a meaning so eviscerated as to be almost void of meaning.
Yet people launch this lead balloon of a phrase all the time, just as they do the
compound noun “wake up call.” Think of it! Something whose origins are mere
telephone calls from the front desk of a hotel to a guest who asks to be woken at a
certain hour is now used ubiquitously to mean any kind of unexpected alert or alarm
(even though “wake up call” in its original use was anything but unexpected). “9/11
was a wake up call for the nation.” THE ATROCITY OF THE CENTURY A WAKE UP
CALL? Bathos on a stick!
Now, compare this metaphorical nullity with “Between the Devil and the deep
blue sea;” or—even better—”Between Scylla and Charybdis,” which means “In a
position where avoidance of one danger exposes one to another danger.” It exists as
an expression in every European language.
Scylla and Charybdis are two sea monsters of Greek mythology who inhabited
opposite sides of the Strait of Messina between Sicily and Italy.
Charybdis takes the form of a monstrous mouth that swallows huge amounts of
water three times a day before spewing them back out again, creating whirlpools.
She was originally a naiad, a sea-nymph who stole Heracles’ cattle until Zeus
became angry, threw her into the sea, and, as punishment, turned her into a sea
monster.
Scylla was a grotesque creature with six long necks surmounted by grisly heads,
each with a triple row of teeth, that devoured six men at a time. She wore a girdle of
dogs’ heads about her loins.
The myth has Charybdis lying on one side of a narrow channel of water. On the
other side was Scylla. The two sides are a stone’s throw from each other, so close
that sailors attempting to avoid Charybdis would pass too close to Scylla and vice
versa.
Next time you’re tempted to utter the phrase “Between a rock and a hard place,”
think of Scylla and Charybdis. It’ll be a wake up call.

2.21 The Jazzification of Musical Terminology

In the modern period, now more than ever due to the spread of electronic media,
popular culture seeps upward into high culture, whereas in the pre-modern period
the reverse was true. In particular, this (invidious) movement from below has come
to affect the terminology of classical music, as follows.
Forty or fifty years ago, no classical musician would have been caught dead
referring to an engagement as a “gig,” a word which applied strictly to jazz but is

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now routinely uttered by young and old alike when referring to classical music. Nor
would the syntactic means to designate performing on an instrument in classical
music have omitted the direct article, as is routine in jazz. Thus, whereas one says
“on the saxophone” in naming the soloist in the Glazunov Saxophone Concerto in E
flat major (Opus 109A), a jazz musician’s role is designated as “on sax,” e.g., “John
Coltrane on sax.” Note also the typical abbreviation of the instrument’s full name in
referring to jazz instruments, a usage not to be found in the language of classical
music (except for words canonized by tradition such as “cello” for violoncello and
“bass” for contrabass).

2.22 The Last Straw

Glossary
hypertrophy, n.: inordinate or pathological enlargement

The growing power of linguistic hypertrophy in present-day American English (in


particular) can be measured inter alia by the incorrect rendering of fixed phrases
wherein the traditional form is replaced by a LONGER one. This is happening to the
normative version of the expression the last straw, which is increasingly heard as
the final straw (for instance, in a report by my namesake Ari Shapiro, on the
12/3/09 installment of the NPR program “All Things Considered”).
Recently I was waiting to pick up some laundry early in the morning at a cleaning
establishment in Westwood, Calif. when an elderly gentleman came in and said to
me “the early bird gathers the worm.” I couldn’t restrain myself and corrected him:
“You mean ‘gets’ the worm.” He said nothing and looked at me with incredulity.
Note the greater length of gathers vis-à-vis gets.

2.23 The Onomastic Infantilization of Females

Glossary
hypocoristic, adj.: endearing; belong to affective vocabulary
onomastic, adj.: of, relating to, or explaining a name or names
orthographic, adj. < orthography, n.: (correct) spelling
timbre, n.: the combination of qualities of a sound that distinguishes it from
other sounds of the same pitch and volume
138 2 Meanings

During the last half-century there has been a noticeable increase in a particular kind
of first names for girls, specifically non-traditional forenames that derive from
largely Anglo-Saxon surnames and end orthographically in -(e)y or -i(e) (pro-
nounced identically, i.e., [-iy]). Whereas in earlier times this (quasi-)suffix—which
also occurs in boys’ nicknames that are abbreviations (Bobby < Robert,
Mickey < Michael, etc.)—modified (mainly WASP) girls’ nicknames like Missy,
Sissy, or Trixie, it is now the unifying mark of popular Christian names like Tiffany,
Kimberly, Hailey, Ashley, Avery, Kaylee, Riley, Bailey, Aubrey, Kiley, Sidney,
Mackenzie, and even Serenity, Trinity, and Destiny, not to speak of older staples
like Emily, Lily, Lucy, Molly, Naomi, etc. (NB: all these names—except for Missy,
Sissy, and Trixie—are drawn from the list of 100 most popular girls’ names
compiled by the Social Security Administration for May 2011.)
Forenames like Ashley and Kimberly have the advantage of sounding like sur-
names while maintaining a tie with hypocoristic vocabulary, which means that they
can do double duty for children and for adults, and not be mistaken for nicknames
despite their phonetic resemblance to the latter.
It is clear that the attractiveness of names ending in [-iy] stems to a considerable
extent from the (subconscious?) desire of parents to infantilize their female off-
spring in perpetuity, a motive that does not apply to males for obvious reasons. This
onomastic trend is evidently of a piece with another linguistic feature, viz. the
infantilization of female vocal timbre (“little girl voice”) beyond childhood into
adolescence and adulthood, a trend that has been increasing in North American
English for several decades, and that can only have the lamentable effect of subtly
undermining some of the social gains of the feminist revolution.

2.24 The Vocabulary of Self-Delusion

Glossary
catachrestic, adj. < catachresis, n.: the misapplication of a word or phrase;
the use of a strained figure of speech, such as a mixed metaphor
elision, n.: the act or an instance of omitting something

In the essay entitled “Issues 6¼ Problems” (vide supra) I broached the subject of a
failure of thought associated with the substitution of the words issue and challenge
for problem in contemporary speech and writing. The nub of this failure is the
elision of the semantic core of the word problem when using the other two.
Mathematical and related uses aside, the word problem necessarily connotes
SOMETHING WRONG, implying a need for rectification. By contrast, the words issue
and challenge are noncommittal as to wrongness, the former properly connoting
something inviting discussion, the latter connoting a difficulty to be overcome. So
that by substituting the latter two words for problem, when something is patently

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2.24 The Vocabulary of Self-Delusion 139

wrong, one is effectively deluding oneself (and possibly one’s interlocutors) into
thinking either (1) that no problem sensu stricto exists; or (2) that whatever is
wrong can necessarily be rectified (or both). These are typically American instances
of a blithely optimistic outlook undergirded by a value system that eschews ana-
lytical rigor in speech and thought.
Such self-delusion can be dangerous, particularly in the political arena. It is
favored, of course, by media language, whose practitioners work hand in glove with
politicians and their minders in “crafting” messages that are meant to thwart
thought. It is no surprise, then, to hear President Barack Obama constantly sub-
stituting challenge for problem, as in the catachrestic phrase “solving our fiscal
challenge,” which he uttered in the course of his appearance on 2/17/2010 at the
White House before an audience of small-business leaders (reported by Andrea
Seabrook, “Commission Charged With Controlling Federal Deficit,” NPR,
Morning Edition, February 18, 2010; also reported by Sheryl Gay Stolberg,
“Obama and Republicans Clash Over Stimulus Bill, One Year Later,” The New
York Times, National Edition, 2/18/2010, p. A16). Here is another instance of the
substitution in the same issue of the newspaper, this time from the pen of a marriage
and family therapist writing on the Op-Ed page: “This challenge is not as great as
widespread preconceptions would suggest.” [referring in the preceding sentence to
the damage suffered by children when their parents divorce] (Ruth Bettelheim, “No
Fault of Their Own,” p. A 21).
This usage has been adopted not only by non-Americans but by non-native
speakers of English as well—no surprise, of course, seeing as how American media
language has come to be the main vehicle for the transmission of English
throughout the world. Thus, again in the same issue of The New York Times, an
Israeli identified as the director of the Center for International Communications at
Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Eytan Gilboa, is quoted as saying “This coun-
try’s main challenges are the false comparison people make with an apartheid state
and the questioning of its right to exist” (Ethan Bronner, “Positive Views of Israel,
Brought to You by Israelis” (p. A6). No example could be more strongly illustrative
of the self-delusory nature of the substitution of challenges for problems.

2.25 What’s in a Name?

Glossary
argosy, n.: a rich source or supply
aureole, n.: a quality, condition, or circumstance that surrounds and glorifies
a given object
constituent, n.: a functional unit of a grammatical construction, as a verb,
noun phrase, or clause
icon, n.: a sign exhibiting a similarity relation to its object (meaning)
140 2 Meanings

iconic, adj.: of, relating to, or having the character of an icon [vide supra];
exhibiting iconicity [vide infra]
iconism, n. = iconicity, n.: the conceived similarity or analogy between the
form of a sign (linguistic or otherwise) and its meaning
marked, adj.: clearly defined and evident; noticeable
morphological, adj. < morphology, n.: the system or the study of (linguistic)
form
onomastic, adj.: of, relating to, or explaining a name or names
tant pis: so much the worse (French)

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as
sweet.” (Romeo and Juliet [II, ii, 1–2]). When Juliet utters these words, little does
she know how wrong she is, both in the play and generally. Every name has a
particular semantic aureole, and its meaningfulness can be enhanced by its relative
transparency, both as to constituent structure (if any) and its iconic potential. In the
event, the beauty—here, the goodness of fit—is definitely in the ear of the beholder.
Languages and cultures differ quite widely in the latitude they countenance as to
onomastic structure and use. With reference to fore- and surnames, there are cultures
(like Indonesian) in which persons typically go by only one name (cf. some per-
formers in Western cultures). If they regularly allot more than one name to their
members, there may be a range of variability, such as middle names beside first and
last names in Anglo-Saxon and Romance countries. Russian occupies a unique place
with its de rigueur triplet of forename, patronymic (father’s name modified by a
suffix), and surname, the latter two differing—within morphological limitations—
according to the sex of the bearer (e.g., the daughter of Mikhail Konstantinovich
[Michael, son of Constantine] is always known as Avigeia Mikhajlovna [Abigail,
daughter of Michael], regardless of a change in surname through marriage, etc.).
Some cultures (like Hungarian and Japanese) impose a reverse order of given and
family names compared to that of Western European ones, viz. last name before first.
What is interesting in the American context is the huge variety of naming
practices, owing to the fact of the multicultural population and the historical per-
sistence of certain patterns inherited from bygone eras, such as giving offspring the
mother’s maiden name as a forename. The upshot is an impression that any
combination is possible, but this is not strictly so. Jews, for instance, adhere tra-
ditionally to Biblical forenames preceding obviously Jewish surnames, although
this custom is undergoing fragmentation, so that one now encounters formerly
unthinkable combinations like “Kevin Shapiro” or “Scott Goldberg.” And the
Anglophone Chinese, particularly in Hong Kong, have, of course, long masked
their proper given names by substituting Christian ones.
Depending on knowledge of and sensitivity to language, each speaker of American
English will have a reaction to or evaluation of the particular combination of names
borne by someone else in the culture, ranging from neutral to marked. The unusu-
alness or rarity of a surname, for instance, may elicit questions as to its provenience.

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2.25 What’s in a Name? 141

Returning to the Shakespeare lines with which this discussion began, one should
note that “Rose” is nowhere to be found among the hundred currently most popular
girls’ given names in America, having been elbowed out by argosies of Tiffanys,
Courtneys, Kimberlys et al. Tant pis!

2.26 Willy-Nilly

Glossary
Americanism, n.: a word, phrase, or idiom characteristic of English as it is
spoken in the United States
nec plus ultra: the highest point, as of excellence or achievement; the ultimate
(Latin)

The compound willy-nilly, corresponding to Latin nolens volens, has acquired a


meaning in American English that is absent in British English, namely the second
of the senses in each of the following parts of the entry in The American Heritage
Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed. 2006):

adv.
1. Whether desired or not: After her boss fell sick, she willy-nilly found
herself directing the project.
2. Without order or plan; haphazardly.
adj.
1. Being or occurring whether desired or not: willy-nilly cooperation.
2. Disordered; haphazard: willy-nilly zoning laws.
[Alteration of will ye (or he), nill ye (or he), be you (or he) willing, be you (or
he) unwilling.]

Compare the above with the following entry in the Oxford English Dictionary
Online:
A. adv.
Whether it be with or against the will of the person or persons concerned;
whether one likes it or not; willingly or unwillingly, nolens volens.
142 2 Meanings

1608 T. Middleton Trick to catch Old-one i. sig. B, Thou shalt trust mee spite
of thy teeth, furnish me with some money, wille nille.
1797 E. Berkeley in G. M. Berkeley Poems Pref. p. ccxxix, But her Ladyship
would, willi nilhi, constantly join the one who drank the waters every
morning, and converse with her.
1807 Salmagundi 25 Apr. 166 He was sure, willy nilly, to be drenched with a
deluge of decoctions.
1818 J. Brown Psyche 121 From whence it follows, will y’ nill y’, The thought
of your’s is mighty silly.
1884 A. Griffiths Chron. Newgate II. vii. 306 He?conceived an idea of carrying
her off and marrying her willy nilly at Gretna Green.
1898 L. Stephen Stud. of Biographer II. vii. 272 You are engaged in the game
willy-nilly, and cannot be a mere looker-on.
B. adj.
1. That is such, or that takes place, whether one will or no.
1877 Tennyson Harold v. i, And someone saw thy willy-nilly nun Vying a
tress against our golden fern.
1880 Cornhill Mag. Feb. 182 All willy-nilly spinsters went to the canine
race to be consoled.
1882 Tennyson Promise of May ii. 119 If man be only A willy-nilly current
of sensations.
2. erron. Undecided, shilly-shally.
1883 F. Galton Inquiries into Human Faculty 57 The willy-nilly disposition
of the female in matters of love is as apparent in the butterfly as in the man.
1898 W. Besant Orange Girl ii. vi, Let us have no more shilly shally, willy
nilly talk.
When confronted with the semantic Americanism ‘haphazard (ly)’ from the
AHD, the person who prompted this essay, Jacobus (alias Pops), wrote: “Could the
dictionary be wrong? I was unaware of ‘willy nilly’ being used to mean ‘haphazard’
or ‘disoriented’.”
His query, it should be noted, is pure Goliadkin, the protagonist of Dostoevsky’s
masterful fiction, The Double [Двoйник]. To be convinced of the aptness of the
identification, read this early (1846) novella and then see the nec plus ultra exegesis by
Marianne Shapiro in Russian Literature, 56 (2004), 441–482 (revised version as ch.
2 in her book, The Sense of Form in Literature and Language, 2nd, exp. ed. [2009]).

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2.27 “You’re Correct:” Hyperurbanism as Hypertrophy 143

2.27 “You’re Correct:” Hyperurbanism as Hypertrophy

Glossary
hypertrophy, n.: an inordinate or pathological enlargement
hyperurbanism, n.: a pronunciation or grammatical form or usage produced by
a speaker of one dialect according to an analogical rule formed by com-
parison of the speaker’s own usage with that of another, more prestigious,
dialect and often applied in an inappropriate context, especially in an effort
to avoid sounding countrified, rural, or provincial; hypercorrection

The contemporary surge of hyperurbanisms into the mainstream of American


English discourse is part and parcel of the penetration in late twentieth-century and
early twenty-first-century America of literacy and the written word into previously
marginalized sectors of the speech community.
One such case—a particularly grating one—is the substitution of correct for right
as an adjective applied to persons, correct having two syllables where right has only
one. Consulting the Oxford English Dictionary Online one finds—leaving aside the
new meaning ‘Conforming to a dominant political or ideological orthodoxy’—the
following definitions of correct as an ordinary adjective applied to things:
(1) ‘In accordance with an acknowledged or conventional standard, esp. of literary or
artistic style, or of manners or behaviour; proper;’ (2) ‘In accordance with fact, truth, or
reason; free from error; exact, true, accurate; right. Said also of persons, in reference to their
statements, scholarship, acquirements, etc.’ When it comes to persons, the definition further
reads ‘Adhering exactly to an acknowledged standard’ which subdivides depending on
whether it applies to (a) ‘literary or artistic style’; and (b) ‘manners and behaviour’.

In light of these definitions there is no avoiding the interpretation of the pene-


tration of “You’re correct” as anything other than an instance of HYPERTROPHY
correct being longer than right. The term is used here advisedly, by analogy with its
clinical sense, to designate an abnormal growth that is in need of amelioration by
means of excision.

2.28 Anglo-Saxon vs. Latinate: The Semantics


of Verbal Inanition

Glossary
catachrestic, adj. < catachresis, n.: The misapplication of a word or phrase;
the use of a strained figure of speech, such as a mixed metaphor
inanition, adj.: the condition or quality of being empty
144 2 Meanings

Latinate, adj.: of, derived from, or suggestive of Latin


postposition, n.: a word or element placed postpositionally, as a preposition
placed after its object
simplex, n.: a word that has no affixes and is not part of a compound; a simple
word

There is a tendency in latter-day English on both sides of the Atlantic, but espe-
cially in America, to substitute the combination of native verbs + postpositions for
simplex Latinate verbs, e.g., push back for resist, step down for resign, reach out
for extend (oneself), give back for recompense, etc. The last example in particular,
in the meaning of donating or making a contribution (to charity, to the community,
etc.), is now ubiquitous despite being catachrestic (for omitting the direct object,
i.e., giving [something] back).
Although avoidance of the Latinate synonym for an Anglo-Saxon word has long
been recognized as a stylistic desideratum in the service of plainspokenness, there is
no gainsaying the effeteness and vacuity of these verb combinations, since step
down and its congeners have only the fuzziest relation, if any, to the action they
have been lazily adapted to connote.

2.29 Conflation via Opacity of Constituent Structure

Glossary
agentive, adj.: of or relating to a linguistic form or construction that indicates
an agent or agency, as the suffix -er in singer
instrumental, adj.: of, relating to, or being the case used typically to express
means, agency, or accompaniment
orthoepic, adj. < orthoepy, n.: the study of the pronunciation of words; the
customary pronunciation of words

When the constituent structure of a word or phrase fades over time, i.e., when the
meaning and resultant separability of the constituents cease to be transparent to the
speakers of a language, the word or phrase may be conflated with another one,
whose meaning is similar, leading to variants that are not on a par orthoepically.
This is what has happened with the phrase on behalf of in the recent history of
(American) English.
More and more in public discourse, instead of on the part of in its strictly
instrumental (agentive) meaning speakers substitute on behalf of, whose traditional
meaning is ‘for the benefit of; in the interest of’ rather than ‘as the agent of; on the

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2.29 Conflation via Opacity of Constituent Structure 145

part of’. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed., 2006)
records this substitution and (typically) makes no distinction in its Usage Note:
Usage Note: A traditional rule holds that in behalf of and on behalf of have
distinct meanings. In behalf of means “for the benefit of,” as in We raised money in
behalf of the earthquake victims. On behalf of means “as the agent of, on the part
of,” as in The guardian signed the contract on behalf of the minor child. The two
meanings are quite close, however, and the phrases are often used interchangeably,
even by reputable writers.
But as the etymological data in the Oxford English Dictionary Online entry give
one to understand, the present-day ascription of purely instrumental meaning to on
behalf of, by which this phrase is equated with on the part of, is a misconstrual of
its structure. Here are the two relevant etymologies, for half and behalf,
respectively:
Etymology: A Common Germanic n.: Old English healf (feminine) = Old
Saxon halƀa (Middle Dutch, Middle Low German halve), Old High German halba
(Middle High German halbe), Old Norse halfa (hálfa), Gothic halba side, half …
The oldest sense in all the languages is ‘side’.
Etymology: Used only in the phrases on, in behalf (of), in, on (his, etc.) behalf,
which arose about 1300, by the blending of the two earlier constructions on his
halve and bihalve him, both meaning ‘by or on his side’ … By the mixture of these
in the construction on his bihalve, … previously a preposition, and originally a
phrase, be healfe ‘by (the) side,’ became treated, so far as construction goes, as a n.,
and had even a plural behalfes, behalfs in 16–17th cent. The final -e of Middle
English was the dative ending. In modern use, construed either with a possessive
pronoun (in my behalf) a possessive case (in the king’s behalf), or with of (in behalf
of the starving population); the choice being determined by considerations of
euphony and perspicuity. Formerly of was sometimes omitted.
The explanation for the misconstrual and resulting conflation of the two phrases
is to be sought in the opacity of the word behalf, which has no currency outside of
the two idiomatic phrases noted.

2.30 Emotive Force and the Sense of Form (Balaam’s Ass)

Glossary
derivational, adj. < derivation, n.: the process by which words are formed
from existing words or bases by adding affixes, as singer from sing or
undo from do, by changing the shape of the word or base, as song from
sing, or by adding an affix and changing the pronunciation of the word or
base, as electricity from electric
inflectional, adj. < inflection, n.: an alteration of the form of a word by the
addition of an affix, as in English dogs from dog, or by changing the form
146 2 Meanings

of a base, as in English spoke from speak, that indicates grammatical


features such as number, person, mood, or tense
marked: of or relating to that member of a pair of sounds, words, or forms that
explicitly denotes a particular subset of the meanings denoted by the other
member of the pair. For example, of the two words lion and lioness, lion
is unmarked for gender (it can denote either a male or female) whereas
lioness is marked, since it denotes only females
morphology, n.: the system or the study of (linguistic) form

Grammatical form may have an emotive force as is the case with gender in those
languages where gender distinctions are an obligatory category of grammatical
structure. This is not to confuse biological sex with gender. In German, for instance,
a maiden (das Mädchen) is neuter, and in Russian a male servant (sluga) is
desinentially (inflectionally) feminine while being of masculine gender (a female
servant is called prisluga—also of feminine gender).
In those cases where feminine and non-feminine are opposed in the designation
of biological sex, the non-feminine—alias masculine—is the unmarked (generic)
member of the opposition because it applies to both sexes, whereas the feminine is
marked, being applicable exclusively to the female of the species. Thus in Russian,
the unmarked word for ‘donkey’ is osël (ocёл), whereas the word for ‘she-ass’ is
formed by adding a suffix {-ica} to the deriving base {osl-}, resulting in oslítsa
(ocлицa). This sort of play of derivational morphology can be accompanied by
emotive force, as in the English compound jackass, which is marked with respect to
the simplex ass. Interestingly enough, the Russian pejorative counterpart of jackass
is the masculine noun osël (not the feminine oslítsa).
This is all by way of introducing a familiar Bible story known as Balaam’s Ass
that appears in Numbers 22:
21 And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of
Moab. 22 And God’s anger was kindled because he went; and the angel of the LORD
placed himself in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass,
and his two servants were with him. 23 And the ass saw the angel of the LORD standing in
the way, with his sword drawn in his hand; and the ass turned aside out of the way, and
went into the field; and Balaam smote the ass, to turn her into the way. 24 Then the angel of
the LORD stood in a hollow way between the vineyards, a fence being on this side, and a
fence on that side. 25 And the ass saw the angel of the LORD, and she thrust herself unto
the wall, and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall; and he smote her again. 26 And the
angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn
either to the right hand or to the left. 27 And the ass saw the angel of the LORD, and she lay
down under Balaam; and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with his staff.
28 And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam: ‘What have I
done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?’ 29 And Balaam said unto the
ass: ‘Because thou hast mocked me; I would there were a sword in my hand, for now I had
killed thee.’ 30 And the ass said unto Balaam: ‘Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast
ridden all thy life long unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee?’ And he said:
‘Nay.’ 31 Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD

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2.30 Emotive Force and the Sense of Form (Balaam’s Ass) 147

standing in the way, with his sword drawn in his hand; and he bowed his head, and fell on
his face. 32 And the angel of the LORD said unto him: ‘Wherefore hast thou smitten thine
ass these three times? behold, I am come forth for an adversary, because thy way is contrary
unto me; 33 and the ass saw me, and turned aside before me these three times; unless she
had turned aside from me, surely now I had even slain thee, and saved her alive.’

Now, the Hebrew original uses an archaic word of feminine gender athon (‫)ָהאָ֜תוֹן‬
‘female donkey’, which is reproduced in the Vulgate (L asina [fem.] rather than
asinus [masc.]), and not the newer masculine hamor (‫‘ )ֲחמוֹר‬male donkey’. The
upshot of the feminine gender to designate the animal for the emotive force of the
word in the Biblical narrative is stylistically crucial. All the poignancy of the
animal’s suffering is tied up with its biological sex as conveyed by its grammatical
gender. Therefore, those translations which use donkey or ass instead of she-ass are
necessarily scanting the emotional core of this marvelous story.

2.31 The Significance of Spontaneous Back-Formations

Glossary
affix, n.: a word element, such as a prefix or suffix, that can only occur
attached to a base, stem, or root
back-formation, n.: a new word created by removing an affix from an already
existing word, as vacuum clean from vacuum cleaner, or by removing
what is mistakenly thought to be an affix, as pea from the earlier English
plural pease
morpheme, n.: a meaningful linguistic unit consisting of a word, such as man,
or a word element, such as -ed in walked, that cannot be divided into
smaller meaningful parts
nonce word: a word used only ‘for the nonce’, i.e., for the specific purpose
substantive, n.: a noun
viva voce: by word of mouth (Latin ‘live voice’)

Back-formations are among the most productive sources of new vocabulary in


English, particularly the creation of a verb from a noun (as in enthuse < enthusi-
asm). At the initial stage of spontaneous production as nonce words, they signify
something over and above what would be signified by a traditional phrase.
Thus when one hears the viva voce sentence “I video-conversate with my
nephew” emanating from the mouth of a native speaker of American English (a
27-year-old male college graduate), instead of what would be normative, i.e., “I have
video conversations with my nephew,” the phenomenological intention embedded in
the back-formation can be explained as springing from the incorporation of the word
conversation in a verbal form that goes beyond the attested verb converse.
148 2 Meanings

One motive, to be sure, could simply be the avoidance of a certain stiltedness


resulting from the stylistic register of the latter verb. But the more likely explanation
must have to do with the semantic premium gained by incorporating the first of the
two morphemes in the compound suffix –at-ion (the second morpheme being
truncated in the process of back-formation), thereby alluding to the abstract
backbone of the substantive as part of the nonce verb.

2.32 Moldiferate, v. , intr. (Portmanteau Words)

Glossary
sprezzatura, n.: ease of manner, studied carelessness; the appearance of acting
or being done without effort; spec. of literary style or performance
(Italian)

A ‘portmanteau word’ (alias ‘blend’) is a word formed by blending sounds from


two or more distinct words and combining their meanings, e.g., smog from
smoke + fog. Apparently, the word portmanteau was first used in this meaning by
Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass: “Well, ‘slithy’ means ‘lithe and
slimy’… You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into
one word.” The etymology (according to the Oxford English Dictionary Online) is
from Middle French, French portemanteau ‘officer who carries the mantle of a
person in a high position’ (1507 in Middle French), ‘case or bag for carrying
clothing’ (1547), ‘clothes rack’ (1640) < porte- porte- comb. form + manteau
manteau n. In the British English of Carroll’s time, a portmanteau was a suitcase. In
modern French, a porte-manteau is a clothes valet, a coat-tree or similar article of
furniture for hanging up jackets, hats, umbrellas, and the like.
In the twenty-first century, portmanteau words are ominpresent in media
language and in that of advertising. One such coinage by the present author is
stupravity, to appear in the title of his forthcoming book, A Word Paints a
Thousand Pictures: The Consolation of Philosophy in the Age of Stupravity.
A well-remembered example, created with her nonpareil linguistic sprezzatura by
my wife Marianne Shapiro (1940–2003) to describe the situation otherwise known as
‘contemplating one’s navel’, is moldiferate (mo[u]lder + proliferate), an intransitive
verb meaning ‘to waste one’s time doing nothing while decomposing spiritually’.
Another one of her creations in that vein is pestiferate (pestiferous + -ate), which she
coined to mean ‘to cause to be pestiferous’. Both words were part of her habitual
vocabulary. Neither word is in the OED, but they ought to be.

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2.33 Disfluent Like: Toward a Typology 149

2.33 Disfluent like: Toward A Typology

Glossary
anaesthetic, adj.: producing, or connected with the production of,
insensibility
apotropaism, n.: an act or ritual conducted to ward off evil or danger
approximative, adj.: pertaining to or embodying an approximation
disfluent < disfluency, n.: impairment of the ability to produce smooth, fluent
speech; an interruption in the smooth flow of speech, as by a pause or the
repetition of a word or syllable
extragrammatically, adv. < extragrammatical, adj.: outside of or going
against grammar
figurative, adj.: transferred in sense from literal or plain to abstract or
hypothetical (as by the expression of one thing in terms of another with
which it can be regarded as analogous)
filler, n.: a short word or phrase that is largely devoid of meaning and has
mostly a phatic function
nonce, adj.: the one, particular, or present occasion, purpose, or use
ontologically, adv. < ontological, adj. < ontology, n.: the science or study of
being; that branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature or essence of
being or existence
parasitical, adj.: dependent but contributing or producing little or nothing
phatic, adj.: employing or involving speech for the purpose of revealing or
sharing feelings or establishing an atmosphere of sociability rather than
for communicating ideas
quotative, adj.: pertaing to or embodying a quotation
ticastic, adj. < tic, n.: a frequent usually unconscious quirk of behavior or
speech
verisimilar, adj.: having the appearance of truth
viva voce: by word of mouth; expressed or conducted by word of mouth

In the contemporary American English of adolescents and young adults (typically,


females), the word like is a constant presence extragrammatically i.e., as a disfluent filler
or discourse marker. Observation viva voce of raw speech specimens yields the fol-
lowing (non-exhaustive) typology offunctions of the word, in rough order offrequency.
(1) TICASTIC:
for many speakers, the word is a verbal tic (whence the nonce
adjective “ticastic”), replacing “you know” and its congeners, and having no
other function than as a meaningless filler;
(2) PHATIC (perhaps as a sub-species of the ticastic): keeping the channel of
communication open, sometimes for no other reason than to forestall a
response from one’s interlocutor(s);
150 2 Meanings

(3) QUOTATIVE:as a prefatory marker before the report of someone else’s utterance
(s) or inner speech;
(4) APPROXIMATIVE: as a means of qualifying the extent or validity of the word or
phrase immediately following, including its literal meaning;
(5) ANAESTHETIC: as a way of deflecting the assertory force of anything following,
usually as an apotropaism.
Prompted by new specimens of raw speech overheard viva voce into thinking
further about the distribution of approximative and quotative like, I now suspect that
the latter may be derivative of the former. The logic behind this relation resides in
the implied judgment that no report of direct or indirect speech can ever be precise
because only the speech act itself—and not its retelling—can ever authentically
stand for itself. By this logic, no statement of anything that contains figurative
expressions can ever be considered verisimilar. With respect to the use of the word
like, this would then have the advantage of accounting as well for the currently
ticastic British qualifying phrase (pre- or post-posed), if you like.
At bottom, all these modern-day extensions derive from and are parasitical on
the word’s original meaning and its membership in the grammatical categories of
adverb, preposition, and conjunction. What unites these originary uses is the
fundamental sense of SIMILARITY underlying all of them.
While it might be ontologically defensible to assert that some degree of similarity is
characteristic of all relations, in this case what is being undermined is the very concept
of IDENTITY. More precisely, the promiscuous extension of like in contemporary speech
can be seen as yet another manifestation—here, linguistic—of the general historical
tendency in American culture toward THE LEVELING OF ALL HIERARCHIES.

2.34 A Grammatical Hyperurbanism

Glossary
abstracta, n. [pl]: abstract words (Latin)
desinence, n.: a grammatical suffix or ending
hyperurbanism, n.: a form, pronunciation, or usage that overreaches cor-
rectness in an effort to avoid provincial speech
inflectional, adj. < inflection, n.: an alteration of the form of a word by the
addition of an affix, as in English dogs from dog, or by changing the form
of a base, as in English spoke from speak, that indicates grammatical
features such as number, person, mood, or tense
morphology, n.: the system or the study of (linguistic) form

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There are some speakers of American English for whom the plural of process
involves altering the inserted unstressed vowel of the desinence {-s} from [ɨ] to [iy]
so that processes is pronounced [prɔś ɛsíyz], as if it were a word of Greek origin via
Latin, like basis or thesis or hypothesis, which regularly alter the last vowel to form
plurals without adding a desinence (thus pl. bases, theses, hypotheses.
Noting that the regular alternation of the final vowel occurs in abstracta that
belong by definition to originally learnèd—and hence stylistically elevated—vo-
cabulary, the pronunciation of processes as if it were similarly of Graeco-Latin
origin (which it is not) can only be adjudged a HYPERURBANISM (hypercorrection), in
that speakers who resort to it (subconsciously) analogize its inflectional morphol-
ogy to that of analysis or neurosis rather than glass or ace. Whether this mistaken
plural form should also be considered an affectation—as with all hyperurbanisms—
is in the ear of the beholder.

