the grammar tag/category

June 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

Thanks to tag surfer application on this here wordpress blog,  we can find out what other bloggers have to say on the various topics under discussion here. Many of the blogs that share the tag grammarwith *b-ling* are styleguides, or is that style guides or even style-guides delivered not in a weighty volume but in handy blogpost-sized chunks. Much of the advice is meritorious and meticulous, scrupulously outlining the practices and virtues of the APA or some other beloved style guru.

Many of these style blogs are charming, well written, and  enjoyable to read even for a descriptivist linguist like myself. Yes, I know there are times and places for prescriptive views  on  language, but I doubt that I will ever pen one.  So perhaps for my own selfish interests only I call on those who happily tag and categorise their entries  with the label, grammar,  could we all please make a distinction between grammar and punctuation. Grammar is about the contruction of words and sentences, or in more fancy parlance or register, syntax, morphology and mophosyntax. Punctuation is about the rules of usage of those pesky points and dashes and apostrophes. Punctuation is about dividing the stream of words (or joining them!) into manageable chunks and disambiguating that which may be ambiguous in writing, but not in speech. Indeed, punctuation is a concern in written language, and I applaud those who valiantly explain the rules of apostrophe usage and know a comma splice when they see one. But to call this a concern of grammar, I think, is misguided. It trivialises grammar to these surface issues. After all, no one on hearing its or  it’s has any trouble understanding which form is being pronounced because the syntactic structure the form appears in will  point us to its meaning.

I am not saying leave grammar to the experts. As a descriptive linguist I am interested in the way all speakers construct and use language  and as a sociolinguist I am interested in people’s beliefs about their language as well as the language of others.


Foreign Accent Syndrome

June 26, 2009 § Leave a comment

Foreign Accent Syndrome is an unusual phenomenon that has traditionally been associated with neurological damage.  Often stroke victims when regaining language production skills find themselves with a totally new accent.  The youtube link presents a woman from Indiana, USA who suddenly seems to have acquired what others have described as a LOndon accent.

While she certainly no longer has an American accent, I personally am not entirely happy with the London label. I think a better way to understand foreign  in this context might be ‘newly acquired’. Research has also suggested that listeners of those with the phenomenon seldom completely agree what has accent has been acquired.  This is not surprising given what we know about asking people to listen to second language accented English and name their mother tongue/nationality.

Research reported in Scientific AmericanJune, 3, 2009, now suggests that the Foreign Accent Syndrome may not necessarily be linked with neural damage. Some people living with FAS show no history of brain injury or abnormality and yet have an accent remarkably different to others in their milieu.

Language, Insults, Fractions….and ‘Being Real’

June 21, 2009 § Leave a comment

Hmmm, I wonder you think.  I was in Malaysia recently and was invited to spend an evening with a French couple working in KL and a Malay Chinese friend of mine (Jin). Another couple joined us – he was a retired French businessman and she was Madagascan, had lived in France for two decades and was now a senior academic in KL. At one point in the conversation Ana asked Jin if she could write her language, Chinese. The reply was “Not well, not really, I tried, haven’t learned that much….”. Ana said “You should write Chinese, your position here is vulnerable, you’re nothing if you can’t write your language…..”. I was surprised, and leapt in ….”Jin is multilingual …she can write across a range of complex genres in English and Malay, that’s a very wide repertoire……the Chinese characters must be learned oen by one….” But the original assertion about inadequacy and vulnerability returned. I felt uncomfortable and wondered how I could effectively argue my position….

Later in the evening the topic of racism came up – Ana said the French are highly racist; comments had been made about her skin colour, and other comments she took as more indirectly racist “Where do you come from?” “Why are you here?”. I was then asked if people make racist comments about skin colour in New Zealand, and is there racism towards Maori. I thought about this and responded that such comments – in my experience – are very rare…..but that racism has gone underground, and can sometimes be the basis of such comments as “You don’t look Maori” “How much Maori are you – a quarter?” and, on occasion, “Can you speak Maori?”…I then added that questions about language and fractions (are you only one eighth Maori?) can be thinly veiled insults and a new form of racism . … they suggest the person does not have an authentic identity, they aren’t a ‘proper’ Maori, they aren’t being real, they are a lesser version of the group they claim to belong to…..

