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Old 01-14-2018, 09:26 PM
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Default Linguistic miscellany

I'm not actually sure if this or The Sciences is a more appropriate place to put this thrad, but the question I have is largely historical in scope, so I'll put it here. And since I've had linguistics questions before (e.g., the correlation between Wasilla's accent and Minnesota/Fargo's), and I'm sure I'll have additional ones in the future, I'm making it general rather than specific to my question.

Anyhow, for rather esoteric reasons*, I've gotten sucked into a vortex of looking up the etymologies of English words, and I've noticed an increasingly ubiquitous pattern: longer words seem much likelier to have Greek or Latin etymologies than shorter ones (etymology: from Old French ethimologie, from Latin etymologia, from ancient Greek ἐτυμολογία, from ἔτυμον [étumon, "true sense"] and -λογία [-logía, "study of", from λόγος {lógos, “word; explanation”}]; ubiquitous: from Latin ubique ["everywhere"], from ubi ["where"]; esoteric: from Ancient Greek ἐσωτερικός [esōterikós, "belonging to an inner circle"], from ἐσωτέρω [esōtérō, "further inside"], comparative of ἔσω [ésō, "within"], from ἐς (es), εἰς [eis, "into"]). Most of the one-syllable English words I've looked up have had Germanic origins of some sort, while almost all the three-syllable-and-above words have had either Greek or Latin roots.

But I haven't looked up nearly enough words to determine whether my sample was close enough to random to indicate a legitimate pattern, and even if I were to look up a thousand words (which I don't have time/patience to do), I still couldn't be sure that I'd examined a truly random sample. So naturally, I looked for existing scholarship.

To that end, I've tried a number of web searches, and none of them returned results that look relevant. I honestly don't know where look, either. I've tried several different phrasings in Google's general and academic searches. The problem is that every phrasing I can think of contains words that could be used in several different questions, and the web searches I've tried have all returned results addressing those other questions.

As a result, I'm trying what's probably a more reliable approach: asking a forum that contains actual linguistic experts (e.g., erimir). Is there a correlation between English word length and linguistic origin? Purely beyond the searches I've run, writing advice that's stuck in my head leads me to suspect there is. Orwell advised, in "Politics and the English Language", to avoid using too many words of foreign (especially Greek or Latin) origin, and also, "Never use a long word when a short word will do".** (Similarly, Churchill advised: "Broadly speaking, short words are best, and the old words, when short, are best of all.") If my hypothesis is correct, then these two seemingly different pieces of advice are actually metonymically saying the same thing (metonymy: from Late Latin metonymia, from Ancient Greek μετονομασία (metonomasía, "change of name"], from μετά [metá, "other"] + ὄνομα [ónoma, "name"]; hypothesis: from Middle French hypothese, from Late Latin hypothesis, from Ancient Greek ὑπόθεσις [hupóthesis, "base, basis of an argument, supposition"], literally "a placing under", itself from ὑποτίθημι [hupotíthēmi, "I set before, suggest"], from ὑπό [hupó, "below"] + τίθημι [títhēmi, "I put, place"]).

Thanks in advance for any response.



*On the off chance anyone cares, the exact cause was that I began putting songs and albums with Greek titles that had been rendered in Latin script back into Greek script. (I don't recall for certain why I developed this obsession; perhaps it was the release of Blut aus Nord's Deus salutis meæ [Blut aus Nord: grammatically unusual German for "Blood from/of the North"; Deus salutis meæ: Latin for "God of My Salvation"], which has three Greek titles in Greek script and two in Latin script.*** I'm almost certain the band did this because the three in Greek script are interludes and the others are full-length songs, but that was probably when I began converting other Greek titles to the Greek alphabet.) This led me down a particularly deep rabbit hole when I realised how many song, album, and band names I need to change over if I want to be consistent - for instance, Genesis (Γένεσις) and Arcturus (Ἀρκτοῦρος). In doing so, I've begun realising how many words we use in English actually have Greek origins.

