Tuesday, March 18, 2014

On Pullum's 'Undivided...'

Several people have asked for my reactions to Geoffrey Pullum's piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education's Lingua Franca blog in which he claims the US and UK are 'Undivided by a Common Language'. So apologies to the person to whom I promised a post on rent versus hire (next week!), I'm following fellow UK/US language blogger Ben Yagoda unto the breach.

For those who don't know, Pullum is currently Professor of General Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh. He's a dual UK-US citizen, who was born and educated in the UK, but spent much of his working life in the US. He's also prominent beehive-stirrer-upper at Language Log as well as a regular blogger for Lingua Franca.  I [orig. Aus/NZE] have a lot of time for Pullum's ideas and his style, though I know some of my readers complain about what they perceive as pompousness or rudeness in his blogging. I see that as a humorous blog persona — not because I know the man (we've been in the same room; that's about it), but because my first rule of blogging is to read everything with the rosiest tint possible. That rule serves me well 99.5% of the time.

Pullum starts with:
It probably won’t make me popular on either side of the Atlantic when I say that I think the differences have been wildly, insanely overstated. To cite just one example, I once met a British woman in Edinburgh who told me loudly and confidently that Americans had completely abandoned the use of adverbs.
That woman gets around, doesn't she? I meet her all the time and sometimes she's a man. This kind of behavio(u)r is rooted in cognitive biases. We have a bias toward(s) noticing things that are unusual: so if someone phrases something in a way that wouldn't be heard in your locale, you notice it. If they phrase it in a way that you'd also phrase it, then (as usual) you mine the phrasing for information, then delete the phrasing from your short-term memory. This means you won't later be able to recall how the typically-phrased information was phrased. So, linguistic differences stand out, and linguistic similarities don't stick with us. This means that if one American says real good (and you don't), you may not remember the 40,000 times before that you('ve) heard Americans say really good.

Because of the out-group homogeneity bias, we tend to recogni{s/z}e the variety within the groups we belong to, but not in the groups we don't belong to. So you're much more likely to hear an exasperated woman say "Men! they're all the same!" than to hear an exasperated man say "Men! We're all the same!" In the same way, Americans don't think of Americans as 'all the same', but they think of 'the English' as a more homogenous group, often based on stereotyping. (Don't get smug, English people; you do the same about Americans. Don't I know it.) There's also a bias in intercultural communication (whose name I've forgotten and can't find--help!), by which we tend to over(-)estimate the importance of culture when we deal with people from a culture different from our own; so if someone from another culture does something that strikes us as odd, we might conclude that is a cultural difference between us, rather than that this individual is a bit odd. Or, in the case of language, we tend not to assume that the not-from-our-dialect person just made a speech error or a typo.

So, yes, all of these things lead people to make wildly inaccurate claims like those of the woman in Edinburgh. And the general public eats those up. I talked with two British (one in US, one in UK) journalists last week about the use of the heretofore-British word queue in American English. Both wanted to believe that Americans didn't use queue to mean a line of people until Netflix came along and Britishi{s/z}ed them. I pointed them both to Ben Yagoda's post on the subject, showing a rise of queue in AmE since the 1950s. I believe I also pointed out that queue would not be used by the majority of Americans to talk about a line of people. (The evidence they had seemed to be a few anecdotal uses from elite sources.) Did they cite any of that? No. It's more fun to believe the Netflix story. (How Americans made the jump from virtual lines on Netflix to lines of people waiting and only that jump and not other possible semantic extensions goes unexplained. It's not a trivial matter, and it is an argument for believing that the Americans who use queue to mean 'line of people waiting' have heard British/Commonwealth people using it that way, not that Netflix made them do it.)

So far, so sympathetic to Pullum's point.

In the rest of the article, he dismisses most differences as being in pronunciation or in vocabulary. This is something that most non-syntacticians wouldn't dismiss. On the pronunciation front, fair enough: there's probably as much variation in pronunciation within either country as between them. It's why I don't write a lot about pronunciation on this blog.