 Well, I’m still thinking about this…. I wonder what you think…what would you  have said in Jin’s defence, and about racism in New Zealand……

Dropping the H-bomb?

June 5, 2009 § 3 Comments

When Bono used the word nigger during an Elvis documentary, the event was widely described in the press as his dropping of the N-bomb, neatly side stepping the use of the most incendiary taboo word in English. Does New Zealand English have its own equivalent? Perhaps hori may be the closest we have, our own H-bomb.

Originally, simply a transliteration of the name, George into Maaori, i.e., Hori. The term came to be a descriptor for Maaori males in general, and not a particularly positive one at that. Here is Max Cryer on the topic. This is the first and probably the last time I will quote him on this blog!

Hori/George became such a frequent and familiar name for Maori men that during the nineteenth century the word was frequently used for any unknown Maori. He became Hori, or a hori. The word is regarded as offensive.
Max Cryer (2006: 83)

A more illustrated definition comes from Harry Orsman (1998: 68)

Hori, hori, /rhymes story or horry/ Also horri, horry, plural often hories, horries. From Maori Hoori, an alteration of George. In non_Maori offensive use, formerly a general term of addressor reference to a Maori not known to the speaker. 1933. e.g. The driver of the mail car felt a warmth towards mankind. ‘Hori’ he said to Paul (as a negro is ‘Sambo’, a Maori is ‘Hori” to poor white]. ‘You like a drink eh? [1933]; a stereotypical Maori.Often as the hories, stereotypical Maoridom. 1938 [Aust 1922]. What has happened to that open-handed, good-natured, tolerant fellow so well known here and overseas as the happy hori. [1972].

The key semantic features of the term seem to be  [+Maaori] and [+male] with [+non specific] taking care of the ideas of both unkown to speaker and stereotype-orientations grouping together as referring to ethnic features in non-individuated identities implies relying on stereotypes.

Building on a google corpus restricted to New Zealand domains, a number of examples demonstrate that usage of this term is still current.

Try my luck here, otherwise some hori off trademe will buy them×100.html

The indefinite determiner use of some here strongly correlates with the unknown reading of hori. In fact there is quite a collocational effect with this pair of terms.

In examples of both hori and some hori we get pejorative readings of the term:

Last night some hori bastards stole my mates 15″ BSA mags from his teg in lyttelton and dropped it on the road. If anyone knows anything or sees the mags … – Similar pages

i went to peacockes today. There are some awesome jumps and tracks but it would be a bad place to build as some hories started threatning me with a knife

i had 4k worth of shit stolen from my flat a few years ago

also had no insurance

turns out it was some hories living above me

Here the term equates ethnicity and criminality. Hori has also developed an adjectival function. Here it takes on a meaning of second rate, broken down:

I need some manual pedals, clutch and brake, just the pedals that I can borrow for a short time?
Genuine supra pedals, not some hori modded ones made to fit 😉

Somewhat intriguingly this meaning of hori as well as the racial epithet seem to occur most frequently in the corpus in message boards associated with car enthusiasts (and online gamers).

It must be pointed out though that despite the apparent acceptibilty of the term in those contexts:

Man how did I miss this ? Dont recall seeing it up on any of the sites I check, but I would have thought some hori would have told me about it by now

Here the usage seems void of invective or insult. The original writer has discovered that a track has been released by a popular hip hop act some time previous. It seems here that the reference to hori suggests a sense that Maaori might be more stereotypically orientated towards hiphop culture – a far less pejorative stereotype and also suggests perhaps the writer is him/herself Maaori.

In fact, like the N-word, the meanings and functions of hori are dependent on the speaker of context. Black rappers and comedians, for example have used the N-word to reclaim space from white racist rhetoric, rehabilitating the word as a provocative rhetorical device, defiantly stripping it of negative connotations as other communities have with epithets such as dyke and queer. Still other usages of the term suggest a division in African-American culture between asimilated and non-assimulated populations.

To proclaim oneself a nigger is to identify oneself as real, authentic, uncut, unassimilated, and unassimilable-the opposite, in short, of a Negro, somewho whose rejection of nigger is seen as part of an efforr to blend into the white mainstream. Sprinkling one’s language with niggers is thus a way to ‘keep it real’ (Kennedy, 2002: 49)

Keeping it real, then may be one of the meanings of hori when deployed by Maaori.