I'm currently grappling with how deep I want to take this project. Thus far, the standard I've used is that if a title uses solely Greek words/names, I'll change it to Greek script, but if it also uses non-Greek words (e.g., "Thorns of Charon"), I'll leave it intact. I've also extended this project to loanwords from languages that use Cyrillic script, though there aren't as many of these (though, since I listen to several Ukrainian bands, there are still more than you might expect). Hebrew, Arabic, and possibly even Hindi words may eventually follow, but amongst my portable players, only my Galaxy actually supports these alphabets. I'm also only doing this for my portable players; for the lossless files on my computer, which is linked to my last.fm profile, I've left the original titles intact.

This isn't a perfect standard; two of At the Drive-In's titles have provided an edge case to test its limits. "Alpha Centauri" is entirely of Greek origin, but it looks rather silly in Greek script unless I actually spell out "alpha", which still looks somewhat silly. The second song is "Proxima Centauri", and "Proxima" is of Latin origin, so using my current standard, that one wouldn't get converted over to Greek script. That would leave the two "Centauri" tracks in different scripts, which would also look silly. I'm leaning towards making an exception for these and leaving them both intact.



**These are probably the two pieces of writing advice in Orwell's timeless essay that I've been very bad at following. (He also recommends never using metaphors, similes, and other figures of speech you're used to seeing in print; while I avoid employing these, I still do so occasionally: see "rabbit hole" above.) By contrast, probably over half of my revision process consists of following another of his recommendations, "If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out." Apart from edit notes (which may not be particularly reliable since I sometimes notice and fix typos hours after I stop working on a post), it should be possible to determine which posts I've revised here by their relative verbosity or concision: the more ideas I express in fewer words, the longer I probably spent revising it.



***In fact, every single title on the album seems to be of foreign origin. The Greek titles are "Δημιουργός" (Dēmiourgós, meaning creator), "Γνῶσις" (Gnôsis, meaning knowledge), "Apostasis" (Απόστασης, meaning distance, length, or duration), and "Ἡσυχασμός" (Hesychasmos, meaning quietism), and "Métanoïa" (Μετᾰ́νοιᾰ, meaning repentance, though this word is also used in English minus the accents). "Chorea macchabeorum" is apparently a Latin title meaning either "Dance of the Maccabees" or "Dance of Death", but the grammar confounds me. "Impius" and "Revelatio" are self-explanatory Latin terms and "Ex tenebrae lucis" is also Latin meaning "Out of Darkness, Light". "Abisme" is Old French for "abyss" (also Catalan, Basque, and a few other Romance languages, but given that the band is French, they probably intended it as Old French).
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  #2  
Old 01-14-2018, 10:11 PM
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Default Re: Linguistic miscellany

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Most of the one-syllable English words I've looked up have had Germanic origins of some sort
Fuck that shit
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Old 01-14-2018, 10:12 PM
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Default Re: Linguistic miscellany

Latin (and to a lesser extent Greek) was the language in which people thought, or at least wrote down those thoughts) until at least the 17th century, so logically (there's one) a lot of abstract words should be associated with it. Science, technology, philosophy, religion etc.

In Dutch in the 17th century they made up a lot of Dutch words for chemical elements and compounds, so it is probably one of the few languages where words like oxygen (Dutch zuurstof = acid material), hydrogen (waterstof = water material) or carbon (koolstof = coal material) have native names.
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Old 01-15-2018, 02:05 AM
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Default Re: Linguistic miscellany

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Originally Posted by The Man View Post
I'm not actually sure if this or The Sciences is a more appropriate place to put this thrad, but the question I have is largely historical in scope, so I'll put it here.
You could justify it either way, but I'd note that while the difference you're noticing is connected to etymology, which is historical ("What are the origins of many multisyllabic words in English?"), it's also reflected synchronically as well. That is, if you compare English and Greek or Romance languages, you'll find that English generally has a higher percentage of monosyllabic words, or shorter words more generally. (This probably would also hold up in comparing Old English and Latin or Ancient Greek, as it's reflected across the various members of those language branches.)
Quote:
I've gotten sucked into a vortex of looking up the etymologies of English words, and I've noticed an increasingly ubiquitous pattern: longer words seem much likelier to have Greek or Latin etymologies than shorter ones [...]. Most of the one-syllable English words I've looked up have had Germanic origins of some sort, while almost all the three-syllable-and-above words have had either Greek or Latin roots.
[...]
As a result, I'm trying what's probably a more reliable approach: asking a forum that contains actual linguistic experts (e.g., erimir). Is there a correlation between English word length and linguistic origin? Purely beyond the searches I've run, writing advice that's stuck in my head leads me to suspect there is.
Germanic languages tend to have monosyllabic roots, especially. Words can be longer for various reasons, such as inflections (long-er, writ-ing, wish-es, etc.), derivations (slow-ness, slow-ly, writ-er, etc.) or compounding (light-house, al-so, etc.).