On the vocabulary front, he claims the differences are 'mostly nouns'. Well, most of English vocabulary is nouns, so that's not a very interesting thing to say. As (mostly, but not exclusively) a syntactician, Pullum is apt to be dismissive of nouns--they're just names. Easily replaced one for the other, not much effect on the grammar. But certainly an effect on comprehensibility, I'd say.

But let's see what I've got as word-class labels on the 432 blog posts I've published here so far.  I don't use noun as a label because noun posts are easily categori{s/z}ed in more interesting semantic ways (food words, clothing words, etc.). But for the other content-word categories, I've got:
26 on adjectives
18 on adverbs
67 on verbs
That doesn't mean, of course, that I've noticed only 26 adjectival differences--many posts cover more than one difference and I certainly haven't written posts on everything I've noticed. It also doesn't mean that the other 321 posts are about nouns, since not all posts are about vocabulary-level differences. Please also keep in mind that my label(l)ing is not very scientific: there are labels I used later that might've applied as well to posts I'd written earlier; sometimes I forget to label; sometimes I judge that the post isn't cent(e)red enough on a verb difference that I mention for it to merit the verb label; etc.

Other word classes I've label(l)ed:
6 on auxiliary verbs
4 on conjunctions
4 on determiners
10 on numbers
22 on prepositions
6 on pronouns/proforms
Many of those cover what could be categori{s/z}ed as grammatical differences--depending on your definition of grammatical. So, for instance, can you write someone or do you have to write to them? Is it menopause or the menopause? Do you need an and when you say 2007 out loud?

Looking at grammatical labels, there are:
22 on grammar
20 on morphology [and 11 on count/mass distinctions, e.g. do you say Lego or Legos for a bunch of them; most of these are also label(l)ed morphology, though]
The grammar-label(l)ed ones don't include every little difference in which preposition goes with which verb (do you protest something, or protest at it?), so if you count that as grammar (depends on your theoretical bent if you're a linguist, I'd say), then the '22' here is severely under-representative.

What Pullum is counting as grammatical differences seems to be strictly things that are allowed  in one dialect but not in the other. But another kind of difference is found in the tendencies in phrase structure that are more typical of one dialect than the other. For example, temporal adverbs are more likely to occur in the middle of a sentence in BrE. It's not that they can't in AmE, but it sounds more British to put your adverbs there. If you're a novelist trying to write believable dialogue for a character from another country, it's handy to know about these things, as your readers in that country will notice them right away if you get them wrong.

That's not even getting started on the idioms (43 label[l]ed posts), interjections (9), onomatopoeia (2), punctuation (7), or most importantly, I'd say, the pragmatic differences between the two. Is thank you used for the same purposes in the two countries? (Not always.) Do we foreground the same information in sentences? (Not always.) Are polite things in one country impolite in the other? (Oh yeah.)

So, 432 blog posts, most recording several differences, and a (rarely repetitive) Twitter Difference (or Untranslatable) of the Day for at least five days a week since 2009. I think there are a lot of differences.  And several people have made whole books out of the differences, most notably (and academically and grammatically) Algeo's British or American English? and the edited collection One Language, Two Grammars?

Are the differences exaggerated due to cognitive biases and prejudices? Absolutely. Are we still mostly able to communicate easily? Yes, certainly.  But that doesn't make the differences that are there any less interesting to me. And the fact that there are so many biased perceptions about national differences makes me feel like this blog provides a public service in countering the myths. I hope you do too. I even hold out a little hope that Pullum might.

48 comments:

vp said...

Brava, Lynne!

And congratulations for projecting a blogging personality that is the antithesis of Pullum's morose comment-banning misanthrope.

Marc Leavitt said...

Lynne:

I'm on your side of the issue.
In my not-so-humble opinion, the two main dialects are mutually understandable - with reservations.

Some differences are initially opaque, some mildly confusing; both dialects are rich contributors to the English language.

