when the sun is also the moon

February 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m not talking here about the old proper names carry on in philosophy …. you’ll have to go to another blog to read about this:

Frege puts the distinction to work in solving a puzzle concerning identity claims. If we consider the two claims:

(1) the morning star = the morning star

(2) the morning star = the evening star

The first appears to be a trivial case of the law of self-identity, knowable a priori, while the second seems to be something that was discovered a posteriori by astronomers. However, if “the morning star” means the same thing as “the evening star”, then the two statements themselves would also seem to have the same meaning, both involving a thing’s relation of identity to itself. However, it then becomes to difficult to explain why (2) seems informative while (1) does not. Frege’s response to this puzzle, given the distinction between sense and reference, should be apparent. Because the reference of “the evening star” and “the morning star” is the same, both statements are true in virtue of the same object’s relation of identity to itself. However, because the senses of these expressions are different–in (1) the object is presented the same way twice, and in (2) it is presented in two different ways–it is informative to learn of (2). While the truth of an identity statement involves only the references of the component expressions, the informativity of such statements involves additionally the way in which those references are determined, i.e. the senses of the component expressions.


yada yada yada

I’m actually talking more about fish.
This fish

This is an ocean sunfish … in the English speaking world. In Maaori its called raataahuihui. Under the Linneaen system of naming organism, it’s mola mola, of the molidae family. Mola is latin for millstone and the name is suggestive of the round shape of the body of the fish. You might think that the reference to the sun in the English common name is also due to its shape. The German speakers among us, however, do not see the sun when they look at mola mola, the see the moon: Mondfisch, and speakers of other European languages seem to concur that the fish is moon-ish. Sources give such forms as riba luna for Russian, poisson lune, French. Its pale roundness might be the source of this nomenclature, but the fact that it is round and looks like it is a head with tail, gives us its Polish name, ‘head alone’, and this seems to translate to an alternative German name, Schwimmenden Kopf, ‘swimming head.  I’m not sure I believe the reference to the Chinese name, ‘toppled car fish’  our Chinese staff suggested flipped over car, is a better translation mentioned in multiple internet sources (Surely fishingfolk encountered the fish before the invention of cars!).  But the pale roundness of the fish might give us a clue as to the English name. Labelled by some as a lazy swimmer, sunfish like to lay about just under the surface of the water, taking in the rays of the sun, so it seems, hence moonfish sun themselves.


Michael Jackson, animutation and the psycholinguist

February 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

Someone with more time on their hands than I has made a minidoco on a subject close to my heart – buffalaxing … linking it to other similar genres animutation and soramimi [Japanese for misheard lyricsm I believe.]

I now have a more comprehensive understanding of the development of these genres and that it did not begin with the linguistic imperialism of English!

I like how this mini doco starts with mondegreens, the fun version of that important element in psycholinguistics, the mondegreen, known more formally, of course, as slips of the ear.
My personal one … I thought that Michael was singing People at the post office … when he was really saying Keep on with the force, don’t stop … actually still not convinced I’m wrong

go ask your mother

February 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

Linguistic exogamy is a feature of some multilingual and multidialectal regions. In such places, it is a requirement to marry outside of your language group or dialect group. To marry or have sexual relations with someone who shares your mother tongue is akin to incest, and is ‘what dogs do’ as the saying goes in the Amazon basin. The Vaupés  region of the Amazon is one such place where marriage ties bind a number of language groups together. Many of the participating groups belong to the Tukanoan language family, but it also includes, Tariana, an Arawakan language and a language of the Maku group, the ancestors of the last considered by the others to be the original inhabitants of the area, and surprise surprise socially inferior to the later arrivals. 