The reason that the etymologies of short words tend to be Germanic is due to this phonological difference between these language families. Germanic languages tend to put the stress on the first syllable, and over time they lost many of the later syllables (all those magic silent e's in English used to be pronounced, for example).

I would also note that many borrowings from French are also only one or two syllables. This is because French is the Romance language that has reduced or eliminated the most vowels. We also borrowed more commonplace words from it due to the Norman invasion, whereas Latin and Greek words entered English largely through academic and scientific writings. So we have words like "debt", "doubt", "pretty", "chief", "beef", "pork", etc.

Borrowings from other languages will reflect the phonological patterns in those languages too. Chinese languages tend to have words with one or two syllables, so we have "tea" (and "chai"), "gungho", "ketchup", "gingko", "kowtow", "typhoon", etc. I suspect we're unlikely to borrow many single syllable Chinese words since many will already have a meaning in English; especially since if you ignore tone, Chinese has many fewer possible monosyllables than English. But we have far fewer borrowings from languages that aren't French, Latin, or Greek.

So differences in phonology explains part of it. But part is probably also related to the types of words that would be borrowed.

It's probably true that technical words tend to be longer across languages, and those words are even more likely to be borrowings (particularly in English), while function words (prepositions, pronouns, conjunctions, etc.) tend to be shorter across languages, and function words are less likely to be borrowed.

To illustrate the point with technical words... Icelandic tries to avoid Latin and Greek borrowings, but the Germanic neologisms they use instead are often longer words too (for example, veðurfræði means weather-science, i.e. meteorology, which is quite similar to what the Greek roots mean anyway). A lot of Latin and Greek technical words are also compounds (anything ending with -ology or -ography, for example) and compounds tend to be longer obviously, since they must contain two roots instead of one. If we tried to use native Anglo-Saxon words for a lot of technical vocabulary, we'd probably end up doing similar things (we could say, perhaps weathercraft or weatherlore) and they'd still end up being multi-syllabic.

So the type of words we borrow (more technical words, fewer commonplace words, very few function words) also has an effect.

Borrowings are also moderated by English's own phonological patterns. As I mentioned, we don't have many monosyllabic borrowings from Chinese since there's a lot of overlap with preexisting English words. Similarly, we'd be unlikely to borrow a particularly long Japanese or Swahili or Turkish word. A German word like backpfeifengesicht is unlikely to enter common use, and if it does, it probably would end up being shortened. Schadenfreude is probably about as long as it gets if we're not familiar with the components of the word (and most people elide the final vowel in my experience).

Specifically for Latin and Greek, as compared to other sources of borrowings, I would say since we're familiar with so many Latin and Greek roots, we can combine them into longer words. As you can imagine, a large amount of scientific vocabulary didn't actually exist in Latin when it was a spoken language, since those words were created to describe new concepts. "Colonoscopy" is not a word used by the ancients, I'm guessing.

Many of these patterns would also apply to borrowings in other languages! I took a semester of Swahili, and Swahili, like English, has a vocabulary dominated by borrowings (in the case of Swahili, from Arabic and to a lesser extent English). But while Swahili words tend to be much longer than English ones because of more extensive inflection, I noticed that Arabic-origin verbs tended to have longer roots than Bantu-origin verbs. The verb for "to eat", is ku-la and "to be" is ku-wa, but "to travel" is ku-safiri (yes, related to safari) and "to discuss" is ku-jadili. I can be relatively assured of the etymologies because Bantu verbs always end in 'a', and so the ones that don't are borrowings, usually Arabic.
Quote:
Orwell advised, in "Politics and the English Language", to avoid using too many words of foreign (especially Greek or Latin) origin, and also, "Never use a long word when a short word will do".
But this is just an imperfect heuristic for avoiding words that won't be understood, because they're technical jargon or overly "learned". Plenty of foreign words in English are common and easily understood. (For example, "plenty", "foreign", "common" and "easy" all come from French.)