2.35 Etymology, Re-Cognition, and Knowledge

Etymology, the science of word origins, is a venerable and well-established branch of


(historical) linguistics in need of no explication, but what is not sufficiently appre-
ciated is the variable extent to which a speaker’s internalized knowledge of their
language involves a so-called etymological component. One prominent aspect of
language use that exploits historical knowledge is paronomasia or punning, where
occasionally the force of a pun simply cannot be appreciated without such knowledge.
The knowledge of a word’s origin can also have cognitive force, and even the
power to expand one’s experiential horizons. For instance, sitting in an authentic
Provençal brasserie in the wilds of rural Vermont during a rain-swept, gloomy
afternoon, suddenly one recalls that the English word restaurant is (after all)
derived from the present participle of the French verb restaurer ‘restore’ (< Old
French restorer), this sort of eating establishment as a cultural institution having
originated in France.
Whereupon, one feels restored despite the weather, for as the poet said:
By order Lydian
And virtue pyramidian
I am allowed to love you just a bit.
But heart’s desire
And Music’s lyre
Make me for moral quite unfit.
I see you often in my dreams
And then your radiant eyes throw beams
Just in my bosom.
But after all the clouds do vanish
And sinful thoughts I have to banish,
The ghosts of love, I lose ‘em
152 2 Meanings

2.36 The Fixed Distribution of Synonyms in Idioms

Idioms are fixed phrases that are normally not subject to alteration, proverbs being
the longest of such constructions. Any of the components of idioms may have a set
of (near-) synonyms, but these semantic alternatives are not available for substi-
tution in idiomatic expressions. Thus, one says “break a leg,” but not “break a foot,”
when one intends the to wish someone good luck.
Apropos, words that name the parts of the body are particularly frequent in
idioms in all languages. A generalized reference to the head in American English,
for example, can be made by using head, mind, brain, cranium, skull, noggin,
noodle/noddle, pate, etc. But the contemporary idiom “get one’s head around”
cannot be altered, though one occasionally hears even native speakers mistakenly
tampering with it in utterances recorded by the broadcast media.
Parenthetically, the professional linguist’s injunction to “Leave your language
alone” not only encourages users to turn a deaf ear to prescriptivism but may also
license a linguistic freedom which turns a blind eye to error.

2.37 Pity and Its Lexical Congeners

I once said to a class of undergraduates in a course on the Philosophy of the Russian


Novel that pity—a subspecies of love—was the most important emotion. The
context was a discussion of the four Jerusalem chapters in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The
Master and Margarita, the greatest novel of the twentieth century. Parenthetically,
the two greatest novelists of the Russian canon might both be said to privilege pity
indirectly, each in his own way: Dostoevsky by posing the question, “How do we
live a life?,” Tolstoy by asking, “How do we achieve happiness?”
In English, the word pity is part of a lexical family that includes mercy, com-
passion, and perhaps even loving-kindness, a compound noun coined by Myles
Coverdale for his Coverdale Bible of 1535 as an English translation of the Hebrew
word khesed ‫‘ חסד‬kindness’, which appears in the Vulgate as misericordia.
Here is some historical information from the Oxford English Dictionary Online
that helps situate the centrality of pity:
pity
a. The disposition to mercy or compassion; clemency, mercy, mildness, tenderness
b. Tenderness and concern aroused by the suffering, distress, or misfortune of
another, and prompting a desire for its relief; compassion, sympathy
Etymology: < Anglo-Norman pité, pittee, peté, peti, Anglo-Norman and Old
French pitet, pitee, pitié (Middle French pité, pitié, French pitié) compassion
(c1100), piety (15th cent.; rare) < classical Latin pietās.
The sense of Latin pietās ‘piety’ was in post-classical Latin extended so as to
include ‘compassion, pity’ (Vetus Latina), and it was in this sense that the word
first appears in Old French in its two forms pitié and pieté. Gradually these

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2.37 Pity and Its Lexical Congeners 153

forms were differentiated, so that pieté, which more closely represented the
Latin form, was used in the original Latin sense, while pitié retained
the extended sense. In Middle English, both pity n. and piety n. are found first in
the sense ‘compassion’, and subsequently in the sense ‘piety’, and the differ-
entiation in sense is not complete until the 17th cent.
It is both interesting and germane to realize that pity is related to piety and pious,
whose classical Latin etymon pius means ‘dutiful, devout’:
pious
a. Of an action, thought, resolve, etc.: characterized by, expressing, or resulting
from true reverence and obedience to God; devout, religious
b. Of a person: having or showing reverence and obedience to God; faithful to
religious duties and observances; devout, godly, religious.
Etymology: < Anglo-Norman piu, pi, etc. and Middle French pius (end of 10th
cent. in Old French) and its etymon classical Latin pius dutiful, pious, devout
(cognate with Oscan piíhiúí, Umbrian pihaz; perhaps related to classical Latin
pūrus pure adj.) + -ous suffix, perhaps after Middle French pieux (1st quarter of
15th cent.; compare Old French pieus, pious; French pieux). Compare Old
Occitan pis, piu (c1070), Catalan (rare) pio (1560), Spanish pío (late 14th cent.),
Italian pio (1255 or earlier).
Mercy is subtended by a moral compass pointing toward a different azimuth, the
most surprising datum being its origin in the language of commerce (payment and
reward):
mercy
a. Clemency and compassion shown to a person who is in a position of power-
lessness or subjection, or to a person with no right or claim to receive kindness;
kind and compassionate treatment in a case where severity is merited or
expected, esp. in giving legal judgment or passing sentence.
b. spec. Forbearance, compassion, or forgiveness shown by God (or a god) to
sinful humanity, or to a particular person or soul.
Etymology: < Anglo-Norman merci, mercie, Old French merci (c1000; Middle
French, French merci), mercet (c1000), mercit (c900) < classical Latin mercēd-,
mercēs wages, fee, bribe, rent, price, commodity (in post-classical Latin also:
favour, grace (see further below)), cognate with merx (see market n.). Compare
Old Occitan merce favour, mercy, thanks (12th cent.), Catalan mercè favour,
mercy, thanks (c1200), Spanish merced reward, favour (1207), Portuguese
mercê payment, reward, favour (13th cent.), Italian mercè grace, mercy, (arch.)
reward, thanks (13th cent.), mercede payment, reward, (arch.) mercy (13th
cent.).
The basic sense ‘wages, payment, reward for service’, present in classical Latin,
survives in several Romance languages, but this sense seems not to have been
present in Gallo-Romance (Middle French, French †mercede is a
borrowing < Spanish: see merced n.). Senses attested in post-classical Latin include
154 2 Meanings

‘pity, favour, (secular) grace, heavenly reward’ (6th cent.), ‘thanks’ (9th cent.), and
the earliest senses attested in Old French are ‘pity, (secular or divine) grace, dis-
cretionary judgement, mercy’. Except in certain fixed expressions, merci is in
modern French chiefly restricted to use as noun or interjection in the sense ‘thanks’
attested in Old French from the mid 12th cent., frequently in the phrase grand merci
(see gramercy int.); in religious application merci has in French been largely
superseded by miséricorde misericord n.
The Middle English adoption < Anglo-Norman shows stress-shifting and
shortening of the final vowel, although, in common with many other words
showing Middle English ĭ of various origins in a post-tonic syllable, variants with
secondary stress and the reflex of Middle English ī in the second syllable are
recorded in the early modern period by orthoepists. Forms in a show normal late
Middle English lowering of e to a before r. Regional pronunciations with loss of /r/
and a short vowel in the first syllable probably result from assimilation of /r/ to a
following /s/.
Contrast the above with the history of the word compassion:
compassion
The feeling or emotion, when a person is moved by the suffering or distress of
another, and by the desire to relieve it; pity that inclines one to spare or to succour.
Etymology: < French compassion (14th cent. in Littré), < late Latin compassiōn-
em (Tertullian, Jerome), n. of action < compati (participial stem compass-) to suffer
together with, feel pity, < com- together with + pati to suffer.
That even the designation of the most fundamentally benign emotions can
become linguistically perverted is attested by the partial historical coalescence of
the adjectives pitiful and pitiable:
pitiful
1. Full of or characterized by pity; compassionate, merciful, tender.
2. Characterized by piety; devout.
3. Arousing or apt to arouse pity; deserving pity; moving, affecting.
4. Evoking pitying contempt; very small, poor, or meagre; paltry; inadequate,
insignificant; despicable, contemptible.
How pity came to be degraded in meaning from ‘loving-kindness’ to ‘contempt’
would be an object lesson in human morals were its trajectory not a commonplace
of historical semantics.

2.38 Seeing Is Not Hearing

During a practice session with a twenty-seven-year-old filling in for his father as


tennis coach, I heard him use the verb see instead of the traditional hear to refer to
his attendance at a classical music concert (“I saw [rather than heard] Garrick
Ohlsson at Carnegie Hall.”) It should be noted that this was uttered by a classical
musician with a master’s degree in music theory studying for a second one in

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2.38 Seeing Is Not Hearing 155

conducting. Given that the utterance’s reference (to a concert performance and
venue) excluded merely listening to a recording, it is significant that a member of
the younger generation chose to elevate seeing over hearing.
This example of rehierarchization of the two senses involved in the speech of
younger speakers could be multiplied manyfold. It testifies yet again (see earlier
essays) to the inroads of popular culture (specifically, rock and jazz) into the sphere
of classical music, audiences for which are, alas, graying apace. Moreover, as a
cultural datum evidenced by language use, it tends to support the widespread
valorization of seeing over hearing, whatever the domain, in a culture that has long
prized exhibitionism.

2.39 Multiple, Not Many: The Irruption of Bookishness

Glossary
hypertrophy, n.: an inordinate or pathological enlargement
hyperurbanism, n.: a pronunciation or grammatical form or usage produced by
a speaker of one dialect according to an analogical rule formed by com-
parison of the speaker’s own usage with that of another, more prestigious,
dialect and often applied in an inappropriate context, especially in an effort
to avoid sounding countrified, rural, or provincial; hypercorrection
irrefragable, adj.: impossible to refute or controvert; indisputable
penchant, n.: a definite liking; a strong inclination
purlieus, n. pl: environs, neighborhood; precincts, contexts; n. sg.: a place
where one may range at large; confines or bounds.
valorization, n. < valorize, v.: To give or assign a value to

One of the characteristics of contemporary speech and writing is the constant


irruption of bookishness (if not outright hyperurbanisms), by which is meant the
substitution of bookish words and expressions even where traditional colloquial
locutions would do. This is the case of the ubiquitous present-day replacement of
the word many by multiple (which, despite its dissyllabic written form, is pho-
netically trisyllabic).
Even taking into account the growing prevalence of linguistic hypertrophy in all
purlieus of contemporary American English, trisyllabic multiple instead of dissyl-
labic many is to be accounted for by the irrefragable assault of bookish diction,
which at bottom is actuated by a penchant for any linguistic token that would tend
to signal the psychologically dominant valorization of written over spoken language
as a matter of (largely imaginary) prestige in twenty-first-century American English
usage.
156 2 Meanings

2.40 American vs. British Versions of Idioms

Glossary
irrefragably, adv. < irrefragable, adj.: impossible to refute or controvert;
indisputable
paronomastic, adj. < paronomasia, n.: a play upon words in which the same
word is used in different senses or words similar in sound are set in
opposition so as to give antithetical force
purlieu, n.: a place where one may range at large; confines or bounds.

There are some idioms in English which differ slightly as between American and
British versions. Thus, for instance, sweep under the carpet in British English
comes out as sweep under the rug in American. Similarly, bat an eyelash in
American English corresponds to bat an eyelid in British. Both versions, to be sure,
can be heard in both varieties of English, but the preferential forms are as stated.
It is, of course, foolhardy to generalize on the basis of a mere two examples, but
the trend is worth noting nonetheless. American English tends to use the parono-
mastically full-fledged [NOT “fully-fledged!”] version, which involves the repetition
of vowels (both stressed and unstressed)—hence the rhyme of American under and
rug or bat and eyelash, lacking in the British version.
Whatever the (cultural) cause, even these isolated examples make it irrefragably
clear that paronomasia is patently not the exclusive purlieu of poets.

2.41 The Vogue for Portmanteau Words (*Stupravity)

Glossary
aperçu, n.: a short outline or summary; a synopsis (< French)
portmanteau, n., adj.: a word formed by blending sounds from two or more
distinct words and combining their meanings, e.g., smog from smoke +
fog (< French)
slough, n.: a depression or hollow, usually filled with deep mud or mire; a
state of deep despair or moral degradation
tant pis: so much the worse (French)

An earlier vignette (Sect. 2.32 above) was an aperçu of the subject of blends or
portmanteau words, for which there is now a decided vogue, especially in advertising
and the media. In the spirit of this trend, here is a coinage—stupidity + depravity—

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2.41 The Vogue for Portmanteau Words (*Stupravity) 157

that will perhaps gain some notoriety when and if book that introduces it, A Word
Paints a Thousand Pictures: The Consolation of Philosophy in the Age of Stupravity,
is ever published.
This planned first foray into the sloughs of social criticism will bring an ancient
genre to bear on the moral topography of twenty-first-century America and consist
of an imaginary dialogue between Confucius and Boethius (the influential Latin
philosopher [ca. 480–524 or 525 AD]), moderated by Lady Philosophy. No mean
task. And realistically, not likely ever to see the light of day. Tant pis!

2.42 Exactly Wrong

Glossary
antonym, n.: a word having a meaning opposite to that of another word
sensu stricto: in the strict sense, strictly speaking (Latin)

In contemporary American English the phrase exactly right has acquired


near-universal currency as the emphatic equivalent of the simple adjective right.
What underlies the spread of this phrase has nothing to do with emphasis, however,
but with the loosening of the semantic boundaries that define the adjective in its
moral dimension, whether it pertains to straightforward accuracy/correctness or to
ethics sensu stricto.
The adjective right and its antonym wrong are ABSOLUTE ADJECTIVES, by
which is meant a grammatical category that does not admit of scalar values.
Relativization, as implied by the use of the phrase exactly right, is thus in a
fundamental sense a FAILURE OF THOUGHT, comparable to graded uses of the
adjective unique (< Latin unicum ‘one of a kind’). The kind of moral relativism that
licenses exactly right in both its emphatic and non-emphatic senses can thus be
identified as evidence for—and of a piece with—the powerful cultural trend in
present-day American discourse that scants ethical absolutes while privileging (the
quicksands of) a value-free outlook in the name of “freedom of choice.” Alas, the
integrity of both language and morals is degraded as a result.

2.43 ‘Atrocity’, Not ‘Tragedy’

Glossary
abut, v.: to bring (two things) together
forma mentis: form of thought (Latin)
scant, v.: to give scant attention to
158 2 Meanings

Contemporary Anglo-American news media and politicians persist in calling the


heinous murder of innocents a ‘tragedy’ rather than an ‘atrocity’, thereby blunting
the force of the act by scanting the role of human agency. This is not just a
linguistic failure but a noxious failure of thought, and therefore a moral failure with
important social and public policy consequences.
The word ‘atrocity’ is defined as ‘savage enormity, horrible or heinous
wickedness’. That is the proper description applying to the recent (2012) killings in
Connecticut.
By contrast, the word ‘tragedy’ is defined in the first instance as ‘a play or other
literary work of a serious or sorrowful character, with a fatal or disastrous con-
clusion’. Its extension, as to consequences, beyond playwrighting and the theater as
a substitute for the proper term ‘atrocity’ should everywhere be resisted. Beside the
debasement of the purport of mass murder, the effect of constantly using the
transferred meaning of a word from theatrical nomenclature necessarily abuts in a
tendency to equalize horrific crimes committed by human beings against their
fellow humans with excogitated or imaginary acts; and, more significantly, with
impersonal events such as natural cataclysms that are unavoidable. Nothing could
be further from the truth, nor more inimical to the forma mentis betokened lin-
guistically when the prevention of further such crimes is the overriding social goal.
Words matter.

2.44 Hic Sunt Leones

Glossary
cartographer, n.: map maker
recumbent, adj.: having a horizontal position; lying down

All thought is in language. Plato says (in a number of his dialogues, for instance, in
the Cratylus) that thought is the conversation of the soul with (phases of) itself.
What comes into thought when this conversation takes place is another matter. In
the first instance, the dialogic aspect is determined in large part by the memory of
past experiences as these are brought to the forefront of one’s consciousness;
secondarily, by external stimuli.
Here is a contemporary example. Standing outside the New York Public Library
at the entrance to the Research Library on Fifth Avenue and Forty-Second Street in
Manhattan and waiting to be allowed in, I turn around to see the two sculptured
recumbent lions on their pedestals that guard the building on the Fifth Avenue side.
This immediately summons forth the Latin phrase my beloved wife Marianne (a
Latinist and medievalist) taught me long ago, Hic sunt leones ‘here are lions’,
which was to be found on ancient maps to signify that the cartographer did not have

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2.44 Hic Sunt Leones 159

knowledge of what lay beyond the boundary at that point (and assumed that wild
beasts lurked there).
Clearly, the Latin phrase was triggered by the stone lions outside the Library.
But it could not have been part of my thought in an immediately summonable
linguistic form without the cherished memory of the person who taught the phrase
to me.

2.45 The Frenchification of Spanish Words in English


(Chávez)

Glossary
affricate, n. < adj.: a complex speech sound consisting of a stop consonant
followed by a fricative; for example, the initial sounds of child and joy
à la française: ‘in the French style’ (French)
et al.: abbreviation for Latin et alia ‘and others’
fatuous, adj.: foolish, pretentious, and silly, especially in a smug or
self-satisfied way
Frenchification, n. < Frenchify, v.: to make French in qualities, traits, or
typical ideas or practices; to make superficially or spuriously French in
qualities or actions
fricative, n. < adj.: consonant, such as f or s in English, produced by the
forcing of breath through a constricted passage
gloss, v.: to insert glosses or comments on; to comment upon, explain,
interpret
orthographic, adj. < orthography, n.: (correct) spelling
pace, prep.: with all due respect or courtesy to
phonetics, n.: the system of sounds of a particular language
Q. E. D., abbrev.: quod erat demonstrandum (Latin) ‘which was to be
demonstated’
quasi-, adv.: as if; as it were; in a manner; in some sense or degree
ultima, n.: last syllable (Latin)

With the recent death of the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, there has been a
fatuous flurry of stories in the media about his life and times. In the broadcast media
this has involved saying his surname in English countless times. In that connection,
one hears frequent instances of a known mispronunciation of the name, viz. the
substitution of the fricative [š] for the affricate [č] as the initial consonant, which is
at complete odds with Spanish phonetics. The reason for this mistake has an
interesting history.
160 2 Meanings

First, it should be noted that American English in particular has a marked


tendency to Frenchify loan words i.e., to apply quasi-French phonetic patterns to
borrowings regardless of source language. This is what accounts not only for
end-stressed pronunciations like Stalín and Lenín, where the stress mistakenly
makes a Russian surname into a borrowing from French, with its obligatory stress
on the ultima, but for the resort to [š] instead of [č] for orthographic ch- (as in
French) as well.
As for Chavez et al., it is relevant to note that a distinctly American word like
chaparral, which the Oxford English Dictionary Online (OED) glosses: “A thicket of
low evergreen oaks; hence gen. Dense tangled brushwood, composed of low thorny
shrubs, brambles, briars, etc., such as abounds on poor soil in Mexico and Texas.
(The word came into use in U.S. during the Mexican War, c1846.),” is pronounced
with the French-style initial fricative consonant in American English, pace the
phonetic misinformation given in the OED definition (“Pronunciation:/ˌtʃæpəˈræl/
Etymology: < Spanish chaparral, < chaparra, -arro evergreen oak + -al a common
ending for a grove, plantation, or collection of trees, as in almendral, cafetal, etc.”).
The historical account of this sort of phonetic Frenchification in general can be
verified by the change in pronunciation of a word like chivalry, which in con-
temporary American English is pronounced only à la française, i.e., with an initial
[š], even though in British English it can be pronounced alternately with a [č],
witness the OED entry:
Pronunciation:/ˈʃɪvəlrɪ/ /ˈtʃɪvəlrɪ/ Etymology: Middle English, < Old French
chevalerie (11th cent.), chivalerie = Provençal cavalaria, Spanish caballería,
Portuguese cavallería, Italian cavalleria knighthood, horse-soldiery, cavalry, a
Romanic derivative of late Latin caballerius (Capitularies 807) < Latin caballāri-us
rider, horseman, cavalier n. and adj.: see -ery suffix, -ry suffix. (The same word has in
later times come anew from Italian into French and English, as cavalerie, cavalry n.)
As a Middle English word the proper historical pronunciation is with /tʃ/; but the
more frequent pronunciation at present is with /ʃ-/, as if the word had been received
from modern French [emphasis added—MS].
Q. E. D.

2.46 Iconicity in Action (Singulative Deverbal Nouns)

Glossary
aspect, n.: a verbal category of which the function is to express action or
being in respect of its inception, duration, or completion, etc.
deverbal, adj.: derived from a verb
icon, n.: an image; a representation, specifically, a sign related to its object by
similarity
idem, n.: the same as previously given or mentioned (Latin)

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nominalization, n. < nominalize, v.: to convert (another part of speech) into a


noun, as in changing the adjective lowly into the lowly or the verb
legalize into legalization
singulative, adj. < (idem) n.: a grammatical form or construction that
expresses a singular entity or indicates that an individual is singled out
from a group, especially as opposed to a collective noun, as snowflake as
opposed to snow
suffixal, adj.: containg a suffix
zero, adj.: having no formal content

Occasionally, matters usually reserved for treatment in professional linguistic


journals spill over into the mass media. This was illustrated by Henry Hitchings’
essay, “Those Irritating Verbs-as-Nouns” (The New York Times, Sunday Review,
March 31, 2013), which is rich in illustrative detail but fails to explain the differ-
ence between what he calls Type A nominalization (i.e., with suffixes, as in
investigate/investigat-ion, read/read-ing, etc.) and Type B nominalization (i.e.,
without suffixes, alias “zero-derivation,” like launch, call, etc.). The second type
encompasses SINGULATIVE DEVERBAL NOUNS, since the meaning involves a
single completed action rather than a process.
The explanation lies in the category of VERBAL ASPECT. In English, verbs are
distinguished by what is called PERFECTIVE versus IMPERFECTIVE aspect. The
perfective necessarily signifies the completion of the action, whereas the imper-
fective is noncommittal as to its completion. This categorical distinction also per-
tains to nominalizations. A suffixal nominalization like investigation or reading
makes no overt reference to the completion of the action but does contain a suffix
signifying a process, whereas unsuffixed nominalizations like read (“it was a good
read”) or take (“what’s your take on it?”) necessarily signify a completed act but not
a process. Crucially for their history in English, in both types THE FORM IS
AN ICON OF THE MEANING: a “zero suffix” coheres with the absence of a
processual meaning, whereas a “real suffix” coheres with its presence. This ex-
plains the difference.

2.47 Generational Slippage in the Retention of


Obsolescent Vocabulary

Glossary
ad hoc: for the particular end or purpose at hand and without reference to
wider application or employment (Latin)
162 2 Meanings

chattel, n.: an item of tangible movable or immovable property except real


estate, freehold, and that movable property which is by its nature con-
sidered to be essential to such an estate
corporeal, adj.: tangible and palpable; not insubstantial
fee simple, n.: a freehold estate of inheritance in land or hereditaments that
may last forever and may be inherited by all classes of both lineal and
collateral heirs of an individual owner or grantee
fee tail, n.: an estate in fee granted to a person and his issue or a designated
class of his issue that is subject to the possibility of reversion if there is no
such issue or no alternative gift to a designated person in case there is no
such issue, that is subject under modern statutes to being converted into a
fee simple absolute by the owner’s barring the entail by executing a deed
in his lifetime or to being converted to other types of estates more in
harmony with present social conditions
freehold, n.: a tenure of real property by which an estate of inheritance in fee
simple or fee tail or for life is held
go-between, n.: one who promotes a love affair especially by carrying mes-
sages and arranging meetings; one who negotiates a marriage
hereditament, n.: heritable property; lands, tenements, any property corporeal
or incorporeal, real, personal, or mixed, that may descend to an heir
ineluctable, adj.: unavoidable, inescapable
knight-errant, n.: a wandering knight; esp. one traveling at random in search
of adventures in which to exhibit military skill, prowess, and generosity
marriage portion, n.: dowry
obsolescent, adj.: going out of use; falling into disuse especially as unable to
compete with something more recent
portionless, adj.: having no dowry or inheritance
sic transeunt onera mundi: ‘thus do the burdens of the world pass [from it]’
(Latin)

Dictionaries of a major language like English are full of obsolete and obsolescent
vocabulary, words that are recorded in written repositories but circumscribed by
historical periodization and rarely uttered in everyday speech. Knowledge of such
vocabulary is subject to inter-generational slippage. Older speakers may have it as
part of their education, experience, or passive knowledge. But younger speakers,
who have no living access to words and phrases belonging to past manners and
morals, typically encounter them only as part of book learning at best, as when
exposed to knights-errant in reading Don Quixote.
The gradual but inexorable oblivion of the lexical riches of a language becomes
apparent, for instance, when one teaches a class of twenty eighteen-year-olds in a
course on Masterpieces of European Literature at an Ivy League university. All are
native speakers of contemporary American English, but in discussing the so-called
marriage plot in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, one quickly discovers that

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2.47 Generational Slippage in the Retention of Obsolescent Vocabulary 163

words and phrases such as go-between, marriage portion, portionless, chattel, etc.
are not even part of the students’ passive word stock (although dowry is) and have
to be glossed ad hoc. One could take the view, of course, that it is fortunate for the
current generation that the mores of twenty-first-century American mating and
marriage rituals dispense with all the baggage that used to be the ineluctable burden
of young women (in particular) seeking to make their way in a man’s world. Sic
transeunt onera mundi.

2.48 Terms of Affection and Their Gradience

Glossary
affect, n.: the conscious emotion that occurs in reaction to a thought or
experience
affective, adj.: expressing emotion
affix, n.: a sound or sequence of sounds or, in writing, a letter or sequence of
letters occurring as a bound form attached to the beginning or end of a
word, base, or phrase or inserted within a word or base and serving to
produce a derivative word
augmentative, adj.: indicating large size and sometimes awkwardness or
unattractiveness; used of affixes and of words formed with them (such as
Italian casone “big house,” from casa “house,” and Italian -one in words
like casone)
demotic, adj.: of or relating to the people; common
diminutized, v. < diminutive, adj.: indicating small size and sometimes the
quality or condition of being loved, lovable, pitiable, or contemptible;
used of affixes
gradience, n.: the property of being continuously variable between two
(esp. apparently disjunct) values, categories, etc.; an instance of this
property, a continuum
instantiation, n. < instantiate, v.: to represent (an abstraction or universal) by
a concrete instance
pejorative, adj.: having a tendency to make or become worse; depreciatory,
disparaging
ramified, adj. < ramify, v.: to separate into divisions or ramifications
root, n.: the simple element (as Latin sta) inferred as common to all the words
of a group in a language or in related languages
set, n.: mental inclination, tendency, or habit
stem, n.: the part of an inflected word that remains unchanged except by
phonetic changes or variations throughout a given inflection, is sometimes
164 2 Meanings

identical with the root, but is often derived from it with some formative
suffix
traduttore, traditore: ‘translator, traitor.’ (Italian)

Languages differ in their capacity to grade words according to the emotional set of
the utterer or writer toward the person or thing named by the word. In this respect,
Russian (like the other Slavic languages) is incomparably richer than English or any
other European language, let alone an East Asian one like Japanese, which is almost
totally lacking in affective vocabulary (or profanity, for that matter). Whereas an
English name like Robert can only be diminutized (thus rendered the affectionate
instantiation of the full name) univerbally as Rob, Robbie, Bobbie, and Bob, a
Russian forename like Avdót’ya (as in the name of Raskol’nikov’s sister in
Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment), which is the demotic form of
Evdokíya = Eвдoкия (< Classical and ecclesiastical Greek Eὐdojίa), can be turned
into Dúnya, Dunyásha, Dunyáshen’ka, Dúnechka, Dúnen’ka, Dunyáshechka, etc.
(A full registry of the pet names in Cyrillic could include Дoня [Дoнa], Дocя,
Дoшa, Дycя, Aвдoня, Aвдoxa, Aвдoшa, Aвдyля, Aвдycя.) Beyond the dropping
of all but the medial consonant –d- (preceding the stressed syllable of Avdót’ya) in
this case, each addition of a diminutive suffix to the remaining consonantal stem
comports a further grade of affection, so that the speaker or writer can vary the
emotional investment in the person so addressed by the build-up of affective suf-
fixes. (This is not to touch upon the ramified means at a Russian speaker’s disposal
when going in the opposite direction affectively by adding pejorative or augmen-
tative suffixes to nominal stems, to those of common as well as proper nouns.)
While other aspects of the language of the original may cross over easily into a
translation without appreciable loss of meaning in the round, the force of affective
vocabulary—as the Russian case demonstrates—is liable to be lost completely
when trying to convey the nuances of affect the characters in a novel like Crime and
Punishment feel when speaking, especially when its author evidently places so
much stress on their variable forms.
No wonder one of the older (now obsolete) meanings of traduce was ‘translate’!
Or as they say in Italian, “Traduttore, traditore.”

2.49 The Rise of multiple as a Substitute for many

Glossary
disyllabic, adj.: consisting of two syllables
iconicity, n. < iconic, adj. < icon, n.: an image; a representation, specifically,
a sign related to its object by similarity

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2.49 The Rise of multiple as a Substitute for many 165

QED, abbrev. < quod erat demonstrandum: ‘which was to be demonstated’


(Latin)
schwa, n.: a mid-central neutral vowel, typically occurring in unstressed
syllables, as the final vowel of English sofa; The symbol (ə) used to
represent an unstressed neutral vowel and, in some systems of phonetic
transcription, a stressed mid-central vowel, as in but
telos, n.: goal (Greek)

For more than a decade or two, contemporary American English speakers have
gotten into the habit of substituting the bookish adjective multiple for the simple
count adjective many, as in the followings usages (adapted from the Merriam-
Webster Unabridged Dictionary online):
1. ‘many, manifold, several’ < multiple achievements in politics and public life— <mul-
tiple minds functioning together>—<multiple copies of a speech> 2. ‘occurring more
than once or in higher degree than the first; repeated’ <multiple roots>

In all of the cited examples, the more direct way of denoting ‘more than few’
would be with the word many. Why, then, is there a trend in recent years to replace
it with multiple?
The answer may be the principle of ICONICITY AS THE TELOS OF
LINGUISTIC CHANGE (cf. Sect. 5.34 below). The word many has only two
syllables, whereas multiple, while seeming orthographically to have two as well, is
actually pronounced with a schwa vowel between the consonants at the end of the
word, making it tri- and not disyllabic. A trisyllabic word is more adequate icon-
ically to the meaning of multiplicity than is a disyllabic one. QED.
There is an alternate explanation, however (the two explanations are comple-
mentary, not mutually exclusive). Multiple may have arisen as a designator of
number because it is non-committal as to whether it means ‘many’ or ‘several’. This
new meaning—something between the two—evidently fits a semantic niche that
speakers and writers wish to exploit when neither many nor several fills the bill.
This new connotation of multiple is: ‘not as few in number as several and not as
great as many’.