Dick Hartzell said...

With respect to the use and/or comprehsibility of the word queue in the U.S., I remember seeing the American humorist and writer Calvin Trillin on the American talk/chat program/programme The Tonight Show perhaps 30 years ago discussing a trip he'd made to the UK. With his typically dry wit, Trillin joked about how the English were big on queues and could often be found "queueing around" -- an amusing play on "kidding around" that would have fallen flat had his audience been clueless about the meaning, both literal and cultural, of the word.

So no, this idea that Americans owe a debt to Netflix for their understanding of queue is little short of ridiculous.

n0aaa said...

Good piece. I'd say queue is more of a computer/internet/IT term in the US. Seldom used of people. It never ceases to amaze me how long it can take reading a book or longer piece to tell whether the writer is BrE or AmE. It seldom takes long at all listening to them. (I'd have taken "queueing around" to be a pun on "screwing around".) Thanks! Jan

David L said...

Pullum's Lingua Franca piece is odd. He seems to have gotten himself into a crotchet because of the Edinburgh woman who said that Americans don't use adverbs, wrote a column, discovered he didn't have an interesting conclusion, so made something up.

I can easily think of a couple of noteworthy grammatical differences between American and British English. One is "positive anymore," which I first came across when I lived in Illinois, and which now has its own wikipedia entry. (And which has been discussed by the LLoggers, I'm pretty sure).

Another is that Brits will typically say "I wish I'd brought my umbrella," whereas Americans (many? most?) tend to say "I wish I would have brought my umbrella."

These hardly impede understanding, as Pullum says, but it's bizarre for him to claim they're not interesting.

David Crosbie said...

David L

These hardly impede understanding, as Pullum says, but it's bizarre for him to claim they're not interesting.

Well, it would be — except that he doesn't. The word interesting appears only once on that page, and it's in a comment, not in Pullum's text.

I was already thinking along the lines that US-UK linguistic differences are interesting but marginal. Yes, things can be very interesting indeed at the margin, but that doesn't necessarily make them important.

What's essential to language is one or more human beings at the production end and one or more at the reception end. The more the humans at either end have in common, the less dependent are they on the minute details of the coding.

When, for example, strangers who have never left their locality and never socialised with outsiders, the cultural differences inflate the importance of the code. Most of the time, though, we can know or guess enough about our interlocutors to interpret satisfactorily. Pullum was writing about that most of the time.

I still give a little shudder when I hear I wish I would have brought my umbrella. It's something I used to correct in foreign students. I were still teaching, I'd simply tell them that it's American. Interesting, yes, but a minor detail in the tense-aspect-mood system of English verbs.

Your anyhow example rather supports Pullum's position. It isn't a US-UK difference, it's and England-Ireland difference. American adoption of the Irish variant is secondary. Yes, it's all very interesting, but no more than that.

vp said...

"Positive anymore" is not part of standard Anerican English; it's a strongly marked regionalism.

Picky said...

@DavidCrosbie: the thrust of Professor Pullum's article seems to be that the minor differences don't make us incomprehensible to each other. But isn't he just denying a proposition no one holds?

David Crosbie said...

Picky

But isn't he just denying a proposition no one holds?

No. He's denying a proposition that many people hold: that the differences between UK and US English are spectacular and important.

From this stem:

• widespread misconceptions like the adverb obsession of that Edinburgh lady

• widespread, sometimes nasty, moans about the other variety

• widespread uniformed arguments as to which variant is older, and therefore 'correct'

The good thing about Lynne's blog is that it confronts many of these obsession, moans and arguments.

I think my line from now on is that Geof Pullum has highlighted a problem which Lynne is working to alleviate. That problem is not the existence of difference, it's the grotesque misinterpretation of difference.

David Crosbie said...

vp

"Positive anymore" is not part of standard Anerican English; it's a strongly marked regionalism.

