Nuns model skillful ways to speak to ill seniors

Everybody should read this, but especially those who work with seniors or will become seniors themselves. From the CBC: Nuns model skillful ways to speak to ill seniors.

The sisters caring for cognitively impaired elderly nuns in a Midwestern convent spoke to their care recipients in a way that sounded strikingly different to linguistic anthropologist Anna Corwin.

The nuns rarely used “elderspeak” — a loud, slow, simple, patronizing and common form of baby talk for seniors.

Instead, Corwin reports, they told jokes, stories and blessed the sick nuns, all the while speaking to them like they were completely capable, even though their ability to communicate was significantly diminished.

“It is beautiful watching these nuns,” Corwin, a professor at Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga, said in a phone interview. “They accept decline. They value a person in a sort of inherent way.” [continue]

A delightful dictionary for Canadian English

From the New Yorker: A Delightful Dictionary for Canadian English.

A new musical opened on Broadway last week, “Come from Away,” about Gander, a small town in Newfoundland that rallied to care for some seven thousand travellers stuck there after their planes were grounded in the aftermath of 9/11. The play celebrates a variety of Canadian habits and customs, of which seemingly compulsive niceness is the main focus. But it also incorporates a wide range of vocabulary specific to Newfoundland or Canada in general, starting with the play’s odd title, a term used in the Atlantic provinces to refer to an outsider.

You won’t find “come from away” or “screech-in”—a mock ceremony depicted in the musical that confers Newfoundland “citizenship,” featuring extreme drunkenness and the osculation of a raw cod—in the Oxford English Dictionary. But the scholarly and scrappy second edition of the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (D.C.H.P.-2), released online last week, includes these and many more examples, common and obscure, of Canadian English. [continue]

And here it is: the Second Edition of
A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles
.

I checked to make sure that buttertart and matrimonial cake are included. They are, so it must be ok. 🙂

She stutters, but hardly anyone knows it

From Science Nordic: She stutters, but hardly anyone knows it.

Berit Løkken belongs to a category of stutterers that many have never heard of, so-called covert stutterers. They are also a rather ignored factor in medical and psycho-social science.

She learned at early age to instantly come up with alternative words as she was formulating her sentences, realising that an intended word would likely be stuttered.

So her stuttering problem is hidden from those who don’t know her well.

This tactic generally works pretty well. But it requires a lot of energy. At times she gets really tired of all the premonitions that come and the constant need to omit a word and substitute it with another. [continue]

I bet she has a fantastic vocabulary.

Have you ever read David Sedaris’ account of his time with a speech therapist when he was a child? It’s wonderful. David had a lisp, and he used the same avoidance technique that Berit came up with.

Here’s an excerpt from chapter one of David’s book, Me Talk Pretty One Day, which appears on the New York Times site:

Miss Samson instructed me, when forming an s, to position the tip of my tongue against the rear of my top teeth, right up against the gum line. The effect produced a sound not unlike that of a tire releasing air. It was awkward and strange-sounding, and elicited much more attention than the original lisp. I failed to see the hissy s as a solution to the problem and continued to talk normally, at least at home, where my lazy tongue fell upon equally lazy ears. At school, where every teacher was a potential spy, I tried to avoid an s sound whenever possible. “Yes,” became “correct,” or a military “affirmative.” “Please,” became “with your kind permission,” and questions were pleaded rather than asked. After a few weeks of what she called “endless pestering” and what I called “repeated badgering,” my mother bought me a pocket thesaurus, which provided me with s-free alternatives to just about everything. I consulted the book both at home in my room and at the daily learning academy other people called our school. Agent Samson was not amused when I began referring to her as an articulation coach, but the majority of my teachers were delighted. “What a nice vocabulary,” they said. “My goodness, such big words!”

Plurals presented a considerable problem, but I worked around them as best I could; “rivers,” for example, became either “a river or two” or “many a river.” Possessives were a similar headache, and it was easier to say nothing than to announce that the left-hand and the right-hand glove of Janet had fallen to the floor. After all the compliments I had received on my improved vocabulary, it seemed prudent to lie low and keep my mouth shut. I didn’t want anyone thinking I was trying to be a pet of the teacher. [continue]

An exaltation of links!

I’ve come across dozens of interesting things to share with you lately, but I’ve also been quite short of time. So here are a whole bunch of things I think you’ll like, all at once, for your weekend reading pleasure.