2.50 Misuse of the Word Gentleman

Media reporters, particularly of the broadcast stripe, often misuse the word
gentleman, in referring to criminals or terrorists. A man who is EVIDENTLY the
perpetrator of a crime, as is the case of the brothers who committed the Boston
Marathon bombings and related murders—whether the crime has already been
proven at trial or not—ought not to be named in speech or writing by a designation
necessarily comporting a measure of politeness, elevation, or deference toward the
referent. The stylistically appropriate word in such instances is man, not gentleman.
166 2 Meanings

2.51 Lost in Transliteration (Russian Hypocoristics


in English)

Glossary
affective, n.: (a word or form) expressing emotion
desuetude, n.: discontinuance from use, practice, exercise, or functioning
diminutive, n.: indicating small size and sometimes the quality or condition of
being loved, lovable, pitiable, or contemptible; used of affixes
forename, n.: first (given) name
hypocoristic, adj.: endearing; belong to affective vocabulary
onomastically, adv. < onomastic, adj. < onomastics, n.: the science or study
of the origin and forms of proper names of persons or places
Pale of Settlement: geographic area in Czarist Russia where Jews were
allowed to live (translation of R чepтa oceдлocти)
transliteration, n. < transliterate, v.: to represent or spell (words, letters, or
characters of one language) in the letters or characters of another language
or alphabet
Wunderkind, n.: a child prodigy (German)

Russian hypocoristics (pet names) comprise a rich onomastic lode, perhaps


unparalleled among the world’s languages. When they are transliterated into
English (or other languages using the Roman alphabet) their status as affectives is
not necessarily recognizable as such by those who have no knowledge of Russian.
In this respect, the incidence of diminutives as first names among well-known
Russian-Jewish violinists and pianists of the twentieth century born in the Pale of
Settlement (Odessa, in particular) is to be explained by the fact that these were child
prodigies who simply continued to use the hypocoristic form of their Russian
forenames into adulthood as stage names. Thus the famous violinists Jascha Heifetz
(R Иocиф Pyвимoвич Xeйфeц), Mischa Elman (R Mиxaил Cayлoвич Эльмaн),
and Tossy(a) Spivakovsky (Haтaн Дaвидoвич Cпивaкoвcкий) had the given
(official) forenames Joseph (not Jacob, curiously enough, from which Jascha is the
proper derivative), Michael, and Nathan, resp.; and the full forename of the pianist
Shura Cherkassky (R Aлeкcaндp Иcaaкoвич Чepкaccкий) was Alexander
(Шypa < Caшypa < Caшa < Caня < Aлкecaндp).
This early twentieth-century custom among Russian-Jewish child prodigies of
keeping their pet names is understandable, given the desirability of maintaining
reputations first won in childhood. In the event, for audiences and a general public
outside the Russophone milieu the hypocoristic force is lost, and with time, even for
a Russian speaker, the fact of a familiar performer well on in years appearing under
a diminutive as a first name ceases to be onomastically dissonant.
It should be added that the older practice of keeping a pet name as a stage name
fell into desuetude sometime between the wars. Odessa didn’t stop producing

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2.51 Lost in Transliteration (Russian Hypocoristics in English) 167

Wunderkinder (cf. David Oistrakh), but musical prodigies who post-dated the
Mischas and Jaschas of yesteryear did stop following the older practice.

2.52 Hypertrophic Emphasis in Neology (begrudging[ly])

Glossary
affix, n.: a word element, such as a prefix or suffix, that can only occur
attached to a base, stem, or root
grading, adj. < grade, v.: to determine the grades or degrees of hypertrophy,
n.: inordinate or pathological enlargement morphological, adj. < mor-
phology, n.: the system or the study of (linguistic) form neologism,
n. < neology, n.: the use of a new word or expression or of an established
word in a new or different sense; the use of new expressions that are not
sanctioned by conventional standard usage; the introduction of such
expressions into a language
prefixed, adj. < prefix, v. > prefix, n.: an affix, such as dis- in disbelieve, attached
to the front of a word to produce a derivative word or an inflected form
semantic, adj. < semantics, n.: the study dealing with the relations between
signs and what they refer to, the relations between the signs of a system,
and human behavior in reaction to signs including unconscious attitudes,
influences of social institutions, and epistemological and linguistic
assumptions
subserve, v.: to serve as an instrument or means in carrying on (as an activity)
or out (as a plan) or in furthering the ends of (as a person)

A recent morphological change in American English is the mistaken substitution of


the adjective/adverb begrudging(ly) for the normative grudging(ly). This has come
about as an indirect result of the fading into obsoleteness of the verb grudge (intr.
‘to murmur; to utter complaints murmuringly; to grumble, complain; to be dis-
contented or dissatisfied’), whereas its prefixed successor begrudge (‘to grumble at,
show dissatisfaction with; esp. to envy [one] the possession of; to give reluctantly,
to be reluctant’) is currently alive and well.
Beyond the particular morphology of the neologism, however, lies the general
contemporary tendency in English toward hypertrophy, which in this case means
the expansion of grudging(ly) by the prefix be-. This tendency includes the sub-
stitution of previously emphatic forms for their neutral counterparts, a process
which always comports a difference in semantic grading. In the case of begrudging
(ly), part of the explanation for the neologism would accordingly make reference to
the felt need (by younger generations of speakers, but not only) to emphasize
(heighten) the negative—i.e., uncharitable—meaning of grudging(ly), an end sub-
served by the prefixed form(s).
168 2 Meanings

2.53 Attenuation of Arbitrariness in the Semantics


of Quantification

Glossary
diagrammaticity, n. < diagrammatic, adj. < diagram, n.: (in Peirce’s sign
theory) an icon of relation
iconic, adj. < icon, n.: (in Peirce’s sign theory) an image; a representation,
specifically, a sign related to its object by similarity
individuation, n. < individuate, v.: to give an individual character to; to
distinguish from others of the same kind; to individualize; to single out, to
specify
marked, adj. < markedness, n.: the evaluative superstructure of all semiotic
(‘sign-theoretic’) oppositions, as well as the theory of such a super-
structure, characterized in terms of the values ‘marked’ (conceptually
restricted) and ‘unmarked’ (conceptually unrestricted)
semantic, adj. < semantics, n.: the study dealing with the relations between
signs and what they refer to, the relations between the signs of a system,
and human behavior in reaction to signs including unconscious attitudes,
influences of social institutions, and epistemological and linguistic
assumptions
semeiotic, adj. < semeiotic, n.: any system of signs, defined as anything
capable of signifying an object (meaning)

The overall drift in language development is toward greater diagrammaticity


(iconicity) between sound and meaning which thereby necessarily results in the
attenuation of the arbitrariness characterizing the fundamental relation of all lan-
guage structure.
This can be illustrated in the history of English by the gradual gain in scope of
the quantifier of mass nouns less at the expense of its counterpart fewer, which
according to the traditional norm is reserved for count nouns. Many speakers of
American English (but not only) regularly substitute less for fewer where the norm
specifies the latter to the exclusion of the former.
The iconic motivation of this usage is twofold. First, less is shorter than fewer,
thereby fitting it more adequately than its counterpart to its meaning, namely ‘lesser
quantity’. Second, individuation as a semantic category is marked (more restricted
in conceptual scope) than non-individuation, so that a drift toward
non-individuation is a movement toward the unmarked member of the opposition,
instantiating the general iconic (semeiotic) principle according to which language
change favors replacement of marked units, categories, and contexts by unmarked
ones.

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2.54 Well and Good (anent “I’m good”) 169

2.54 Well and Good (anent “I’m good”)

Glossary
anent, prep.: in reference to
appositive, adj. < apposition, n.: a grammatical construction that consists of
two nouns or noun equivalents referring to the same person or thing,
standing in the same syntactical relation to the rest of the sentence without
being joined to each other by a coordinating conjunction, and typically
adjacent to each other
apropos, prep.: with respect to; concerning, regarding binomial, n.: having or
characterized by two names
concomitant, adj.: accompanying or attending especially in a subordinate or
incidental way; occurring along with or at the same time as and with or
without causal relationship
eponymous, adj. < eponym, n.: one for whom or which something is named
or supposedly named
gargantuan, adj.: of tremendous size or volume
hegemony, n.: preponderant influence or authority
irreversible, adj.: not capable of or lending itself to being reversed
lexical, adj.: pertaining or relating to the words or vocabulary of a language
neologism, n.: a new word
notional, adj.: of a thing, a relation, etc., not substantially or actually existent;
existing only in thought
penchant, n.: a strong leaning or attraction: strong and continued inclination
perfunctory, adj.: characterized by routine or superficiality; done merely as a duty
Pninesque, adj.: resembling the eponymous character in Vladimir Nabokov’s
(best) novel, Pnin
purport, n.: that which is conveyed or expressed, esp. by a formal document
or speech; effect, tenor, import; meaning, substance, sense
quasi, adv: as if; as it were; in a manner; in some sense or degree
risible, adj.: arousing, exciting, or provoking laughter
sesquipedalianism, n. < sesquipedalian, adj.: given to or characterized by the
use of long words
solecistic, adj. < solecism, n.: an impropriety or irregularity in speech or
diction; a violation of the rules of grammar or syntax
tropism, n.: with reference to people: a natural or innate instinct, tendency, or
impulse; now more generally: a preference, an inclination

My father’s first cousin, Yakov Malkiel (Якoв Львoвич Maлкиeль, 1914–1998),


was a Pninesque professor of Romance philology who had a risible penchant for
sesquipedalianism and measured scholarly success in any given year by meeting an
arbitrary quota of 200 printed pages. My mother, a concert pianist and pedagogue,
remembered little Yasha (as he was known in the family) appearing in short pants
170 2 Meanings

as a child for his weekly piano lessons in Berlin in the early 1920s, a period when
Nabokov was also resident there among a notable group of Russian émigrés. While
the overwhelming majority of his gargantuan scholarly output was in the field of
Romance philology, Malkiel is perhaps best associated in a wider disciplinary
context with his much-cited article on “irreversible binomials” (“Studies in
Irreversible Binomials,” Lingua, 8 [1959], 113–160), of which well and good (like
thick and thin, dawn to dusk, part and parcel, etc.) is only one example among a
familiar and numerous lexical repertory in English.
This is by way—an admittedly eccentric one—of introducing the topic of a
contemporary change in American English, whereby well is being supplanted by
good, as in the all-but-ubiquitous retort, “I’m good” (instead of the traditional “I’m
well” or “I’m fine”) in answer to the question, “How are you?”; cf. the grotesque
present-day solecistic construction, *good-paying job. What is evidently at stake in
such cases, which can be characterized as the recession of the scope of well and the
concomitant hegemony of the scope of good, is a change in the
NOTIONAL CONTENT of the two words in appositive position. Thus, while one
can only say “You did the job well,” where the word well is an adverb, as an
adjective it has become restricted to a quasi-medical meaning (as in the neologism
wellness.) This then suggests that “How are you?” is no longer taken to be a query
apropos the addressee’s well-being or health but one aimed rather at eliciting (an
admittedly perfunctory) report on the latter’s STATE OF MIND, hence the lin-
guistic tropism toward good, with its ETHICAL PURPORT in the global sense.

2.55 Words in Desuetude

Glossary
desuetude, n.: discontinuance from use, practice, exercise, or functioning
lexicon, n.: the morphemes of a language considered as a group
malefactor, n.: one who commits an offense against the law; one who does ill
toward another
morpheme, n.: a meaningful linguistic unit consisting of a word, such as man,
or a word element, such as -ed in walked, that cannot be divided into
smaller meaningful parts
obsolescent, adj.: going out of use; falling into disuse especially as unable to
compete with something more recent

English has a huge lexicon, probably the largest word stock of the world’s living
languages. As with all languages, some words in dictionaries carry the designation
‘obsolescent’, some ‘obsolete’, some ‘archaic’; and some are never (or very rarely)
used in speech or writing. One such word is desuetude, a very good substitute for
disuse, since it has a richer semantic range. But it has fallen into desuetude, just like

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2.55 Words in Desuetude 171

malefactor, which is infinitely superior in every sense to the currently popular but
utterly disposable phrases bad guy and bad actor. In this meaning field, evildoer is
also superior to the latter two phrases and unwarrantedly neglected.
English vocabulary is unequalled for richness and eminently mineable for the
most varied nuances of meaning that any writer or speaker might wish to express.
Sad to say, however, words like malefactor and desuetude sleep the slumber of the
dead in dictionaries, waiting only to be summoned into service by those who know
of their existence and can exploit their aptness.

2.56 The Supersessionist Drift of American English

Glossary
lexeme, n.: a meaningful speech form that is an item of the vocabulary of a
language

The cultural dominion of American English as reflected in language use is well known.
Native words in many languages of the world are habitually being replaced in ordinary
speech (especially in media language) by items adapted from American English.
Franglish has long been the bane of purist French speakers, and Japanese is increasingly
being overwhelmed by English lexemes in their American forms (with the appropriate
phonetic overlay). British English is no longer the default model for such adaptations.
Speaking of the British variant of English, it is noteworthy that the
Americanization of Britain has affected language as well as other aspects of culture.
When one listens to the BBC World Service, for instance, one regularly hears the
use of truck instead of lorry (which has practically disappeared from the speech of
English presenters), and even the noun patent pronounced to rhyme with latent has
all but disappeared under pressure to conform to the American pronunciation.
Apropos, it should be noted that for purist native speakers of American English the
adjectival form retains the traditional British phonetic form.

2.57 “Going Forward” (The Triumph of Agency)

Glossary
agency, n.: the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power
concomitant, adj.: occurring along with or at the same time as and with or
without causal relationship
dichotomy, n.: division into two parts, classes, or groups and especially into
two groups that are mutually exclusive or opposed by contradiction
forma mentis: form/way of thought/thinking (Latin)
172 2 Meanings

locative, adj., n.: belonging to or being a grammatical case that denotes place
or the place where or wherein
mimic, v.: to copy or imitate very closely especially in external characteristics
motive, adj.: of or relating to motion or the causing of motion
quotidian, adj.: commonplace, ordinary
semantic, adj. < semantics, n.: the study dealing with the relations between signs
and what they refer to, the relations between the signs of a system, and human
behavior in reaction to signs including unconscious attitudes, influences of
social institutions, and epistemological and linguistic assumptions

Over the last few decades the American finance industry has given birth to the
phrase “going forward” as a replacement for the quotidian and conventional phrase
“in the future” to designate time, e.g., “If it is true that America’s biggest banks are
too big to be ‘resolved’, this has profound implications for our banking system
going forward [emphasis added] …” (Joseph E. Stiglitz, Freefall: America, Free
Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy [New York, 2010, p. 118]). No one
in the finance industry doubtless thinks twice about the cognitive implications of
this substitution, but an analysis that links language necessarily to its users’ forma
mentis will demonstrate that the upshot is hardly trivial.
All languages of the world deal with time by spatializing it. Accordingly, in the
future is a phrase that localizes/locates future time, just as in the past and in the
present do. By contrast, going forward specifies future time as a point that is
achieved by motive force, with the added connotation of reaching that point through
AGENCY. Although it is true that time is conceptualized as something that
“goes/proceeds/travels forward,” the motion involved is embodied by an agent,
human or otherwise, as in the sentence fragment quoted above (“banking system
going forward”), where the phrase can also be secondarily interpreted as detached
from any agent to mimic the grammatical status of in the future.
The semantic content comported by the new phrase vis-à-vis its traditional
variant turns on the presence of the verb go, with its necessary grammatical ref-
erence to time and a concomitant implied agent—a content absent from the spa-
tialized phrase in the locative. There has thus been not merely a linguistic change
but a conceptual—and cultural—shift in the increasing preference for going for-
ward: time has thereby been assimilated to agency, showing (yet again) that the
purported traditional dichotomy between language and society is false.

2.58 Etymology as Present Knowledge

Glossary
cognate, n.: (of languages) descended from the same original language; of the
same linguistic family; of words: coming naturally from the same root, or

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2.58 Etymology as Present Knowledge 173

representing the same original word, with differences due to subsequent


separate phonetic development
etymology, n.: the history often including the prehistory of a linguistic form
(such as a word or morpheme) as shown by tracing its phonetic, graphic,
and semantic development since its earliest recorded occurrence in the
language where it is found, by tracing the course of its transmission from
one language to another, by analyzing it into the component parts from
which it was put together, by identifying its cognates in other languages,
or by tracing it and its cognates back to a common ancestral form in a
recorded or assumed ancestral language
morpheme, n.: a meaningful linguistic unit consisting of a word, such as man,
or a word element, such as -ed in walked, that cannot be divided into
smaller meaningful parts
paronomasia, n.: paronomasia, n.: a play upon words in which the same
word is used in different senses or words similar in sound are set in
opposition so as to give antithetical force
semantic, adj. < semantics, n.: the study dealing with the relations between
signs and what they refer to, the relations between the signs of a system,
and human behavior in reaction to signs including unconscious attitudes,
influences of social institutions, and epistemological and linguistic
assumptions

As with any kind of knowledge, information about word origins varies from
speaker to speaker and affects language use accordingly. Clearly, one does not have
to know anything about the etymology of the words in one’s native language in
order to have an adequate command of the language. However, in speaking with an
interlocutor who uses etymological data implicitly in order to convey a meaning—
principally, in puns or other species of paronomasia—one is at a disadvantage in
fully understanding an utterance that utilizes paronomasia without sharing the
knowledge that underlies such word play.
The lack of etymological knowledge may also lead to erroneous word use.
A typical contemporary case in both British and American English is that of the
phrase “begging the question,” which is a direct translation of Latin petitio principii
and is a type of fallacy in which an implicit premiss would directly entail the con-
clusion (i.e., basing a conclusion on an assumption that is as much in need of proof or
demonstration as the conclusion itself). Speakers and writers ignorant of the phrase’s
origin use it more and more frequently as a substitute for “raising the question,” and
some usage manuals now recognize this erroneous meaning as acceptable.
Knowledge of a word’s origin and meaning field can also serve to heighten one’s
sense of the semantic implications of the word. A good case in point is filibuster,
which was notorious in the recent past in connection with a certain U. S. senator’s
legislative shenanigans. Here is the word’s etymology, as cited from The Oxford
English Dictionary Online:
174 2 Meanings

Etymology: The ultimate source is certainly the Dutch vrijbuiter in Kilian vrij-bueter (see
freebooter n.). It is not clear whether the 16th cent. English form flibutor, of which we have
only one example, was taken from Dutch directly or through some foreign language. Late
in the 18th cent. the French form flibustier was adopted into English, and continued to be
used, with occasional variations of spelling, until after the middle of the nineteenth century.
About 1850–54, the form filibuster, < Spanish filibustero, began to be employed as the
designation of certain adventurers who at that time were active in the W. Indies and Central
America; and this has now superseded the earlier flibustier even with reference to the
history of the 17th cent.

The derivation of filibuster from freebooter ‘originally: a privateer. Later more


generally: a piratical adventurer, a pirate; any person who goes about in search of
plunder. Also fig. and in extended use’ only serves to aggrandize the meaning:
Etymology: < Dutch vrijbuiter privateer, pirate, robber (1572) < vrijbuit prize, spoils,
plunder (1575; chiefly in the phrase op vrijbuit varen to go capturing ships or plundering,
op vrijbuit gaan, and variants; < vrij free adj. + buit booty n.; compare Middle Low
German vrībǖte (> Swedish fribyte (1561)), German Freibeute (1571 as freye peuth, or
earlier)) + -er -er suffix. Compare Middle Low German vrībǖter (> Swedish fribytare
(1559)), German Freibeuter (1569 as fribuiter, or earlier); also Middle French vributeur,
vributer (1582; < Dutch), all in sense ‘privateer, pirate’. Compare filibuster n.

The original meanings of both filibuster and freebooter are now lost to most
speakers of English. A pity, given that the behavior of ‘one who practices
obstruction in a legislative assembly’ can and should be evaluated in the light of the
words’ etymology.

2.59 “Heiße Magister, heiße Doktor gar” (Goethe, Faust,


Pt. 1, “Night”)

Glossary
appellation, n.: a name or title by which a person, thing, or clan is called and
known
bifurcation, n.: separation or branching into two parts, areas, aspects, or
connected segments
designee, n.: one who is designated or delegated
“Heiße Magister, heiße Doktor gar” (Goethe, Faust, Pt. 1, “Night”): ‘I’m
called Master [of Arts], and Doctor [of Philosophy] too’ (German)
hypertrophic, adj. < hypertrophy, n.: an inordinate or pathological
enlargement
nomina sunt odiosa: names are odious (Latin)
nonce, n.: the one, particular, or present occasion, purpose, or use
odious, adj. < odium, n.: the state or fact of being subjected to widespread or
deep hatred and severe condemnation and often loathing or contempt
usually as a result of a despicable act or blameworthy situation
sidebar, n.: something incidental

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2.59 “Heiße Magister, heiße Doktor gar” (Goethe, Faust, Pt. 1, “Night”) 175

German is no longer a commonly studied language in America, which is a great


pity, given its power and scope. One interesting and rather quaint feature of tra-
ditional German onomastic practice is addressing the wives of men who bear the
academic titles “Doctor” and “Professor” as “Frau [Mrs.] Doktor so-and-so” and
even “Frau Professor Doktor so-and-so.” (Note that “Professor” precedes
“Doctor.”)
In contemporary American academe (note the use of the traditional designation
rather than the hypertrophic current variant “academia”), there is a strange bifur-
cation in the use of the titles “Dr.” and “Professor” whereby students and teachers
in junior, community, and state colleges—notably in the rural South and the
Southwest, where this also applies to private institutions—typically use only “Dr.”
for designees with doctorates, even when the person so named/addressed is of
professorial rank, whereas in Northern private (esp. elite) universities the habitual
appellation is “Professor.” This bifurcation seems to apply, for instance, even when
the person addressed is a private university professor, so long as the colleague
speaking is from a Southern or a regional public institution. Thus I am routinely
addressed/referred to by my former students who now teach at Southern universities
as “Dr. Shapiro.”
Some narrowly literal-minded academics withhold the title “Professor” from
persons who do not occupy professorial positions at the time they are being
addressed. A grotesque instance (remembered here from bitter experience) is the
treatment of my late wife—the most accomplished and versatile American Italianist
of the twentieth century—by a nincompoop of a male colleague (nomina sunt
odiosa), who referred to her as “Professor Shapiro” only as long as she was
teaching and held professorial rank but stripped her of this title whenever she was
between jobs, at which times he invariably referred to her as “Dr. Shapiro.”
A final personal sidebar, for the nonce: one of my oldest and dearest friends, an
eminent prosthodontist, always introduces me as “Dr. Shapiro.” Coming from him,
I take this as a special mark of honor and respect. After all: any fool can be a
professor—but not a doctor!

2.60 Stomping Ground (Folk Etymology)

Glossary
diagrammaticity, n. < diagrammatic, adj. < diagram, n.: (in Peirce’s sign
theory) an icon of relation
folk etymology: the popular perversion of the form of words in order to render
it apparently significant
icon, n.: a sign exhibiting a similarity relation to its object (meaning)
176 2 Meanings

All languages tend to develop in a certain direction, which can be characterized by


the technical term diagrammaticity, denoting a closer fit between form and
meaning, or more accurately, between sets of forms and sets of meanings, since a
diagram (in Peirce’s semeiotic) is an icon of relation. When a word or phrase seems
to go against this principle, a change may occur—first in popular speech, then
gradually in most if not all styles—that reflects a reinterpretation of the unrecog-
nizable or ill-suited elements of the word or phrase in question. This process is
instantiated in what goes by the phrase folk etymology (a calque [loan translation] of
the German Volksetymologie). For example, the modern word bridegroom is the
result of folk etymology: in Old English it was brydguma ‘bride-man’, but when the
Old English word guma ‘man’ (cognate with Latin homo) fell out of use, the latter
was reinterpreted as groom. Here is a description of the process from the OED:
Etymology: a. Old English brýdguma, < brýd, bride n. + guma ‘man’ (poetic) < *Old
Germanic gumon-, cognate with Latin homin-. The compound was Common Germanic:
compare Old Saxon brûdigomo (Middle Dutch brûdegome, Dutch bruidegom), Old High
German brûtigomo (Middle High German briutegome, German bräutigam), Old Norse
brûðgumi (Swedish brudgumme, Danish brudgom) < Old Germanic *brúđigumon-; not
preserved in Gothic, which has brûþfaþs = ‘bride’s lord’. b. After gome n. became obsolete
in Middle English, the place of bridegome was taken in 16th cent. by bride-
grome, < grome, groom n. ‘lad’.

The contemporary American phrase stomping ground, in the meaning of ‘a place


where one habitually spends/spent much of one’s time’ is the product of folk
etymology in two respects. First, the form of the verb, viz. stomp, is an American
dialectal version of the English stamp, which has replaced the original in most
meanings. Second, the original meaning of stamping ground(s) referred to a place
where animals (esp. cattle) habitually gathered, as in this example from the OED:
“1862 Harper’s Mag. June 34/1, I found myself near one of these ‘stamping
grounds’, and a simultaneous roar from five hundred infuriated animals gave notice
of my danger.” A dwindling minority of speakers of American English still preserve
the original form of the phrase, but its complete replacement by the newer one is
inevitable.

2.61 Words Qualified and Contrasted

Glossary
affixation, n. < affix, v. < affix, n.: a word element, such as a prefix or suffix,
that can only occur attached to a base, stem, or root
apposite, adj.: suitable; well-adapted; pertinent; relevant; apt
base, n.: a morpheme or morphemes regarded as a form to which affixes or
other bases may be added

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2.61 Words Qualified and Contrasted 177

morpheme., n.: a meaningful linguistic unit consisting of a word, such as


man, or a word element, such as -ed in walked, that cannot be divided into
smaller meaningful parts
prefix, n.: an affix, such as dis- in disbelieve, attached to the front of a word to
produce a derivative word or an inflected form
root, n.: the element that carries the main component of meaning in a word
and provides the basis from which a word is derived by adding affixes or
inflectional endings or by phonetic change suffix, n.: a grammatical ele-
ment added to the end of a word or stem, serving to form a new word or
functioning as an inflectional ending, such as -ness in gentleness, -ing in
walking, or -s in sits
winged words: highly apposite or significant words

Every culture regards words as special things, and languages often reflect this view
by qualifying them through the affixation of adjectives; or by contrasting them with
non-verbal realia, typically animals. Thus in English we have winged words,
fighting words, leaden words, etc., etc.
One feature of the spoken word from the perspective of folk wisdom and the
traditional agrarian milieu in which proverbs and sayings arise is the irretrievability
of words once uttered. Thus in Russian one says: Cлoвo нe вopoбeй, вылeтит
(выпycтишь)—нe пoймaeшь (slovo ne vorobej, vyletit/vypustish’-—ne poj-
maesh’), literally: ‘a word is not a sparrow; if it flies out/if you release it, you won’t
catch it’; or in Japanese (courtesy of my brother Jacob): 駟も舌に及ばず (shi mo
shita ni oyobazu, which goes back to Confucius’ Analects)—literally: ‘even a
four-horse team/carriage is not the equal of/cannot catch up with a tongue’. Ergo:
Watch what you say!

2.62 The Lure of Latin (Sherlock Holmes and the Science


of Abduction)

Glossary
abduction, n.: the formation or adoption of a plausible but unproven expla-
nation for an observed phenomenon; a working hypothesis derived from
limited evidence and informed conjecture
abductive, adj.: pertaining to or the product of abduction [vide supra]
adversion, n. < advert, v.: to turn one’s attention; to take notice, take heed,
attend, pay attention
178 2 Meanings

deduction, n.: the process of deducing or drawing a conclusion from a


principle already known or assumed; spec. in logic, inference by rea-
soning from generals to particulars; opposed to induction
extant, adj.: currently or actually existing
factitious, adj.: produced artificially or by special effort (as for a particular
situation
Hippocratic, adj. < Hippocrates, n.: Greek physician (“Father of Medicine”
[c460–c377 B. C.])
homo abducans: ‘abducing man [nonce phrase]’ (Latin)
induction, n.: the process of inferring a general law or principle from the
observation of particular instances
James, n.: William James (1842–1910), American psychologist and
philosopher
ne plus ultra: the highest point capable of being reached or attained; the
summit of achievement (Latin)
nonce, adj.: for the particular occasion; for the time being, temporarily; for
once
obsolescent, adj.: going out of use; falling into disuse especially as unable to
compete with something more recent
palliate, v.: to reduce the violence of (a disease); cause to lessen or abate; ease
without curing
Peirce: Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914), American logician and scientist
pragmatism, n.: an American movement in philosophy founded by C.S.
Peirce and William James and marked by the doctrines that the meaning
of conceptions is to be sought in their practical bearings
propensity, n.: a natural inclination; innate or inherent tendency
rigor mortis: rigidity of muscles after death depending in time of onset and
duration upon variable factors in the body and in the environment (Latin)
risus sardonicus: a fixed, grin-like expression resulting from spasm of facial
muscles, esp. in tetanus (Latin)
syllogism, n.: an argument expressed or claimed to be expressible in the form
of two propositions called the premisses, containing a common or middle
term, with a third proposition called the conclusion, resulting necessarily
from the other two
trigeminal neuralgia: also called tic douloureux [French], a chronic pain
condition that affects the trigeminal or 5th cranial nerve; a form of neu-
ropathic pain (pain associated with nerve injury or nerve lesion)
unassailable, adj.: not open to adverse criticism

To a writer of the old school like the author of these pages, whose academic training
dates back to the ’50s and ’60s of the last century, working in a Latin phrase is akin
to flashing a badge of one’s scholarly credentials, and the lure is strong. At one
time, before the onset of the digital age, there was nothing unusual about reading

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2.62 The Lure of Latin (Sherlock Holmes and the Science of Abduction) 179

the following utterance of Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Watson in Arthur Conan Doyle’s
novel, The Sign of the Four:
“Quite so. They are in a state of extreme contraction, far exceeding the usual rigor mortis.
Coupled with this distortion of the face, this Hippocratic smile, or ‘risus sardonicus,’ as the
old writers called it, what conclusion would it suggest to your mind?”

Here, note Holmes’s stylistic qualification, viz. “as the old writers called it,”
marking the Latin phrase as already somewhat obsolescent at the time of writing.
Speaking of Holmes and the lure of Latin, here is a fresh example (meant originally
for the public press).
Lately, in these pages [The NY Times] and elsewhere in the media—including
movies, plays, and even letters to the editor—there have been numerous mentions
of and adversions to Sherlock Holmes, the fictional master detective created by Sir
Arthur Conan Doyle. In Conan Doyle’s early second novel, The Sign of the Four
(1890), the opening chapter is entitled “The Science of Deduction,” meant to
characterize the mode of reasoning (“deduction”) that is Holmes’s stock in trade
and that enables him to solve even the most abstruse cases. Indirectly, moreover,
that is what the famous retort—“Elementary, my dear Watson,” by which we all
know Sherlock but which he never actually utters in any of the Holmesian canon—
refers to, which is his power of making correct inferences or educated guesses from
seemingly unconnected pieces of evidence.
But the word “deduction” as used by Conan Doyle and all other writers before
and after is actually a misnomer. The correct name for the type of reasoning at stake
is “abduction,” and the distinction is far from trivial. The name was coined in 1867
by the greatest intellect the Americas have ever produced, the philosopher-scientist
Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914), whose work in logic alone places him in the
same rank as Aristotle and Leibniz.
Deduction, induction, and abduction are the three fundamental modes of rea-
soning that constitute the traditional syllogism of logic. Deduction proceeds from
correct premisses and valid cases to reach unassailable conclusions. Thus if “All
men are mortal” (premiss) and “Socrates is a man” (case), then the deduced con-
clusion “Socrates is mortal” follows without fail. Induction, by contrast, tests the
law (premiss) by applying extant cases to it. Hence, if “Socrates is mortal” is a valid
conclusion and “Socrates is a man” a valid case, then the law “All men are mortal”
is valid by induction.
But—crucially—stating that something is the case is the only mode of reasoning
that is fallible, since it is invariably subject to further testing, wherein its validity
may or may not be borne out. Knowing that (1) all men are mortal and that
(2) Socrates is mortal does not prove that (3) Socrates is a man because Socrates
may turn out to be a horse or an inanimate object and not a man at all. We may
guess wrong despite the evidence, although as Peirce argued, we have a propensity
to guess right, otherwise we wouldn’t have survived as a species. Using Peirce’s
word in its verbal form, we all have the power to abduce the truth from (typically
scant) evidence. In this respect, Sherlock Holmes is only a superlatively talented
exemplar of homo abducans.
180 2 Meanings

All new knowledge, therefore, comes about exclusively through abduction,


which is the technical logical term synonymous with the more familiar “hypothe-
sis.” All advances in science begin as hypotheses (abductive inferences) that are
borne out upon (repeated) testing. Here is how Peirce put it to the audience of his
lectures on pragmatism at Harvard in 1903: “The surprising fact, C, is observed;
But if A were true, C would be a matter of course. Hence, there is reason to suspect
that A is true.” The verb “suspect” is particularly apt in the context of Holmes’s
powers of detection. This word describes the action of the educated guess. Equally
apt, accordingly, is the phrase “matter of course”. This is implicit in the opening
adjective of the factitious phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson.” QED.
Peirce was so great a thinker that no university could find a place for him during
his lifetime. He suffered terribly at the end, living on the charity of his friend
William James and taking morphine for the trigeminal neuralgia and cancer that
ultimately killed him. But just like Sherlock Holmes, who palliated his boredom
with violin-playing and cocaine, Peirce will live forever in history and in our
imagination as an icon of that uniquely human cognitive capacity, abduction, to
which he gave a name and Holmes embodied ne plus ultra.

2.63 The Mentality of a Neologism (game-changer)

Glossary
artifice, n.: an ingenious expedient, a clever stratagem; (chiefly in negative
sense) a manoeuvre or device intended to deceive, a trick
semantic, adj. < semantics, n.: the study dealing with the relations between
signs and what they refer to, the relations between the signs of a system,
and human behavior in reaction to signs including unconscious attitudes,
influences of social institutions, and epistemological and linguistic
assumptions

Since sometime in the early 1990s, two words have entered American English
vocabulary that are frequently heard and read in the media, as noted in the Oxford
English Dictionary Online, namely:
game-changer n. orig. U.S. (a) Sport a player who, or tactic, goal, etc., which decisively
affects the outcome of a game; (b) (in extended use) an event, idea, or procedure that
produces a significant shift in the current way of thinking about or doing something.
game-changing adj. orig. U.S. (a) Sport that decisively affects the outcome of a game;
(b) (in extended use) that produces a significant shift in the current way of doing or thinking
about something.