Image from: image from <a href=”;b_id=&amp;find_groupid=22165” Sweet Screenprinting>


Some Maaori are happy to use the term to address or refer to other Maaori. The following examples are from a thread on a message board intended to connect old friends. The participants therefore are known to each other, and it may be surmised that they have sought each other out or were happy to accidentally re-connect:

kia-ori you hori

Hi shane hows it going hopefully you’ll get this message as I see the last one from mike was posted some time ago. I’m here in Australia, been here a cupla weeks. All good guna have a go at doing the driving thing over here. Do you know anyone who may have kept in touch with Deidre Hodgkinson I believe shes here in Queensland somewhere. K take care by for now, Wendy

Yo Wendy!

Wondered why you disappeared off this side of the Earth for awhile there. Jumped the ditch huh? Never know, I may see you there soon too. Thinking of doing the driving thing too. The bling looks pretty tempting aye? I think Deidres got an E-mail address on her Profile that you can check out. Later you half pie hori.


The end of that meant to read… k might see you on the road sometime you darker than me hori. Ha ha. Take care
Hori hu

Anyway get off here and do some work you lazy hori!!!

It is interesting to note that while this in-group use of hori is positive, jocular abuse. The negative sterotype is still deployed in the last message for humorous purposes. The fact that this is clearly a possibility only for particular speakers with particular interlocutors in particular contexts is elsewhere overtly expressed, and I shall give the last word on this post to Manakura, a contributor to discussions on Public Address, a NZ politics blog ring:

its interesting how those terms are considered insulting when used by outsiders, but become terms of endearment when used by insiders. I have no problem calling my Maori brothas and sistas hories, but I’d never consider calling one of best mates, Samoan-Palagi, a coconut. One of those fascinating emic-etic dynamics that beguile multi-cultural societies. I think it boils down to ownership (of the term and its history as an insult) and expression of the groups ability to disempower the term as an insult. Outsiders using the term cuts across those objectives.,159,

Walking texts

June 2, 2009 § Leave a comment

Recently I have found myself reflecting on language used in one place we are all familiar with but perhaps don’t really notice so much. That is, the messages written on clothing. When we have such items, we are faced with a choice as to whether to wear them in public places or whether they are the kind of thing we will only wear in private spheres. Choosing to go out into the world with words emblazoned on your person therefore seems like a powerful way of presenting a message.

Two examples have brought this home to me recently. A few days ago I was crossing the concourse in the middle of the university when I saw a young man walking past in a hoody with the message: “Born here.” on the front. A brief glance suggested that the wearer was Pākehā, though that was of course just a guess. But it occurred to me that the message would be very different – and may represent very different intents – if it were worn by a NZ Māori, or by a NZ Chinese person, for example. I also found the use of the full stop at the end of the message interesting and unusual. It seemed to convey an intent to close off discussion, to label this aspect of identity as not open to investigation as to what it’s meaning might be … do you think?

And this echoed another incident I’d seen a few weeks earlier at the local supermarket, where this very public context seemed very much part of the message to be conveyed. Two men were there with … guess what … closely shaven heads, wearing brand new black sweatshirts with a message in bright white lettering down the sleeves: WHITE POWER. When they had gone through the checkout, one of them strutted back through and went up very close to another man waiting in the queue who looked as if he was of Pacifika heritage, thrust his face towards him and said “What are you staring at?” The man in the queue shrugged it off and the incident came to nothing. But what I found interesting was that the choice to wear such a garment in a public place is obviously an invitation to confrontation, but because of its apparent passive position on his sleeve, he was trying to represent that confrontation as being provoked by the audience rather than himself. It represented an interesting illustration of the relationship between social discourse and potential social action in a more physical sense.

On the other hand, a Korean student in one of my classes has multiple garments with words expressing positive sentiments listed in rather random ways: peace, tranquillity, bless … Another Korean student suggests to me that we see text in other languages as more about image than meaning (who knows what all those Chinese character say?).

That’s the thing about an interest in linguistics! You can take it with you wherever you go. Look what you can come up with just walking down the street.

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