I’ve thought of doing this for a while now: occasional posts full of linky goodness. But a pleasing name for such postings failed to suggest itself to me, and so I was thwarted. This morning, though, the name arrived in my brain. This is An Exaltation of Links. Because why should the larks have all the fun?

Continue reading

Scandinavian words you’ll want to steal

There are some fun Scandinavian words in an article the Guardian published today: Fancy a beer outside? There’s a Scandi word for that – and so much else. Here are just two:

Texas

Norwegians love metonymy, or substituting a word for a concept. They also don’t mince their bald etymological insults. Texas translates as “crazy”. Helt Texas, then, means “total craziness” or “peak mayhem”. It goes on like this, incrementally. Indicative, perhaps, of the powerful impact American culture had on those Norwegians who grew up watching westerns.

Sisu

This is a quality unique to Finns and it translates as strength, determination and guts. Etymologically, the word actually translates as insides (of a person) or interior, but the concept itself is a mite sexier. Sisu is inner strength and then some. If you have sisu, you are a real man. If you have sisu, you’d sooner die than lose. Imagine Odysseus if he hadn’t been so bothered by the elements. [continue]

You might like some of the other ones even more.

Discourse markers are, like, important

Last week we learned about “Um” and other filled pauses. Now there’s a similar type of linguistic goodness for you, this time from the Boston Globe: Discourse markers are, like, important.

The most maligned discourse marker has to be like, which has long been a source of rants and misunderstandings. One myth is that all colloquial uses of like are the same, but there’s a big difference between saying, “I had, like, three doughnuts” and “She was like, what do you mean?” Another myth is that like is overwhelmingly used by teenage girls, but that fits sexist stereotypes more than reality. In fact, studies show some types of like are used more often by men. The world-champion myth dispeller in this area is Alexandra D’Arcy, an associate professor of linguistics at the University of Victoria who has a book forthcoming this year called “800 Years of Like: Discourse-Pragmatic Variation in Context.”

D’Arcy has accumulated a lot of knowledge about how like greases the wheels of conversation. One use of like as a discourse marker helps create flow in speech. These uses are often dismissed as vacuous, but they have concrete meaning and purpose. Some mean for example or let me elaborate, demonstrating that they have concrete meaning. This is the traffic signal kind of discourse marker, and like, has been used that way for a surprisingly long time. The oldest known example in print is from Frances Burney’s 1788 novel “Evelina.” “Father grew quite uneasy, like, for fear of his Lordship’s taking offence.”

Other uses of like function as the discourse marker’s close relative, the discourse particle: These words lack a specific meaning but have a definite purpose. This kind of like doesn’t mean “Let me clarify” so much as “This is what I want you to focus on” — the verbal equivalent of pointing. Such uses also establish solidarity between speakers, sending the message “We’re similar, and we’re in this together.” This “solidarity work,” D’Arcy explains, is vital to spoken language: “When they’re not there, conversation feels forced” and “There’s less of a rapport.” Curzan mentioned that this type of word allows people to “check in that others are following or mitigate our authority in a way that might make more space for other opinions.” Far from verbal junk, discourse markers and particles are social lubricants. [continue]

Related Links:

5 languages that could change the way you see the world

If languages interest you, you’ll like this Nautilus article: 5 Languages That Could Change the Way You See the World. Sections include:

  • A Language Where You’re Not the Center of the World
  • A Language Where Time Flows East to West
  • A Language Where Colors Are Metaphors
  • A Language That Makes You Provide Evidence
  • A Language That Has No Word for “Two”

What additions could you make to the list?

“Um” and other filled pauses

From Atlas Obscura: The Mystery and Occasional Poetry of, Uh, Filled Pauses.

Nearly every language and every culture has what are called “filled pauses,” a notoriously difficult-to-define concept that generally refers to sounds or words that a speaker uses when, well, not exactly speaking. In American English, the most common are “uh” and “um.”

Until about 20 years ago, few linguists paid filled pauses much attention. They were seen as not very interesting, a mere expulsion of sound to take up space while the speaker figures out what to say next. (In Russian, filled pauses are called “parasite sounds,” which is kind of rude.) But since then, interest in filled pauses has exploded. There are conferences about them. Researchers around the globe, in dozens of different languages, dedicate themselves to studying them. And yet they still remain poorly understood, especially as new forms of discourse begin popping up. (…)

But researchers digging into the weird world of filled pauses have turned up some crazy, fascinating stuff. Some have taken sentences full of “ums” and “uhs” and edited them out to find out if people react more positively to someone who doesn’t use them. (They do.) Some are putting people in MRI machines to find out what weird neural stuff is going on when people use filled pauses. (Definitely some stuff.) And in Japan, researchers are trying to puzzle out how and why Japanese filled pauses are so unusual. [continue]

Although I do read Atlas Obscura, I somehow missed this article. The Language Hat blog did not, though, so I found the link through the this post at LanguageHat.