Now, there is nothing out of the ordinary about these two words in their meaning
as applied to sports, but the “extended use” warrants commentary because it betrays

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2.63 The Mentality of a Neologism (game-changer) 181

yet again the mentality of speakers of American English in particular, derived in


large part from the general English heritage of an attitude that regards everything as
either “a show” or “a game.” Sentences like “Let’s get the show on the road” or
“Who’s running the show?,” when no stage performance is literally involved and
the application of the word show is in a purely transferred sense, is a special feature
of English, hence not to be encountered in other languages. The same transference
applies to game, whereby everything is capable of being likened to play-acting or
artifice. Note, interestingly, that play and show are part of the same semantic
universe, denoting as they do some variety of staged event for entertainment that is
more properly to be observed in a theater, a stadium, or an arena than in real life.

2.64 The Supersession of Literal Meaning (Incredibly,


Unbelievably)

Glossary
athwart, prep.: in opposition to; contrary to
beggar, v.: to exhaust the resources of, go beyond, outdo
conduce, v.: to lead or tend especially with reference to a desirable result
figurative, adj.: transferred in sense from literal or plain to abstract or
hypothetical (as by the expression of one thing in terms of another with
which it can be regarded as analogous)
privative, adj.: a word denoting the negation of a quality otherwise inherent
semantic, adj. < semantics, n.: the study dealing with the relations between
signs and what they refer to, the relations between the signs of a system,
and human behavior in reaction to signs including unconscious attitudes,
influences of social institutions, and epistemological and linguistic
assumptions
supersession, n. < supersede, v.: supplant and make inferior by better or
more efficiently serving a function
trope. n.: a figure of speech using words in nonliteral ways, such as a
metaphor
troping, n. < trope, v.: create a trope [vide supra]
tropologically, adv. < tropological, adj. < tropology, n.: the use of tropes in
speech or writing
valorize, v.: place a value on; assign a value to

In contemporary American English parlance (but not only), the words incredibly
and unbelievably have all but replaced very, highly, and extremely as designations
of the ultimate degree of the adjective they qualify. The fact that the literal meaning
of the former—namely, ‘not susceptible of belief’—runs athwart the assertion of
182 2 Meanings

ultimate degree looms as a perverse semantic development: if something cannot be


believed or is not credible, how can it simultaneously be valorized as obtaining for
the adjective thus qualified?
The answer, of course, lies in the tendency of all languages to create new
meanings through troping, i.e., by subordinating or submerging the literal in the
transferred sense. Here the state of not being believable is given the figurative
meaning of ultimate degree. Ultimacy is to be interpreted, accordingly, as the state
of beggared belief. The ultimate degree of assertibility, in other words, lies in a
semantic space beyond believability, and it is only the tropologically established
convertibility between the two states—assertibility implying believability—that
conduces to the rise of the new counter-literal meaning of the two privative adverbs.

2.65 Twerk: An Etymology

Glossary
cognate, n.: (of languages) descended from the same original language; of the
same linguistic family; of words: coming naturally from the same root, or
representing the same original word, with differences due to subsequent
separate phonetic development
connote, v.: to signify in addition to its exact explicit meaning
etymology, n.: the origin and historical development of a linguistic form as
shown by determining its basic elements, earliest known use, and changes
in form and meaning, tracing its transmission from one language to
another, identifying its cognates in other languages, and reconstructing its
ancestral form where possible
icon, n.: A sign exhibiting a similarity relation to its object (meaning)
lascivious, adj.: tending to arouse sexual desire
portmanteau, n.: a word that is composed of parts of two words (such as
chortle from chuckle and snort), all of one word and part of another (such
as bookmobile from book and automobile), or two entire words and that is
characterized invariably in the latter case and frequently in the two former
cases by single occurrence of one or more sounds or letters that appear in
both the component words (such as motel from motor hotel, camporee
from camp and jamboree, aniseed from anise seed) (French)

In the twenty-first century generally, and more recently in particular, the verb twerk
(from which the dance called twerking is derived) has become widely known in
popular culture to denote ‘the rhythmic gyrating of the lower fleshy extremities in a
lascivious manner with the intent to elicit sexual arousal or laughter in ones [sic]
intended audience’ (Urban Dictionary). The Oxford English Dictionary defines it

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2.65 Twerk: An Etymology 183

as follows: ‘dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving


thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance’. And Dictionary.com, basing
itself on the OED, says:
twerk [twurk]
verb (used without object) Slang. to dance to hip-hop or pop music in a very sensual way
typically by thrusting or shaking the buttocks and hips while in a squatting or bent-over
position.
Origin: 1990–95, Americanism; probably alteration of work, as in “Work it”

There is no accepted etymology for the word, but here is a plausible hypothesis
that reposes on the form-meaning relations between the initial and final sequences
in twerk, on the one hand, and a synthetic meaning that can be assembled from the
generalized meanings of words that contain these sequences, on the other. Far from
being a portmanteau word (blend), therefore, twerk is what should be called a
synthetic icon. Here is the evidence.
The initial sequence tw–occurring in words like twist, twerp, twine, twig, twit,
twitter, and (N.B.) twat can be generalized to signify an icon of an additive meaning
consisting of the elements ‘contorted’, ‘thin or of limited extent’, and ‘awkward or
devalued’. The final sequence—rk that occurs in words like jerk, quirk, dork
(N. B.!), and snark can be analyzed as connoting something that is ‘egregious’,
‘marginal’, ‘outlandish’, and ‘rude or sarcastic’.
Twerk, accordingly, is a composite or synthetic product of these semantic ele-
ments as realized in a verb that particularizes the elements by applying them to a
specific kind of dance. This, then, is the most plausible etymology of the word.

2.66 Cultural Differences in the Reception of the Graeco-


Roman Patrimony

Glossary
admirative, adj.: characterized by or full of admiration; admiring
alas and alack: idiomatic phrase used to express regret or sadness
Anglophone, adj.: English-speaking
calque, n.: (= loan translation) a form of borrowing from one language to
another whereby the semantic components of a given term are literally
translated into their equivalents in the borrowing language. English
superman, for example, is a loan translation from German Übermensch
connotative, adj. < connotation, n.: the signifying in addition; inclusion
of something in the meaning of a word besides what it primarily denotes
demotic, adj.: of or relating to the people; common
emblematic, adj. < emblem, n.: a typical representative
184 2 Meanings

epistemological, adj. < epistemology, n.: the study of the method and grounds
of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity; broadly,
the theory of knowledge
epitomical, adj. < epitome, n.: a typical representation or ideal expression
hypostasis, n.: a reified abstraction
index, n.: something (such as a manner of speaking or acting or a distinctive
physical feature) in another person or thing that leads an observer to
surmise a particular fact or draw a particular conclusion patrimony, n.: an
inheritance from the past
pleophonic, adj.: (In the East Slavic languages) a type of vowel duplication
whereby the sequences -oro-, -olo-, and -ere- have developed from earlier
-ra-, -la-, -le-, and -re- occurring between consonants; the process of
development of this phenomenon
reception, n.: the action of receiving mentally; comprehension
reify, v.: regard (as an abstraction, a mental construction) as a thing: convert
mentally into something concrete or objective
root, n.: the simple element (as Latin sta) inferred as common to all the words
of a group in a language or in related languages
Russophone, adj.: Russian-speaking
semantic, adj. < semantics, n.: the study dealing with the relations between
signs and what they refer to, the relations between the signs of a system,
and human behavior in reaction to signs including unconscious attitudes,
influences of social institutions, and epistemological and linguistic
assumptions

Typically without realizing it, we speakers of English utilize utterly common


phrases that are calques from Latin and Greek. Nothing is more emblematic of this
phenomenon than the phrase common sense, whose origin (ca. 1525–35, according
to the OED) is Latin sēnsus commūnis, itself a translation of Greek koinḕ aísthēsis
(< Ancient Greek aἴrhηri1 ‘perception’ < a rhάmolai [aisthanomai ‘I per-
ceive’]). Among the modern European languages, this comes out as French sens
commun [or colloquial bon sens].
Here are some meanings of the phrase from current online dictionaries:
I. sound practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge,
training, or the like; normal native intelligence. (1) Perception from the
senses, feeling, hearing, seeing. (2) Perception by the intellect as well as the
senses. (3) That which is perceived: scent. (4) Ability to perceive: discern-
ment. (5) Cognition or moral discernment in ethical matters
II. (1) An ‘internal’ sense which was regarded as the common bond or centre of
the five senses, in which the various impressions received were reduced to
the unity of a common consciousness. Obs.. (2a) The endowment of natural
intelligence possessed by rational beings; ordinary, normal or average

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2.66 Cultural Differences in the Reception … 185

understanding; the plain wisdom which is everyone’s inheritance. (This is


‘common sense’ at its minimum, without which one is foolish or insane.).
(b) More emphatically: Good sound practical sense; combined tact and
readiness in dealing with the every-day affairs of life; general sagacity.
(3) The general sense, feeling, or judgement of mankind, or of a community.
(4) Philos. The faculty of primary truths; ‘the complement of those cogni-
tions or convictions which we receive from nature; which all men therefore
possess in common; and by which they test the truth of knowledge, and the
morality of actions’ (Hamilton Reid’s Wks. II. 756). Philosophy of Common
Sense: that philosophy which accepts as the ultimate criterion of truth the
primary cognitions or beliefs of mankind; e.g. in the theory of perception, the
universal belief in the existence of a material world. Applied to the Scottish
school which arose in the 18th c. in opposition to the views of Berkeley and
Hume.
III. (1) a sense believed to unite the sensations of all senses in a general sensation
or perception (2) good sound ordinary sense: good judgment or prudence in
estimating or managing affairs especially as free from emotional bias or
intellectual subtlety or as not dependent on special or technical knowl-
edge < too absurdly metaphysical for the ears of prudent common sense—
P. E. More > (3a) among Cartesians: something that is evident by the natural
light of reason and hence common to all men (b) (1): the intuitions that
according to the school of Scottish philosophy are common to all mankind
(2): the capacity for such intuitions (c) the unreflective opinions of ordinary
men: the ideas and conceptions natural to a man untrained in technical
philosophy—used especially in epistemology.
In Russian, by contrast, the phrase comes out as здpaвый cмыcл, where the
adjective corresponding to ‘common’ is здpaвый, whose primary meaning is
‘healthy’ (cf. the translation of L mens sana in corpore sano ‘a sound mind in a
sound body’ as здopoвый дyx в здopoвoм тeлe, where the demotic [pleophonic]
form of the root is utilized rather than the Church Slavonic form). What is inter-
esting here is the substitution of the word meaning ‘healthy’, moreover in its
Church Slavonic (= high style) hypostasis, for L commūnis ‘common’. Even
allowing for connotative nuances of the Russian word (not just ‘healthy’ but ‘ra-
tional’ and ‘sane’), there is a world of difference between the meanings ‘common’
(English and French) and ‘healthy’. English ‘common’ shades into connotations
that are hardly admirative, whereas Russian здpaвый never veers from its positive
semantic core.
One would think that the upshot for the difference between the English and the
Russian attitudes toward what constitutes something as basic in the cultural stock of
meanings as the phrase common sense could not be more epitomical, viz. ‘a sense
shared by the community’ versus ‘a sense that is healthy/sane’. Alas and alack, no
scrutiny of the modern history of the two nations—the Anglophone and the
Russophone—can sustain any argument that would be grounded in this linguistic
difference. So much for language as an index of virtue.
186 2 Meanings

2.67 Soundas an Icon of Sense (meld)

Glossary
affricate, adj., n.: a complex speech sound consisting of a stop consonant
followed by a fricative; for example, the initial sounds of child and joy
attenuate, v.: to lessen the amount, force, or value of
cognate, n.: (of languages) descended from the same original language; of the
same linguistic family; (of words) coming naturally from the same root, or
representing the same original word, with differences due to subsequent
separate phonetic development
constrict, v.: to draw together or render narrower (as a mouth, channel,
passage)
distinctive, adj.: serving or used to distinguish or discriminate (applied spec.
in linguistics to a phonetic feature that is capable of distinguishing one
meaning from another etymology, n.: the origin and historical develop-
ment of a linguistic form as shown by determining its basic elements,
earliest known use, and changes in form and meaning, tracing its trans-
mission from one language to another, identifying its cognates in other
languages, and reconstructing its ancestral form where possible
fricative, adj., n.: consonant, such as f or s in English, produced by the forcing
of breath through a constricted passage icon, n.: a sign exhibiting a
similarity relation to its object (meaning)
lax, adj.: of a speech sound: produced with the muscles involved in a rela-
tively relaxed state (the English vowels [i] and [u̇] in contrast with the
vowels [ē] and [ü] are lax)
marked, adj.: vide infra under markedness
markedness, n.: the evaluative superstructure of all semiotic (‘sign-theoretic’)
oppositions, as well as the theory of such a superstructure, characterized
in terms of the values ‘marked’ (conceptually restricted) and ‘unmarked’
(conceptually unrestricted)
nasal, adj., n.: articulated by lowering the soft palate so that air resonates in
the nasal cavities and passes out the nose, as in the pronunciation of the
consonants (m), (n), and (ng) or the nasalized vowel of French bon; a
nasal consonant
nota bene: mark or note well (Latin)
obstruent, n.: a sound, such as a stop, fricative, or affricate, that is produced
with complete blockage or at least partial constriction of the airflow
through the nose or mouth
onomatopoeia, n.: formation of words in imitation of natural sounds: the
naming of a thing or action by a more or less exact reproduction of the
sound associated with it (as buzz, hiss, bobwhite); the imitative or echoic

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2.67 Sound as an Icon of Sense (meld) 187

principle in language parallelism, n.: resemblance, correspondence, sim-


ilarity between two things or groups
Peirce: Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914), American logician and scientist
phonemically, adv. < phonemic, adj. < phoneme, n.: the smallest unit of
speech that distinguishes one utterance from another in all of the varia-
tions that it displays in the speech of a single person or particular dialect
as the result of modifying influences (as neighboring sounds and stress)
phonetically, adv. < phonetic, adj. < phonetics, n.: the system of sounds of a
particular language
plosive, adj., n.: of, relating to, or being a speech sound produced by complete
closure of the oral passage and subsequent release accompanied by a burst
of air, as in the sound [p] in pit or [d] in dog
protensity, n.: category of phonological distinctive features comprising the
acoustic opposition tense versus lax, defined by the longer (vs. reduced)
duration of the steady state portion of the sound, and its sharper defined
resonance regions in the spectrum
raison d’être: reason for being (French)
semeiotic, adj. < semeiotics, n.: the theory of signs, esp. that of C. S. Peirce
stop, n.: one of a set of speech sounds that is a plosive or a nasal
symbolism, n.: a system of symbols or representations
tense, adj.: of a speech sound: produced with the muscles involved in a
relatively tense state (the English vowels [ē] and [ü] in contrast with the
vowels [i] and [u̇] are tense)
truism, n.: an undoubted or self-evident truth; esp. one too obvious or
unimportant for mention
unmarked, adj.: vide supra under markedness
voicing, n.: the action or process of producing a speech or breath sound with
vibration of the vocal cords; the change of a sound from voiceless to
voiced

That words mean largely by convention is a well-established truism of language


analysis, attenuated only by the knowledge that there are such phenomena as ono-
matopoeia, among a range of sound-sense symbolisms/parallelisms. A more indirect
manifestation of the latter is contained in the final consonant d of the newish verb
meld in the meaning ‘merge, blend; to combine or incorporate’, whose first attes-
tation (according to various dictionaries) is dated to 1936. The original meaning was
quite other, viz. ‘announce’, as in cards; also ‘make known (by speech), reveal,
declare’, the etymology being Germanic (as e.g., in Old Frisian and Old English).
The origin of the new verb is explained as a blend between melt and weld.
What is interesting in this process is the appearanceof the sound d evidently
borrowed from weld. Why would this phonemically lax (erroneously characterized as
“voiced,” which it is phonetically) stop lend itself to the new meaning of the verb,
which can be generalized as ‘merging’, ‘fusing’, etc.? The answer resides in the
188 2 Meanings

semeiotic characterization of laxness in stops in languages, like English, which have


distinctive protensity in their obstruent system (unlike languages like Russian, for
instance, where voicing is distinctive rather than protensity). Thus d (the lax member
of the opposition) is to t (the tense member) as unmarked to marked. Markedness,
nota bene, is defined as the restriction of conceptual scope; hence the marked member
is always relatively more restricted conceptually than its unmarked counterpart. That
is exactly what we have in the new meaning of the verb meld, viz. unrestrictedness,
here concretized to mean indistinctness i.e., ‘merging’ or ‘fusing’. That is the raison
d’être for the sound d in meld, of which it is the icon of the verb’s new sense.

2.68 Ideology and Semantic Change (sex and gender)

Glossary
descry, v.: to spy out or come to see especially with watchful attention and
careful observation of the distant, uncertain, or obscure gainsay, v.: to
deny, speak against, contradict
individuate, v.: to give an individual character to; to distinguish from others
of the same kind; to individualize; to single out, to specify

The meanings of words are generally stable over time, but when a shift does occur it
can often be attributed to a change of ideology in the culture. This is the case for the
fading of the word sex as the traditional designation of the biological category and
its replacement by the word gender, which was once restricted to the field of
grammar.
The Oxford English Dictionary Online (OED) gives the following definition as
the primary one for the word sex:
“Either of the two main categories (male and female) into which humans and many other
living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive functions; (hence) the members
of these categories viewed as a group; the males or females of a particular species, esp. the
human race, considered collectively.” A secondary definition reads as follows: “Quality in
respect of being male or female, or an instance of this; the state or fact of belonging to a
particular sex; possession or membership of a sex.”

With regard to persons or animals, the entry supplies the following commentary:
“Since the 1960s increasingly replaced by gender … when the referent is human, perhaps
originally as a euphemism to distinguish this sense from … Physical contact between
individuals involving sexual stimulation; sexual activity or behaviour, spec. sexual inter-
course, copulation. to have sex (with): to engage in sexual intercourse (with). Now the most
common general sense. Sometimes, when denoting sexual activity other than conventional
heterosexual intercourse, preceded by modifying adjective, as gay, oral, phone sex, etc. …
The word sex tends now to refer to biological differences, while gender often refers to
cultural or social ones.”

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2.68 Ideology and Semantic Change (sex and gender) 189

It is both interesting and ideologically relevant to note that many foreign lan-
guages (and not just the European ones) have borrowed the English word sex in the
meaning “denoting sexual activity,” e.g., Russian ceкc (seks) and Japanese sekusu
(セクス).
With respect to the native English cultural development, there is no gainsaying
that the linguistic substitution of gender for sex serves to individuate the latter word
in its social sense as part of the pervasive sexualization (including that of children,
in the United States at least) so characteristic of modern culture all over the globe.
Insofar as a devaluation of the dignity of the individual human being can be
descried in this phenomenon, English as the language that first offered up its
linguistic expression can only be reckoned to bear full responsibility.

2.69 World View and Untranslatability (The Case of


Yiddish)

Glossary
by the bye: by the way; incidentally
connote, v.: to signify in addition to its exact explicit meaning
contiguity, n.: the state of being contiguous; intimate association or relation;
close proximity
couplet, n.: two successive lines of verse usually having some unity greater
than that of mere contiguity (as that provided by rhythmic correspon-
dence, rhyme, or the complete inclusion of a grammatically or rhetorically
independent utterance)
epistemological, adj. < epistemology, n.:the study of the method and grounds
of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity; broadly,
the theory of knowledge
excogitate, v.: to evolve, invent, or contrive in the mind
exemplar, n.: one that serves as a model or example
putative, adj.: commonly accepted or supposed; reputed
semantic, adj. < semantics, n.: the study dealing with the relations between
signs and what they refer to, the relations between the signs of a system,
and human behavior in reaction to signs including unconscious attitudes,
influences of social institutions, and epistemological and linguistic
assumptions
takeoff, n.: an imitation especially in the way of caricature
vocable, n.: a word considered only as a sequence of sounds or letters rather
than as a unit of meaning
190 2 Meanings

Because of the deep historical and cultural connectedness between world view and
language in traditional societies, it has often been pointed out by anthropologists
and linguists that words and phrases are not necessarily translatable from one
language into another. Yiddish stands as a well-known exemplar of this situation,
despite the steady penetration of Yiddish vocables into languages (like English or
Russian) whose speakers include sizable Jewish segments.
It has been remarked that for Jews—and not only those from the ghetto—life
consists of four elements, designated by the following Yiddish words (all derived
from Hebrew originals): tsores (‫‘ )צרה‬troubles’, nakhes (‫‘ )מכּה‬pleasure, especially
that of a parent from a child’, makes (‫‘ )מכות‬abcess; scourge, plague’, and yikhes
(‫‘ )ייִחוס‬descent, lineage, pedigree’. Of these, perhaps the most familiar one to
English speakers is tsores (also transliterated tsures and tsuris). But the translation
‘troubles’ cannot do justice to what the Yiddish word connotes in the Jewish world
view. Here is a piece of personal linguistic folklore that will illustrate this assertion.
A paternal distant cousin of the present author known in the family only as “Uncle
Misha” was routinely cited in the appropriate conversational context for his having
excogitated the humorous rhyming couplet (a takeoff on Cicero), “[Latin] O tempora
or mores/[Russian] O vremena, o tsores [O вpeмeнa, o цopec; see Sect. 1.27 above].
” The original has Cicero deploring the viciousness and corruption of his age, for
which the literal translation is ‘oh what times!, oh what customs!’
The use of the Yiddish word tsores in Uncle Misha’s version immediately shifts
the semantic dimension into the age-old experiential context of Eastern European
Jewry, a world utterly incompatible with that of ancient Rome. By the bye, this is
the same Uncle Misha who made an appearance at Sect. 2.6 above, namely the
picaresque personage who escaped death by firing squad in revolutionary Kiev,
immigrated to Paris, and lived there into his hundreds as a wealthy arms dealer.
Among his other (putative) witticisms was (in French) “Il y a une différance entre
air et courant d’air.”

2.70 Sinning Against Usage (Dead Last, but Flat Broke)

Idiomatic phrases and constructions are part of linguistic usage and as such not
amenable to alteration. A command of one’s own language includes the knowledge
of idioms. Violation of the idiomatic norms of a language is a sign of deficiency.
In a recent utterance attributed by the media to Hillary Clinton, Mrs. Clinton
mentioned that when she and Bill left the White House, they were “dead broke.”
American English does not have such a phrase, the idiom being “flat broke.” One can
be “dead drunk” and “dead last,” but not *dead broke (in linguistic notation the
asterisk signifies either an incorrect or a reconstructed—hence questionable—form).
How should one evaluate a sin against usage? In the case of a prominent
politician like Hillary Clinton (who actually writes remarkably well), one can
perhaps chalk the mistake up to the heat of the media moment. At the same time,
usage is a form of truth, since by its very fixity it is immutable. A violation of usage

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2.70 Sinning Against Usage (Dead Last, but Flat Broke) 191

—whatever the circumstances—is, therefore, a transgression against verity, i.e., a


sin against truth. Such a mistake, especially emanating from the mouth of a
politician, thereby speaks against their veracity.

2.71 Phrase, Not Term

Glossary
plurale tantum: a noun which is used only in plural form, or which is used
only in plural form in a particular sense or senses (Latin)

In contemporary media language, an increasingly frequent phenomenon is the


misapplication of the word term when what is meant is phrase. This was exem-
plified in full by a discussion on July 8, 2014 on the NPR program Morning Edition
that explored how Americans of a certain age wish to refer to themselves (as well as
hear themselves referred to). In assessing phrases like older adult and senior citizen,
the discussants mistakenly kept using the word term instead of phrase.
This error evidently derives from the mindless transference of the plurale tantum
terms—as in phrases like on good terms with, terms of an agreement, etc.—to the
designation of the singular term, where the latter, strictly speaking, consists of a
single word and not more than one. Lamentably, this error has now been legiti-
mated as standard usage in dictionaries, as reflected, for example, in the following
definition: ‘a word or group of words designating something, especially in a par-
ticular field, as atom in physics, quietism in theology, adze in carpentry, or district
leader [sic!] in politics’ (Dictionary.com).
The historical process exemplified by what started as an error needs to be taken
account of in describing the range of factors underlying linguistic change. All living
languages, wherever they are spoken, inevitably include examples that owe their
origins to failures of thought and other species of misinterpretation but become
canonized over time as correct by speakers who have either lost the feeling of their
erroneousness or been born at a stage of the language when the transition is largely
complete.

2.72 Barba non facit philosophum (The Power of


Proverbs)

Glossary
animadversion, n. < animadvert, v.: to comment critically (on, upon), to utter
criticism (usually of an adverse kind); to express censure or blame
192 2 Meanings

hirsute, adj.: of or pertaining to hair; of the nature of or consisting of hair


paronomastic, adj. < paronomasia, n.: a form of word play which suggests
two or more meanings, by exploiting multiple meanings of words, or of
similar-sounding words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect; pun
physiognomy, n.: a person’s facial features or expression (originally freq.
considered as indicative of the mind and character); the face, the coun-
tenance; also: the general cast of features or the facial type of a people,
group, etc.

All languages have a store of proverbs and similar sayings, Russian Japanese, and
English (my three “native” tongues) having numerically the greatest ones. These
formulaic utterances are commonly stored in the linguistic data banks of users, to be
recalled, sometimes silently, when the occasion prompts them. Their typically
paronomastic form (“A stitch in time saves nine”) enhances the thought encapsu-
lated in them and makes them easier to remember.
Thus it was last week, when the author attended the Charles S. Peirce
International Centennial Congress at the University of Massachusetts Lowell (cf.
the account by Spencer Case, “The Man With a Kink in His Brain,” www.
nationalreview.com, July 21, 2014), that the perfusion of bearded men among the
attendees caused the Latin proverb, “Barba non facit philosophum” (‘A beard does
not a philosopher make’), to insinuate itself into his brain during all four days of the
gathering. The story of the origin of this saying includes an animadversion not only
on the concerned individual’s facial hair but on his beggarly attire as well.
Needless to say, in this day and age when academics—let alone philosophers—
have succumbed to the general impulse to dress informally, the attendees of the
male persuasion in Lowell strove mightily, not only to explicate Peirce’s cast of
mind but to replicate his (hirsute) physiognomy. One can only wonder whether the
Latin proverb ever gave them pause.

2.73 Irrefragably!

Three earlier essays (at Sects. 1.7, 3.2, and 3.62) have focused on the ubiquity in
contemporary English of the adverb absolutely as an intensified version of the
simple affirmatives yes, of course, etc. This speech habit has reached such a degree
of pervasiveness as to constitute a verbal tic and a source of annoyance.
In order to counteract the tendency to absolutize affirmation in English, the author
wishes to offer herewith a worthy substitute, viz. irrefragably, pronounced not as
recommended in dictionaries with stress on the second syllable but with the more
natural stress on the third syllable, the stressed vowel being the same as in ragged.
The word is based on the adjective irrefragable, characterized as follows in the
Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary:

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2.73 Irrefragably! 193

irrefragable [i(r)ˈrefrəgəbəl] adjective (1) impossible to gainsay, deny, or refute


<irrefragable arguments> <irrefragable data> <these irrefragable authorities> (2) impos-
sible to break or alter: inviolable, indestructible <irrefragable rules> <an irrefragable
cement>—irrefragably [i(r)ˈrefrəgəblɪ]
Origin of IRREFRAGABLE Late Latin irrefragabilis, from Latin in- 1in- + refragari to
resist, oppose (from re- + -fragari—as in suffragari to vote for, support) + -abilis -able
First Known Use: 1533 (sense 1)

Readers are urged to try irrefragably on for size whenever the urge to say
absolutely comes over them.

2.74 A Semantico-Syntactic Portmanteau (Enjoy!)

Glossary
absolute, adj.: of a clause, construction, case, etc.: not syntactically dependent
on another part of the sentence; of a word: used without a (customary)
syntactic dependant; spec. (a) (of a transitive verb) used without an
expressed object; (b) (of an adjective or possessive pronoun) used alone
without a modified noun
adumbration, n. < adumbrate, v.: to suggest, indicate, or disclose partially
and with a purposeful avoidance of precision
complement, n.: one or more words joined to another to complete the sense
diagram, n.: an icon of relation
diagrammatize, v.: make (into) a diagram
(of) iconicity, n. < iconic, adj. < icon, n.: the conceived similarity or analogy
between the form of a sign (linguistic or otherwise) and its meaning
markedness, n.: the evaluative superstructure of all semiotic (‘sign-theoretic’)
oppositions, as well as the theory of such a superstructure, characterized
in terms of the values ‘marked’ (conceptually restricted) and ‘unmarked’
(conceptually unrestricted)
portmanteau, n.: a word that is composed of parts of two words (such as
chortle from chuckle and snort), all of one word and part of another (such
as bookmobile from book and automobile), or two entire words and that is
characterized invariably in the latter case and frequently in the two former
cases by single occurrence of one or more sounds or letters that appear in
both the component words (such as motel from motor hotel, camporee
from camp and jamboree, aniseed from anise seed) (French)
provenience, n.: origin
reflexive, adj.: of, relating to, or constituting an action (as in “the witness
perjured himself” or “I bethought myself”) that is directed back upon the
agent or the grammatical subject
194 2 Meanings

semantic, adj. < semantics, n.: the study dealing with the relations between
signs and what they refer to, the relations between the signs of a system, and
human behavior in reaction to signs including unconscious attitudes, influ-
ences of social institutions, and epistemological and linguistic assumptions
semeiotic, adj. < semeiosis, n.: the process of signification, sign action
synchrony, n. < synchronic, adj.: of or relating to the study of phenomena,
such as linguistic features, or of events of a particular time, without
reference to their historical context
teleological, adj. < teleology, n.: the doctrine or study of ends or final causes,
esp. as related to the evidences of design or purpose in nature; also transf.
such design as exhibited in natural objects or phenomena

Contemporary speakers of American English are used to hearing the imperative


Enjoy! uttered by waiters and waitresses upon presentation of the food ordered, but
they are doubtless unaware of the usage’s provenience (Russian via Yiddish, as
detailed at Sect. 2.8 above). Be that as it may, the lack of a complement—a direct
object or a reflexive pronoun
—after what is in standard English a transitive verb, is here to be explained as
what might be called a functional ambiguity. Not specifying a complement syn-
tactically allows BOTH the meaning of the direct object (it, i.e., the food) AND of
the reflexive (yourself) to be implied despite their absence. This useful semantic
portmanteau, of two meanings only by adumbration and not by the explicit presence
of either, is what accounts for the spread of Enjoy!
By way of explanation from the structural perspective provided by markedness
theory and its semeiotic understanding, the absolute (= intransitive) use of an
otherwise reflexive verb to denote a state can generally be seen as an instance of
iconicity: the reflexive-less form diagrammatizes the nonspecific (broadly defined
unmarked) meaning of the verb, whereas the form with the reflexive pronoun dia-
grammatizes a specific (narrowly defined, marked) meaning. Hence the change in the
syntactic properties of enjoy that allows for its absolute use is just a garden-variety
case of synchrony being the (cumulative) result of a teleological process.

2.75 Back-Formation and the Drift toward Linguistic


Hypertrophy in American English

Glossary
hypertrophy, n.: inordinate or pathological enlargement
morphologically, adv. < morphological, adj. < morphology, n.: the system or
the study of (linguistic) form

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Among different types of language change, American English has had a long
history of what has come to be called back-formation, that is “the creation of a new
word by removing an affix from an already existing word, as vacuum clean from
vacuum cleaner, or by removing what is mistakenly thought to be an affix, as pea
from the earlier English plural pease.” (American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed.). But
this reduction of words is now being counter-balanced by engorged versions, in line
with an opposite tendency, viz. toward hypertrophy, instanced here on several
previous occasions.
Besides the verb commentate (< commentator) instead of comment, we now often
have cohabitate (< cohabitation) instead of cohabit. This enlargement of the verb is
given impetus by the relative frequency of its morphologically affiliated noun. In the
case of cohabitate, ignorance of the normative verb is also doubtless a factor.
What may now seem like an isolated instance can be reevaluated as the instan-
tiation of what the pioneering American linguist Edward Sapir called “drift”—alias
the principle of final causation in language—and characterized as follows:
“Wherever the human mind has worked collectively and unconsciously, it has striven for
and attained unique form. The important point is that the evolution of form has a drift in one
direction, that it seeks poise, and that it rests, relatively speaking, when it has found this
poise.”

