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]
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]
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]
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]
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]