That's nice to know, perhaps even comforting. But what of David L's other example? Is I wish I would have brought my umbrella widely acceptable in moderately formal writing to an unknown readership?

Alon said...

@David Crosbie:

Is I wish I would have brought my umbrella widely acceptable in moderately formal writing to an unknown readership?

Well, you can find out yourself. The available data show that “I wish I would have” is a marginal usage, vastly less frequent than “I wish I had” in both British and US usage.

David Crosbie said...

Thanks Alon

I suspect I'm bit too old in the tooth to master n-grams.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't an analysis of exclusively spoken data produce a rather different result?

David Crosbie said...

old in the tooth

No that's not some odd British idiom. I was going to write old, decided to write long in the tooth, got a bit muddled, and didn't spot what I'd unintentionally written instead.

Picky said...

"The exaggerators paint a picture of two countries prevented from understanding each other by a host of baffling and apparently nonnegotiable linguistic differences." Well, David Crosbie, not in my hearing they don't. It's piffle.

David Crosbie said...

Picky

Well, David Crosbie, not in my hearing they don't.

Well, Picky, they do. It's just that you're not around at the time.

Picky said...

I'm sorry to hear it, Mr Crosbie, and very surprised. I hear some people being puzzled and others intrigued by the occasional American usage; I hear people foolishly being annoyed by occasional (what they think are) Americanisms. I have yet to hear anyone say the American and British people or nations are unable to understand each other because of language differences. If your and Professor Pullum's experiences differ, then I am wrong, but, forgive me, I feel you must both move among strange people.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

To n0aaa - you surprise me! I can usually tell within a paragraph - often within a sentence - whether the writer is British or American!

That the two varieties of English are different is interesting, and occasionally disconcerting - I was having a friendly argument with a Facebook friend; at least, it was friendly until she misinterpreted my saying "But surely, thus and so?" as being dogmatic about it. I explained that I thought we probably used the expression differently in our two dialects, and it got friendly again!

So although most differences are minimal and mutually comprehensible, it can lead to misunderstandings.

Sometimes I simply don't understand what my friends are on about, and have to ask for clarification. It usually turns out to be something to do with American sports.... or education!

David L said...

@David Crosbie: OK, Pullum didn't say the differences between US and UK English weren't interesting. He said they were "trivial, barely even worth mentioning." I still find that an odd thing for a linguist to declare. And I continue to be baffled by what point Pullum was trying to make.

I agree that positive anymore is regional in the US. I don't know how widespread it is in Ireland -- I can only say it was new to me when I moved to the US.

But I hear the "I wish I would have..." construction quite a bit, in the DC area, where I live now, and on TV in various contexts. I think of it as a fairly general US-ism, if not universal.

David L said...

PS: I can accept that "I wish I would have..." is not so common in writing.

biochemist said...

There's an American song, 'If I knew you were coming I'd'a baked a cake'. Every time I hear it, I mentally translate it to 'If I had known you were coming, I would have baked a cake'. I (BrE) always suspect that AmE speakers use a slightly condensed version of 'English', with fewer tenses to their verbs.
And the reason for that is that my first encounters with non-literary American writing were in the scientific 'literature' which has a style all of its own! An influential article in the (British) science journal Nature commented, about 40 years ago, that scientific papers were written in a manner that suggested English was a second language - to scientists who had originated in Germany or Austria. And so I interpret some of these constructions such as 'I wish I would have done that', or 'where did you go?' to direct translations from other European languages. Is there any evidence for this?

vp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vp said...

@David Crosbie:

Is "I wish I would have brought my umbrella" widely acceptable in moderately formal writing to an unknown readership?

I would say (as a UK-US immigrant) that the "wish I would have" form is fully standard in the US. It's certainly the dominant spoken form, in my experience.

Anonymous said...

A bit off topic, but Biochemist's observation that scientists tend to write as if English was their second language reminded me of Grayson Perry's remark in his recent Reith Lecture, that the prose style of artists often resembles a bad translation from French.
So true, both of those things!