Present possibilities with greater or lesser powers of actualization exist at any


given historical stage of a language. Innovations that come to be full-fledged social
facts, i.e., changes, must have something about their form that enables them to
survive. The aggregate of such innovations-become-changes is what constitutes the
drift of a language. Items such as commentate and cohabitate are thus an early
manifestation of change in what can rightfully be reckoned a drift toward hyper-
trophy in American English.

2.76 The Frisson of Etymological Discovery

Glossary
etymology, n.: the origin and historical development of a linguistic form as
shown by determining its basic elements, earliest known use, and changes
in form and meaning, tracing its transmission from one language to
another, identifying its cognates in other languages, and reconstructing its
ancestral form where possible
Fennicist, n.: specialist in Finnish and Finno-Ugric philology
Finno-Ugric, adj.: of, relating to, characteristic of, or constituting the
Finno-Ugric languages
frisson, n.: an emotional thrill
196 2 Meanings

lexical, adj. < lexis, n.: the aggregate of a language’s words (vocabulary as
distinguished from grammar)
Ugric, adj.: of, relating to, or characteristic of the languages of the Ugrians
(an ethnological group including the Magyars [Hungarians] and related
peoples of western Siberia
unreflectively, adv. < unreflective, adj.: not reflective; unthinking, heedless

Every word has a history. But the history of most words in a speaker’s vocabulary
is obscured from view until discovered, often serendipitously and rarely by dint of
inquiry. For ordinary language use the etymology of a word need not be known to
speakers in order for them to have a command of the lexical stock of a language.
Words are tokens absorbed unreflectively in the process of acquiring a language’s
lexis, and whose meaning seems largely to have been established by convention
along with the habits of their proper usage.
Occasionally, however, even a professional linguist can experience the thrill of
etymological discovery. This is what happened to the author on January 31, 2015
while reading a history of music and learning that the word conservatory, which
now means a music school in all the European languages, goes back to the Italian
conservatorio and its original meaning ‘orphanage’ (= a hospital or school for
orphans and foundlings). It seems that orphans were “conserved” in institutions
that, besides giving them housing and sustenance, trained them in music so as to
enable them to make their way in the world when they left the orphanage.
For someone who loves language, the experience of learning the etymology of a
word for the first time is akin to hearing a passage of music performed with great
skill by a virtuoso. Closer to home, the linguistic experience akin to the musical one
can only be realized, for instance, by hearing the inexhaustibly rich explanations of
such an expert as the author’s lifelong friend, the great Finnish-American
Indo-Europeanist and Fennicist Raimo Anttila, whose knowledge of word origins
can only be called miraculous.

2.77 The Markedness of the Female Sex

Glossary
epicene, adj.: having but one form to indicate either male or female sex (such
as Latin bos “a bull, ox, or cow”)
marked, adj. < markedness, n.: the evaluative superstructure of all semiotic
(‘sign-theoretic’) oppositions, as well as the theory of such a super-
structure, characterized in terms of the values ‘marked’ (conceptually
restricted) and ‘unmarked’ (conceptually unrestricted)

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2.77 The Markedness of the Female Sex 197

Why do people (of all sexual orientations) speaking English persist in using the
syndetic phrase “gays and lesbians” when the epicene word gay alone would do for
both male and female homosexuals? As anyone who has read the author’s squib in
American Speech (65 [1990], 191–192) knows, the reason has to do with the
marked value of the female sex, as of the feminine gender. Since lesbian can only
pertain to females, whereas gay does service for both males and females, there is no
need to single out females unless males are explicitly being excluded from the
universe of discourse. That female homosexuals still require linguistic individuation
is strong evidence of the abiding marginal status of the feminine in an age that
strives for equality between the sexes.

2.78 Pluralia Tantum and Their Contemporary


Misconstrual

Glossary
morphology, n.: the structure, form, or variation in form (including formation,
change, and inflection) of a word or words in a language; the branch of
linguistics that deals with this pluralia tantum: nouns which are used only
in plural form, or which are used only in plural form in a particular sense
or senses (Latin)
semantic, adj. < semantics, n.: the study dealing with the relations between
signs and what they refer to, the relations between the signs of a system,
and human behavior in reaction to signs including unconscious attitudes,
influences of social institutions, and epistemological and linguistic
assumptions

In the European languages, including English, there are words which either appear
exclusively in the plural form or do so with particular meanings. Thus, for instance,
the Russian word чacы ‘clock/watch’ is a plurale tantum in the meaning of a
timepiece, the singular form being used to mean ‘hour’.
In English there is a long history of pluralia tantum such as qualifications, finals,
negotiations, etc., but in contemporary speech (especially American English, but
not only) these words are being misconstrued to mean things rather than activities
(the latter being their proper semantic category). Thus, the last match in a tennis
tournament is properly called “(the) finals,” NOT “the final,” but this normative and
traditional form is now routinely being replaced by the word in the singular.
Speakers who make this mistake evidently take the event to be a thing rather than
an activity, whence the change in morphology.
198 2 Meanings

2.79 The Vocative and Its Functions in Discourse

Glossary
conative, adj. < conation, n.: the conscious drive to perform apparently
volitional acts with or without knowledge of the origin of the drive
de rigueur: prescribed or required by fashion, etiquette, or custom especially
among sophisticated or informed persons
intercalate, v.: to insert between or among existing elements
phatic, adj.: of, relating to, or being speech used to share feelings or to establish
a mood of sociability rather than to communicate information or ideas

The traditional designation for the form of a noun when a member of this word
class is used not just to name but to address someone or something is “vocative.”
Together with the imperative of verbs, the vocative, strictly speaking, serves the
so-called conative function. Thus the Indo-European languages (but not only) have
to one or another extent maintained a vocative case and its concomitant separate
desinence (ending) in the paradigm devoted to this naming or addressing function,
although the overarching tendency in the history of these languages is for the
vocative to fall together with the nominative in form. In a language like Russian, for
instance, where the vocative overwhelmingly gave way to the nominative (except
for the recent resurgence of the so-called “new vocative”), the form of the noun
used for address is the same as the nominative, although Russian still has fossilized
instances of the old vocative in religious terms like Бoжe (for nom. Бoг ‘God’) and
Гocпoди (for nom. Гocпoдь ‘Lord’), which are now just part of common parlance
as exclamations rather than terms of address.
Like any other language, English has a vocative intercalated in discourse that is
identical in form with the nominative (subjective); moreover, as in all languages,
English vocatives serve the phatic and emotive functions over and above the
conative. A word like sir in military practice, for example, is a token of deference
and is de rigueur in speech whenever a person of higher rank is addressed. This sort
of practice can be called the “formulaic” use of the vocative, which also occurs in
other contexts, such as in advertising and marketing, where agents who are serving
customers or clients are encouraged to sprinkle their utterances with the addressees’
names (usually preceded by a term of deference such as “Mr.” or “Miss/Mrs./Ms.”).
A particular instance that is worthy of further study is the variable phatic and/or
emotive use of the vocative as a feature of an individual speaker’s predilections
when addressing an interlocutor. Speakers typically differ from each other in the
frequency with which they resort to naming their interlocutors as part of discourse.
Constant interspersion of one’s wife’s or husband’s name in addressing a spouse
may start as a sign of endearment but may also ultimately devolve into a verbal tic
devoid of emotive meaning and destructive of genuine affection. Similarly, the

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2.79 The Vocative and Its Functions in Discourse 199

same speech habit in addressing a customer or client can easily lead to annoyance
on the part of the addressee and subvert the very psychological affect that the utterer
is aiming to engender in order to further their mercantile goal.

2.80 Word Length and Emphasis (incredibly)

Glossary
hypertrophy, n.: inordinate or pathological enlargement
iconically, adv. < iconic, adj. < icon, n.: an image; a representation, specif-
ically, a sign related to its object by similarity

In the last decade or more speakers of American English have almost dropped using
the word very as a modifier for emphasis or intensification and have resorted to the
near-ubiquitous use of incredible/incredibly, in the face of the literal meaning of
this adjective/adverb (‘that which cannot be believed’). Quantitative increase is one
way of iconically signifying semantic force, just as elongating the stressed syllable
of any word (as of very itself) necessarily adds emphasis to it over and above the
normal length of the vowel.
Of course, the use of incredibly can also be classed as HYPERBOLE. This fits
one of the overarching themes of contemporary American usage namely
HYPERTROPHY as has been instanced many times in this book.

2.81 Ticastic so

Glossary
ticastic, adj. < tic, n.: a frequent usually unconscious quirk of behavior or
speech

In a preceding essay (at Sect. 4.6 above), the increasing presence of the particle so
at the beginning of discourses was analyzed and its presence ascribed to the jargon
of geeks and to Yiddish. In the last few years it has also become evident—at least in
contemporary American English—that so is not limited to the beginning of dis-
courses but actually has spread to a much more frequent status as the initiator of
utterances regardless of their position in discourse. Moreover, when so occurs at the
beginning of discourses it serves as a linking particle not only to preceding utter-
ances but even to linguistically yet unexpressed material that has formed in the
speaker’s mind as content that is relevant to the conversational context.
200 2 Meanings

Beyond this linking function, for some speakers so has evidently become a
verbal tic, to the point where such speakers cannot initiate almost any utterance—
particularly at the beginning of a discourse, but not only—without prefixing so.
This ticastic so is especially prevalent among young female speakers but is
becoming increasingly characteristic of their male counterparts as well—and not
just of geeks. Without rising (yet?) to the frequency of ticastic like (cf. Sect. 2.33),
this trait has even become a habitual feature of the speech of some pre-teenagers
and is growing apace.

2.82 Russian Patronymics

Glossary
affix, n.: a word element, such as a prefix or suffix, that can only occur
attached to a base, stem, or root
allegro, adj.: in a quick, lively tempo (Italian)
antepenult, n.: the third syllable of a word counting from the end; the syllable
preceding the next-to-last syllable (as cu in accumulate)
base, n.: a morpheme or morphemes regarded as a form to which affixes or
other bases may be added
elide, v.: to omit or slur over (a syllable, for example) in pronunciation
inflectional, adj. < inflection, n.: an alteration of the form of a word by the
addition of an affix, as in English dogs from dog, or by changing the form
of a base, as in English spoke from speak, that indicates grammatical
features such as number, person, mood, or tense
morpheme, n.: a meaningful linguistic unit consisting of a word, such as man,
or a word element, such as -ed in walked, that cannot be divided into
smaller meaningful parts
onomastic, adj. < onomastics, n.: the science or study of the origin and forms
of proper names of persons or places
patronymic, n.: a name derived from that of a father or male ancestor, esp. by
addition of an affix indicating such descent; a family name
suffix, n.: an affix [vide supra] added to the end of a word or stem, serving to
form a new word or functioning as an inflectional ending, such as -ness in
gentleness, -ing in walking, or -s in sits
ultima, n.: the last syllable

Although Russia is the biggest country in the world and has played a prominent role
in modern world history, few people have any first-hand knowledge of Russia or
the Russians, let alone of the Russian language. One of the special linguistic and
cultural features of the latter (which it shares with the other East Slavic languages)
is the obligatory use of an individual’s father’s name plus the suffix {ov/-ič} for

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2.82 Russian Patronymics 201

males and {ov/ič + -na} for females—called a patronymic (pronounced [ˌpætrə


ˈnɪmɪk])—as a middle name between one’s given name and surname. Every
Russian person has and uses all three names. This triad appears on all formal
documents, and the first two together (i.e., the forename and patronymic) are
routinely used in formal and semi-formal speech (minus the surname). In colloquial
speech the patronymic can be and is used alone as a substitute for the forename.
In Russian therefore, the author—whose father’s name was Constantine, i.e.,
Кoнcтaнтин in its Russian form—goes by Mиxaил Кoнcтaнтинoвич ‘Michael son
of Constantine’ with stress on the ultima in the forename and the antepenult in the
patronymic.
In allegro speech routinely and a few instances regularly for all styles, the
patronymic utilizes a contracted version of the father’s forename, so that, for
example, my daughter Abigail (‘father’s joy’ in Hebrew, as in reality) is called
Aвигeя Mиxaйлoвнa ‘Abigail daughter of Michael’. The name Mиxaил ‘Michael’
is unique as to vowel contraction because in fact the last vowel is elided before the
patronymic in formal speech as well, as it is in the patronymic, so that my name
comes out as Mиxaл Кoнcтиныч (note the dropping of the suffix {-ov-}), and his
daughter’s as Aвигeя Mиxaлнa.
The existence of this onomastic pattern in Russian turns out to be uniquely
useful as a cultural norm in ordinary discourse because if affords an intermediate
stylistic means for addressing persons with whom the use of the forename alone
would be ruled out because of familiarity and that of the surname preceded by a title
(like Mister or Professor) awkward because of its formality. Thus, for instance, a
student can avail him/herself of the forename + patronymic in addressing a pro-
fessor instead of resorting to the equivalent combination in the typical Western
European formal pattern.
As it happens, a particular irony of my forename and patronymic duple is the
fact that Mikhaíl Konstantínovich just happens to be the name historically of a
Grand Duke (Beликий Князь in Russian), i.e., a member of the Russian Imperial
family. You can be sure, therefore, that when I introduce myself for the first time to
a Russian speaker by saying my forename and patronymic, I never misses the
opportunity to add the phrase “like the Grand Duke.”

2.83 When Only Learnèd (Recondite, Recherché) Words


Will Do

Glossary
adumbrate, v.: to suggest, indicate, or disclose partially and with a purposeful
avoidance of precision apothegm, n.: a short, pithy, instructive saying; a
terse remark or aphorism
202 2 Meanings

interpretant, n.: a sign or set of signs that interprets another sign; the response
or reaction to a sign
Latinate, adj.: of, relating to, resembling, or derived from Latin
Peirce: Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914), American logician and scientist
recherché, adj.: rare, choice, exotic (French)
semiotically, adv. < semiotic, adj.: pertaining to elements of or any system of
signs, defined as anything capable of signifying an object (meaning)

Even if we adopt the translation theory of meaning, wherein every immediate object
(to use Peirce’s terminology) has an interpretation in terms of another immediate
object (meaning), there is one such “object” that escapes ultimate characterization:
the individual human being. This latter creature in its individuality can only be
captured linguistically by the use of two learnèd words and no other (in English, at
any rate) (1) haecceity defined as the status of being an individual or a particular
nature; otherwise individuality, specificity, thisness; specifically that which makes
something to be an ultimate reality different from any other; and (2) quiddity,
defined as the essential nature or ultimate form of something; what makes some-
thing to be the type of thing that it is.
These two Latinate words cannot be supplanted by any others from the rich
storehouse of native English vocabulary because only they capture what is semi-
otically true—and at the heart of Peirce’s apothegm (meant asexually), “Man is a
sign”—quite apart from such abstract defining characteristics of human personhood
as thought and consciousness. The haecceity (“thisness”) of any given human
person necessarily adumbrates a concomitant quiddity (“suchness”), and the two
jointly body forth a unique, unreplicable figura that underwrites all the interpretants
adumbrated thereby.
Only English, with its uniquely mottled Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman his-
tory, has the capacity to use learnèd vocabulary to such precise ontological effect.

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Chapter 3
Style

Abstract Style is explicitly taken to be a general cognitive category affecting all


levels of language, from phonetics (including intonation) through word choice,
syntax, and discourse structure. The lexicon of contemporary English in particular
provides many examples for analyses that span the entire spectrum of speech and
speaking, including even verbal tics. As elsewhere, gender differences—between
male and female speaking styles—are highlighted wherever relevant.

3.1 Form as Part of Content (ad Antimetabole et al.)

Glossary
antanaclasis, n.: the stylistic trope of repeating a single word, but with a
different meaning each time
antimetabole, n.: the repetition of words in successive clauses, but in transposed
grammatical order (e.g., “I know what I like, and I like what I know”)
chiasmus, n.: the figure of speech in which two or more clauses are related to
each other through a reversal of structures in order to make a larger point;
that is, the clauses display inverted parallelism
paronomasia, n.: a form of word play which suggests two or more meanings,
by exploiting multiple meanings of words, or of similar-sounding words,
for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect; pun
polyptoton, n.: the stylistic scheme in which words derived from the same
root are repeated (e.g. “strong” and “strength”)
trope, n.: figure of speech

Recent media interest in rhetorical figures (e.g., NPR’s program “On the Media,”
9/19/08) prompted by campaign speeches that exploit them has centered on an-
timetabole, which is (pace Janet Lapidos on Slate.com, 9/12/08) Lapidos, Janet a
species of chiasmus, defined as any structure in which the constituents are repeated

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017 203


M. Shapiro, The Speaking Self: Language Lore and English Usage,
Springer Texts in Education, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-51682-0_3
204 3 Style

in reverse, yielding the pattern ABBA. An oft-cited example of antimetabole is


Quintilian’s Non ut edam vivo, sed ut vivam edo “I do not live that I may eat, but eat
that I may live” (Institutio oratoria 9.3.85). This figure is related to such others in
the nomenclature as polyptoton and antanaclasis. What unites them, besides their
being patterned repetitions, is the master trope, PARONOMASIA, alias the PUN.
What puns in ordinary discourse do—like any paronomasia—is (inter alia) call
attention to themselves by exposing a formal resemblance (including complete
identity) that undergirds semantic difference. Paronomasia rises to loftier heights as
the stock in trade of poetic language. In the tradition of European verse, even rhyme
is a kind of paronomasia. What is important to understand in rhyme, moreover, is
the fact of its functioning to establish a semantic equivalence between
rhyme-fellows despite their difference in meaning. Any two words that rhyme are
ipso facto likened to each other in meaning by the very fact of their form as such. As
with all elements of poetic language, form thereby becomes a part of content.
This condition is important to understand in assaying the impact of rhetorical
figures like antimetabole. Beyond the simple fact of their calling attention to
themselves as formal entities (the so-called poetic function), they have the further
effect of calling the very fixity of meaning into question (what the Russian
Formalists termed ostranenie ‘making it strange’ and made the foundation of their
theory of modern aesthetics). Paronomastic figures like antimetabole tend to
undermine this fixity of meaning. Nowhere is this more potent than in the
unmasking of clichés or fixed phrases.
When politicians maunder about “change” while resorting to figures like an-
timetabole—presumably because the figure recalls other (and more illustrious)
politicians’ use of it (Roosevelt, Churchill)—there may be some half-conscious
sense on the speechwriters’ part that weakening the fixity of meaning in this way
lends rhetorical support to the message of “change.” Form thus enters content. But
there is also a cost to this rhetorical strategy, and it is not just that prominent use of
figures of speech tends to detract from the message by underscoring “rhetoric” at the
expense of “substance.” Rather, it is that focus on the message for its own sake (the
‘how,’ alias the poetic function) always tends to abrade the validity of the referential
function (the ‘what’) of the same message.
Form as part of content thus poses an epistemological danger, one which Plato
detected long ago when he called poets liars in the Republic.

3.2 Absolutely the All-Purpose Emphatic

Glossary
assertory, adj.: being or containing an assertion
intonational, adj. < intonation, n.: the use of changing pitch to convey syn-
tactic information
lexical, adj. < lexis, n.: the aggregate of a language’s words (vocabulary as
distinguished from grammar)

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3.2 Absolutely the All-Purpose Emphatic 205

overdetermination, n.: the idea that a single observed effect is determined by


multiple causes at once, any one of which alone would be enough to
account for the effect

In contemporary spoken Englishes all over the world—i.e., not just the British and
American variety of English, but the Canadian, Australian, Pakistani, South
African, etc.—the word absolutely, typically prefixed, occurs as an emphatic or
intensifier of the word it precedes, so that “He’ll absolutely do it” is uttered when
the speaker wishes to communicate a high level of assertory force. This absolutely
is also often heard as a retort instead of the simple affirmative “Yes,” even when the
most mundane request (e.g., “Please pull up Claudia’s voucher” directed at the staff
of a gym where a client is requesting that his trainer Claudia’s voucher be presented
for his signature so that she can be paid) should have elicited only something as
denatured as “Yes, certainly,” “Yes, of course,” etc. In fact, for younger adult
speakers one can even go so far as to say that “Yes” has practically been replaced by
“Absolutely” as the automatic affirmative response when nothing more emphatic is
meant than simple acquiescence.
The kind of aggrandizement of the force of an utterance conveyed by absolutely,
used to connote intensification, can be seen as a proxy for intonational emphasis,
although the word clearly does not exclude being uttered with emphatic intonation
when the situation calls for extra assertory force.
But the evaluation of the process described extends beyond the matter of the
emasculation of this particular word, beyond its contemporary slippage into the
inventory of simple affirmatives lacking emphatic force.
It is to be seen as yet another instance of a type of linguistic pathology—namely
grammatical hypertrophy—which is a failure of thought. This type of failure is
normally coextensive with the pleonasms, redundancies, and tautologies of all sorts
that are rapidly pervading the language without being recognized as such by their
users—in other words, VARIETIES OF OVERDETERMINATION BY REPETITION. However,
absolutely uttered without emphatic intonation as a lexical item of maximal
assertory force, utilized to signify mere agreement, should also be understood as an
OVERDETERMINATION. Here this category is exemplified by a word voided of its
lexical meaning and relegated to a mere token of discourse accompanying a
recurring speech act.

3.3 Androgyny and the Feminization of Male Speech

Glossary
assertory, adj.: being or containing an assertion
conjugate, adj.: joined together, especially in a pair or pairs; coupled
206 3 Style

quotative, adj.: for the purposes of quotation


self-fashioning, n.: the process of constructing one’s identity and public
persona according to a set of socially acceptable standards

That young people in America in the early twenty-first century are tending toward
an androgynous self-fashioning is beyond doubt, but a sub-category of this trend
should also be noted as it pertains to speech patterns. Young males (adolescents and
those in their twenties, in particular) are steadily adopting the language of the
female members of their cohort, in two salient and conjugate respects: (1) inter-
rogative intonation on subordinate clauses in declarative sentences; and (2) the
(non-quotative) use of the word like to the point of verbal tichood as a way of
defanging every assertory element in the sentence, from single words to whole
phrases.
Both of these discourse strategies originate in strictly female speech and have
now invaded that of young males. This detail of language use in contemporary
American English is further evidence of the fact that a person’s sex is less and less
determinative of their role and their behavior in the culture than is class.

3.4 At the End of the Day

Glossary
anapestic, adj, < anapest, n.: a metrical foot composed of two short syllables
followed by one long one, as in the word seventeen; a line of verse using
this meter
lax, adj.: Latin lenis ‘soft’, opposed to fortis ‘strong’ (vide infra under tense
vs. lax)
obstruent, n.: a sound, such as a stop, fricative, or affricate, that is produced
with complete blockage or at least partial constriction of the airflow
through the nose or mouth
prosody, n.: a particular system of versification; the metrical profile of a piece
of verse
quasi-paronomastic, adj. < paronomasia, n.: word play; punning): resem-
bling paronomasia
tense vs. lax: (acoustically) longer vs. reduced duration of the steady state
portion of the sound, and its sharper defined resonance regions of the
spectrum; (genetically) a deliberate vs. rapid execution of the required
gesture resulting in a lastingly stationary articulation

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3.4 At the End of the Day 207

In an interview aired on the BBC World Service (June 24, 2009), English wife of
the pastor of a church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, was heard to utter the fatuously
silly phrase “at the end of the day” no fewer than four times in the span of under
forty seconds. She could easily have substituted synonymous phrases like “in the
end,” “in the final analysis,” or “ultimately” and avoided needless repetition.
Aside from its presumed formulaic usefulness, there must be some reason why
speakers cling so tenaciously to “at the end of the day” despite its rebarbativeness.
(It has even been lampooned in cartoons.) If one resorts to the tried-and-true
explanation that sound often trumps sense in such formulas of English, then there
are two features that call for attention. First, there is the anapestic prosody of the
bipartite structure: “at the énd” plus “of the dáy.” Second, there is the quasi-
paronomastic recurrence of the lax obstruent [d] in the words (end, day) that bear
the main stress. For all that, one can only wish that it would go away like all
doggerel.

3.5 Catachresis

Glossary
pendant: a supplement or consequence (French)

As a pendant to the last post (“Imperfect Learning”), this one will emphasize the
failure of thought involved in the error called CATACHRESIS, a term usually reserved
for rhetoric rather than grammar. Thus the one-volume American Heritage
Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed., 2006) gives an abbreviated definition,
as follows: (1) The misapplication of a word or phrase, as the use of blatant to mean
“flagrant.” (2) The use of a strained figure of speech, such as a mixed metaphor.
A much more informative definition is displayed in that nonpareil multivolume
lexicographic source, The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia (vol. 1, p. 853):

1. In rhet.: (a) A figure by which a word is used to designate an object, idea, or act to
which it can be applied only by an exceptional or undue extension of its proper sphere
of meaning: as, to stone (pelt) a person with bricks; a palatable tone; to display one’s
horsemanship in riding a mule; to drink from a horn of ivory. Catachresis differs from
metaphor in that it does not replace one word with another properly belonging to a
different act or object, but extends the use of a word in order to apply it to something for
which the language supplies no separate word. (b) A violent or inconsistent metaphor:
as, to bend the knee of one’s heart; to take arms against a sea of troubles. (c) In general,
a violent or forced use of a word—In philol., the employment of a word under a false
form through misapprehension in regard to its origin: thus, causeway and crawfish
or crayfish have their forms by catachresis [emphasis added].
208 3 Style

It is this last definition that characterizes a grammatical error in the strict sense.
Two such flagrant mistakes that can be heard constantly are the misuse of the phrase
“beg the question” (cf. petitio principii, i.e., circular reasoning, circular argument,
begging the question; in general, the fallacy of assuming as a premiss a statement
which has the same meaning as the conclusion.), when the speaker wishes simply to
say “raise the question;” and “vicious cycle” for “vicious circle” (circulus vitiōsus,
i.e., a circular or flawed argument).

3.6 Fatuity and the Phatic

Glossary
aporetic, adj. < aporia, n., a figure of speech in which the speaker expresses
or purports to be in doubt about a question; an insoluble contradiction or
paradox in a text’s meanings
ex parte: from or on one side only, with the other side absent or unrepresented
(Latin)
fatuity, n.: smug stupidity; utter foolishness; something that is utterly stupid
or silly
phatic, adj.: vide infra

If one is a regular listener to NPR News and the BBC World Service, for all the
Americanization of the British source one is still struck by the differences in the
way that the readers/hosts/presenters on the BBC deal linguistically with reporters
by way of their closing acknowledgement of the latter’s reports. Unlike their
American counterparts, who trip all over themselves to thank each other, the BBC
hosts either say nothing or limit themselves to repeating the name and location of
the reporter, occasionally thanking them ex parte (i.e. without waiting for or
expecting a response). This is as it should be. After all, courtesy is totally out of
place in such exchanges. The reporters are only doing their job, and thanks are not
in order. This utterly fatuous misemployment of the phatic function is tantamount to
a worker on an assembly line thanking a fellow-worker for passing along an item.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
(2006) defines PHATIC as “Of, relating to, or being speech used to share feelings or
to establish a mood of sociability rather than to communicate information or ideas.”
The habit of NPR on-the-air personnel’s exchanging the phatic tokens “Thanks,”
“You’re welcome,” “My pleasure,” etc. is a kind of linguistic perversion of the
speakers’ statuses and roles. This kind of aporetic speech reaches grotesque pro-
portions when, for instance—as was heard recently—an NPR reporter is thanked by
the host for a report on the death of victims of a mass murder and responds “My
pleasure.”

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3.7 Fatuous Bookishness (“That Said,” etc.) 209

3.7 Fatuous Bookishness (“That said,” etc.)

Glossary
fatuous, adj.: foolish, pretentious, and silly, especially in a smug or
self-satisfied way

With the global rise of literacy and the spread of mass communication in the
modern period has come the well-known phenomenon of what might be called the
“bookification” of spoken language. What is meant by this is the migration of
bookish expressions from the written domicile they previously inhabited exclu-
sively into the sphere of spoken language.
In American English a relatively recent example of this phenomenon is the
penetration into public speech of the written-language expressions “that (being)
said” and “having said that” as sentence-introductory clauses. Instead of sticking
with the tried-and-true, stylistically neutral “nevertheless,” “all the same,” and “at
the same time” to qualify what they had just said, persons who speak publicly (but
not only) frequently resort to these rebarbative expressions involving the past
passive participle “said” in what can be evaluated as an unconscious (?) bid to
sound more authoritative or well-informed. This is yet another instance of the
widespread and powerful influence of media language on changes in the stylistic
norms defining the boundaries between written and oral speech. The cumulative
result of such changes is a general growth in the pretentiousness and fatuousness of
spoken discourse—evaluated, moreover, as being stylistically neutral—where
plain-spokenness would have been normative heretofore. Ultimately, such changes
can only serve to undermine the truth-seeking impulse of the human animal in its
linguistic aspect.

3.8 Geekish so Aggrandized

Glossary
Geekish, n.: the jargon of geeks (nonce word)
hypocoristic, adj.: endearing; belong to affective vocabulary
phatic, adj.: of, relating to, or being speech used to share feelings or to
establish a mood of sociability rather than to communicate information or
ideas
210 3 Style

The emergence of discourse-introductory so in the speech of computer geeks


(dubbed Geekish) will be noted in a syntactic essay (Chap. 4), but closer attention to
the language of adolescents and college students also prompts a stylistic exploration
of the topic in a wider context.
The emotive connotation of an utterance can be signaled by a number of means,
most prominent among which are intonation and affective (particularly,
hypocoristic) vocabulary. Discourse strategies can also subserve what is at bottom
an emotive aim, viz. predisposing one’s interlocutor to regard favorably—or, at
least, to postpone judgment on—whatever is being asserted. In this respect the
opening gambit can set the tone, including establishing a channel of communication
(i.e., the so-called PHATIC function of speech).
This is where discourse-introductory so comes in.
The widespread, practically obligatory use of the word so to open a discourse or
join one, particularly (but not only) in the language of the younger generation of
present-day American English speakers goes beyond the phatic function, however.
In a culture which prizes the establishment and maintenance of anodyne relations in
order to promote stylistic solidarity between its members at all costs, an annex has
been built into adjoin the phatic, which can only be regarded as APOTROPAIC.

3.9 Gratias otiosae sunt odiosae

Glossary
gratias otiosae sunt odiosae: ‘otiose thanks are odious’ (Latin)
odious, adj.: arousing or meriting strong dislike, aversion, or intense
displeasure
otiose, adj.: having no practical function; redundant; superfluous

The contemporary practice in American English, particularly in media interviews,


of responding to “Thanks” or “Thank you” with the identical word(s) instead of
“You’re welcome,” “Don’t mention it,” “Not at all,” etc. is both otiose and odious.
It amounts to insinuating the idea that the recipient of thanks is (and must be!) every
bit as or more thankful than the interlocutor who first uttered the word; and that,
moreover, the simple acknowledgement connoted by the traditional “You’re wel-
come” is somehow both insufficient and possibly even supercilious.
The traditional license granted “Thank yóu”—i.e., with an emphatic stress on the
pronoun—as an appropriate response when the recipient does indeed feel impelled to
express greater gratitude than what actuated the original utterer’s expression of thanks
is in the process of ceding its currency to a general linguistic tendency that aligns itself
with the general American cultural attitude which tends to blur both grammatical and
social hierarchies, heedless of its distortive effect on language and mores.

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3.10 Heterolingual Interpolations (Latin Phrases) 211

3.10 Heterolingual Interpolations (Latin Phrases)

Glossary
déformation professionnelle: a tendency to look at things from the point of
view of one’s own profession rather than from a broader perspective
(French)
heterolingual, adj.: of or relating to the use of different languages within one
utterance or discourse
paroemic, adj. < paroemia, n.: a proverb or adage; aphorism
réplique, n.: a reply or response (French)

In the course of a conversation in Russian a father says to his adolescent son, “Feci
quod potui, faciant meliora potentes,” meaning ‘I have done what I could; let those
who can do better’, which derives from a formula uttered by retiring Roman consuls
as they transferred the powers of office to their successors. Now, the son has only a
smattering of Latin, but having heard this phrase from his father many times before
comprehends the sense.
Knowing the father’s biography, which included many years of compulsory
Latin instruction in high school and three years’ study of jurisprudence at Moscow
University before the Revolution, one might suspect a kind of déformation pro-
fessionnelle. This would be incorrect, however. In the pre-Revolutionary Russian
milieu serving as the backdrop for this conversation, it was not unusual for educated
persons to sprinkle their native speech with Latin phrases. Here, for instance, is part
of a réplique by the schoolmaster Kulygin in Act I of Chekhov’s Three Sisters:
Kulygin: [To IRINA] In this book you will find a list of all those who have taken the full
course at our High School during these fifty years. Feci quod potui, faciant meliora
potentes. [Кyлыгин: (Иpинe.) B этoй книжкe ты нaйдeшь cпиcoк вcex кoнчившиx кypc
в нaшeй гимнaзии зa эти пятьдecят лeт. Feci quod potui, faciant meliora potentes.]