How colour terms arise

From the Boston Globe: Roses are red; violets are — red? How color terms arise”.

Since the turn of the 20th century, scientists have examined how humans around the world name colors in an attempt to answer one question: Does our language shape our worldview, or does our worldview shape our language?

Hannah Haynie, a postdoctoral associate at Colorado State University, teamed up with Yale University linguist Claire Bowern to find out. Their study analyzed a sort of evolutionary tree built from massive data found in field notes, dictionaries, and 20th-century records. The tree visualizes how color names potentially changed over time in the Pama-Nyungan language family, a group of indigenous Australian languages dating as far back as 6,000 years.

“It’s just like how, if you look at genes in people, you can look back at how they were transmitted along a tree,” Haynie said. “This brings a bunch of different sciences together to look at how language, our minds, and our world interacts together.” [continue]

A linguist explains “gifting”

Christine Friar has ranted about how she hates the use of gift as a verb. Wondering why that usage annoys her so, she went off and spoke with a linguist, and now she’s published A Linguist Explains “Gifting”.

…so I talked to linguist Arika Okrent to see if we could get to the bottom of things. She told me there’s a set of steps a language professional walks through when examining questions like these: [continue]

Well, cool!

The cozy linguistics of hygge and other “untranslatable” words

Perhaps you’ve heard the word hygge? It’s a Norwegian and Danish word, and it has become a bit famous in recent years due to articles like How ‘hygge’ can help you get through winter from mnn.com. There’s no equivalent word in English.

Anyway. Now JSTOR Daily has published The Cozy Linguistics of Hygge and Other “Untranslatable” Words:

Examples like hygge and koselig actually follow a long line of foreign words that fascinate us. In English, we tend to borrow quite a few “untranslatable” words and idioms, like the ever-popular German Schadenfreude (pleasure at another’s misfortune) and the Sanskrit karma (a Buddhist concept of destiny being influenced by a person’s actions). Perhaps they don’t always mean what they originally meant, but we’ve made them our own.

Just what is it about “untranslatable” words that fascinate us so much? There are endless lists and articles on these beautiful words, so apparently alien to English, that are simply “untranslatable” or even the hardest words in the world to translate… but then they’re subsequently translated anyway, in English sentences, just not in words that are directly equivalent. Untranslatable words aren’t really untranslatable at all. When we unpack this concept it raises a number of curious questions.

What’s so special about a single word capturing a concept, as opposed to a phrase or a sentence? If a language doesn’t have a word for something, does it mean its speakers have a harder time understanding that concept cognitively? For instance, if a language, such as Tarahumara, a Uto-Aztecan language of northern Mexico, has no name or lexical distinction for a particular color perception, such as between green and blue, are speakers of that language cognitively unable to differentiate between the two colors? Likewise if some Eskimo languages have many distinctive words for snow, are we as English speakers completely unable to tell the difference between all the kinds of snowy precipitation there can be? [continue]

Linguist explains secret language of Gulliver’s Travels

From Science Daily: Linguist explains secret language of Gulliver’s Travels.

Irving N. Rothman, a professor of English literature and Jewish studies at UH, says the mystery words are, in fact, variations of Hebrew. His conclusions are published in the summer 2015 edition of Swift Studies, an annual review of scholarship on the work of novelist Jonathan Swift from the Ehrenpreis Center.

In the article, “The ‘Hnea Yahoo’ of Gulliver’s Travels and Jonathan Swift’s Hebrew Neologisms,” Rothman points out a number of clues he used to reach this conclusion. Swift, he notes, was an Anglican minister who studied Hebrew at Trinity College.

“Gulliver’s Travels,” published in 1726, is Swift’s best-known work, a satire on human nature, politics and the traveler’s tales popular at the time. [continue]

How do you speak American? Mostly, just make up words

From Atlas Obscura: How Do You Speak American? Mostly, Just Make Up Words.

Residents of the United States hung on to words that dropped out of British English: guess, gotten, cabin, junk, molasses. We also began using words lifted from native languages—maize, canoe. But, mostly, Americans would just make words up. Thomas Jefferson, who described himself as “a friend to neology,” created the word “belittle.” British writers despaired over it; he simply made up more.