Grhm said...

A bit off topic, but
Biochemist's observation that scientists tend to write as if English
was their second language reminded me of Grayson Perry's remark in his
recent Reith Lecture, that the prose style of artists often resembles a
bad translation from French.
So true, both of those things!

lynneguist said...

The thing is (people who keep saying 'the other people always say X/don't say Y'), the cognitive biases discussed in the post mean that you can't really know that. What is needed is objective evidence, not personal experience (which is usually regionally specific, as well as cognitively biased). We can get that kind of evidence by using corpora and other tools of linguistic investigation.

David Crosbie said...

David L

He said they were "trivial, barely even worth mentioning." I still find that an odd thing for a linguist to declare.

The most famous and most influential linguist on the planet, Noam Chomsky, resolutely excludes any consideration of the bits of language that (I suspect) you and I find most interesting.

David Crosbie said...

Vp


I would say (as a UK-US immigrant) that the "wish I would have" form is fully standard in the US. It's certainly the dominant spoken form, in my experience.

I don't think fully standard is the appropreia term here. It seems to be assimilated into the speech of standard speakers. And it would be misleading to call it non-standard with its connotation of non-elite social dialect. But Alon's n-gram indicates that it's rare in certain (as yet not stated) contexts, and David L (who brought up the example in the first place) judges that it's rare in writing.

This is the sort of information I value because, I believe, it's important to English language teachers. Students copy what they've heard and read, and sometimes it conflicts with what the teacher would say or write. Without proper information, the teacher may criticise the student and the learning process may be impaired in different ways.

I would always try to judge whether a learner would be well advised

• to avoid a language feature in all but the most restricted contexts, which would seem to be the case with 'positive anyway'

• to consider the stylistic context before using a feature — which would seems to apply to I wish I would have in formal writing

• have confidence to use a feature while knowing that it's specific to one variety — examples passim throughout Lynne's blog

• to be wary of using a feature that is (somewhat irrationally) stigmatised by some native speakers in all stylistic contexts — things like between you and I, ten items or less, etc.

Anonymous said...

biochemist said...

There's an American song, 'If I knew you were coming I'd'a baked a cake'. Every time I hear it, I mentally translate it to 'If I had known you were coming, I would have baked a cake'. I (BrE) always suspect that AmE speakers use a slightly condensed version of 'English', with fewer tenses to their verbs.


It's a song. Lyric/poetic grammar is different from spoken grammar, just as spoken grammar is from written grammar.

"I can't get no satisfaction". And no doubt many others.

Anonymous said...

David Crosbie said...

examples passim throughout Lynne's blog


"Passim throughout"?! Tut.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

I would have said "I can't get no satisfaction" is a fairly normal construction in British English (not exactly grammatical, but definitely used!).

David Crosbie said...

Annabel

I would have said "I can't get no satisfaction" is a fairly normal construction in British English

But even more normal in the idim that the Stones drew inspiration from. The Blues Concordance has:

Now I been rolling : I been rolling from sun to sun
Says I got where I can't get no loving : not until my payday comes

The times so hard : can't get no work to do
And my hard luck mama : because I ain't got no shoes

My babe in jail : I can't get no news
I don't get nothing : but the mean old high sheriff blues

Lord I wonder what's the matter : Papa Bill can't get no mail
Lord the post office must be on fire : and the mailman must undoubtedly be in jail

It's a hard hard time now : good man can't get no dough
All I do for my baby : don't satisfy her no more

I'm cold in hand : can't get nothing here
I'm hungry as a hound : I can't travel nowhere

I wonder what's the matter : can't get no mail
Had a dream last night : black cat crossed my trail

Tell me what's the matter : [papa Lemon, I] can't get no mail
Mama said last night : don't let a black cat cross your trail

Wonder what's the matter : I can't get no mail
Believe to my soul : they got my man in jail

Backwater rising : southern people can't make no time
And I can't get no hearing : from that Memphis gal of mine