The presumption here is that Irina understands Kulygin’s recourse to Latin. This
is not an isolated occurrence. For instance, Konstantin Stanislavskii, the famous
Russian actor and stage director, uses exactly this phrase in a neutral context in his
widely-read memoirs, My Life in Art [Moя жизнь в иcкyccтвe] (1st ed., 1926).
This interpolation of Latin material in an otherwise straightforward Russian
discourse is clearly a cultural feature of Russian speech. It mimics and continues the
pan-European practice of quoting Latin locutions in order to give one’s utterances a
special punch, not necessarily connected with the aim of parading one’s erudition.
In this respect, modern Russian resembles older forms of English learned discourse
that have largely become extinct. There can even be an interesting interplay in
Russian between Latin and Church Slavonic (the liturgical language of Eastern
Slavic Orthodoxy), for example with reference to the Latin phrase vox clamantis in
212 3 Style

deserto ‘a voice crying in the wilderness’, which derives from Isaiah 40.3 (“A voice
cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.’”) via John 1:23 (“He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying
out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,”’ as the prophet Isaiah
said.”). The Church Slavonic version is glas vopiiuscshego v pustyne (глac
вoпиющeгo в пycтынe). The latter is much more frequent today, but someone
speaking Russian can also recur to the Latin for extra paroemic force.

3.11 Imperfect Learning

Glossary
errare humanum est: ‘to err is human’ (Latin)
lingua franca: a medium of communication between peoples of different
languages
(< Italian ‘Frankish [i.e., European] language’)
postposition, n.: a word or element placed postpositionally, as a preposition
placed after its object
tout court: ‘simply, briefly; just so’ (< French)

Unlike the genetic code, language is a learned, not an inherited code, and in this
arena of human activity as in all other human endeavor, errare humanum est. Error,
moreover, is exclusively within the human realm, having no direct counterpart in
nature despite having a natural history. Part of that history when it comes to
language, as with all social codes, is IMPERFECT LEARNING.
Children routinely make mistakes when learning their native language, and the
degree to which their mistakes are rooted out by parents and other adults (and older
children) in part determines the lineaments of linguistic change. Adult native
speakers with the requisite amount of education can be reckoned to have a more or
less complete command of their language, the range of completeness varying with
factors such as book or technical knowledge, by which syntax and, particularly,
vocabulary can continue to be expanded over the span of one’s entire life.
But even adult speakers make mistakes that are the product of imperfect
learning. This is evident to anyone who makes a special point of observing how
people speak (and write).
The opportunity to observe imperfect learning has been considerably expanded by
modern media. One hears many voices on the radio using English either as a native
language or a lingua franca, and one need not listen long before hearing a mistake.
Frank Deford, whose commentaries on sports are heard weekly on National
Public Radio, is described as a writer with many books and essays to his credit.
Nevertheless, in commenting on college football (“Morning Edition,” KPCC 89.3,
Pasadena, 1/7/09) he uttered the solecism “strange duck” instead of “odd duck;”

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3.11 Imperfect Learning 213

odd is apt here not simply because it is the traditional epithet but because of the
repeated [d] that led to these two words being juxtaposed in the set phrase odd
duck). One cannot blithely ascribe this error to a writer’s penchant for creative
idiosyncrasy: it’s a mistake tout court.
Foreigners who resort to English as a lingua franca, no matter how fluent, are
especially prone to mistakes that arise from imperfect learning. Thus the Israeli
novelist Amos Oz, whose thick accent belies a near-perfect command of English
syntax and vocabulary, when interviewed on National Public Radio (“Morning
Edition,” KPCC 89.3, Pasadena, Jan. 7, 2009) used the solecism “uprise” (obvi-
ously but nonetheless erroneously back-formed from the noun uprising) as if it were
a verb of English. Such instances of imperfect learning can even encompass the
most hackneyed items: Mr. Oz also changed at the end of the day to “in the end of
the day.” Interestingly, he closed his side of the interview by demonstrating a tacit
solidarity with contemporary American English grammar by uttering the erroneous
“Thanks for having me,” i.e., omitting the postposition on—a linguistic phe-
nomenon that has reached near ubiquity in the cloyingly unctuous etiquette of radio
interviewers and interviewees.

3.12 In a Shambles

Glossary
catachresis, n.: the misapplication of a word or phrase; the use of a strained
figure of
speech, such as a mixed metaphor

The investor Warren Buffett is famous for his financial acumen, but this astuteness
does not seem to extend to his command of English phraseology. In this respect, his
omission of the indefinite article from the phrase in a shambles repeats a ubiquitous
error, as in the following excerpt from Mr. Buffet’s recent letter to his company’s
shareholders:
We’re certain, for example, that the economy will be in shambles throughout 2009 –and,
for that matter, probably well beyond – but that conclusion does not tell us whether the
stock market will rise or fall [emphasis added]. Warren E. Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway
Inc.: Shareholder Letters, 2008 (2/27/09, p. 4).

It is instructive to be made aware of the origin of the phrase in question. Here is


the relevant entry in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
(4th ed., 2006):
shambles
pl. n. (used with a sing. verb)
214 3 Style

1.
a. A scene or condition of complete disorder or ruin: “The economy was in
a shambles” (W. Bruce Lincoln).
b. Great clutter or jumble; a total mess: made dinner and left the kitchen a
shambles.
2.
a. A place or scene of bloodshed or carnage.
b. A scene or condition of great devastation.
3. A slaughterhouse.
4. Archaic A meat market or butcher shop.
[From Middle English shamel, shambil, place where meat is butchered and sold, from Old
English sceamol, table, from Latin scabillum, scamillum, diminutive of scamnum, bench,
stool.]

Word History: A place or situation referred to as a shambles is usually a mess, but it is no


longer always the bloody mess it once was. The history of the word begins innocently
enough with the Latin word scamnum, “a stool or bench serving as a seat, step, or support
for the feet, for example.” The diminutive scamillum, “low stool,” was borrowed by
speakers of Old English as sceamol, “stool, bench, table.” Old English sceamol became
Middle English shamel, which developed the specific sense in the singular and plural of “a
place where meat is butchered and sold.” The Middle English compound shamelhouse
meant “slaughterhouse,” a sense that the plural shambles developed (first recorded in 1548)
along with the figurative sense “a place or scene of bloodshed” (first recorded in 1593).
Our current, more generalized meaning, “a scene or condition of disorder,” is first
recorded in 1926 [emphasis added].

Considering the existence of phrases like in disarray and in decline—NB the


abstract substantives!—it is clear that the myriad speakers (and writers) who drop
the article from in a shambles are simply allowing the analogy of such phrases to
hold sway over the entire class of phrases denoting the condition, including ones
involving the figurative use of a concrete substantive where the indefinite article is
de rigueur. But the innovation remains an error nonetheless. Catachresis? Yes.
Imperfect learning? Yes, of course.

3.13 Just Plain Folks

Glossary
forma mentis: form of mind; mental framework (Latin)
idiolect, n.: the speech of an individual, considered as a linguistic pattern
unique among speakers of his or her language or dialect

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3.13 Just Plain Folks 215

The word folks in American usage has an established stylistic value, namely that of
informality or endearment vis-à-vis its neutral synonym people. Speakers in certain
regions may prefer to use folks rather than people to such an extent that the former
word becomes neutral in their variety of American English, and the latter formal.
But for most speakers of standard American English folks remains an informal
counterpart to people. Whatever the regional backdrop of an individual’s idiolect,
however, it is a miscarriage of the stylistic force of folks to use it with reference to
malefactors, terrorists, and generally to evildoers of all stripes. Such usage, when it
occurs—and is not ironic—can only be evaluated as perverse. But this perversion is
also perforce a sign of the mind set of a speaker who utters the word with such a
referent. To denote evildoers as folks is to extend a term of endearment to those
who, far from being endearing, are incontrovertibly repellent morally.
But that is precisely what President Barack Obama does, as recorded in the
following interview:
KATIE COURIC: Have you ruled out trying confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh
Muhammad in New York City?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I have not ruled it out, but I think it’s important for us to take into
account the practical, logistical issues involved. I mean, if you’ve got a city that is saying
no, and a police department that’s saying no, and a mayor that’s saying no, that makes it
difficult. But I think that the most important thing for the public to understand is we’re not
handling any of these cases any different than the Bush Administration handled them all
through 9/11.
They prosecuted the 190 folks in these Article III courts. Got convictions. And those folks
are in maximum security prisons right now. And there have been no escapes. And it is a
virtue of our system that we should be proud of. Now, what I’ve also said is that, you know,
it’s important for us to recognize that when we’re dealing with Al Qaeda operatives, that
they may have national security intelligence that we need.
And it’s important to make sure that the processes and procedures we approach with
respect to these folks are not identical to the ones that we would use if we’re appre-
hending the local drug dealer. And that’s why we’ve put in place some very particular
ways of dealing with these issues that ensure our security, but also still uphold our due
process.
KATIE COURIC: Are you talking about reading them the Miranda rights? Their Miranda
rights? In other words, like Abdul Matallab, who was read his Miranda rights? A lot of
people are very upset about that. Because he was giving information to the F.B.I. Then his
rights were read to him, and he clammed up.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, that’s actually not what happened. What happened was he
clammed up, and after we had obtained actionable intelligence from him, that’s when the
F.B.I. folks on the ground then read him his Miranda rights. But keep in mind, Richard
Reid was read his Miranda rights five minutes after he was arrested, under the previous
Administration. Some of the same critics of our approach have been employing this policy
for years.
KATIE COURIC: Chris from Falls Church, Virginia writes, “Mr. President, I lost my house
two years ago and I’ve been out of work for a year. Can the Federal Government really
216 3 Style

stimulate the economy enough to start creating new jobs any time soon?” Without getting
into too much policy speak, what would you say to Chris?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I’d say to Chris—I know how tough it’s been. I’d say that we are
seeing the corner turn on the economy growing again. Last year, at this time, the economy
had contracted, had shrunk by six percent. We know now that last quarter it had grown by
six percent. That’s a good sign that companies are starting to pick up hiring again, because
they see the opportunities to go out there and make money.
It’s not happening as fast as we’d like. And that’s why there’s still some things we can do in
terms of tax credits for small businesses. Taking some of that TARP money that’s been
repaid and giving it to community banks, so that they can lend it to small businesses.
Giving job credits to small businesses for hiring. Potentially, a million small businesses out
there could get $5,000 for each employee they hire this year. All those things, I think, are
moving us in the right direction. And my hope is, is that [note the reduplicative copula!]
for folks who are unemployed, they’re gonna start seeing concrete improvement in their
own lives in the next few months.” (Lynn Sweet, “Katie Couric Super Bowl Obama
Interview,” Chicago Sun Times, February 7, 2010)

Given the instances highlighted above (in boldface italics), one can only adjudge
President Obama’s use of the word, when referring to terrorists and drug dealers, to
be at complete variance with its ordinary stylistic value. Like all linguistic aber-
rations, his idiosyncratic usage must be seen as reflecting an aberrant forma mentis.
This is the only interpretation one can come to in the presence of the blithe
equalization of malefactors with morally neutral referents (F.B.I. agents and the
unemployed).

3.14 Let Me Be Clear

Glossary
fatuous, adj.: foolish, pretentious, and silly, especially in a smug or
self-satisfied way
otiosity, n. < otiose, adj.: having no practical function; redundant;
superfluous

The utterly fatuous phrase let me be clear, favored especially by speciously artic-
ulate politicians like Barack Obama, is bleated constantly these days. Naturally,
nothing that follows this phrase is necessarily clearer than what came before, so its
complete otiosity is like a linguistic poke in the eye of those who are forced to hear
it. Hopefully, it will soon have run its course as another token of insincerity and be
dumped on the scrap heap of history.

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3.15 No(t a) Problem 217

3.15 No(t a) Problem

Glossary
calque, v. < calque (= loan translation), n.: a form of borrowing from one
language to another whereby the semantic components of a given term are
literally translated into their equivalents in the borrowing language.
English superman, for example, is a loan translation from German
Übermensch
equipossible, adj.: what can occur equally in a probability experiment
réplique, n.: a reply or response (French)
tout court: and nothing else; simply; just (French)
trebuchet, n.: a medieval catapult for hurling heavy stones (French)
viva voce: orally rather than in writing (Latin)

The contemporary response to a request, not a problem or no problem, has spread


from American English to all of the European languages, e.g., German kein
Problem, French pas de problème(s), (Serbo-)Croatian nema problema, Bulgarian
нямa пpoблeм, Russian нeт пpoблeм, etc. Note, however, that the word “problem”
is calqued in the plural rather than the source language’s singular.
As they say in Russian, Cпpaшивaeтcя ‘[literally] it is asked’, or Why? More to
the point, why do people habitually resort to this mindless formula? Apropos, here’s
a bit of text from an exchange between a customer and a waitress (native speaker of
American English, ca. 25 years old):
WAITRESS: “Would you like to see a dessert list?”
CUSTOMER: “Actually, I’d just like a double decaf espresso.”
WAITRESS: “Not a problem.”

Now, such a quotidian exchange might need no interpretation, being utterly


straightforward. But the question arises nonetheless, why the waitress didn’t just
say “Certainly, sir,” or “Of course,” or “Right away.” Why just “Not a problem?”
A literalist approach might make one surmise that the waitress actually wanted to
convey the idea that, whereas some restaurants had no espresso machine, hers did,
hence making a demitasse of double decaf espresso would not constitute a problem.
But this would be tantamount to clobbering linguistic gnats with a psychological
trebuchet. Her réplique was, after all, just a mindlessly spontaneous resort to a
token of language use tout court, a cliché and nothing more. But this description is
too facile, for the following reason.
Every utterance involves a choice by the speaking self from among a repertoire
of contextually equipossible variant words or expressions signifying the same
general meaning, and the range of possibility includes inventories of clichés as well.
The waitress made a choice, which means that she privileged an expression token
involving the word problem rather than the alternatives. The upshot is the
218 3 Style

involvement of an IMPLICIT HIERARCHY, where rank relations among possible variants


always imply the presence of VALUE STYLE as a necessary frame for all uses of
language, no matter how humble or mundane.
[ADDENDUM: The redoubtable Patrick Honan (of Dorset, Vermont) points out
(viva voce) that “no problem” is commonly used nowadays instead of “you’re
welcome” as a retort to “Thanks.” One could, of course, construe this usage as a
shorthand for “Whatever you’re thanking me for was not a problem (for me).”]

3.16 On the Ground, Boots and All

Glossary
alliteration, n.: the repetition of the same sounds or of the same kinds of
sounds at the beginning of words or in stressed syllables
anacrusis, n.: one or more unstressed syllables at the beginning of a line of
verse, before the reckoning of the normal meter begins
anapestic, adj. < anapest, n.: a metrical foot consisting of two short or
unstressed syllables followed by one long or stressed syllable

The rebarbative and utterly supererogatory phrase, on the ground, bleated by all and
sundry in current media speech, preceded or not by the word boots in military
contexts, may owe its popularity to metrical structure, namely its anapestic stress
(with boots serving as an anacrusis when prefixed). (Cf. at the end of the day.)
This shows yet again the persistent recurrence in English to poetic devices
willy-nilly, heedless of the doggerelesque imprint features like alliteration, so
prominent in advertising lingo, invariably leave on phraseology, thereby tending to
push its units even further into the category of verbal pollutants.

3.17 Paralinguistic (Mis)behavior

Glossary
paralinguistic, adj. <paralinguistics, n.: the aspects and study of spoken
communication that accompany speech but do not involve words, such as
body language, gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice
timbre, n.: the combination of qualities of a sound that distinguishes it from
other sounds of the same pitch and volume

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3.17 Paralinguistic (Mis)Behavior 219

The body language accompanying speech is the object of study of paralinguistics.


This includes gestures, facial expressions, hand movements, even laughter. Apropos
of the latter, Americans—like all nationalities—have a culture-specific range of
laughter types, with high-pitched, aesthetically unpleasing laughter being especially
common among American females (but not only). This acoustic peculiarity is cur-
rently coming into alignment with infantilized intonation and vocal timbre. The
ensemble of these paralinguistic traits is distinctively and unflatteringly American.
Another distinctively American species of paralinguistic behavior is the habit of
not looking at one’s interlocutor when handing the latter an object. This act violates
a fundamental (European and Asian) staple of paralinguistic norms, resulting in
behavior that risks being interpreted by a non-American (or culturally multidi-
mensional American) conversation partner as decidedly rude.

3.18 Pauses between Words

If the face is the window of the soul (cf. Latin vultus est index animi), then speech is
the window of the mind. Pauses between words are also part of speech, and as such
are to be reckoned as indices of mental states.
Pauses may be motivated by a number of performance factors, including inde-
cision and habitual stammering. But nothing except some kind of deficiency
explains pausing between “President” and “Komorowski,” as did President Barack
Obama in his recorded remarks from Poland, broadcast over the radio, addressing
his Polish counterpart. Not only does this particular pause—i.e., between gram-
matically closely-bound words—signify a lack of fluency, it also betrays a lack of
connection to the addressee and to the context on the utterer’s part.
The language of Mr. Obama’s public speaking, despite all the praise heaped on it
by commentators for its putative rhetorical skill, is actually often less than fluent,
which is to say that the words do not flow (Latin fluens, fluēnt-, present participle of
fluere, ‘to flow’). When these commentators say—as did the one on the BBC World
Service, whose words accompanied the clip—that Mr. Obama sounds “professo-
rial,” the mind boggles (v. intrans.). Unnatural hesitation, pauses between words,
elongated enunciation: are these the phonetic characteristics that make speech
“professorial?” If this is an accurate judgment by the public, it can only reflect badly
on the professoriate..

3.19 Phonostylistics

Glossary
gavotte, n. music for a French peasant dance of Baroque origin in moderately
quick duple meter
220 3 Style

gravid, adj.: made larger or increased beyond a due, expected, or reasonable


proportion
paralinguistic, adj. < paralinguistics, n.: the aspects and study of spoken
communication that accompany speech but do not involve words, such as
body language, gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice
phonostylistics, n.: the study of the stylistic implications of phonetic variation,
or, more generally, of different kinds of sounds

Every standard language is characterized by a range of speech styles, which


encompasses not just the segmental aspects but such paralinguistic features as the
pace at which speakers habitually deliver their utterances. In this respect American
English is unexceptionally variegated, even though most speakers fall into fairly
narrow categories when it comes to pace of delivery. Typically, the truly
idiosyncratic speaking styles are those that are categorized by speech mannerisms,
including dialectal peculiarities in otherwise normative speech.
The qualification “ponderous” or “portentous” applies to speech that is so
painfully slow when compared to general norms as to stand out as stylistically
inappropriate regardless of the speaker’s predilections. Moreover, when the content
is utterly trivial or plebeian, utterances delivered at a labored and gravid pace can
only try an interlocutor’s patience and create the impression (among others) that the
speaker has nothing to say. Those who speak at the same pace regardless of what
they are saying run the risk of seeming dull and colorless.
Speaking a language is like playing a musical instrument. A gavotte played at a
tempo appropriate to a dirge will not set anyone to dancing.

3.20 Please in the Passive Voice

Glossary
voice, n.: a property of verbs or a set of verb inflections indicating the relation
between the subject and the action expressed by the verb: “Birds build
nests” uses the active voice; “nests built by birds” uses the passive voice

The word please is so ubiquitous that one hardly gives a second thought to how it is
used—and whether there may have been a change in how it is construed in its status
as a verb. Here is how the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
(4th ed., 2006) defines it:

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3.20 Please in the Passive Voice 221

v. tr.
1. To give enjoyment, pleasure, or satisfaction to; make glad or contented.
2. To be the will or desire of: May it please the court to admit this firearm as evidence.
v. intr.
1. To give satisfaction or pleasure; be agreeable: waiters who try hard to please.
2. To have the will or desire; wish: Do as you please. Sit down, if you please.

When it comes to the use of the passive voice, there is a generational difference
applying to the acceptance or rejection of pleased (past passive participle) as uttered
by a speaker of inferior status/rank toward an interlocutor of superior status/rank.
A member of the older generation will, for instance, tend to reject as impolite (if not
impertinent) a greeting by a waiter of a diner couched in the form “We’re pleased to
have you,” since the expression of pleasure by a person rendering service can
hardly be relevant to the context of such an interaction, the rank of the waiter being
necessarily construed as inferior to that of the customer. But for speakers of the
younger generation—as well as generations of older speakers with less finely-tuned
sensitivities to matters of rank—such uses of the passive voice of the verb to please
routinely pass muster without raising a stylistic eyebrow.
It should be noted that the asymmetric rank relations obtaining between par-
ticipants in the speech act of significantly different ages can be neutralized and
inverted when special circumstances intervene, as in the student-teacher relation.
Accordingly, a seventy-one-year-old man being instructed by a twenty-six-year-old
fitness trainer could hardly take umbrage at being told that the instructor “is
pleased” with his progress.

3.21 Pleonasms and Other Hypertrophies

Glossary
anaphoric, adj. < anaphora, n.: the deliberate repetition of a word or phrase
at the beginning of several successive verses, clauses, or paragraphs; for
example; the use of a linguistic unit, such as a pronoun, to refer back to
another unit
hypertrophic, adj. < hypertrophy, n.: an inordinate or pathological
enlargement
hyperurbanism, n.: a pronunciation or grammatical form or usage produced
by a speaker of one dialect according to an analogical rule formed by
comparison of the speaker’s own usage with that of another, more pres-
tigious, dialect and often applied in an inappropriate context, especially in
an effort to avoid sounding countrified, rural, or provincial;
hypercorrection
222 3 Style

morphemic, adj. < morpheme: a meaningful linguistic unit consisting of a


word, such as man, or a word element, such as -ed in walked, that cannot
be divided into smaller meaningful parts
pleonasm, n.: a tautological or redundant word or form
pragmatics, n.: the study of language as it is used in a social context,
including its effect on the interlocutors

All linguistic variety, including social and dialectal differentiation within a given
language, is necessarily the product of historical changes, some of which are still in
progress at a given point in that language’s development. Members of a speech
community use such innovations to signal a variety of messages, such as “stronger
meaning,” “group solidarity,” “greater intimacy,” or their opposites. Innovations
can be motivated not only by strictly linguistic reasons but by systems of values that
also apply to aspects of human behavior beyond speech.
Particularly frequent in present-day American English are spontaneous gram-
matical innovations that redundantly repeat, duplicate, or extend elements of their
traditional normative counterparts without any apparent gain in communicative
content. Pleonasm is the most familiar category of such hypertrophic forms, some
of which have in fact become part of the norm. A rational explication of such
changes rests on the key assumption that any novel expression, apart from the
content invested in it by grammar and pragmatics, has a specific value—or con-
notative content—by virtue of being different from a traditional expression with the
same grammatical and pragmatic content. But in a more abstract sense such changes
are ultimately to be explained as instantiations of broader cultural and ideological
values.
A. VALUE
When one speaks of values as a determinant of linguistic changes, many small
examples come to mind, for instance
(1) informant vs. informer,
where the older and traditional second variant is being replaced by first. Note
that the two suffixes differ in length, and that the newer variant displays the longer
of the two. This means that the older variant, informer, has taken on a pejorative
value and hence is to be avoided.
Or take the common practice of dropping the article the before specifying per-
sons by their class membership, as in
(2) [Ø]commentator Dan Goldman vs. the commentator Dan Goldman.
Here the values-oriented interpretation suggests that Americans who habitually
drop the article have incorporated the attitude summarized by the formula “you ARE
what you DO.”

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Another common switch in values accounts for the replacement of the traditional
treatment of class designations as inanimate, when referring to them with the rel-
ative pronouns who and what, with a focus on their human membership, resulting in
the occurrence of who rather than which, as in
(3) companies who vs. companies which; cf. “The computer who tracks the
standings…” (John Feinstein, sports commentator, N[ational] P[ublic] R
[adio], “M[orning] E[dition],” 11/30/07).
This is paralleled by the difference in grammatical number between British and
American English when referring to mass nouns, as in
(4) the family/cabinet are vs. the family/cabinet is.
When one hears examples like
(5) “marquee issues” (unidentified male commentator, NPR, “All Things
Considered,” 1/10/06—discussing the Alito confirmation hearings)
(6) “The internal conflict between Fatah and Hamas may get equal billing with
the struggle against Israel.” (Eric Westervelt, reporter, NPR, “ME,” 5/22/06)
(7) “… before helping other customers [instead of ‘passengers’] with their
oxygen mask.” (Continental Airlines in-flight safety announcement, 7/7/06),
the attitude of the speaker towards the content of each utterance dictates the
choice of words. The very serious matter of confirmation hearings for a nominee to
the Supreme Court of the United States is being treated as if it were merely an
entertainment or show business (“marquee issues”), as is the terrible strife resulting
in numerous deaths in the Middle East (“get equal billing”). In the last of this triplet
of examples, there has been a subtle shift in the way the airline personnel regard
their human cargo: instead of focusing on their status as “passengers,” they are now
addressed as producers of revenue (“customers”).
B. ERRORS
A shift in value is not the only matter at stake in discussing pleonasm and other
hypertrophies. The latter term is apt because of its medical connotations, since a
linguistic hypertrophy is not merely an unwarranted enlargement or bloating but an
error, a failure of thought, hence akin to something somatically abnormal. While
linguists rarely acknowledge the importance of outright error in language change,
the histories of all languages are littered with cases. Here are some recent ones:
(8) “I’m picking you and I.” (John Feinstein [?], NPR, “ME,” 5/24/93); cf. “And
those two deaths bound you and she together indissolubly for life.”
(P. D. James, Shroud for a Nightingale [New York: Popular Library, 1971],
p. 278)
(9) “Their effort is geared at getting out the vote …” (Cokie Roberts, com-
mentator, NPR, “ME,” 6/5/06)
224 3 Style

(10) “The cup is half-empty, the cup is half-full …” [twice in the same interview]
(Kevin Starr, State Librarian of California Emeritus, NPR, “Talk of the
Nation,” 11/29/07)
The last example is particularly revealing because the speaker doesn’t realize
that the locution depends on a transparent container—glass—but for which no
liquid could be observed to be measured.
C. CATEGORIES AND EXAMPLES
Here is a broad range of hypertrophic examples by category, with commentary
when appropriate:
I. CONTEXTUAL HYPERTROPHY
(11) “There was a moment back in 2002 when… [opening sentence]” (Caryn
James, “Aniston Agonistes: Good Girl, Bad Choices,” NYT, 6/5/06, p. B1)
(12) “But none has gone quite so spectacularly to the bad as John Amery, the
elder son of Churchill’s old friend and wartime Secretary of State for India,
who ended up being hanged for treason in 1945. Back in 1949 Amery was
one of the subjects…
(John Campbell, “Nasty and Short,” TLS, 11/18/05)
(13) “back in January”—said in February (unidentified man, viva voce; cf. [way]
back [when])
The almost de rigueur contemporary insertion of back before temporal expres-
sions headed by such words as in and when is an innovation in American English
(and perhaps in British as well), and an instance of hypertrophy when the time
referred to is relatively proximate, not distal.
II. ANAPHORIC HYPERTROPHY
(14) “The days when blue-collar work could be passed down the family line,
those days are over.” (Gay N. Chaison, Prof. of Labor Relations, Clark
Univ., quoted in NYT, 11/19/05, p. B7]
(15) my sister-in-law, she … [possible interference from Romance langs.]

III. MORPHEMIC HYPERTROPHY, INCLUDING HYPERURBANISMS


(16) irregardless
(17) begrudgingly
(18) harken back
(19) informant [vs. informer]
(20) prior to [instead of before]
(21) “‘He is entirely correct [instead of “right”],’ Mr. Cheney said on Tuesday at
Fort Drum, N.Y., referring to Mr. Lieberman.” (NYT, 12/10/05, p. A1)
(22) “upspike”—on the model of uptick (unidentified woman interviewee, NPR,
“ME,” 5/31/06)

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3.21 Pleonasms and Other Hypertrophies 225

(23) purchase [instead of buy]


(24) incorrect [instead of wrong]
(25) academia [instead of academe] (26) usage [instead of use]
(26) usage [instead of use]
(27) “For the past 88 years … when public sentiment against Germany was at a
feverish pitch.” (Jim Robbins, “Silence Broken, Pardons Granted 88 Years
After Crimes of Sedition,” NYT, 5/3/06, p. 1)
(28) “Clinton will be adjudicated by …” [instead of “judged by”] (William
Bennett, “CNN Today,” 12/26/97)
(29) “Can I importune on you for an extra ticket?” (male theater reviewer, viva
voce, Los Angeles, 6/4/06)

IV. EXCESSIVE REPETITION [three instead of two—said without emphasis]


(30) day after day after day
(31) side by side by side
(32) step by step by step
(33) “ran down and ran down and ran down… ran up and ran up and ran up
…” (Allan Sloan, commentator, NPR, “Marketplace,” 6/5/06)

V. PLEONASM (NB: standard and semi-standard pleonasms, e.g. friend of mine,


advance planning, prior experience, component parts, close scrutiny, etc.)
(34) “share …in common” (Donald Rumsfeld, Secy. of Defense, Press
Conference, CNN, 4/15/03)
(35) share … similar …
(36) exactly right
(37) continue on
(38) equally as
(39) “The ability of the Congress to be able to …” (James Sensenbrenner, NBC,
“Meet the Press,” as heard on NPR, “ME,” 5/28/06)
(40) “… add some additional policemen to patrol …” [twice in the same
utterance] (Mark A. R. Kleiman, Prof. of Public Policy, UCLA, KPCC.FM,
“Zócalo,” 5/28/06); also heard on KPCC.FM: “receive a receipt;” “receive a
warm reception”
(41) “With graduation ceremonies coming right up around the corner…” (Joel
Rubin, Los Angeles Times, interviewed on KPCC.FM, 5/24/06)
(42) “previous precedent” (unidentified male law professor, Northwestern Univ.,
NPR, “ME,” 1/10/06)
(43) “two minutes twenty-five seconds left on the clock” (Frank Deford, com-
mentator, NPR, “ME,” 12/7/05)
(44) “Moussaui … intentionally lied …” (Anne Hawke, reporter, NPR News,
4/3/06)
226 3 Style

(45) “But far too many seemed to be innocents or lowly foot soldiers …”
(Editorial, NYT, 3/8/06, p. A26)
(46) It is simply that simple.” (Sen. Diane Feinstein, quoted in NYT, 1/25/06,
p. A16—also heard on NPR)
(47) “I for one would have very strong opposition to any kind of star chamber
proceeding that’s held in private.” (eadem, quoted in NYT Magazine, by
William Safire, “On Language,” 1/17/99, p. 18)
(48) “The one statistic that keeps China’s leaders up awake at night is …” (Andy
Rothman, stock broker, NPR, Marketplace, 1/16/06)
(49) “As we advance ahead timewise …” (Bob Stokes, weather forecaster, The
Weather Channel, 10/25/99)
(50) “Each video contains two 1-hour episodes on each video.” (attributed to
Columbia House [home-video mail-order company], by William Safire, “On
Language,” NYT Magazine, 7/18/99, [p. ?])
(51) “Currently as of now we have spent…” (Rep. Jerry Lewis, “Newshour,”
PBS, 7/27/99)
(52) “My other fellow senators …” (Sen. Robert Bennett, “CNN Saturday,”
1/23/99)
(53) “ …four straight days in a row” (stock broker, viva voce, Manchester, Vt.,
1999)
(54) “ …also received cash payments as well.” (unidentified news reader, “World
Today,” CNN, 1/24/99)
(55) “ …increasingly more violent.” (John W. Slattery, letter to the editor, NYT
Magazine, [?/?/]99, p. 14)
(56) “Obviously I’m stating the obvious.” (lawyer, viva voce, Manchester, Vt.,
6/6/06)
(57) “Kissinger and Putin met at Putin’s country dacha.” (Daniel Schorr, com-
mentator, NPR, “All Things Considered,” 6/7/06); cf. “shrimp scampi,”
“PIN number,” etc.
(58) “ …to move progress [in the Serbia—Kosovo negotiations] forward …”
(Emily Harris, reporter, NPR, “All Things Considered,” 7/24/06)
(59) “‘It was like, “Oh, my God, we’re on the cusp of something big about to
happen”,’ Mr. Washington said.” (Diane Cardwell, “Daring to Believe,
Blacks Savor Obama Victory,” NYT, 1/5/08, p. A1)

VI. HYPERBOLE
(60) absolutely
(61) great, tremendous, terrific, awesome, etc.

VII. DEICTIC ADVERB ([out] there, here)


(62) “There’s a real world out here where people are offered …” (Ruth Lewin
Sime, letter to the editor, NYT, 6/5/06, p. A22).