And ever since, speaking American has meant enjoying the use of a whole vocabulary that originated here. We have stolen words from other languages, massaged them into new words, turned nouns into verbs and verbs into nouns, and smushed two words together to make new ones.

For starters, just think about some words we borrowed from Dutch and decided to keep: boss, cookie, stoop, scow, sleigh, snoop, waffle, poppycock, pit, when used to describe the seed of a stone fruit. Dumb might be Dutch, or it might be German, or it might be a bit of both, but it’s a uniquely American bit of English.[continue]

Rewilding our language of landscape

If it’s words you like, hurry over to The Guardian to read The word-hoard: Robert Macfarlane on rewilding our language of landscape.

I sought out the users, keepers and makers of place words. In the Norfolk Fens – introduced by the photographer Justin Partyka – I met Eric Wortley, a 98-year-old farmer who had worked his family farm throughout his long life, who had been twice to the East Anglian coast, once to Norwich and never to London, and whose speech was thick with Fenland dialect terms. I came to know the cartographer, artist and writer Tim Robinson, who has spent 40 years documenting the terrain of the west of Ireland: a region where, as he puts it, “the landscape … speaks Irish”. Robinson’s belief in the importance of “the language we breathe” as part of “our frontage onto the natural world” has been inspiring to me, as has his commitment to recording subtleties of usage and history in Irish place names, before they are lost forever: Scrios Buaile na bhFeadog, “the open tract of the pasture of the lapwings”; Eiscir, “a ridge of glacial deposits marking the course of a river that flowed under the ice of the last glaciation”. [continue]

You’ll want to read it all, of course. And what is your favourite of all the obscure words listed in the article?

‘Thank you’ in Hindi and English mean very different things

Is it polite to thank people? Not in all cultures, it seems. From the Atlantic: ‘I’ve Never Thanked My Parents for Anything’.

I grew up in the northern Indian city of Lucknow, in a culture in which saying thank you is not done lightly. I learned to say thank you in English in elementary school, and when I thanked anyone, I said it in English, which was less awkward and more casual than doing so in Hindi. I reserved my thanks for those who had done huge favors for me. And I rarely thanked my friends or classmates. When I did, they either smiled quizzically at me or interpreted the act as a kind of joke—a playful way to practice English. I’ve never thanked my parents for anything. In the Hindi language, in everyday gestures and culture, there is an unspoken understanding of gratitude.

Saying dhanyavaad, or “thank you” in Hindi, would almost be sarcastic. It seems inadequate. When I thank anyone in Hindi, I make sure to look the person in the eye. Saying dhanyavaad to someone without looking at him or her is just as good as not saying it at all. As a kid, I never heard anyone my age say thank you in Hindi. I did hear my father say dhanyavaad to people his age, but he did it as sincerely as possible, with his hands joined in front of his chest in the solemn gesture of namaste. He wasn’t just thanking someone for something, but asking for an opportunity to return the favor. That’s how I came to understand expressions of gratitude.

In America, by contrast, saying thank you often marks an end to the transaction, an end to the conversation, an end to the interaction. It is like a period at the end of a sentence. Only in the United States have people offered thanks for coming to their homes or parties. Initially I was surprised when people thanked me for visiting their house when they were the ones who’d invited me, but then I learned that, “Thank you for coming to my home” actually meant, “It’s time for you to get out of my house.” [continue]

Clickbait

From the Wall Street Journal: You Won’t Believe What Word This Column Is About!

“Clickbait” came together as a compound as early as 1999. That year, Network Magazine reported on a “‘clickbait’ Web page” that exhorted, “Click here to become a millionaire in five minutes.” Clicking on that link caused some hacker’s malicious code to be downloaded.

Nowadays, “clickbait” by and large merely induces the casual reader to click through to some inane Web feature that can never measure up to its hyperbolic headline. [continue]

Yeah, that’s a good summary. Do you read websites that feature clickbaity headlines? I try to avoid them.

1,500 ultrasound tongue recordings reveals secrets of our accents

From phys.org: 1,500 ultrasound tongue recordings reveals secrets of our accents.

Phonetics experts have completed a project to reveal the hidden workings of our tongues and vocal tracts using 1,500 ultrasound videos. The unique corpus of ultrasound videos was compiled as part of a research project looking at how speakers of different accents move their tongue and lips.

Researchers on the Dynamic Dialects project, led from the University of Glasgow used Ultrasound Tongue Imaging equipment to reveal how the hidden mechanics of our lips and tongues, combine to produce the distinct accents from different speakers of English around the world.