If you perceive the word as foreign, on the other hand, that might be a better indicator that it's less likely to be understood than whether it is foreign. (But if you intentionally avoided non-Germanic words in English and used archaic Germanic words, you would be using less foreign words but be harder to understand.)

Generally speaking, I find hard and fast rules like that for writing to be misguided. Elements of Style contains a lot of stupid rules, for example.
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Old 01-15-2018, 04:38 AM
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Default Re: Linguistic miscellany

On the subject of stupid rules in style guides: there are style guides / checkers for computer languages, often embedded in programs like JSLint or ESlint, that check your source code and make suggestions such as 'add a space here' or 'remove this semicolon.' On the whole these are helpful.

Computer languages have much smaller vocabularies and more rigid syntax rules than human languages, but the style guides still give inconsistent and conflicting advice. Just as with human language style guides you find that always adhering to the guides makes your programs less readable. You find timid and/or pedantic people who obsessively modify their code until it meets all the recommendations of the style guide(s) even though this makes the code less readable to themselves and others and occasionally introduces bugs into previously bug-free code.
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Old 01-15-2018, 07:09 AM
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Default Re: Linguistic miscellany

Oh, I'd also note that while Latin and Greek words have more syllables than a lot of Anglo-Saxon words, this isn't necessarily the same as "longer."

"Strengths" is only one syllable, but "patella" definitely doesn't take three times as long to say. Latin and Greek tend to have fewer consonants per syllable than English, so their syllables take less time to say on average...
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Old 01-16-2018, 07:28 PM
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Default Re: Linguistic miscellany

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On the subject of stupid rules in style guides: there are style guides / checkers for computer languages, often embedded in programs like JSLint or ESlint...
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Old 01-16-2018, 10:26 PM
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Default Re: Linguistic miscellany

I wonder if anyone has written a Beylint package yet.
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Old 05-02-2018, 10:31 PM
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Default Re: Linguistic miscellany

"Aren't I?"

Having thought about it, how did we get to this contraction? It's not obviously subjunctive tense (if we weren't using a contraction, we'd say "am I not?"), but it's considered grammatically correct, as far as I know. What gives? (This is the sort of question that I doubt it's possible to Google very well.)


...I forgot to reply to the responses to my first question.

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Originally Posted by erimir View Post
the difference you're noticing is connected to etymology, which is historical
That's why I ultimately went with the history forum.

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Originally Posted by erimir View Post
Quote:
Orwell advised, in "Politics and the English Language", to avoid using too many words of foreign (especially Greek or Latin) origin, and also, "Never use a long word when a short word will do".
But this is just an imperfect heuristic for avoiding words that won't be understood, because they're technical jargon or overly "learned". Plenty of foreign words in English are common and easily understood. (For example, "plenty", "foreign", "common" and "easy" all come from French.)

If you perceive the word as foreign, on the other hand, that might be a better indicator that it's less likely to be understood than whether it is foreign. (But if you intentionally avoided non-Germanic words in English and used archaic Germanic words, you would be using less foreign words but be harder to understand.)

Generally speaking, I find hard and fast rules like that for writing to be misguided. Elements of Style contains a lot of stupid rules, for example.
Orwell himself didn't actually intend it to be a hard-and-fast rule; he explicitly closed out his list of advice with, "Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous", and he prefaced it with an indication that he meant it as general guidelines "that one can rely on when instinct fails" rather than a sort of thing to adhere to slavishly (and, perhaps more importantly, a long paragraph about how one must "let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way about"). It's just easier to remember the rules the way he phrased them than it would be if they were "Avoid using foreign words unless they're used so commonly that people don't think of them as foreign words" or "Avoid using long words where short ones would do unless it's easier to understand that way". (And he wrote, "never use a foreign phrase...if you can think of an everyday English equivalent"; I'd contend that if a word/phrase of foreign origin is used so commonly that people don't realise it's foreign, it probably is an "everyday English equivalent" by this point.)