Hey pretty mama : can I get a job with you
I ain't got no money : I can't get no work to do

Soon as I get sober : going to get drunk again
If I can't get no liquor : drink that good garden gin

Well my papa said try : my brothers too
They both been to the mill : they can't get nothing *for two*

My cow little aches : she can't get no water
She got a little calf : say you might've heard her holler

Hey arguing : arguing everywhere
I can't get no message : over the phone nowhere I go

Can't get nothing : while roving around
But it's all gravy : in my home town
Ashes to ashes : dust to dust
New York don't get me : Chicago must

Tell me mailman : I can't get no news
Know by that baby : I'm bound to have those stonewall blues

Well well the blues in my mailbox : because I can't get no mail
And the blues in my bread box : because my bread is done gone stale

Working on the project : with payday three or four weeks away
Now how can you make ends meet : oh well well well when you can't get no pay

Anonymous said...

Mrs Redboots said...

I would have said "I can't get no satisfaction" is a fairly normal construction in British English


Nowadays, perhaps (although still smacking of being an Americanism), but dare I put that down to the song's influence, and posit that it was not regarded as a normal construction before 1965?

But my original point was inelegantly put. I meant rather that in songs and poems, the lyricist will be allowed to take greater liberties with strict grammar than in literature or in English exams, say.

David Crosbie said...

Anonymous

dare I put that down to the song's influence, and posit that it was not regarded as a normal construction before 1965?

David Crystal in The Stories of English lists this sort of multiple negation among the central features of non-standard English at clause level. He writes

A few of these features are now so widely encountered in in formal educated usage that they could probably seen as part of colloquial Standard English, avoided only by people who are particularly sensitive about maintaining a school-taught rule.

Personally, I would judge that an utterance like I can't get no wi-fi signal hovers just this side of the dividing line between facetiously non-standard and 'probably part of colloquial Standard English'.

The wonderfully named and wonderfully astute Ingrid Tieken-Boom van Ostade identifies multiple negation as the sort of thing novelists have since Late Modern English put in the mouths of characters to signal that they're vulgar or lower class. Jane Austen had someone say No, Ma'am, he did not mention no particular family. And Dickens did it all the time.

Earlier, as Crystal notes, Hamlet told the players

Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand

And Chaucer wrote

He nevere yet no vileyne ne ne seyde
In al his lyf unto no manner wight.


I've read elsewhere that single negation became the norm at around 1600, but multiple negation persisted among lower-class speakers, and (for a while) among women.

2sheds said...

I am several years late with this comment, but one of the links in this post is to a post from 2007 where you talk (among other things) about growing up in a funeral home. That is my mother's family business, and -- while I didn't live there -- I spent a lot of time at my maternal grandparents' place (the funeral home). I don't think I've ever encountered anyone else whose family was in this business, so I was excited to read your post. (I've been reading your blog for several years, so I'm surprised I missed it the first time around!)

I wish I had something more substantial to say, but I guess I just wanted to offer an internet "fist-bump" to a fellow member of what seems like a very small club!

Tony Kline said...

The greatest problem I as a Brit have reading American texts is the copious use of occasionally unfamiliar Acronyms and Brand Names. So for me any minor barriers stem from the social culture rather than the language per se, though since acronyms and brands name things they are certainly linguistic artefacts too.
Cultural differences are surely never trivial even if a little googling usually resolves the acronym/brand issue quickly enough. Language is there to communicate meaning and every time it fails to do that, there's a gap between minds. Nevertheless Vive la difference! It's great fun.

Anonymous said...

David Crosbie

I've read elsewhere that single negation became the norm at around 1600, but multiple negation persisted among lower-class speakers, and (for a while) among women.


Ah, there ain't nothing new under the sun, then.

Anonymous said...

Tony Kline

Cultural differences are surely never trivial even if a little googling usually resolves the acronym/brand issue quickly enough.


True indeed. If you think you have trouble as a Brit with US cultural references, try being an ex-pat. I now need constant translation for English *and* local references.

