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The most beautiful English phrase is ....

Click to see. But first, my thoughts:

I don’t think you can have both native and non-native speakers enter this contest. Native speakers are clouded by the meanings of the words. Plus, other nations’ accents effect how they understand the phonetics of English words, so words with “r”s probably sound better in Spanish.

My favorite Spanish word is celoso, which I’m sure no native Spanish speakers would pick because it means “jealous.” But say it out loud - how slippery and hissing. 

06:16 pm: beckylang1 note

video

Again: Even if everyone in the world spoke English, there would still be countless accents and varieties. See if you can understand all the types that this kid with a skeezy mustache can impersonate. 

01:58 pm: beckylang2 notes

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: The Improvement of English Spelling

Absolutely fantastic piece of written work by Mark Twain. The slow deterioration in understanding that you encounter as you get closer and closer to the end is brilliant:

“For example, in Year 1 that useless letter “c” would be dropped to be replased either by “k” or “s”, and likewise “x” would…

10:09 am: beckylang142 notes

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Yr txting, sxting ways

This is part of AT&T’s No Txting and Driving campaign. I saw it flashing around on my tv and thought, do they really have to be all cute about it by getting rid of that “e?” It’s like, “You have to listen to us, because we are savvy. We know you. We know your habit of “e” elimination.”

But linguistically, what is happening here?

Another common trend of American English Online is using letters the way that they are pronounced in the alphabet. For example, “x” is pronounced “ex,” so when you spell it with a vowel eliminated, people are going to assume you mean that the letter should be pronounced according to its actual name, instead of the sound it makes. 

This elimination of vowels in favor of their implicit letter name pronunciation happens often. Yr could be considered an example of this. I would pronounce it “yer” in my mind, which makes it different from “your” or an exact fit of this description, “yar.” 

This is different from letter word substitution (“c” for “see”) because it affects how two consonants are pronounced together, effectively eliminating the need for vowels in certain situations. How important are vowels? Don’t quote me on this, but as far as I understand, they don’t even mark them in Hebrew anymore. (If you know anyone who speaks Hebrew, give them some props. That language is one of the hardest.)  

Letters you can use this technique with:

F

L

M

N

R

S

X

Ys. Whn yr psts txt, make sr they don’t drive! 

(i’m assuming “r” is used a bit more in a way that’s a bit more lax, mostly because of its regional differences in pronunciation. Japanese has an “r,” but they still call Ronald McDonald “Donald McDonald” because that “r” is “not definitive enough.”)

10:09 am: beckylang2 notes

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How the internet is changing language

See, even the BBC agrees. British English ONLINE is having similar changes. In my opinion, British English is one of the hardest languages to understand. American English is already hard enough, but British is so full of diphthongs (combinations of vowels). 

azspot:

At one point during the exchange, Mr Poole was asked to define “rickrolling”.

“Rickroll is a meme or internet kind of trend that started on 4chan where users - it’s basically a bait and switch. Users link you to a video of Rick Astley performing Never Gonna Give You Up,” said Mr Poole.

“And the term “rickroll” - you said it tries to make people go to a site where they think it is going be one thing, but it is a video of Rick Astley, right?,” asked the lawyer.

“Yes.”

“He was some kind of singer?”

“Yes.”

“It’s a joke?”

“Yes.”

The internet prank was just one of several terms including “lurker”, “troll” and “caps” that Mr Poole was asked to explain to a seemingly baffled court.

But that is hardly a surprise, according to David Crystal, honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Bangor, who says that new colloquialisms spread like wildfire amongst groups on the net.

“The internet is an amazing medium for languages,” he told BBC News.

“Language itself changes slowly but the internet has speeded up the process of those changes so you notice them more quickly.”

People using word play to form groups and impress their peers is a fairly traditional activity, he added.

“It’s like any badge of ability, if you go to a local skatepark you see kids whose expertise is making a skateboard do wonderful things.

“Online you show how brilliant you are by manipulating the language of the internet.”

01:08 pm: beckylang754 notes

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Foreign languages and drag queens and titties

I am reading all my old papers from college cuz I found them in my inbox. I wrote a paper for a sex and culture class about why people tend to get really lewd when they are speaking a non-native language. For example, in my Chinese class, almost all our sample sentences were about showering with other people’s mothers. This paper uses a lot of words like jouissance and “the other” that sound kind of douchey, so I shall leave all of those parts out. I kind of made a stretch and said that people speaking foreign languages is similar to drag queens putting on a different gender. Basically, gender is a culturally-specific code and it’s easier to rationalize it and take chances with it when you are only adopting it and you do not feel fuzed to it. Despite being about fake tits, for the most part, that element of the paper is boring and I shall leave it out.