But I agree that The Elements of Style contains a lot of downright awful writing advice. I don't know what Orwell thought of that book, but I suspect he hated it, though I'm having difficulty explaining precisely why I think this. The Elements of Style seems the exact sort of hidebound, stuffy style guide that produces bland, unimaginative prose, and Orwell decries such prose throughout "Politics and the English Language". Perhaps it is best to quote him at length:

Quote:
What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way about. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is to surrender them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing, you probably hunt about till you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures or sensations.
I think everyone who speaks or writes English should reread this essay often.

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Originally Posted by erimir View Post
A German word like backpfeifengesicht is unlikely to enter common use
...which is unfortunate, because how else are we to describe Ted Cruz and Martin Shkreli?

Also, while I clicked the [thanks] button, I should probably have said something more formal as well, given how detailed that response was.
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Old 05-02-2018, 10:47 PM
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Default Re: Linguistic miscellany

Set aside the word order complaint (are not I vs are I not), because all contractive* negative interrogatives work that way: aren't you, don't I, won't we?
* I made up that word

The main complaint seems to be that it should be "amn't I" - but I suggest it is in fact that, just contracted a bit further. (As with "won't you have another cup of tea, vicar" - won't isn't short for "wo not" but "will not".) We are actually saying "an't I" and lengthening or rounding the 'a' to "aren't I" or "ain't I". (The choice between them is a simple fight of class, culture and style.)

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(This is the sort of question that I doubt it's possible to Google very well.)
Searching on "aren't I" grammar yields numerous results. :P
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Old 05-03-2018, 01:21 AM
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Originally Posted by The Man View Post
"Aren't I?"

Having thought about it, how did we get to this contraction? It's not obviously subjunctive tense (if we weren't using a contraction, we'd say "am I not?"), but it's considered grammatically correct, as far as I know. What gives? (This is the sort of question that I doubt it's possible to Google very well.)
JoeP is on the right track:
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Originally Posted by JoeP View Post
Set aside the word order complaint (are not I vs are I not), because all contractive* negative interrogatives work that way: aren't you, don't I, won't we?
* I made up that word
I would say interrogatives with negative contractions.

I'll talk about the word order in a sec.
Quote:
The main complaint seems to be that it should be "amn't I" - but I suggest it is in fact that, just contracted a bit further. (As with "won't you have another cup of tea, vicar" - won't isn't short for "wo not" but "will not".)
"Won't" isn't an especially contracted form of "will not" via (presumably) "willn't" and "win't". It is either contracted from "woll not", "woll" being an archaic variant of "will", or it's a sound change caused by the /w/ sound.
Quote:
We are actually saying "an't I" and lengthening or rounding the 'a' to "aren't I" or "ain't I".
Here's probably the easiest way to answer the question though, in more detail:
English auxiliaries and contractions - Wikipedia
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wikipedia
The contraction aren't, which in standard English represents are not, is a very common means of filling the "amn't gap" in questions: Aren't I lucky to have you around? Some twentieth-century writers described this usage as "illiterate" or awkward; today, however, it is reported to be "almost universal" among speakers of Standard English.[19] Aren't as a contraction for am not developed from one pronunciation of "an't" (which itself developed in part from "amn't"; see the etymology of "ain't" in the following section). In non-rhotic dialects, "aren't" and this pronunciation of "an't" are homophones, and the spelling "aren't I" began to replace "an't I" in the early part of the 20th century, although examples of "aren't I" for "am I not" appear in the first half of the 19th century, as in "St. Martin's Day", from Holland-tide by Gerald Griffin, published in The Ant in 1827: "aren't I listening; and isn't it only the breeze that's blowing the sheets and halliards about?"
To add a little detail, consider the typical British pronunciation of "can't", which would be "caahnt" [kɑːnt], rather than rhyming with "ant" [kænt]. If "amn't" went from [æmnt] to [ænt], it is sensible that it would develop to [ɑːnt]. And due to the typical non-rhotic pronunciation in British English, "aren't" would also be [ɑːnt] rather than [ɑrnt]. Hence "aren't" is most likely a development from "amn't", in fact.