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(63) “There’s a lot of sadness here.” ([in a context where the place has already
been stipulated] attributed to Jamie Dettmer, director of media relations, Cato
Institute, in “Columnist Resigns His Post, Admitting Lobbyist Paid Him,”
NYT, 12/17/05, p. A15)
(64) “Where’s your heart rate at?” (female fitness trainer [with a B.A.], viva voce
[speaking to a client wearing a monitor], W. LA, 6/5/06); cf. “What’s your
heart rate at?”
The use of the adverbial phrase out there is particularly interesting because it
betokens some sort of “avoidance of placeless existence,” if one may call it that.
VIII. DEICTIC INTRODUCTION
(65) “The reality is is [that] …”
(66) “The fact of the matter is is [that] …”

D. ANALYSIS
One could easily think that some of these hypertrophies arise from a need to be
explicit, to repeat for emphasis, but a close analysis reveals that this is not so. They
are all examples of redundancy and tautology. Pleonasms always exhibit a
broadening of boundaries, and it is undoubtedly true that boundaries are among the
most unstable of linguistic entities, more liable to shift over time than other such
units. But a stereoscopic view of the entire variety of cases where an enlargement
has occurred reveals what is at bottom A FAILURE OF THOUGHT in a “culture of
excess.” Linguistic hypertrophy may, in the final analysis, be particularly true of the
grammars of historically marginalized groups in society, for whom literacy and
education have only recently become as common as among the traditional elites. It
would be tempting to speculate that pleonasm and other hypertrophies in speech
and writing are—in their aspect of characteristically displaced boundaries—a lin-
guistic manifestation of an unstable social identity.

3.22 Poetic Consciousness and the Language of Thought

Glossary
Church Slavonic: the medieval Slavic language used in the translation of the
Bible by Cyril and Methodius and in early literary manuscripts and still
used as a liturgical language by several churches of Eastern Orthodoxy
idée fixe: a fixed idea; an obsession (French)
lexical, adj,: of or relating to the words or vocabulary of a language
228 3 Style

Plato says that “thought and speech are the same; only the former, which is a silent
inner conversation of the soul with itself, has been given the special name of
thought” (Sophist 263E). (My hero, C. S. Peirce, agrees.) What flows from this is
that there is no thought worth the name apart from language.
However, the form that inner speech takes may vary almost without limit. In
those for whom poetry is second nature, verse often serves as a mnemonic. Thus the
poems of my father, Constantine Shapiro (1896–1992), are firmly embedded in my
memory and can be disinterred therefrom by random occurrences, as was the case
with the following lyric this morning:
Oнa, кaк вeтepoк, лeгкa,
И гoлoc нeжный,
И чepный лoкoн c милoгo чeлa
Ha лик cпaдaeт бeлocнeжный.

Oткyдa пpилeтeлa
Tы, дyнoвeниe пoлeй?
Mнe милы poщи пoтeмнeлы
И coлoвeй.
Я им в млaдeнчecтвe внимaл,
To тaк дaлёкo!
Ho этoт гoлoc внoвь вce paccкaзaл
B мгнoвeньe oкa.
1937

Here is a rough prose translation of the Russian original:


She is as light as a breath of wind,
And her voice is gentle,
And a black lock of hair from her lovely forehead
Falls onto her snow-white face.

Whence did you fly in,


You, whiff of fields?
I love the darkened groves
And the nightingale.

I beheld them in my youth,


‘Twas so long ago!
But this voice told me all anew
In the twinkling of an eye.

Readers sensitive to the notion of idées fixes will have no difficulty divining the
object in my mind associated with this poem.
[Analytical addendum (“lost in translation”): The poem in the above essay is
lexically nuanced in a way that enhances its stylistic subtlety but that cannot be
rendered into English. The vocabulary of classical Russian poetry includes items
that are traditional high-style equivalents, drawn from the language’s Church
Slavonic stratum, of ordinary (vernacular) words. Here, in the last two lines of the
first stanza (И чepный лoкoн c милoгo чeлa/Ha лик cпaдaeт бeлocнeжный ‘And a

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3.22 Poetic Consciousness and the Language of Thought 229

black lock of hair from her lovely forehead/Falls onto her snow-white face’), this
pertains to chelo ‘forehead’ for lob (also ‘forehead’) and lik ‘visage’ for litso ‘face’.
These grandiloquent words serve to elevate the person described.]

3.23 Profanity in the Age of Depravity

Glossary
lexicon, n.: the morphemes of a language considered as a group

Linguistic profanity (“foul language”) is not as widespread in the languages of the


world as one might infer from its prevalence in English (or Russian, for that matter,
with its elaborate system of swear words and sayings known as mat [< mat’
‘mother’]). Japanese, for example, has only a handful of the mildest profanities, and
Hebrew (unlike Yiddish) has had to borrow wholesale from the rich lode of Arabic
to stock this sector of its lexicon.
Coarseness of speech in American English has increased in the public domain
during the last thirty years, along with a general coarsening of manners and morals,
witness the routine occurrence of formerly banned colloquial designations of gen-
italia and associated bodily functions in the speech of females. When a young
female trainer unblushingly uses the word butt (as in butt cheeks, instead of but-
tocks or rear-end) in referring to the anatomical part of a geriatric client, one can
only conclude that the age of depravity is indisputably upon us.

3.24 Superfluous Syndeton

Glossary
contraindicated, adj.: inadvisable
syndeton, n.: a form of syntactic coordination of the elements of a sentence
with the help of a coordinating conjunction

Some speakers, when pronouncing the numerals in the designation of years of the
current first decade of the 21st century, place the conjunction and between the
words thousand and nine (for instance). No such conjunction appears when
speaking the dates of the 20th century (or earlier). One can hear this trait consis-
tently on the radio in the speech of Garrison Keillor (The Writer’s Almanac), among
his other verbal idiosyncrasies (which include—despite his excellent diction and
230 3 Style

dulcet voice—mispronunciations of common words and entirely contraindicated


declamatory habits that do violence to the syntax of the “poems”). British speakers
with this trait can also be heard on the BBC World Service.
Why? Is it some sort of superannuated folkway? Could it be the influence of the
word thousand (two thousand and nine) instead of twenty (twenty-o-nine)? In any
event, there is no need whatsoever for this superfluous syndeton.

3.25 The Connotative Content of Regional Accents

Glossary
exogenous, adj.: produced from without; external to a group
unreflexively, adv. < unreflexive, adj.: spontaneous; unpremeditated

With the onslaught of mass media and the entrenchment of standard languages,
regional accents are becoming an endangered species throughout the industrialized
world. To be sure, these varieties continue to play a role in cementing solidarity
among members of a (relatively) homogeneous speech community without nec-
essarily excluding newcomers whose speech adheres without exception to the
standard. From the perspective of an outsider looking in, moreover, regional
accents can be seen to have a certain connotative content, one that arouses a kind of
exogenous aesthetic admiration for the colorful, unadulterated, and authentic fea-
tures of language in use. What is routinely taken unreflexively by the speaker of a
regional dialect as nothing more than linguistic habit, in the service of purely
utilitarian communicative goals, can alternately be perceived by the speaker of the
standard as an aesthetic object.
Thus, episodic exposure to an authentic native pronunciation in a region (like
rural Vermont) where the colorless standard otherwise reigns supreme can have the
effect of causing a positive reevaluation of dialects for their (unintended) symbolic
byproduct, viz. a heightened awareness of the historical persistence of linguistic
mores that connote a subtle form of human solidarity.

3.26 The Linguistic Acknowledgment of Human Identity

Glossary
axiological, adj. < axiology, n.: the study of the nature of values and value
judgments

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ipso facto: by the fact itself; by that very fact (Latin)


orthographic, adj. < orthography, n.: (correct) spelling
Peircean, adj.: of, pertaining to, or deriving from the philosophy of C.
S. Peirce (1839–1914)
quantité négligeable: an insignificant or inconsequential factor; a matter of no
account (French)

When a large sign directing patients and ambulances to the entrance of a hospital’s
emergency room has the words EMERGENCY and EMERGENCIA emblazoned
on it in neon-lit majuscules, the first (in English) above the second (in Spanish), one
might justifiably question why any literate Spanish speaker would require the
second for guidance at all, the meaning being completely transparent from the
English version alone despite the minor orthographic discrepancy.
There are two reasons for the seeming redundancy that suggest themselves, one
practical, the other ontological and axiological. First, the occurrence of the Spanish
version below the English signifies that, though subordinate in status, Spanish is
spoken by at least some members of the hospital staff. Second, and more impor-
tantly, it is a sign—in the Peircean as well as the quotidian sense—that acknowl-
edges soundlessly to Latino patients that their cultural status as speakers of a
minority language in contemporary America does not ipso facto render them a
quantité négligeable at precisely the vulnerable moment when they appear as
suffering human beings most in need of succor.

3.27 The (We)Evil of Banality

Particularly Odious Locutions


On the same page; at the end of the day; give back, reach out, step up, step down,
move on; out there, in place; the bottom line is, the fact is, the reality is is that; the
whole nine yards, the whole ball of wax; do the math, pay the price, connect the dots,
bite the bullet, stay the course; twenty-four seven; blessed, driven; quality time, bad
guys, tipping point, poster child, level playing field, slippery slope; on board; going
forward; best/worst-case scenario; wake-up call, skill set; from the get go; comfort
zone, learning experience, learning curve; (I have) issues; on board, in harm’s way;
quite simply; closure, put it behind me, get on with my life; if you will, if you like;
speak truth to power; empower, empowerment, empowered; gender, gendered; that
said, having said that; you’re correct; absolutely; exactly right; thanks for taking my
call, thanks for having me, thanks for asking.
Fatuity Is the Bane of One’s Existence
Fatuity is the bane of one’s existence. Pure posh-lust suppurates from the mouths
of the publicum. Their skill set includes connecting the dots before getting on board
and staying out of harm’s way. The tipping point comes when they are about to step
232 3 Style

up or step down—going forward, of course. It is very important to have closure and


get on with your life—put it behind you, if you will. That said, at the end of the day,
quite simply, the reality is is that they’ve done the math—which is always a good
learning experience—so they can move on. Empowerment—especially the gen-
dered kind—is a slippery slope, but if you can get into your comfort zone and stay
the course, you’ll end up being the poster child for all those who’ve heard the
wake-up call. They have no issues.
(excerpted from Michael Shapiro, My Wife the Metaphysician, or Lady
Murasaki’s Revenge, Charleston, S. C.: CreateSpace, 2006, pp. 85–86).

3.28 Tinkering with Idioms Through Contamination

Glossary
catachresis, n.: the misapplication of a word or phrase; the use of a strained
figure of speech, such as a mixed metaphor
contamination, n.: the process by which one word or phrase is altered because
of mistaken associations with another word or phrase; for example, the
substitution of irregardless for regardless by association with such words
as irrespective

One characteristic of idioms is their FIXITY, which is to say that they are not subject
to alteration at the whim of the speaker/writer.
When a radio announcer with good diction, who is otherwise articulate, says “cut
him a break” (as did Steve Inskeep, “Morning Edition,” NPR, 12/20/10) instead of
the idiomatic “give him a break,” one can easily trace the source of the mistake (“cut
him some slack”) and recognize it as an instance of contamination. All the same, it is
a catachresis nonetheless, stylistically offensive and bordering on the ungrammatical.

3.29 Stylistic Retention of Unproductive Stress Patterns

Glossary
dissyllabic, adj.: consisting of or having two syllables only
marked/unmarked, adj. <markedness, n.: the evaluative superstructure of all
semiotic (‘sign-theoretic’) oppositions, as well as the theory of such a
superstructure, characterized in terms of the values ‘marked’ (conceptu-
ally restricted) and ‘unmarked’ (conceptually unrestricted)

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English has a regular—and productive—alternation of the position of stress in


verb/noun pairs, e.g., combát vs. cómbat, defáult vs. défault, procéed vs. próceeds,
etc. In each such pair, the verb has stress on a non-initial syllable, whereas the noun
has it on the initial.
This contrast extends beyond dissyllabic words to embrace verb/noun pairs
consisting of more than two syllables, e.g., envélop vs. énvelope, interchánge vs.
ínterchange, reprimánd vs. réprimand, etc. Even though in some of these cases the
stress need not contrast—réprimand with initial stress does double duty for many
speakers as both a verb and a noun—the important and unalterable fact is that no
matter how many syllables the word has, if there is a contrast at all, the stress in the
verbal form will be NON-INITIAL, i.e. be on one or more syllables closer to the end
than in that of the nominal form. Moreover, and just as importantly, THE REVERSE IS
NEVER TRUE: there are no English verb/noun pairs which contrast by having an initial
stress in the verbal form and a non-initial in the nominal form.
Where a non-initial stress is retained in the nominal form, it tends to acquire
stylistic value, such that this (unproductive) variant is necessarily associated with
formal or neutral diction by comparison with an extant (productive) variant that is
associated with informal or colloquial style. This is the case with items like defáult
vs. défault: the first form is typical of a neutral or high style, whereas the second
occurs in informal or colloquial contexts, the latter typically including the ver-
nacular of sports.
Moreover, once the colloquial variant gains general ascendancy, it may become
terminologized, by which is meant a specialized occurrence as a constant feature of
a certain sector of the vocabulary. Thus, no person familiar with the jargon of sports
would ever confuse offénse ‘a violation or infraction of a moral or social code, etc.’
with óffense ‘the means or tactics used in attempting to score, etc.’; or defénse ‘the
act of defending against attack, danger, or injury’ with défense ‘means or tactics
used in trying to stop the opposition from scoring, etc.’ (Note in these particular
cases that the verb differs from the noun by having a d in final position [offénd,
defénd].)
The drift of the language is just as straightforwardly clear, viz. toward the
regularization of initial stress for BOTH grammatical categories regardless of stylistic
differentiation. This is the overall trend which accounts for the emergence not only
of non-standard nominal variants like défault or óffense but the replacement of
traditional non-initial stress in verbs like frequént by contemporary innovations
with initial stress. This historical trajectory is evidently to be explained by what can
be called the THE LAW OF THE SUPERSESSION OF THE MARKED BY THE UNMARKED, which
dictates that, ceteris paribus, linguistic oppositions distributed contextually only by
the markedness value of the terms tend to generalize the unmarked value regardless
of context.
234 3 Style

3.30 Metaphors We Die by (Metaphorically)

Glossary
catachresis, n.: the misapplication of a word or phrase; the use of a strained
figure of speech, such as a mixed metaphor
denotative, adj. <denotation, n.: the most specific or direct meaning of a
word, in contrast to its figurative or associated meanings
lexicalized, adj. <lexicalization, n.: the treatment of a formerly freely com-
posed, grammatically regular, and semantically transparent phrase or
inflected form as a formally or semantically idiomatic expression
pragmatistic, adj. <pragmatism, n.: an American movement in philosophy
founded by C. S. Peirce and William James and marked by the doctrines
that the meaning of conceptions is to be sought in their practical bearings
tout court: ‘simply, briefly; just so’ (< French)
trope, n.: figure of speech

Writers have no creative license to do violence to language, but in the age of


depravity the scope of licentiousness extends to violations of linguistic usage, the
media being a particularly fecund realm of examples. When it comes to the figu-
rative use of language, the line between what used to be called “fine writing” and
journalism has gradually been erased, due inter alia to the baneful influence of
modern poetry, where catachresis abounds.
The form that catachresis takes when it comes to tropes is typically a matter of
semantic overextension, whereby a dead metaphor that has been lexicalized is
distended to include a nonsensical denotative referent.
Here is a fresh case:
“But others have not, and her story is entering the pantheon of secular anger building as a
battle rages in Israel for control of the public space between the strictly religious and everyone
else.” (Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kirshner, “Israelis Facing a Seismic Rift Over Role of
Women,” The New York Times, National Edition, January 15, 2012, p. 1; emphasis added)

What has happened here is evident when compared with the etymology of the
word pantheon and the senses adduced for it in Webster’s Third New International
Dictionary, Unabridged (Merriam-Webster, 2002):
Etymology: Middle English Panteon, temple at Rome built by the Roman statesman
Agrippa died 12 B.C. and rebuilt by the Roman emperor Hadrian died A.D.138, from Latin
Pantheon, from Greek pantheion temple dedicated to all gods, from pan- + theion, neuter
of theios of the gods, from theos god
1: a temple dedicated to all the gods
2: a treatise on the pagan gods
3: a building serving as the burial place of or containing memorials to the famous dead of
a nation
4 a: the gods of a people; especially: the gods officially recognized as major or state
deities b: the persons most highly esteemed by an individual or group

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3.30 Metaphors We Die by (Metaphorically) 235

That two journalists and their editors, for whom writing is presumably their
stock in trade, could conceive of pantheon as the metaphorical locus of anger is a
failure of thought tout court—and a particularly telling one for the current state of
American English in its pragmatistic dimension.

3.31 The Function of Hieratic Diction (Smite, Smote,


Smitten)

Glossary
aetiological <aetiology, n.: a science or doctrine of causation or of the
demonstration of causes; a branch of knowledge concerned with the
causes of particular phenomena
divinatory <divination <divine, adj.: being in the service or worship of a
deity; sacred
hieratic, adj.: of or associated with sacred persons or offices; sacerdotal
illud tempus: a mythical or paradisiacal time before time existed (Latin)

The language of religious (and quasi-religious) ritual is typically studded with


vocabulary that is recondite or archaic or both. As with all divinatory or sacerdotal
diction, the function of specialized vocabulary in this realm goes beyond the
denotation of objects or acts to include a generalized reference to sacred meanings
that derive their force in part from their very obscurity. If a priest is the only one
who knows the full meaning of a hieratic text, this linguistic asymmetry between
preacher and congregation can work to heighten the sacredness of the text. Thus the
use of Hebrew in Orthodox Judaism, for example, can enhance the validity of the
service simply by creating a linguistic context that imparts a feeling to the cele-
brants of an illud tempus suffused not just by authenticity but by aetiological piety.
Where the language of ritual is understood only by the priest, this fact alone can
function to heighten the words’ religious force. As with magical incantations,
intelligibility of linguistic material is not at a premium and can even serve as a
drawback.
To a lesser extent, the continued use of archaisms in a religious text can be seen
to adhere to the same principle, witness the incidence of the verb smite in the
immediately preceding section. There is no contemporary context (other than
cricket) in which the Oxford English Dictionary Online records its use. Quite apart
from its origin in the King James Version, this word maintains its stylistic appro-
priateness compared to modern synonyms precisely because substitutes would rob
the Biblical diction of its hieratic force.
236 3 Style

3.32 Eloquence as Power

Glossary
timbral <timbre, n.: the combination of qualities of a sound that distinguishes
it from other sounds of the same pitch and volume

Where communication of information or reference are not the main focus of speech,
the classical rhetoricians conceive of language, broadly speaking, as serving the
ends of persuasion, but they do not speak of language as power. However, it is
obvious that speakers vary in the degree to which their utterances are adjudged to
be well-formed stylistically, and not just grammatically. When speech is
acknowledged as rising to the level of ELOQUENCE, it becomes an instrument of
POWER, specifically as a means of establishing the speaker’s PRESTIGE. Practically,
then, prestige as power can be increased linguistically in the measure of the
speaker’s eloquence.
Contemporary American speech, both public and private, is characterized,
however, not by eloquence but by DISFLUENCY or DYSLALIA. What is meant here by
these two terms is not their clinical sense (‘impairment of the ability to produce
smooth, fluent speech’; ‘a speech defect caused by malformation of or imperfect
distribution of nerves to the organs of articulation’), but a species of linguistic
INEPTNESS (‘an interruption in the smooth flow of speech, as by a pause or the
repetition of a word or syllable’); more specifically, by the inability to speak well,
which involves word choice more than delivery.
The analogy with musical performance is particularly apt. A musician who does
not have a superior technical command of their instrument will produce a disfluent,
inarticulate, ineloquent performance, just as a speaker who does not have a superior
command of their language’s vocabulary and syntax will produce inarticulate
utterances (without any necessary violations of grammatical well-formedness).
Casting aside clinical terminology and expressing oneself in demotic vocabu-
lary, those who habitually speak their mother tongue in a TONGUE-TIED manner—
their number is now legion—not only subvert the referential function of language
but, more importantly, lessen their prestige and hence their power.
It is interesting, in this connection, to compare Russian to American English.
Notably, where English has no such designation in ordinary speech, Russian has a
specific word for inarticulacy, кocнoязычиe, which is a Church Slavonic com-
pound noun consisting of the two lexical elements ‘stagnant’ + ‘tongue/language’.
The very fact that such a word exists in the ordinary lexicon of Russian connotes a
different SOCIAL SET (attitude) by speakers of Russian toward their language from
those of English speakers. In practice, there is no gainsaying that even Russian
children and adolescents—not to speak of adults with a fully developed command

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3.32 Eloquence as Power 237

of vocabulary and syntax—are typically much more articulate than their American
counterparts and exhibit none of the disfluencies that mar the latter’s utterances.
Closer to home, comparing British speakers of English to American, the musical
analogy comes to mind yet again. Every written piece of music can be performed
with different stylistic inflections and timbral emphases, depending on the skill and
taste of the musician. Speech implementing an arresting choice of lexical units or
syntactic constructions is akin to notes played not just accurately but with a variety
of embellishments. In this respect British speakers are generally more adroit than
are their American counterparts.

3.33 Linguistic Self-indulgence and Meaning by


Indirection

Glossary
trope, n.: a figure of speech using words in nonliteral ways, such as a
metaphor

American public discourse is full of clichés, especially of the figurative kind, so that
shallow phrases like “low-hanging fruit” and “kick the can down the road” are
inevitably to be met with at every turn. In fact, there are certain speakers—not just
politicians or persons in the media—who cannot put anything into words without
resorting to locutions of this sort. By extension, the use of figurative expressions
from one stylistic domain in referring to material in another—for instance, calling a
physician’s practice a “hustle” (without any necessary pejorative connotation)—is
to be regarded as yet another prevalent form of linguistic self-indulgence.
In all such instances, what we have in current speech is a tilt toward meaning by
indirection, which amounts to an avoidance of precision. Plainspokenness and
direct designation of concepts and actions are sacrificed at the altar of what is
erroneously taken to be enhanced expressiveness, whereas all that this discourse
strategy achieves is a reliance on clichés and dead tropes that exposes their utterers’
fundamental impoverishment of thought.

3.34 Words as Acts (The Cultural Context)

Glossary
illocutionary, adj.: pertaining to a linguistic act performed by a speaker in
producing an utterance, as suggesting, warning, promising, or requesting.
238 3 Style

lingua franca: a medium of communication between peoples of different


languages
(< Italian ‘Frankish [i.e., European] language’)
metalanguage, n.: a language or vocabulary used to describe or analyze
language
metalinguistic, adj.: of or relating to a metalanguage (vide supra)
politesse, n: formal and cultivated politeness; decorousness (French)

Certain species of language are not mainly intended to convey information (which
they may also do concomitantly) but to designate the performance of an act (“I
pronounce you man and wife.”). They are called “performatives,” the acts so
designated then being termed “illocutionary.” Such cases of words serving as acts
are—in the round—called “speech acts.”
Different languages have different norms when it comes to speech acts. An
interesting difference culturally is the one associated with the act of thanking one’s
interlocutor (or an audience). For instance, judging by close observation of Finnish
speakers using fluent English as a lingua franca in America, the act of thanking
through speech (oral as well as written) is much less frequent for Finns than for
native speakers of American English. The same is true for the act of congratulation.
For such speakers, when using English, the words expressing these acts (“Thanks,”
“Congratulations”) do not naturally come into speech when embedded in an
American cultural context. A kind of mental code-switching is required in order to
produce the words in a foreign language that are adequate to the cultural norms of
that language, and not all speakers are either able or willing to perform the switch
consistently. They may not even realize that they are violating politesse.
This sort of cultural overlay in the case of performatives can even prompt
meta-linguistic commentary when multilingual speakers interact. For example, the
author remembers at least one occasion when his otherwise completely native
Russian was criticized in Russia for being too polite.

3.35 Idiomaticity (Anent Freedom and Constraint in


Language Use)

Glossary
anent, prep.: regarding, concerning
conjoined, adj.: being, coming, or brought together so as to meet, touch, or
overlap
idiomaticity, n. < idiomatic, adj. < idiom, n.: an expression established in the
usage of a language that is peculiar to itself either in grammatical

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3.35 Idiomaticity (Anent Freedom and Constraint in Language Use) 239

construction (as no, it wasn’t me) or in having a meaning that cannot be


derived as a whole from the conjoined meanings of its elements (as
Monday week for “the Monday a week after next Monday”; many a for
“many taken distributively”; had better for “might better”; how are you?
for “what is the state of your health or feelings?”)

All languages have idioms, defined in Webster’s ‘as an expression established in the
usage of a language that is peculiar to itself either in grammatical construction (as
no, it wasn’t me) or in having a meaning that cannot be derived as a whole from the
conjoined meanings of its elements (as Monday week for “the Monday a week after
next Monday”; many a for “many taken distributively”; had better for “might
better”; how are you? for “what is the state of your health or feelings?”).’ In
learning a language, speakers have to learn not just the rules of grammar but also
the rules defining idiomatic use of the language. This happens naturally in the case
of native speakers acquiring their own language from childhood on; and more or
less naturally in the acquisition of a foreign language as well.
Idioms involve a certain degree of arbitrariness with respect to their incorporation of
a language’s collocation rules, and a non-native speaker has to navigate these linguistic
shoals in learning to distinguish between idiomaticity and normative grammar. Here is
an example of the difficulty involved as overheard in an interview broadcast recently
on the BBC World Service with the Belorussian ethno-jazz singer Rusia, who appears
to have a fluent command of English. It has to do with the unidiomatic word
*schoolguy concocted on the pattern of schoolboy and schoolgirl. Rusia uttered this
word during the interview as part of the phrase “schoolguys and schoolgirls,” thereby
violating the rules of idiomatic word formation in English, even as she followed the
rules of compounding. It just so happens that English has only schoolboy but no
*schoolguy. Hence Rusia could be said to have failed to observe the boundary between
freedom and constraint inhering in the rules of English word formation.
By contrast, a seven-year old boy with English as a first language already
“knows” that he has the freedom to coin the phrase word blind on the model of
color blind, when he utters it in reference to his golden retriever in the process of
asserting to his ten-year-old sister that the their pet dog is not “word-blind” qua dog
despite being unable to read. Cf. Psalms 8:2 “Out of the mouth of babes and
sucklings hast thou ordained strength …,” etc.

3.36 Forms of Address (The Dignity of Namelessness)

Glossary
prandial, adj.: of or relating to a meal
réplique, n.: a reply, a response (French)
240 3 Style

In twenty-first-century America, as only the latest manifestation of a long cultural


drift, “first-name basis” is prevailingly the norm, although there are certain pockets
of resistance, particularly in the South. When addressed by my first name over the
telephone by customer service representatives, I used to respond, “Do we know
each other?”, but the incredulity that réplique engendered soon forced me to drop it
and accept the inevitable. It is noteworthy that some companies obviously train their
representatives to use the formal prefixes and to avoid forenames, but this practice
is getting rare enough to be remarked.
A personal vignette involving forms of address, therefore, might be worth
chronicling here. Whenever I am in Manchester, Vermont, every Sunday morning
at 7:00 a.m. I frequent a small upstairs restaurant on Main Street to have pancakes
or a waffle for breakfast before proceeding to fetch the Sunday newspaper. The
same two middle-aged ladies always wait on me, both of whom greet me cheerfully,
wish me a “good week” when I leave, and are impeccably polite in every respect.
But over the five years that I have been following this Sunday morning routine,
neither lady has ever asked me my name, nor I theirs. We transact our prandial
linguistic exchanges in splendid anonymity, thereby preserving a kind of dignity
that somehow enhances the meal and is regrettably absent in many precincts of
American life.

3.37 Cacoglossia (Broken English)

Glossary
creole, n.: a language that has evolved from a pidgin (vide infra) but serves as
the native language of a speech community
for the nonce: for the particular or express purpose; for the one, single, or
particular occasion
idiolect, n.: the language or speech pattern of one individual at a particular
period of their life
lingua franca: a medium of communication between peoples of different
languages
(< Italian ‘Frankish [i.e., European] language’)
pidgin, n.: a form of speech that usually has a simplified grammar and a
limited often mixed vocabulary and is used principally for intergroup
communication
sociolect, n.: a variety of a language that is used by a particular social group

Language comes in many varieties, including dialects, sociolects, idiolects, and


established hybrids known as creoles and pidgins. When non-native speakers
acquire foreign languages, they also vary in the degree to which imperfect learning

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3.37 Cacoglossia (Broken English) 241

affects their speech. This is immediately apparent when one listens (on the BBC
World Service, for instance) to speakers who struggle with the global lingua franca,
English.
As a medium of effective linguistic communication, of course, broken English
must often serve because its producers may not have the luxury of speaking only
when they know their version of English is grammatically correct. What they say,
unfortunately, can easily grate on the ear of a native speaker (or of a foreigner
whose English is impeccable) because it is a species of what can—for the nonce—
be called CACOGLOSSIA (< Gk jajό1 [kakós] ‘bad, evil’ + ckῶrra [glóssa]
‘tongue, language’).
Cacoglossia is a phenomenon that ought to alert one to the conceptual truth of
the assertion that speaking a language is like playing a musical instrument. When a
person plays an instrument badly and produces cacophony, it is strictly parallel to
the ill-formedness of the speech of those who have an imperfect command of the
language they are using to communicate. Beauty, as regards both music and speech,
can only obtain when the product and the underlying design (= grammar, score) of
each sound domain are in harmony.

3.38 Rife with Error (Extemporaneous Speech)

Glossary
autres temps, autres moeurs: other times, other customs (French)
catachrestic, adj. < catachresis, n.: the misuse of words
extempore, adv.: extemporaneously, on the spur of the moment (Latin)
grandiloquent, adj.: marked by a lofty, extravagantly colorful, pompous, or
bombastic style, manner, or quality especially in language
in situ, adv.: in the natural or original position (Latin)

Listening to the BBC World Service two days ago, one heard the correspondent
John Donnison, reporting from Israel on the conflict in Gaza, utter a sentence in
which the “neither …nor” construction was mangled as “neither …or”—a clear
violation of English grammar. The utterance was delivered with such clarity as to
allow no possibility for mishearing due to a vagary of radio transmission. The mind
boggled at hearing a native speaker of British English commit such an egregious
grammatical error.
Another example, this time from America. Attending a talk (delivered extem-
poraneously) at a university by a female biologist—a professor and native speaker of
American English in her sixties—one was struck by how many grammatical errors
she made in the course of forty minutes. During the discussion that followed, several
other persons—all evidently native speakers of American English—offered
242 3 Style

comments and questions extempore, and in almost every case their speech was not
entirely free of grammatical error. Under the circumstances, these data, caught on the
fly, might seem unusual and merely anecdotal. But as a matter of actual fact, partially
catachrestic speech is rather to be seen as habitual than exceptional in America.
Indeed, if one is multilingual, one notices that contemporary American English
speech in the raw stands out for its high incidence of grammatical error. By contrast,
in other languages that are either habitual for or are known to the present writer, even
children—let alone educated speakers—do not routinely make mistakes in their
native speech. Listening in situ to the language of Japanese or Russian children as
young as five or six, for instance, one rarely detects errors that are not simply
imitations of adult misapplied analogical extensions of grammatical patterns.
It pays to remind oneself that America has a long history of a distinct
socio-cultural aversion to and mistrust of grandiloquent diction in ordinary lin-
guistic practice. Indeed, in our own time speaking well is less and less prized as a
cultural value—if it ever was at all. Moreover, eloquence outside public speaking
has long been regarded with suspicion as a means by which snake oil is sold and
other confidence tricks perpetrated. When it comes to professors and other aca-
demics, one need only remember the obsolete American designation ‘egghead’ for
‘intellectual’, used to comport not only a direct reference to the typically bald pate
of such persons but indirectly to their speech as well. Autres temps, autres moeurs.

3.39 Über die Motive des menschlichen Handelns


(‘On the Motives of Human Behavior’)

Glossary
de rigueur: prescribed or required by fashion, etiquette, or custom especially
among sophisticated or informed persons
for the nonce: for the particular or express purpose; for the one, single, or
particular occasion
pamplemousse, n.: grapefruit (French)

Human beings behave in a number of ways, many of which involve the use of
language. Speech, for example, is typically accompanied by gesticulation with the
hands and shoulders (and other parts of the body). As a whole, these phenomena
form the object of study called PARALINGUISTICS. But paralinguistic behavior
may extend to events where speech is answered by gesture and non-speech more
generally. Here is a fresh example.
A man in his seventies (let’s call him Monsieur Pamplemousse, for the nonce)
walks into the laundry room of his apartment building to wash some clothes and
greets a young woman, unknown to him and the only other person present, with his

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3.39 Uber die Motive des menschlichen Handelns … 243

customary “Good morning.” The woman smiles but does not answer. This strikes
M. Pamplemousse as rude. However, the woman’s motive(s) for not answering are
unclear. Perhaps she is unused to speaking to strangers, even to the routine extent of
answering an utterly automatic greeting. Perhaps she thinks (or has been taught to
think) that any linguistic act, even something as innocent as a morning greeting, is
not to be answered when coming from a strange man because it may be a (hidden)
overture to something less innocent.
By contrast, when M. Pamplemousse returns to retrieve his laundry from the
dryer, the only other occupant of the room is a young man (wearing the de rigueur
baseball cap characteristic nowadays of all persons of his age group), also a
stranger, whom he likewise greets with the customary “Good morning.” This time
his greeting is reciprocated (albeit sotto voce).
M. Pamplemousse’s sole evaluation of the young woman’s non-response is that
it violates his code of manners. But on reflection, he can understand the range of
possible motives of the woman’s behavior. Moreover, even such an unremarkable
event, particularly in the context of contemporary American urban life and its
mores, can provide food for thought about broader issues of language and culture,
witness the present vignette.