A writer for Brave New Traveler posted a letter that a Japanese student of English had given him. It centered on the theme of liking women’s underwear, and had lines like, “it get excited when girls’ pants are seen.” This is not the type of letter that a student would write for a composition in a literature class, but the occurrence of lewd, usually school-inappropriate discussion happens frequently when people are speaking in foreign languages. Picture teenagers finding a French phrasebook and shouting French come-ons to one another in a bookstore; the weight of expression is suddenly much lighter. In order to explain the differing weight of expression in a foreign language, it must be assumed that there is a phenomenon that exists when an individual adopts a foreign system of signs that causes a distortion in the speaker’s relationship to meaning. 

Because an individual’s native language is so tightly bound into their process of thought, it takes on a primary, or biological nature. The relationship of the signified and the signifier are completely fused into one entity, like a coin with two sides. However, when one attempts to speak in a foreign language, they must forcefully remove the fused signifier in order to implant a new, different one.

 This is why people are more apt to speak differently in a foreign language; the phenomenon of lagging meaning repositions the subject’s relationship to the sign, making meaning clearly an object. That is why students of foreign languages say things that they wouldn’t say in their own language; the meaning of their words feels estranged, surreal. 

Here’s proof that the parts about fake boobs are boring:

Returning to the “two front tits” scene, the sudden appearance of the breast as a secondary signifier of sexuality reveals an uncanny mode of behavior of those involved in the scene. The men grab the breasts and poke at them in a way that appears unnatural, and the owner of the breasts displays them without reserve, creating a strange dissonance between the notion that they are suddenly lifeless sacks and the instinctual notion that they are an integral part of the woman’s role as a giver of life. Slavoj Zizek would say that an owner of a breast, a woman, cannot help but view it from a perspective that is awry, because “the look puzzled by our desires and anxieties (‘looking awry’) gives us a distorted, blurred image.”

 

10:14 pm: beckylang

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SO MANY ENGLISHES

Even Nike knows that English in all these different places is not the same English. Even more evidence that English will never be a completely homogenized lingua franca. That is, unless some kind of show becomes so addicting that everyone in the world watches it so much that we all start to talk the same. “Northern Exposure,” perhaps? Then we can all speak like American Midwesterners. 

11:47 am: beckylang

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"Like"

But first, we’re going to talk about something that has been bothering me, something that goes all the way back to the beginning of the English language, past even when people said “thou” and “yonder.”

That thing is grammar snobbiness.

Those of you who either know me well or have stalked me in depth on the Internets might ask, “But aren’t you an editor, a person who fixes bad grammar for a living?” 

Yes, that is correct. I must regularly make sure that articles about Brother Ali or Iron Man follow the laws of the associated press, AKA AP style. But that is for the sake of consistency of mass media communication, intended to give off a sheen of professionalism. It’s not inherently necessary for communication.

I’m not saying “to hell with grammar!” Grammar has important semantic functions - letting us know when a sentence is over, denoting possessives, etc. - but people forget how subjective it is. 

For example, look at its task of “letting us know when a sentence is over.” What is a sentence? Basically, an independent clause that contains both a subject (person who performs the verb) and a verb. 

Emily ran.

Bobby bought lotion.

(Sometimes people mistake a noun phrase for a verb phrase because it contains a verb, for example:

The Bobby who bought lotion. “Bought” is a verb, but here it’s just modifying the noun.)

Anyhoo, we all know that you’re not supposed to join two independent clauses with a comma, like this:

My mom took a pill, she said my aura was red.

But even if you happen to make this rookie mistake, people will still know what you mean, because we implicitly understand that a sentence is something that contains a subject and a verb, not just that it’s something with a period at the end.

In Chinese, you can join two independent clauses with commas all you want, because grammar is subjective.

It’s ok to practice standard English grammar. It will get you far. But just make sure you are not grumbling about bad grammar without understanding that there are countless variations of English on this planet. Not only on the planet, but even in America. There is African American English (or as some people call it, “Ebonics,” although I do not believe this is politically correct anymore) which is influenced by West African trade languages, Spanglish, and even what I will sloppily label “teenspeak.” In a way, everyone speaks their own personal language, marked by their habits, imagery, grammatical anomalies, or even a million asterisks and hearts on their MySpace profile. Using non-standard English denotes who you are in relation to other people, what age you are and what group you belong to. 

Thus, the difference between descriptive linguistics and prescriptive linguistics:

Prescriptive linguistics is the bad kind. It says, “The only correct way is this way, and I’m going to think people are dumb when they don’t do it this way.” It is a school of thought usually held by teachers and other enemies of society (just kidding!). Prescriptive linguistics fails to realize that language is always in flux. Language is like a big dorky quilt being worked on by a million needles, where one end looks smooth and the other is an abstract hodgepodge, depending on where you sit.