Little Black Sambo said...

"...the copious use of occasionally unfamiliar Acronyms and Brand Names."
There is a literary thesis waiting to be written about "Kleenex".

David Crosbie said...

Anonymous

Ah, there ain't nothing new under the sun, then.

Well, maybe there is. I've read several times that in traditional working-class families, it's the women who tend to adopt more middle-class speech habits.

I've also read a feminist critique that the findings were distorted by defining the family's socio-economic class according to the male adult's occupation.

Whatever the actual situation is, it ain't no way the same as it was in 1600.

Buzz said...

@David Crosbie: That last point illustrates another amusing difference between America and Britain. As an American, the notion that socioeconomic status should be determined by profession, rather than household income, sounds rather absurd.

starwefter said...

I read something somewhere which I can totally no longer identify that said in 100? (maybe 200?) years we would no longer be able to understand each other because the two dialects would have drifted so far apart. I always felt this was overly pessimistic.

I think queue may have entered our consciousness if not our vocabulary considerably earlier, considering how many British mysteries (Agatha Christie, etc.) made it onto the best seller lists over the last 50 or 60 years. (...Not to mention those Harlequin (in Great Britain, Mills and Boon) romances that no one ever admits to reading. In the 1960s those were all English (specifically English, not British --I'm not confusing the two) -- the American lines didn't get introduced until some time in the 1970s I think?) I know I encountered the word at some point in my life when I was young enough to think it was pronounced kweck (and it took me years to figure that one out, but please forgive me, I think I was about thirteen at the time, and I did look it up in a dictionary and find out what it meant). I remember reading Josephine Tey's "The Man in the Queue" when I was still young enough I was mispronouncing it, probably about the time I was in high school.

All of this reminds me that we may not say queue, but I think we occasionally say cueing up (spelling? my spell check doesn't like that...), and in relation to acting we definitely say that you need to cue the lines or that an actor has to take his cues. Come to think of it, I worked for a radio station in 1980 and we talked about cueing things -- ads, songs, the hospital report.... I honestly don't know if we spelled it cue, or if I just assumed we did, because I don't know if I ever saw it written out. I also remember the phrase "cue it up" -- which may have been "queue it up"? All this is to say that I think Netflix use of the word probably is broadcasting jargon, however it is spelled.

Tony Kline et al.: Kleenex and other brand names -- in everyday speech we are all prone to use these -- I still call it a Xerox, not a photocopy, (or worse yet, say "to xerox it) and where I live it's a pop, where my ex-husband was from it was a soda, but in the area in Louisiana we lived in for a short while the phrase was "What kind of Coke do you want? 7-up or Pepsi?" which was really disconcerting..... Brand names in writing though are another thing entirely -- if a word enters the common vocabulary a company loses trademark rights, so a corporation fights very hard to keep that from happening. If you want to know way too much about this, see: http://www.inta.org/TrademarkBasics/FactSheets/Pages/TrademarksvsGenericTermsFactSheet.aspx and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_generic_and_genericized_trademarks

2sheds: Off topic, but I had an uncle in the funeral home business, his son took it over, and I believe it's still in the family, though I'm not entirely sure who's running it now.

Kate Bunting said...

Starwefter, the theatrical cue is a different word from "queue" meaning a line of waiting people or (historically) a pigtail, which comes from the French word for a tail.

David Crosbie said...

Buzz

As an American, the notion that socioeconomic status should be determined by profession, rather than household income, sounds rather absurd.

If you're trying to sell a product or a political idea, it's not enough to know how much money your potential targets have. You're probably more interested in how they spend their money, so you also want to their tastes and attitudes.

In Britain it wasn’t always easy to ascertain actual income, still less disposable wealth. And even if you did know what people could spend, it didn’t fully predict what they might choose to spend it on. The occupation of the breadwinner was more open to disclosure. Moreover it was a fairly accurate predictor of potential spending behaviour in that it suggested social status and social aspirations.