The most extensive study of its kind, the project looked at native English speakers from 48 regions and 16 different countries around the world, building up a comprehensive picture of how and why different accents of English are distinct from one another. [continue]

Byrhtferth’s Ogham enigma

This Babelstone post on Byrhtferth’s Ogham Enigma is fascinating, detailed, and includes great images.

It probably comes as a surprise to most people to find out that the earliest extant manuscript to include any text written in the Ogham script is an early 12th century English manuscript copy of a work by the late Anglo-Saxon monk Byrhtferth (Byrhtferð) rather than one of the more famous Irish manuscripts that include descriptions of the Ogham script, such as the Book of Ballymote or the Yellow Book of Lecan. But although the origin of Old Irish texts about Ogham such as Auraicept na n-Éces (“The Scholar’s Primer”) and In Lebor Ogaim (“The Book of Oghams”) undoubtedly predates Byrhtferth’s work, the only extant manuscript copies of these texts are later than the Byrhtferth manuscript. [continue]

Byrhtferth was a monk who worked at the Abbey of Ramsey in Huntingdonshire during the late 10th and early 11th centuries. He is mainly remembered for his Enchiridion or Handbōc (Ashmolean MS 328), a work on the arts of computus and numerology which exhibits an obsession with ordering the universe on a numerological basis. Various other texts derived from a now lost computistical miscellany by Byrhtferth are preserved in two other manuscripts: [continue]

Absquatulate

From World Wide Words: absquatulate.

ABSQUATULATE

To make off, decamp, or abscond.

The 1830s — a period of great vigour and expansiveness in the US — was also a decade of inventiveness in language, featuring a fashion for word play, obscure abbreviations, fanciful coinages, and puns. Only a few inventions of that period have survived to our times, such as sockdologer, skedaddle and hornswoggle. Among those that haven’t lasted the distance were blustrification (the action of celebrating boisterously), goshbustified (excessively pleased and gratified), and dumfungled (used up).

Absquatulate has had a good run and is still to be found in modern American dictionaries. It was common enough that it became one of the favourite bêtes noires of writers on style in the latter part of the century. One such was [continue].

Sudan statue find gives clues to ancient language

From Reuters: Sudan statue find gives clues to ancient language.

Archaeologists said on Tuesday they had discovered three ancient statues in Sudan with inscriptions that could bring them closer to deciphering one of Africa’s oldest languages.

The stone rams, representing the god Amun, were carved during the Meroe empire, a period of kingly rule that lasted from about 300 BC to AD 450 and left hundreds of remains along the River Nile north of Khartoum.

Vincent Rondot, director of the dig carried out by the French Section of Sudan’s Directorate of Antiquities, said each statue displayed an inscription written in Meroitic script, the oldest written language in sub-Saharan Africa. [continue]

‘Oldest Hebrew script’ is found

From the Beeb: ‘Oldest Hebrew script’ is found.

Five lines of ancient script on a shard of pottery could be the oldest example of Hebrew writing ever discovered, an archaeologist in Israel says.

The shard was found by a teenage volunteer during a dig about 20km (12 miles) south-west of Jerusalem.

Experts at Hebrew University said dating showed it was written 3,000 years ago – about 1,000 years earlier than the Dead Sea Scrolls. [continue].

E-mail error ends up on road sign

From BBC Wales: E-mail error ends up on road sign.

When officials asked for the Welsh translation of a road sign, they thought the reply was what they needed.

Unfortunately, the e-mail response to Swansea council said in Welsh: "I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated".

So that was what went up under the English version which barred lorries from a road near a supermarket. [continue, see photo]

Québecois accent may have its roots in royal courts

From csmonitor.com: Québecois: maligned accent may have its roots in royal courts.

Québec’s francophones have long been ridiculed by the Parisian French – the scholars, elites, and aesthetes from the ancestral homeland. They have deemed the Québecois accent an "abomination" of what they consider the most beautiful language.

They shouldn’t sneer.

The Québeckers’ much-maligned accent can be traced back to the 17th-century court of Louis XIV. At least that’s the argument put forth by a prominent Québec scholar, Laval University’s Jean-Denis Gendron, a retired linguist. "The Québecois accent is one from the noblesse of the time, it is a relaxed, natural accent," Professor Gendron, explains in the most recent issue of the journal, Québec Sciences. "It’s only much later that our accent came to be viewed as an abomination." [continue].