This system of marriage  means that there is compulsory multilingualism. Children speak the language of each parent, but identify with the father’s language.In fact, some researchers report that the identification with the father’s language is so strong that speaking one’s mother’s language is considered inappropriate. Linguistic attitudes within the language groups discredit all the mothers’ tongues. Aikhenvald, a leading linguist of Amazonian languages, reports that mixing languages is prohibited among speakers of Tariana, the language she has studied intensively. One might wonder if this is linked to the power of the father tongue, any other languages are conceptualised as feminine. This is not the case though where linguistic exogamy occur. Rather it reveals the strong patrilineality of that group, where descent is reckoned only through fathers. In places such as Cape York, Australia, where different lines of descent or multiple lines of descent are valued, knowledge of both parent’s languages is requisite to validating one’s identity. In that region one belongs to the kingroup of one’s father, one’s mother’s father’, and one’s mother’s mother, producing multilingual multimembership. The observation of exogamy should ensure that language groups remain balanced and none are usurping the others. The Amazonian example, researchers suggests is still going strong. However in the case of Australian languages where intergenerational transmission, I wonder if exogamy is still being observed along linguistic lines or purely on descent lines.

I strongly recommend a visit to Alexandra Aikhenvald’s website  to read more about her work in this region. She has generously posted a great deal of her work online.

t shirts of dustunction?

February 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Today is the superbowl in the United States in which the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Green Bay Packers. Pittsburghers, it seems,  prides themselves on their American footballing history and it seems their ‘dialect’, Pittsburghese. Sociolinguist, Barbara Johnstone has been tracking what she calls the enregisterment of this urban idalect. That kinda clumsy long word simply means the linking of a variants in ways of speaking or using a dialect with particular places and people. She sees a chain of events happening:

  1. regional variants exist which can be linked to identity features, geographic orgin, age, ethnicity, gender etc
  2. these variants come to do social work, that is they are linked to ideologies about speaking largely about class and correctness
  3. these variants and the class/ideologies are then linked to different elements of identity about the speakers in a sense linking in this final stage to ideas about a place.

So for the example of Pitstburghese, features that were once considered markers of incorrect speech of working class males of Pittsburgh were re-imagined and linked instead to  ideas about that place and the people who live there. Pittsburghers love the Steelers, love to drink a particular beer and use yinz  to create a distinct and distinctive second person plural and say gumban for ‘rubber band’.

One of the interesting elements of Johnstone’s research is how this enregisterment of a local dialect becomes a commodity. In her 2009 article in American Speech (retrievable from here) she discusses the appearance of t-shirts celebrating the identity and language of the city.

What has this got to do with us down here in the South Pacific? Well here at *b-ling* we have often discussed the t-shirt as text and it seems to me we are in the process of commodifying NZ English, and perhaps even more interesting commodifying the intersection of two forms of English here, NZ English and Maaori English. We have already seen here and here the emergence of images of the NZ linguistic landscape in t-shirt form and to update you, here are even more from retrokiwi

Sweet as is a classic piece of NZ English discussed by Massey scholars in Petrucci, P. R., Head, M. G. (2006). Sweet as is cool for New Zealanders. American Speech, 81 (3), 331-336.

Tu meke is a transliteration of the phrase too much!  Interestingly on the t-shirt above this is presented as a two word phrase like the English, however it is most often written as tumeke!  The form is homophonous with an item in the Maaori lexicon meaning ‘to scare/frighten/surprise’. In fact, scholars like Hohepa, (personal communication) argue that the surprise meaning and the transliteration are entwined since tumeke is used as an interjection and a positive evaluative.

Kia kaha, bro is a nice bit of codemixing. The Maaori translates as ‘be strong’ with the addition of the shortened kin term which is commonly used in New Zealand. Originally a feature of Maaori English, this as many other features hasbeen added to the NZ English of young and middle aged Paakehaa speakers as well, further proof of the covert prestige afforded to Maaori ways of speaking?

Chur  or chur chur, or chur bro, though the last seems to be undergoing further change to chur bo are also strongly associated with Maaori speakers of English. It appears to be a remodelled ‘cheers’ widely used as informal expression of gratitude. Chur also seems to have have meanings akin to ‘awesome’ or even a sense of agreement. The phrase chur chur bro is currently being used to connect with young Maaori as the title of a mental health information programme.

kapu kawhe, kaputī, me ranei?

