Doctor... one day

Gwynne, sexist language and causing offence

He’s good value, that Gwynne chap. Two posts out of one little book which I haven’t even read.

In his preface, Gwynne explains about his use of pronouns. He notes that ‘he’ used to be used for ‘a member of the human race of either sex’, but now is found offensive by ‘some people’ (here, he implicitly compares these overly sensitive people to those sensible women who used to use ‘he’ ‘without hesitation or objection’). He (rightly) says that ‘he or she’ is ‘disagreeably clumsy’, but then irrationally dismisses singular ‘they’, a perfectly elegant and simple solution with good historical pedigree. His dismissal is based on nothing more than the ‘authoritative’ opinion of a style guide and Simon Heffer, who is a journalist, and whose work has been called ‘staggeringly erroneous’ and inconsistent by, you know, actual authorities on language (=linguists). So, he says, he will avoid generic ‘he’ where it is possible to do so, so as not to potentially annoy those namby pamby sensitive readers. However, avoiding it completely is beyond even Gwynne’s considerable writing skills, and so sometimes, he must use it to avoid awkwardness. He says,

Please be assured, therefore, on the few occasions that you see the all-embracing ‘he’ or equivalent, that it is occurring without any offence being intended.

Oh, well, that’s all right then. If he doesn’t mean any offence, there won’t be any offence. Permit me to make an extreme analogy, which I’ll put under a readmore as it contains highly offensive language (the ‘n-word’).

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Why everyone who works with language needs linguistics

Someone on a blog I read the other day posted this question, asking for advice:

Does anyone know any tricks to know when English -ed is pronounced as [d~t] as in “begged” and “knocked” versus [ed] like “petted”?
Some of my students have issues and I don’t know how to help them.

(I haven’t linked to the actual blog because I don’t want to seem like I’m criticising them personally.)

You might think that people who teach language know linguistics. Most people seem to think that linguistics *is* teaching languages. In fact, lots of linguistics graduates go on to do language teaching, but they are far outnumbered by language teachers who don’t have a linguistics background. TESOL MA programmes frequently have a core linguistics component, but people who’ve chosen to do TESOL but not linguistics are probably not that interested in linguistics anyway.

The reason I mention this is that the question above is taught on any first-year linguistics course as the absolute go-to example of phonologically-conditioned allomorphy in English. Typically, we point out that native English speakers do this subconsciously and consistently, and it’s an example of how there are rules and we can discover them by careful investigation, as well as to teach the theoretical concept.

Of course, speakers of other languages with different rules will not do this subconsciously, because the rules of their language might not automatically force the same result as English. They’ll need the rule taught to them. The fact that someone who (presumably) is teaching English doesn’t know how to explain this simple fact is quite shocking to me, but I doubt the asker is alone. A few basic linguistics classes would make life as an English teacher so much easier, I can’t even imagine why it wouldn’t be standard.

Help please!

Hey you know that post that goes around sometimes that says that if there’s a third of women in a crowd, men perceive there to be more women than men, and same for girls talking in class and so on? Well, I can’t find any source for that for the life of me. Anyone know if it’s legit research so I can include it in my essay?

Narrow thoughts on Wide: historyismyboyfriend: “Latin, in distinct contrast, didn’t so much... →


“Latin, in distinct contrast, didn’t so much decline as evolve. It became the Romance languages. It is not too much to say that French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian are essentially modern versions of Latin.

If we must fix a date for when Latin stopped…

"And indeed it is still possible to construct long passages of modern Italian that are identical to ancient Latin.”

I don’t speak either language well enough to be sure, but this sounds wrong to me. If you can do it, it would be very short passages and it would be kind of a ‘trick’. Anyone know?

BBC One - Breakfast, 01/05/2013, Get to grips with grammar  →

I might work up a proper post about this some time but OH MY GOD at 02:50 or so he actually says “[English] wasn’t a living language until only very recently”

Warning: do not watch if you are easily upset by crazy old men with wrong-headed ideas about language being given a platform on the BBC breakfast news.

(Also, it’s a BBC clip so probably isn’t available to everyone in the world… sorry. It also doesn’t work on iphones. Feel free to reblog if you can find it on youtube or something.)


It’s sadly ironic that Shakespearean English is held on a pedestal while Appalachian English socially marks its speakers as “dumb, lazy hillbillies”, considering that—in various aspects—Appalachian English is arguably the closest to Shakespearean English out of all living dialects of English.

Do you know if this is actually true? I ask because I don’t know the first thing about Appalachian English and I don’t know much more about Shakespearean English, and I read a chapter in 'Language Myths' that said that this was a myth but provided NO LINGUISTIC DATA to back up the claim that it was a myth and it was so frustrating. So I’d be interested to know if there is any evidence either way. 

Sandy Beaches in Distant Reaches: I like how the only infixes in the English language involve the word... →


I like how the only infixes in the English language involve the word “fuck.”

Those in-fucking-fixes.

^ I’d claim that technically though, that’s not an infix, because it needs to be in the middle of the root, not the stem.

Actually, I changed my mind. It does function as an infix, because…

Apparently it’s technically tmesis, because it’s a whole word, not a morpheme? But most people call it an infix. There’s also Homeric Infixation - the infix ‘ma’ as in Homer Simpson’s speech. saxo-ma-phone, maca-ma-damia, etc.