As mentioned, "ain't" is also a development from "amn't", except that at some point in the 1800s, it was decided that it was "improper" vulgar English, and has fallen out of favor in formal contexts.

The fact that "ain't" covers some other meanings is due to some other coincidences. "Hain't" was a variant form of "haven't" and "hasn't", that later lost the 'h'. It is occasionally found in some dialects, along with "hit", the older form of "it", as in "hit hain't come yet". The loss of the 'h' merged it with "ain't", the negative form of "am". Since "hain't" could be used with any person rather than just first person, this is probably why "ain't" can now also stand for "isn't" and "aren't". And I guess it expanded from there, so it can also stand for "don't"/"doesn't" in some dialects.

(As for the pronunciation of the vowel in "ain't" and "hain't", there are some dialects that say "cain't" instead of "can't" too...)

As for why there's the odd alternation between "is it not?"/"isn't it?" and "do I not?"/"don't I?" etc. the explanation I find most convincing is that... negative auxiliaries in English are not contractions, but rather inflected forms.

Compare the contraction of "is" as "'s". It can be contracted in almost any position except at the end of a clause or when the verb is to be emphasized. So, "the man's coming", "the food you ordered's here", it doesn't need to contract onto a noun/pronoun specifically. But "n't" can only attach to an auxiliary verb. Nothing can come between it and that verb, and if the verb moves, as it does for questions, it must move along with the verb. Additionally, other contractions don't cause irregular forms, but there are several irregular contractions: "don't", "won't", "shan't" and "ain't". As I explained, "ain't" can be explained etymologically, but to a modern speaker it doesn't seem to be a contraction of anything, since it's not obvious that it derives from "am" + "not", "ai" is not a verb, and it's not limited to standing for "am not" either.

It makes more sense to say that "won't" is simply a negative verb, not a contraction of two words. I assume this is probably essentially how they teach negative auxiliaries to ESL/EFL learners. Otherwise you'd have to explain that it's a contraction of "not" but that "is he not?" doesn't contract to "is hen't?", nor does "isn't he?" de-contract to "is not he?" and either way you'll have to explain the irregular forms, and for advanced learners, you'll probably need to explain "ain't" as well. The whole time you'll have to be basically explaining that the term "contraction" doesn't mean what it seems to mean. (I'm sure they say that English speakers call them "contractions" though.)

Last edited by erimir; 05-04-2018 at 12:50 AM.
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Old 05-03-2018, 01:59 AM
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Default Re: Linguistic miscellany

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But I agree that The Elements of Style contains a lot of downright awful writing advice. I don't know what Orwell thought of that book, but I suspect he hated it, though I'm having difficulty explaining precisely why I think this. The Elements of Style seems the exact sort of hidebound, stuffy style guide that produces bland, unimaginative prose, and Orwell decries such prose throughout "Politics and the English Language".
My impression is that there's quite a deal of overlap between fans of The Elements of Style and Politics and the English Language, so I'm not so sure I agree. It's possible, perhaps probable, he would've disliked Strunk & White for reasons unrelated to an aversion to prescriptivism or categorical rules about writing that don't make much sense, don't help much, and that the author(s) themselves frequently violate. Also some of his rules are similar to theirs.

Orwell's a cool guy, but his rules for writing don't strike me as much more helpful than Strunk & White's. The fact that he includes a rule that basically means "ignore these other rules when they don't make sense" doesn't make his prescriptions particularly useful. Then how is a writer supposed to know whether it makes sense to follow the rules or not? What are the meta-rules about when to follow the rules? How do the rules add anything beyond more general prescriptions like "use language that is easily understood by your audience but without sacrificing precision"? Why say "avoid foreign words" if what you really mean is "words that seem foreign", which basically turns it into "avoid words that will be unfamiliar to your audience"?

The fact is that good writing can't be boiled down into simple rules.

And some of Orwell's rules are just bad. Never using a familiar metaphor or simile is silly. Sure, avoid lazy cliches, but metaphors are strongly embedded in our language (my use of "embed" here comes from a metaphor!). Where is the line between a played out cliche and a metaphor that is so ubiquitous that is becoming or has become the common meaning of the word? And it's not like we'd prefer played out cliches that aren't metaphors.