February 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Congratulations to the Massey University team for winning an award for their contribution to te Wiki o te Reo, Maori Language Week.  Knowing NZers love coffee, the team devised a handy card with some coffee talk,  Kōrero kawhe ‘coffee talk’. So now you can order your flat white, or mōwai in te reo. Tumeke!

Having a looking at Māori coffee talk, we can see some of the strategies used by the team.

Transliteration and remodelling.

Here English language phonological forms are taken into Māori and adapted to the phonological rules of the language:

Tī                  ‘tea’, not the long vowel

Tī kerei       ‘earl grey (tea)  the velar stop /g/ is made voiceless as Māori contains only voiceless stops, and the resulting cluster /kr/ is broken up by the insertion of an epenthetic vowel.

Rāte   ‘latte’.  The change of /l/ to /r/ is predictable in Polynesian. The main group of these languages contains either /r/ or /l/ never both. For most but not all of these languages ProtoPolynesian *r  and *l have merged. By this I mean that in the language from which all Polynesian languages descend, there would have been words with both *r and *l. (The asterisk means this  a reconstructed form representing a word in a language that has not been heard or recorded). 

Hawaiian     Maori   Tongan Samoan             ProtoPolynesian

ʔula               kura     kula          ʔula          ‘red’         *kula

liʔi                 riki        iki              liʔi            ‘small’      *riki

In Hawaiian and Samoan, *l and *r merged as /l/, while in Māori, they merged as *r. Tongan on the other hand deleted *r and kept *l as /l/


Calquing is where the meaning of individual phrases are kept so in te reo you might order a pango poto if you want a quick hit of caffeine, or a pango roa, if you have a bit more time on your hands. Literally short black and long black, the  the term denoting length follows the colour.


Unlike calques, these translated terms preserve the meaning of the phrase, not the meaning of the individual words. Trim latte appears on the coffee card as  rāte kore hinu or rāte hinu kore, ‘latte without fat’


There are a couple of creations in the kōrero kawhe lexicon – kanokawhe looks like it is made of  kawhe and the term for seed, kākano, which has been reduced and shortened to form a compound. The most elegant of the inventions however is for the Australasian coffee invention, the flat white, a more robust version of the latte. The term, mōwai, chosen for this popular drink means calm like the sea, hence flat (Thanks to Dr Hohepa for explanation).

quietly amazing

February 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

If only I was twenty years younger and had a passport. This enlightened British company recognises the value of linguists. Here’s some copy from their recruitment ad from the Linguistlist. Yes a PR frim wants to hire linguists


Quietroom is building a reputation for language expertise – in our world of
advertising, marketing and PR, that means we understand the impact words,
whether spoken or written have on people. Our backgrounds are in the Arts,
so our understanding of words has developed through doing what feels right
and then observing the effects. We’ve been very successful working this way
but we want to understand and learn more. This is an opportunity for you to
train as a copywriter and use your linguistic qualifications in a practical
and commercial environment.

As well as being a good Linguist you also need to be an excellent writer –
or to have the potential to become one.

About us:
The words we use affect the way people feel about us. We help large
companies use words to build better customer relationships.

We work with HMRC, HSBC, Prudential, PruHealth, AXA, Which?, HM Treasury,
Halifax, Scottish Widows, The Big Lottery Fund and Starbucks.

We help our clients use words to compete; for market share, for reputation,
for employees, for ownership of ideas, for profit, for new markets.

We teach people to write and also to speak, whether face-to-face or on the
phone. We write marketing copy, and sometimes we make videos. We develop
brand messaging and brand language.

We’re often bought in to shake things up. We help our clients tell better
stories. We help companies talk to their customers when things go wrong.

We breathe life into corporate speak through narrative, metaphor and
resonant language. We overhaul jargon and technical obfuscation. We
simplify things without making them simplistic.

There’s also a rather charming website which include case studies of their work with different types of clients, here they discuss the different kinds of language issues formthe perspective of different kinds of PR goals. Their point of difference is their attention to language, its power and its purpose. I just wish their unique selling point would become more run of the mill! More employment opportunities for the graduates of the BC.

If you are in the UK maybe go and see them. Tell them I sent you.

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