The historically understood upper/middle/working labels give a rough but serviceable account of spending and voting habits. The system that the feminists objected to refined the categories and offered quick-and-dirty criteris for membership. It was produced by the newspaper and advertising industries to rationalise the problem of what to charge for ads in different papers, but it was simple and flexible enough to be used widely by political parties, academic sociologists, and in the sociolinguistic studies that annoyed the feminists.Briefly

• It disregarded the upper class as a tiny nice market.
• It divided the middle class into three: A, B and C1.
• It divided the working class into two: C2 (skilled) and D (unskilled).
• It created a label for those with minimal spending power: E (including pensioners, students, unemployed etc)

Sociolinguists are, of course, more interested in culture than wealth, but those labels offered an easy tool for labelling the class of large numbers of speakers without conductive extensive interviews. The criteria were probably never ideal, and they're certainly outdated nowadays. But the simplicity outweighed the less-than-perfect accuracy.

In Britain it's still true that accent is a significant index of social background and status. We nearly all speak Standard English, but at the margins there are small details of vocabulary, grammar and usage that correlate with social class.

In America there was a famous survey of R-pronunciation in New York. Subjects were judged on sight for age and gender, but social class was measured by spending habit, not income. Subjects were approached at random in three department stores recognised as up-maker, mid-market and down-market.

In a test of masterly elegance, they were asked to locate a department and then repeat their answer, which invited more carful speech. The answer was 'On the fourth floor', which tells you all you want to know about a New Yorker's R-sounds.

Irene C. said...

David L., "I wish I'd brought my umbrella," may be equally common in AmE; at least, it sounds more natural than the alternative to this AmE speaker.

A question for the corpora?

In any case, yes, I'd agree with you Lynne. The two dialects may not be as far apart as Moroccan and Levantine Arabic are, but still, the grammatical differences alone are substantial.

Ted said...

Irene C.: I suspect that both of those phrases will appear far more often in the British corpus than the American, for reasons having nothing to do with syntax.

David Crosbie said...

Starwefter

I read something somewhere which I can totally no longer identify that said in 100? (maybe 200?) years we would no longer be able to understand each other because the two dialects would have drifted so far apart.

I'm not it's the same memory, but I do remember Robert Burchfield predicting that the different world standards of English would drift apart into mutual intelligibility — not just British and American but Australian, Indian, South Africa and the rest.

Burchfield was a lexicographer and for a time chief editor of the OED. He was a New Zealander and reportedly the greatest ever expert on the different varieties of World English.

And there's the snag. He spent his days researching, publishing and thinking about differences and centrifugal forces, but didn't spend much time contemplating similarities and centripetal counter-forces.

One force he couldn't foresee was the internet. The whole world is open to a lot of US English in all styles including the most speech-like most informal. But the whole world is also open to the language of native speakers with different standards, and of non-native speakers writing not-quite-idiomatically but with ease and clarity.

Hollywood is still big, but not the over-powering force it was in popular entertainment. In Burchfield's day, comparatively few TV program(me)s were recorded and sold internationally. Nowadays people in the US tell us how they picked up words and phrases from Monty Python and other shows and record. In Britain we've had Australian TV soaps on our screens every bit as popular as British or American. There's even some transfer from Indian English — not directly, but indirectly via British Asian comedy shows.

With YouTube etc, we don't even have to rely on our TV networks to purchase imports. If it's free on the net, it's free everywhere.

And all the time the publishing industries around the world have employed editors imposing conservative standards on the written word.

Laura said...

I'm American, so I wait in line - except when I'm playing an online game. There, if I'm waiting for someone to log off so I can log in, I've only ever heard the thing I'm waiting in referred to as a queue. I'm guessing it's a carryover from a programming term for a first-in-first-out structure.

Picky said...

Certainly I remember, 20 or so years ago, working on a computer system – an American computer system – in which the folders, or directories, or whatever they are called now, were called "queues".