3.40 Linguistic Decorum and the Meliorative Function


of Language

Glossary
adstructure, n.: substructure; subsidiary or particular structure within a
structural whole
anodize, v.: render anodyne, i.e., soothing to the mind or feelings
decorum, n.: propriety and good taste, especially in conduct, manners, or
appearance
finesse, n.: fineness or delicacy especially of workmanship, structure, texture,
or flavor
instantiate, v.: to represent (an abstraction or universal) by a concrete instance
meliorative, adj. < meliorate, v.: to make better or more tolerable
sentient, adj.: capable of sensation and of at least rudimentary consciousness

Every language has words—like terms of respect—that instantiate politeness


through speech. Some languages—for instance, Japanese—even have a whole
grammatical adstructure (called keigo in Japanese), to which speakers resort when
addressing a person of higher status. These speech patterns are part of linguistic
decorum, an important means by which the potential abrasiveness of human
244 3 Style

relations is forestalled and the transaction of the business of living with one’s
fellows is anodized and rendered more bearable.
When encountering an interlocutor who is extraordinarily polite and respectful,
one not only has the feeling of linguistic finesse but that of melioration in general of
the human condition. Every language has the wherewithal to fulfill this function,
but speakers necessarily vary (due to upbringing and temperament) in the degree to
which they are adept at implementing it. In this respect, perhaps more than in any
other aspect of interpersonal behavior, language has the capability of helping one
fulfill one’s capacity to realize what could even be called the religious dimension of
human consciousness that is at the root of our peculiarity as sentient beings.

3.41 Language as an Aesthetic Object

Glossary
autochthonous, adj.: indigenous, native, aboriginal
condign, adj.: entirely in accordance with what is deserved or merited; neither
exceeding nor falling below one’s deserts
élan, n.: vigor, spirit, or enthusiasm typically revealed by assurance of
manner, brilliance of performance, or liveliness of imagination (< French)
paroemic, adj.: of the nature of a proverb; proverbial
perambulate, v.: to cover ground at a leisurely pace

Apart from poetry and art prose, language serves a purely utilitarian purpose, and its
users rarely have occasion to comment on its form, although an apt turn of phrase or
memorable formulation may call forth condign praise from an interlocutor.
One was reminded of the ability of language to elicit admiration for its aesthetic
force by the following vignette on a Manhattan street. The parents of a two-year-old
daughter were perambulating restaurant-wards in the company of an adult friend, a
native speaker of a pre-Revolutionary variety of Russian. The father, an Italian, and
the mother, a Russian, both in their forties, were discussing the question, which of
them their daughter resembled, when their companion offered the following rhymed
paroemic comment in Russian: Hи в мaть, ни в oтцa, a в пpoeзжeгo мoлoдцa.
Literally, this phrase—a well-known cliché—amounts to saying that the child takes
after neither the mother nor the father but “a passing swain.”
Upon hearing this utterance, the mother immediately expressed pleasurable
amazement, not at the content or purport of the proverb, but at the fact that their
walking companion had summoned it up (in what amounts to an alien,
non-autochthonous environment) , and at its poetic form. It should be added for
clarity that the mother, an art historian with a keen linguistic sense but little
opportunity to speak her mother tongue, was expressing an aesthetic appreciation

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3.41 Language as an Aesthetic Object 245

that is so characteristic of Russians when they hear their native language spoken
with élan in even the most humble contexts.

3.42 The Promiscuousness of Irony as a Rhetorical Label

Glossary
divagation, n. < divagate, v.: to wander about or stray from one place or
subject to another
effete, adj.: totally devoid of an original positive drive or purposiveness
ironize, v.: to use irony: speak or behave ironically
literalist, n.: one that advocates or practices literalism, viz. adherence to the
explicit substance of an idea or expression
prolixity, n. < prolix, adj.: unduly prolonged or drawn out; diffuse, repeti-
tious, verbose
promiscuously, adv. < promiscuous, adj.: indiscriminate, careless
umbrage, n.: displeasure, resentment, annoyance

Nowadays, in the print and broadcast media everything is all-too-promiscuously


labeled irony and/or ironic, to the point where in its November 18, 2012 number
The New York Times gave a grotesque amount of space to an essay entitled “How to
Live Without Irony” in its Sunday Review section. This lowbrow divagation eli-
cited my letter to the editor of the NYT, which the newspaper—all too predictably
and characteristically—chose not to publish, so here it is for the record:
“TO THE EDITOR:
Christy Wampole’s ‘How to Live Without Irony’ (November 18, 2012) offers
food for thought but, for all its prolixity, entirely misses stating what is at the core
of irony as a rhetorical strategy, namely its negativity, its inability to signify any-
thing of positive value.
In terms developed by the modern founder of sign theory (semiotics), the
American philosopher-scientist Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914), irony can
never go beyond being an index, merely calling attention to itself and always
necessarily falling short of being a symbol, which is the only kind of sign that
encompasses positive meaning.
Worse yet, irony always tends toward masking the judgmental nature of what is
being paraded as fact or the inefficacy of an effete judgment. The ironic statement
thus runs the risk of ending up as just another cliché. That is precisely why the
contemporary generation of “temporary sophisticates” (in Wayne Booth’s apt
characterization of those who assume the ironic stance), with their heavy reliance
on digitally-bound signification, can only comment on the object of their ironizing
without ever contributing to its real substance.
246 3 Style

Apropos, only the most dogged literalist, without any real-life experience of the
situational use of the proverb cited in the preceding vignette (“Language as an
Aesthetic Object”), could comment that the mother must have “taken umbrage” at
having her child’s provenience ascribed to adultery, thereby implying some kind of
misplaced cosmic irony in her expressed admiration withal of the proverb’s poetic
form and of its utterer.”

3.43 Adjusting Speech to the Linguistic Competence of


One’s Interlocutor(s)

Glossary
aqueous, adj.: of, relating to, or having the characteristics of water
advert, v.: to turn the mind or attention; pay heed or attention
beggar, v.: to reduce to inadequacy; exceed the resources of
demos, n.: the people of a nation considered as a political unit as distin-
guished from a tribe or kinship group
don, n.: a head, tutor, or fellow in an English university
flummoxer, n. < flummox, v.: to throw into perplexity; embarrass greatly
grandiloquent, adj.: marked by a lofty, extravagantly colorful, pompous, or
bombastic style, manner, or quality especially in language
handmaiden, n.: something whose essential function is to serve and assist
lapidary, adj.: having the elegance and precision associated with inscriptions
on stone
letzten Endes: ‘in the end’, in the final analysis (German)
lexical, adj.: pertaining to the lexicon or to words
paronomasia, n.: a play upon words in which the same word is used in
different senses or words similar in sound are set in opposition so as to
give antithetical force
semantic, adj.: of or relating to meaning in language

English is a marvelous language, verily a miracle of nature. It has the largest lexical
corpus of any language on earth, allowing nigh on an infinity of expressive means,
including a stylistic range unmatched by any other form of human communication.
But like a musical instrument and the repertoire at the player’s disposal, this rich
linguistic lode demands an awareness of one’s audience’s competence in under-
standing the form and content of what is being expressed. There is, in other words,
a discourse strategy involved in every linguistic utterance, no matter how trivial or
grandiloquent.
As a rule, British speakers (like British actors) have always enjoyed a decided
advantage vis-à-vis their American cousins when it comes to native linguistic

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3.43 Adjusting Speech to the Linguistic Competence of One’s Interlocutor(s) 247

competence. English is, letzen Endes, a creation of the English nation, and only
secondarily that of the American demos. In speaking any language, but particularly
English, one’s speech must be adjusted to suit one’s interlocutor(s): speaking like
an Oxford don to a six-year-old child can only be observed in quasi-pathological
situations, when the utterer persists in taking no account of his/her conversation
partner’s knowledge of the language. In normal speech situations, the utterer always
makes allowances for the interlocutor(s) linguistic competence—assuming, of
course, the latter is a known—and adjusts his/her speech, consciously or not, to
assure comprehension. After all, only a deliberate or pathological flummoxer
wishes to speak in such a way as to beggar understanding.
Here is a contemporary example: “I did somehow manage to keep up a heroic
correspondence with our son H., who nostalgically enough was at Tōdai this year,
and that made me feel like the fons et origo of all wisdom. Most of it was water off a
duck’s back, of course.” The phrase fons et origo, embedded in the first sentence, is
Latin for ‘font and origin’, common enough in educated Anglo-American written
discourse. But its use on the writer’s part presupposes a discourse strategy that takes
into account the addressee’s knowledge of the phrase, i.e., of the addressee’s lin-
guistic competence. And whether or not the writer intended it, in an addressee alert
to paronomasia, fons here may have inadvertently adverted to the “water” in the
phrase “like water off a duck’s back,” given the aqueous semantic link between the
two phrases.
To repeat: English is a marvelous linguistic instrument, truly the handmaiden of
lapidary expression when wielded by a virtuosic player.

3.44 The Decline of Straight Talk and the Rise of


Linguistic Dross

Glossary
apotropaism, n.: an act or ritual conducted to ward off evil or danger
constate, v.: to assert positively
dross, n.: something that is base, gross, or commonplace
explanans, n.: the explaining element in an explanation; the explanatory
premisses (Latin)
hypertrophy, n.: an inordinate or pathological enlargement
intercalate, v.: to insert between or among existing elements
leitmotif, n.: something resembling a musical leitmotiv (as a word or phrase,
an emotion, an idea) that is repeated again and again; a dominant recur-
ring theme
pleonasm, n.: the use of more words than are required to express an idea;
redundancy; a superfluous word or phrase
248 3 Style

When it comes to discourse strategy, American English in the last twenty-five years
or so has undergone a marked decline in what can be called “straight talk” for want
of a better phrase or term, meaning discourse patterns that are not engorged by a
variety of fillers. The most common instance of linguistic superfluity, particularly
among younger speakers, is the hiccup-like insertion of the word like. Another such
word is the clause-initial basically; and to a lesser extent, so. All of these items have
been characterized for what they are elsewhere in these pages (see Index), as has the
general prevalence of HYPERTROPHY in its myriad forms, among which the
varieties of PLEONASM figure prominently.
What becomes clear as a leitmotif is the overarching concept of
QUALIFICATION. Speakers seem more and more unable to clothe their ideas in
linguistic dress that is not weighted down with dross. Here, again, as in so many
cases chronicled herein, what comes to mind as explanans is APOTROPAISM.
Qualification invariably comports some degree of pulling back from constating
things/ideas directly. The more hedges speech is intercalated with, the less likely
that its purport will entail (potential) danger.

3.45 Colloquialism as Emphasis (“ain’t”)

Glossary
colloquialism, n.:an expression considered more appropriate to familiar
conversation than to formal speech or to formal writing
suprasegmental, adj.: of or relating to significant features of pitch, stress, and
juncture accompanying or superadded to vowels and consonants when the
latter are assembled in succession in the construction of a
speaker-to-hearer communication

When a speaker of Standard American English (SAE) suddenly resorts in an


otherwise completely standard utterance to an obvious colloquialism, “ain’t” for
“isn’t,” as did a professor being interviewed on NPR this morning (“Morning
Edition”), one wonders what the function of this stylistic shift might be. The only
answer that makes sense is EMPHASIS. Since the word “ain’t” is a negation, other
than resorting to suprasegmental means (loudness, intonation), the speaker has only
this stylistic item at his disposal in order to call heightened attention —i.e., to a
higher degree than communicated by the neutral SAE negation “isn’t”—to the fact
that the meaning intended involves emphasis.

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3.46 A Case of Linguistic Atavism (“Kick the Can Down the Road”) 249

3.46 A Case of Linguistic Atavism (“Kick the Can Down


the Road”)

Glossary
alliteration, n.: the repetition usually initially of a sound that is usually a
consonant in two or more neighboring words or syllables (as wild and
woolly, threatening throngs)
atavism, n.: recurrence of or reversion to a past style, manner, outlook,
approach, or activity
bipartite, adj.: being in two parts
fatuous, adj.: marked by want of intelligence and rational consideration;
esp. marked by futile ill-founded hope or desire, by witless complacent
disregard of reality, or by inane lack of consideration
foot, n.: a unit of poetic meter consisting of stressed and unstressed syllables
in any of various set combinations
infantilistic, adj. < infantilism, n.: a condition of being abnormally childlike;
a retention of childish physical, mental, or emotional qualities in adult life
metrical, adj. < meter, n.: systematically arranged and measured rhythm in
verse
odious, adj.: deserving of hatred; exciting hatred or repugnance; hateful;
disagreeable; offensive; repulsive
paronomasia, n.: a play upon words in which the same word is used in
different senses or words similar in sound are set in opposition so as to
give antithetical force
phraseological, adj. < phraseology, n.: the selection or arrangement of words
and phrases in the expression of ideas; manner or style of expression; the
particular language, terminology, or diction which characterizes a writer,
work, subject, language, place, etc.
phraseologism, n.: typical modes of expression that assemble words in order
to signify something that is not limited to the sum of the meanings of the
single words that compose them
predilection, n.: a preference or particular liking for something; a bias in favor
of something; a predisposition, a proclivity; also: the fact of having such a
liking or preference
prosodic < prosody, n.: a suprasegmental phonological feature such as
intonation and stress; also: such features collectively; the patterns of stress
and intonation in a language
substrate, n.: something that is laid or spread under or that underlies and
supports or forms a base for something else; an underlying structure,
layer, or part
suprasegmental, adj.: a vocal effect that extends over more than one sound
segment in an utterance, such as pitch, stress, or juncture pattern
250 3 Style

trochaic, adj. < trochee, n.: a prosodic foot of two syllables of which the first
is long and the second short (as in Latin ante) or the first stressed and the
second unstressed (as in English motion)
truncate, v.: to abbreviate by or as if by cutting off

The utterly fatuous and stylistically odious phrase “kick the can down the road,” to
which the American media cling as a phraseological cliché with such tenacity,
might be explained as a case of linguistic atavism, specifically as an infantilistic
predilection for the alliteration of the two/k/’s of kick and can. Additionally, with
the metrical substrate of phraseologisms always a potential motivation for their
preservation, the one at issue falls into a trochaic pattern, namely a bipartite
structure consisting of two feet each, with the second foot in each case being
truncated by one syllable. Given the general lack of sophistication in media speech,
the lure of an infantile variety of paronomasia is evidently difficult to keep at bay.

3.47 Annoying Speech Mannerisms

Glossary
noisome, adj.: offensive to the smell or other senses

Every speaker of a language has their own individual manner of speaking, and this
extends beyond pronunciation to include word choice and syntax. Some features of
an individual’s speech habits may be considered annoying to one’s interlocutors or
audience, thus coming under the compass of what are called mannerisms. Of
course, what one person regards as an annoying mannerism in another’s speech
may be highly subjective and therefore not shared by all interlocutors or hearers.
The frequency with which a mannerism tends to occur obviously has an impact on
its assessment as annoying. In fact, any feature of speech that is highly repetitious is
in itself liable to be perceived as a mannerism and evaluated accordingly as an
annoying habit.
An example of the latter is the constant introduction at the beginning of prac-
tically every other utterance of the word look, which has the force of peremptoriness
and condescension toward one’s interlocutor. This annoying habit can be heard
with unfailing regularity in the responses of the NPR commentator Cokie Roberts
on Monday broadcasts of the program “Morning Edition.” The fact that what
follows this interjection is a string of commonplaces being paraded as insights only
exacerbates its noisome effect.

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3.48 Variable Forms of Address as an Indicator of Social Instability 251

3.48 Variable Forms of Address as an Indicator of Social


Instability

Glossary
forename, n.: given (first) name
purport, n.: the meaning, import, or sense
sic, adv.: so; thus (Latin); usually written parenthetically to denote that a
word, phrase, passage, etc., that may appear strange or incorrect has been
written intentionally or has been quoted verbatim
to wit, adv.: that is to say
verbatim, adv.: in exactly the same words; word for word (Latin)
vexed, adj. (< vex, v.): much discussed or disputed

Forms of address in every language are always a reliable indicator of the norms of
interpersonal behavior in any given society. The American situation in the
twenty-first century as it pertains to this matter is a picture of instability and of a
marked disintegration of traditional norms. Here is some interesting evidence as
contained in a contemporary set of data.
While grading a total of 19 papers turned in by 18 freshmen and 1 sophomore in
a Masterpieces of European Literature course at an Ivy League university, I noticed
a lack of uniformity in the notation of my name on the first page, to wit: (1) no
designation whatever—5; (2) “Professor Shapiro”—7; (3) “Professor Michael
Shapiro”—1; (4) “Mr. Shapiro”—1; (5) “Prof Michael Shapiro”—1; (6) “Michael S
[c]hapiro”—3; (7) “Shapiro”—1.
Summing up the distribution, one notes the predominance (14 out of 19 cases) of
some form of the instructor’s name, with the word “Professor” (abbreviated or not)
prefixed in 9 cases, and 4 cases lacking it. Curiously, 4 papers include the
instructor’s forename as well as the surname.
Whatever the upshot of this distribution, it is patently clear that the problem of
deciding on a proper form of address in contemporary American society is a vexed
one. When speaking with strangers answering queries over the telephone, for
instance, one is routinely addressed by one’s first name whether one has licensed
such informality or not, and attempts to right this incivility are only to be met with
incredulity. Another increasingly common example: in some so-called progressive
schools, students are encouraged to address their teachers by their first names, a
situation that would have been unthinkable fifty years ago.
An anecdote to conclude. Some years ago I taught a course as a visiting professor
on “The Philosophy of the Russian Novel” at a small private college in Vermont,
where students are in the habit of addressing their instructors by their first names
[sic!]. On the first day of class, just before I was about to start lecturing, and sensing
the awkwardness of such a practice to a newcomer, a (clearly sophisticated) student
252 3 Style

raised his hand and asked me how I would like to be addressed, to which I answered
(taking a leaf from my father’s book), “You may call me Your Excellency.” I said this
with a smile, but its purport was not lost on the group, and from that moment on the
students all addressed me in accordance with the traditional norm.

3.49 Affectation as Incipient Sound Change

Glossary
affected, adj. < affectation, n.: manner of speech or behavior not natural to
one’s actual personality or capabilities; artificiality of behavior especially
in display of feelings
incipient, adj.: beginning to be or become apparent

All languages change over time, although some are more conservative than others.
The causes of sound change have been at the center of the historical study of
language for many generations. One such cause—no doubt a marginal one—is
affectation, i.e., a largely unconscious imitation of a prestige pronunciation whereby
a speaker of a socially lower class aspires to be considered for accession to a socially
higher class by adopting a speech trait that is characteristic of the latter group.
This is apparently the cause of the recent raising of the vowel [æ], as in past,
pad, and palindrome, to the vowel [a:] of arm, father, etc. among young female
speakers (adolescents and younger women). As has been remarked in these pages,
the latter (so-called broad vowel) is to be heard as the affected variant in foreign
borrowings like Iran and Iraq instead of the traditional (so-called flat) vowel [æ]
and native words like rather.
This particular affectation is especially favored by those who wish to sound
“educated” or “cultivated” despite the fact that their brand of American English in
other respects merits neither of these designations.
Since this trait is an incipient one manifested by young females, it is worth
noting that affectations as innovations that fall short of full-fledged changes in
language typically begin among speakers who are socially less powerful but aspire
through borrowed prestige to elevate themselves linguistically. If this innovation
spreads beyond its original locus, it bids fair to displace the traditional norm.

3.50 Prior to Instead of Before: A Hyperurbanism

Glossary
fulsome, adj.: exceeding the bounds of good taste

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3.50 Prior to Instead of Before: A Hyperurbanism 253

hypertrophy, n.: an inordinate or pathological enlargement


Latinate, adj.: of, relating to, resembling, or derived from Latin
pleonasm, n.: a tautological or redundant word or form
simplex, adj., n.: consisting or composed of, characterized by, a single part,
structure, etc.
tautological, adj, < tautology, n.: needless or meaningless repetition in close
succession of an idea, statement, or word

There is no doubt that American English in the twenty-first century is swarming in


hyperurbanisms, which dictionary.com defines as “a pronunciation or grammatical
form or usage produced by a speaker of one dialect according to an analogical rule
formed by comparison of the speaker’s own usage with that of another, more
prestigious, dialect and often applied in an inappropriate context, especially in an
effort to avoid sounding countrified, rural, or provincial, as in the pronunciation of
the word two (to̅o̅) as (tyo̅o̅).”
The tendency to sound “educated” is aided and abetted by another tendency,
namely to linguistic hypertrophy, prominently including pleonasms. These two
tendencies have conspired to push the simplex (Germanic) preposition, conjunction,
and adverb before to the margins of usage in its temporal sense, the bookish
(Latinate) compound prior to (sometimes reduced to prior without the to) often
being preferred instead.
The compound prior to, it must be admitted, has the possible advantage of being
confined to temporal precedence, whereas the simple word before does double duty
as a denotation of spatial and temporal position relative to the word it governs. But
before has been perfectly serviceable in both meanings since Old English days and
is in no need of supersession.
The rise of hyperurbanisms is a direct consequence of the acquisition of the
literary language by speakers who in the pre-digital past would have had little
access to book learning and/or little desire to acquire it. Be that as it may, such
formations are to be avoided as stylistically fulsome by anyone who values
plain-speaking.

3.51 “That’s a (Really) Great/Good/Interesting Question”

Glossary
censorious, adj.: severely critical; faultfinding; carping
gambit, n.: a remark or comment designed to launch a conversation or to
make a telling point
mollify, v.: to soothe in temper or disposition
254 3 Style

otiose, adj.: lacking use or effect; superfluous


phatic, adj.: of, relating to, or being speech used to share feelings or to
establish a mood of sociability rather than to communicate information or
ideas
sensu stricto: in a strict (narrow) sense (Latin)
vocable, n.: a word composed of various sounds or letters without regard to
its meaning
withal, adv.: on the other hand; for all that; nevertheless

Speakers of (American) English not infrequently start answers to a question with


one or another variant of the sentence “That’s a good question.” It can be heard, for
instance, in broadcast interviews, but not only. This opening can be annoying to the
questioner (or to someone listening/overhearing the conversation) because it may
seem utterly otiose. However, it does have the multiple communicative effect of:
(1) complimenting the questioner for posing the question; (2) informing the
questioner that an adequate answer may not be in the powers of the interlocutor, and
forestalling a censorious judgment (silently) resulting therefrom; and (3) keeping
the channel of communication open withal.
The last effect fulfills the so-called PHATIC FUNCTION, i.e., that of keeping
the conversation going. Speech gambits that keep the channel of communication
open include not only whole sentences but a range of vocables that are not really
words sensu stricto but sounds such as “uh-huh,”hm,” grunts, and even audible
intakes of air. These are all (largely unconsciously) meant to avoid creating the
effect that one of the parties to the conversation is not listening or not interested in
keeping it going. All genuine conversations (unlike speeches or declarations) are
embedded in a social matrix, in which mollifying one’s interlocutor is an inter-
mittently necessary goal among others.

3.52 The Communicative Upshot of Uptalk

Glossary
animus, n.: ill will, antagonism, or hostility usually controlled but deep-seated
apotropaic, adj. < apotropaism, n.: an act or ritual conducted to ward off evil
or danger
baneful, adj.: creating destruction, woe, or ruin
declarative, adj.: having the characteristics of or making a declaration
interrogative, adj.: having the form or the force of a question

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3.52 The Communicative Upshot of Uptalk 255

intonation, n.: pitch phenomena in speech; esp. such a phenomenon insofar as


it makes a syntactical or emotional distinction (as between a declarative
and interrogative statement)
locus, n.: a center or source, as of activities or power
speciously, adv. < specious, adj.: apparently right or proper; superficially fair,
just, or correct but not so in reality
uptalk, n.: speech in which each clause, sentence, etc., ends like a question
with a rising inflection

The manner of speaking that has come to be called ‘uptalk’, in which declarative
sentences and clauses are rendered with interrogative instead of declarative into-
nation, has spread from its origin in the speech of adolescent girls to children of all
ages and both sexes; and even to male young adults. As a linguistic phenomenon
with social consequences, uptalk has also become part of a speech strategy that
betrays largely unconscious motives which are worthy of note.
As has been detailed in earlier posts, the main thrust of uptalk is clearly
APOTROPAIC, by which is meant a strategy employed in order to forestall danger,
in this case the danger of possible censure or criticism as a result of what is being
said. Asserting something with the normal declarative intonation runs the risk of
being disapproved or criticized, whereas phrasing a non-question with interrogative
intonation takes the assertory edge off whatever is being said, thereby softening the
utterance and removing or attenuating the risk of censure for the content of the
utterance.
A subsidiary motivation for uptalk is the communicative desirability on the part
of the utterer for reinforcement that the utterance is being understood and (at least)
provisionally agreed with on the part of the utterer’s adressee(s). The appropriate
gloss of uptalk in this aspect is something like ‘Do you follow me?’ or ‘Do you
know what I’m saying?’, phrases which are in actual use in speech without the
presence of uptalk as tags to assertions in normative English anyway.
The semeiotic upshot of a fundamentally apotropaic speech strategy abuts in
conceptions of the self and the other in their communicative interrelations as part of
social interaction. When one has to be careful to mask assertions as questions for
fear of potential censure in order to get along socially with others, this attitude
clearly betrays a fundamental lack of confidence in the society’s members’ ability to
weigh assertions on their merits instead of automatically reacting with some
measure of bias or animus to so much as the mere articulation of linguistic content
that is not implicitly unquestionable.
The urge to promote a society speciously free of communicative risk—specifi-
cally, THE RISK OF BEING (PROVEN) WRONG—is at bottom the motivation of
uptalk. Where it might have been understandable as a speech strategy of adolescent
girls, evidently involving matters of gender and power, its latter-day spread to
groups beyond its original locus can only be assessed as a peculiar—and baneful—
failure of thought.
256 3 Style

3.53 The Perils of Propitiation in Female Speech

Glossary
allophone, n.: one of two or more articulatorily and acoustically different
forms of the same phoneme
apotropaic, adj. < apotropaism, n.: an act or ritual conducted to ward off evil
or danger
atavism, n.: recurrence of or reversion to a past style, manner, outlook,
approach, or activity
cachinnation, n. < cachinnate, v.: to laugh usually loudly or convulsively
extirpate, v.: to pull up or out by or as if by the roots or stem; pluck out; root
out
paralinguistic, adj. < paralinguistics, n.: the branch of linguistics which
studies non- phonemic aspects of speech, such as tone of voice, tempo,
etc.; non-phonemic characteristics of communication; paralanguage
phoneme, n.: the smallest unit of speech that distinguishes one utterance from
another in all of the variations that it displays in the speech of a single
person or particular dialect as the result of modifying influences (as
neighboring sounds and stress)
phonemic, adj. < phonemics, n.: a branch of linguistic analysis that consists
of the study of phonemes and often includes a study of their allophones
propitiation, n. < propitiate, v.: to appease and make favorable
uptalk, n.: speech in which each clause, sentence, etc., ends like a question
with a rising inflection

Amid the recurrent media chatter concerning the obstacles encountered by women
attempting to make their way in what remains a man’s world, it is remarkable how
little mention is ever made of the paramount role of language. Importantly, what-
ever else is true of one’s persona, nothing has both the immediate and the lasting
impact of one’s speech on one’s interlocutors.
In this respect, girls whose native language is American English, from early
childhood through adolescence and into adulthood, now acquire two speech habits
that can only have the goal of propitiating their (specifically male) interlocutors but
do so at the expense of having their utterances taken as less than serious or neg-
ligible: (1) paralinguistic laughter (often to the point of cachinnation); and
(2) uptalk (uttering clauses and even whole sentences with interrogative rather than
declarative intonation) . As noted earlier, these typical features of female speech are
both apotropaic (meant to forestall danger or censure), but they are an atavism that
should have no place in twenty-first century America.
Girls and women need explicitly to be made aware of the perils of propitiation
and trained to avoid it in speech, by parents in the first instance and by teachers

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3.53 The Perils of Propitiation in Female Speech 257

thereafter. Eliminating uptalk is now perhaps nigh on impossible, but the habitual
laughter accompanying speech is assuredly a trait that can be extirpated from the
utterances of women who wish to be taken seriously.

3.54 Grades of Well-Formedness in Language


(Cacoglossia)

Glossary
cacoglossic, adj. < cacoglossia, n.: a language full of mistakes and imper-
fections (nonce word)
ersatz, adj.: substitute, counterfeit (German)
lingua franca: any of various hybrid or other languages that are used over a
wide area as common or commercial tongues among peoples of diverse
speech (as Hindustani, Swahili) (Latin)
nonce word: a word created ‘for the nonce/occasion’
pidgin, n.:a form of speech that usually has a simplified grammar and a
limited often mixed vocabulary and is used principally for intergroup
communication
wayward, adj.: characterized by extreme willfulness and by determination to
follow one’s own capricious, wanton, or depraved inclinations to the point
of being ungovernable

With globalization has come the rise of English as the world language and the
concomitant development of various Englishes, i.e., versions of what started as
the language of England and then spread throughout the globe as a lingua franca. In
the twenty-first century this development has involved the use of English with
varying degrees of grammatical well-formedness, quite apart from the matter of
different regional accents characterizing the language of native speakers and
second-language learners alike.
When one listens to the BBC World Service over the radio, one sometimes
encounters a peculiar version of English that can only be called ‘cacoglossia’. This
is speech that is identfiably English, spoken at a fluid rate of delivery but with many
grammatical mistakes. Psycholinguistically, the interesting thing about this phe-
nomenon is the realization on the hearer’s part—but evidently not on the speaker’s
—that the person uttering string upon string of cacoglossic language is not speaking
grammatically well-formed English while communicating a completely under-
standable meaning. One recent example of such speech heard on the BBC was that
of a Syrian national born in Syria but raised in the United States, who spoke with
what passed for an American accent but whose utterances constituted some kind of
258 3 Style

idiosyncratic grammatical pidgin that the speaker had internalized as an ersatz form
of English with its own wayward structure.

3.55 Linguistic Slovenliness as a Failure of Thought

Glossary
blather, n.: voluble, foolish, or nonsensical talk
factitious, adj.: produced artificially or by special effort (as for a particular
situation
maladroitness, n. < maladroit, adj.: revealing a lack of perception, judgment,
or finesse
parsimony, n.: economy in the use of a specific means to an end
slovenliness, n. < slovenly, adj.: negligent of neatness and order especially in
dress or person

Speech can be precise, even eloquent, but it can also be slovenly, promiscuous, and
maladroit. One sign of linguistic maladroitness is the constant recurrence to clichés
of all sorts, as often happens in media language and the blather of politicians. Take
the following factitious example:
The low-hanging fruit can be picked anytime and canned, but just remember not to kick the
can down the road because at the end of the day the fact is is that you’ll bump up against the
bottom line, which could be a slippery slope that’ll drop you over the fiscal cliff.

On one hand, the use of clichés is understandable because it facilitates a type of


linguistic parsimony and compactness that lend themselves to an economy of
communication. On the other hand, habitual recurrence to formulas and buzz words
invariably abuts in a species of mental slovenliness that betokens a failure of
thought, which is why it ought to be avoided at all costs.

3.56 Linguistic Tokens and Grammatical Opacity


(“You’re Welcome.”)

Glossary
gloss, n.: a comment, explanation, interpretation
opacity, n. < opaque, adj.: hard to understand, solve, or explain; not simple,
clear, or lucid

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performative, adj.: designating or relating to an utterance that effects an action


by being spoken or by means of which the speaker performs a particular
act
perfunctory, adj.: characterized by routine or superficiality; done merely as a
duty
truncation, n. < truncate, v.: to abbreviate by or as if by cutting off

Every language has perfunctory linguistic tokens meant to accompany or


acknowledge an act of some kind. The expression of thanks and its customary retort
are perhaps the most common such species in the class of what are called perfor-
mative speech acts. Sometimes these tokens are old enough to have grown opaque
to the point of meaninglessness, as with the word welcome uttered by itself or in the
phrase from which it is derived, you are/you’re welcome, as a polite formula used in
response to an expression of thanks. This formulaic utterance seems to have
originated in American English in the beginning of the 20th century but has since
spread to other