The passive voice is unfairly derided. There's a reason the passive exists, and it's not all about the nefarious things people say. It is simply to emphasize the object/patient of a verb, rather than the subject/agent. There are ways to elide responsibility without using the passive voice and ways to use the passive voice without doing so.

Here's a takedown of Orwell's rules that I would largely agree with: Language Log » Orwell's Liar

In general, I would say that there's too much emphasis on the idea that the form of language affects thinking. It's much harder to make hard and fast rules for semantics or the more subtle ways people deceive, and easier to pick out grammatical constructions or words you don't like. But the solution isn't to completely eliminate a construction, and they generally aren't the problem.

Newspeak, for example, has many elements which wouldn't really do anything. Why exactly would we think that changing "very" to "plus" and "extremely" to "doubleplus" would make the population easier to control? Why would regularizing verb forms do anything? Do we think that speakers of languages with fewer irregular verbs have a limited view of the world? None of these changes would hold up over time, as their neologisms would acquire new meanings and connotations, and people would create their own neologisms to describe what they need to. The measures necessary to ensure people use only proper Newspeak is the actual element which would control people.

While this isn't a particularly original insight, I do wonder how much of the ideas behind Newspeak were present in Orwell's other ideas about writing and language. It is an evocative choice in the book, but it works more because we implicitly understand how much control the government would need to control speech in this way rather than because saying "double plus ungood" would actually brainwash people. I think in an alternate story about a utopian group who think that simplifying language will make it easier to learn and easier to understand and easier to acquire literacy or something like that, the grammatical elements of Newspeak would seem goofy rather than oppressive.
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Old 05-03-2018, 09:33 AM
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Default Re: Linguistic miscellany

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...

(As for the pronunciation of the vowel in "ain't" and "hain't", there are some dialects that say "cain't" instead of "can't" too...)

...
I cain't even.
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Old 05-03-2018, 05:07 PM
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Default Re: Linguistic miscellany

Really broad Black Country dialect - which you don't really hear nowadays, but it was how my grandfather spoke - has cosn't for cannot and canst for "can you" - I not sure if there should be an apostrophe in canst.

The iconic sentence that incorporated both, and was used to befuddle non-black-country speakers was, "Tha cosn't cuss as good as tha coudst, canst?" which translates as, "You can't swear as well as you used to be able to, can you?"

The word, "bay" was also sometimes used for "am not" or "are not" And "bin" meant "am" or "are" (I suppose a contraction of 'being'?) So another example to explain to outsiders was the imagined exchange between two black-country speakers attempting to decide whether some windows are or are not "bay windows." The first speaker questions whether the windows are the bay type (he thinks they aren't). The second speaker answers that he thinks they are bay windows, but is not completely sure.

Them bay bay windows, bin um? = Those aren't bay windows, are they?
Them bin bay windows, bay um? = Those are bay windows, aren't they?

Note also the use of "um" for "they" - but it was only usually used when paired with an opening "them" meaning "those".

Again, I have no idea whether or not any apostrophes belong in bin and bay - I think this was the kind of language that was never written down - so who's to say?
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Old 05-03-2018, 05:10 PM
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Default Re: Linguistic miscellany

Unrelated to the above, I've been mulling the word "lets" both with and without apostrophe lately. I was taught at school that the version with the apostrophe was short for "Let us" so it is correct to use in a sentence like:

Let's go to the market.

And the version without the apostrophe was just a version of the verb, let, so it would be correct to use it in a sentence like:

I can only go if my girlfriend lets me.

But there are sentences where "let us" is correct but let's seems wrong:

Let us know when you receive the parcel.

And I think I'm being further confused by another meaning of let - as in letting a house.
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Old 05-03-2018, 05:30 PM
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Default Re: Linguistic miscellany

Let's let a house, but only if ceptimus lets us. :unnod:
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Old 05-03-2018, 06:34 PM
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Default Re: Linguistic miscellany

Some good discussion on the English Language Stack Exchange on the 'let us' question.
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