Descriptive linguistics instead aims to research what people are actually saying and how they transcribe it, and why they do things the way they do. No one speaks in nonsense, except maybe people with brain damage to the Wernicke or Broca areas in their brains, if I remember my high school psych class right. There is no motivation to speak in nonsense, so every variation from standard English has its own semantic rules.

Look at the habitual “be.” 

My mom be giving herself her diabetes shot.

It seems incorrect, but instead it denotes that it is not happening at this moment, but is instead a habitual act. She always gives herself the shot, as opposed to someone else. 

So, let’s look at the word “like.”

I can’t wait till people start getting off kids’ cases about saying “like.”

That word has several functions:

-To denote approximation (She had like fourteen different shades of red nail polish.)

-To introduce an example, or a list (I brought lots of food to the slumber party, like Cheetos and Pop Tarts)

-To compare two things or introduce a simile (It was just like her ADD had up and disappeared!) (Teachers would probably tell you to say “as if” instead)

-A hedge  (a hedge is something like “um,” or “well,” something people use when they feel intimidated in a conversation) (I was just like, what are you, like doing? Like she’s such a like hoe.) (Admittedly, this function gives all the other ones a bad name, because it brings up associations of the cast of “The Hills”)

In about 30 years, it’s not going to seem unsophisticated to say “like” in these instances (except maybe the fourth), because with time it will become semantically cemented and lose its stigma of suntanned, birdbrained California youth. 

Did you read for this long? No. Oh that’s depressing. I understand though. I like get distracted too. But if you are still reading, have some sensitivity when people don’t write in Standard English. Its OK 2 b non-standard, mayB its even kewl.

11:15 pm: beckylang1 note

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Cat Roulette


I’ve noticed a lot of people discussing the popular conversation-related penis-go-round Chatroulette and pronouncing it as “Chat Roolay.” I’m not sure why. Is it Stephen Colbert’s fault for insisting that his name be pronounced the French way, creating a neurosis wherein people assume all possibly French words fade off into an “ay” sound, throwing all consonants to the wind? Probably. But in French, the addition of an “e” at the end of a word, usually accompanied by an extra consonant, means that you pronounce the final consonant. Semantically, this makes the word feminine, or diminutive (affectionate/small, like “taquito” in Spanish). Example: equestrian becomes “equestrienne” - a female horseback rider. This structure can be seen in a few English words, like “dudette.”

But even if proper French pronounced the word “roolay,” why do they want to pronounce the word the French way? That would make even less sense, because in French “chat” means “cat,” and chat is actually called “discussion instantanée.” How un-fun.

Portuguese has the best word for “chat” - “bate-papo,” which means “jaw shake,” and is pronounced “bahtchee pahpoo.”

Anyway, I actually went on Chatroulette when I was really bored and kind of tipsy one night. At first a guy told me to “show him some,” so I pressed a button and talked to a Spanish college student for awhile. What I thought was weird about the whole thing was that so many people preferred to chat rather than actually speak on the service.It reminded me a lot of the book “Feed” by M.T. Anderson (one of the best books around). The book is about a distopian future wherein everyone has internet in their minds via a chip, and during tense moments in the book the characters chat to each other instead of speak out loud.

03:37 pm: beckylang3 notes

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Emoticons!

You knew this was coming. I borrowed this image from my art blog, and it feels lazy to post the same thing to two blogs. I like to think I have a 16 blog-capacity personality, at least. JK YALL, even peanut butter can only be spread so far, and I don’t dare to do anything peanut butter can’t.

(That kind of statement is called hyperbole.)

Anyway, I’ve already discussed ways that we kids add emotional inflection on our internetspeak, like adding extra vowels (yaay), or using acronyms LOL. Emoticons, predictably, do the same thing.

Oftentimes an emoticon is used to suggest that the tone of a statement is opposite from its content.

For example: “Yeah, you have the worst taste in music. I saw your Taylor Swift playlist. :)”

They can also have a softening effect on a statement, which is crucial to polite use of language. (That’s why we say “Could you open the window, you think?” Instead of, “It’s muggy; open that window NOW.”) However, since half of what people do on the internets is flirt, this softening effect could also be called an “un-creepifying effect.” For example:

Monstercookie92; What ru up 2?
Uwant2cmygilliehicks: Oh just puttin’ on my face so I don’t look UGLY.
Monstercookie92: U never look ugly.
Monstercookie92: :)

In this scenario it says, “There’s a ten percent chance I’m kidding with you, just enough so you know I don’t plan to roofie you tonight.”

What’s really interesting about the emoticon is its future potential. These are the stone age days of chat technology. Will they someday have our faces, like in my picture? What will all the sexual predators do then?

03:36 pm: beckylang