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]

In more innocent days, you could write about cocks and not be misunderstood

From The Guardian: In more innocent days, you could write about cocks and not be misunderstood.

The brave and resourceful small girl in Arthur Ransome’s 1930 classic, Swallows and Amazons, is called Titty. But not, we learn, in the new film version being made by the BBC. There she will be renamed Tatty, to avoid “too many sniggers”.

It’s not the first time this indignity has befallen Titty, who was named after the traditional English fairytale, Titty Mouse and Tatty Mouse, in a more innocent age. (According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, the word “tits” only started being associated with breasts in about 1928.) She was rechristened Kitty when the story was televised by the BBC in 1963, though she re-emerged with her original name in the 1974 film adaptation, and in a later radio broadcast in 2012. [continue]

One wonders how many words have undergone a similar transformation. A few years ago The Beaver, a magazine about Canadian history, had to change its name. Remember? The NYT wrote about it: Web Filters Cause Name Change for a Magazine.