Hearing voices in the Barr report

I’ve unexpectedly spent a good chunk of my sabbatical semester thinking about heteroglossia. This might sound as if I’ve had just too much time on my hands, but I’ve become convinced that it’s one of the key concerns in academic writing. (Tl;dr version: skip to the bottom for the teaching implications!) Continue reading “Hearing voices in the Barr report”

It must be nearly Father’s Day….

… because the blog post I wrote three years ago is once more showing up in Google searches! Just to add: no, there’s still no definitive answer, but then again, I’m a descriptivist not a prescriptivist, so I’m more interested in knowing what language users actually write* rather than what they should write. That said, according to one comment on the blog a few months ago, “The New Oxford Style Manual says that it is Father’s Day (capital letter, apostrophe before the s).” So there you have it.

One assumption I have been making, though, is that everyone has one father — but with the rapid expansion of marriage equality laws in the States in the last year, we might want to make a logical exception for children with two dads. Fathers’ Day would make perfect sense in that context, I suppose.

* It strikes me that this is one of very few linguistic distinctions, along with capitalization, that is not possible in speech. Unless, of course, you are the incomparable Victor Borge.

Happy Father’s Day for Sunday, dear readers.

The Father’s/Fathers’ Day Apostrophe Debate Continues

In honor of yesterday’s celebration of fellow fathers, I am reposting a link to the post I wrote last year about the puzzling apostrophe in Father’s Day. Or is it Fathers’ day? This page is the most visited on my blog with over 200 hits this week alone (a record for me!), and has sparked a lively set of comments. Do add yours!

For the record, I spent a wonderful Father’s Day (my preference) playing with my son at the shore (not the “beach” or the “coast,” by the way in these parts) and I am now busy revising my new grammar textbook, due out some time next year. More blog posts coming soon, I hope.

Sexism and parenting

In the past few years, I’ve occasionally griped about sexism in the parenting industry — companies that assume only mothers look after children while fathers are stuck in the 1950s. But, this piece of junk mail (and I really mean junk) for Parenting magazine takes the biscuit/cake:

Yes, that’s right, the letter is addressed “for Mr. Nigel Caplan only” while the magazine is advertised as “the resource for moms with young kids.”

How offensive! Fathers are parents, too.

I have returned the letter in the pre-paid envelope with a message to this effect. It’s tiring to see products and store flyers that only show mothers with young children, and irritating to see toy boxes with lists of reasons “why moms like this”, but to receive a personalized invitation that implies I do not/cannot/should not take care of my own son is insulting and inaccurate.

So, dads, it’s time for us to burn our swaddling cloths in the street and demand equality!

More on Tweets and language

AP is running a fun story today about Twitter in Japan, which taught me that the verb Tweet (which I’ve written about here) is translated as mumble in Japanese. Here’s the quote of the day:

“It’s telling that Twitter was translated as ‘mumbling’ in Japanese,” he [a Japanese media analyst] said. “They love the idea of talking to themselves.”

That’s not a trend I’ve ever noticed when teaching Japanese students — any truth in it? It is striking that mumbling is a private act, so even if twitter.jp users are not exactly talking to themselves, they are at least talking quietly and unobtrusively. Compare that to the English “tweet” and “twittering,” which suggests to me a rather louder, more irritating sound.

The report goes on:

Ending Japanese sentences with “nah-woo” — an adaptation of “now” in English — is hip, showing off the speaker’s versatility in pseudo-English Twitter-speak.

(Here‘s a detailed blog posting about this neologism.) It’s not surprising to me that technology has caused new words to come into Japanese, or any language, but I’m curious that the Japanese have calqued (to use the technical word) an English adverb, rather than a noun or verb. For example, German borrowed der Computer, and even French has l’Internet (attempts to translate the word literally using webs and nets never caught on). So, I would have expected the word Twitter (or even Tweet) to crop up — although wouldn’t those words both be very hard to fit into Japanese phonology? And doesn’t Japanese already have a word that expresses the English now? Does its (apparently) word-final restriction mean anything?

Japanese linguists, please help out!

Googling and Bing…ing?

A quick follow-up on my post about  [T/t]weeting, and [X/x]eroxing:

A contemporary example of the verbing of trademarks is Google — so far, at least, when people talk about “googling” something, they seem to mean “searching using Google.” Of course, as with Xerox, there’s always the chance that the verb will become generic so that it would make sense to google someone on Yahoo or Bing (the lawyers in the Googleplex are very aware of this potential problem).

And talking of Bing, Microsoft’s newish search engine, I was reminded this evening of a curious marketing technique that MS is using. Their TV ad ends with this slogan:

Bing  and decide.

(I also found it on their promotional website, shown on the left, but with Decide capitalized.) Since decide is obviously an imperative verb here, by parallelism, so is Bing. (Have you heard anyone saying “Oh, I’ll just Bing it” yet?) Is this an attempt to compete with Google on grammatical grounds? Or is Microsoft playing with linguistic fire? Remember how hard Xerox is trying to kill the verb to xerox and the noun a xerox?

Precedent suggests that attempts to manipulate the spread of language forms in a “top-down” fashion (i.e. governments/corporations telling us what we should or should not say) are unlikely to work, certainly not in English, and certainly not on the Internet. The Associated Press can try to mandate how journalists use language, and the style guides such as the Chicago Manual are influential in publishing and academia, but these are not the places where linguistic innovation occurs. Continue reading “Googling and Bing…ing?”