pragmatics

[Fic] A new bed

My dearest El (aka @imjustahobbit), here’s your bday fic! I hope you’re having a lovely, lovely day my dear – and, as requested, here is something about putting together a new home with our two favourite dwarves. Set in Ered Luin after they have decided to stay and build more permanent houses.

 Dworin ahoy!



“You sure about the bed?” Dwalin was standing in the middle of the room, arms crossed over his chest.

“Of course I am. Something you don’t like about it?” Thorin frowned as he threw a gaze at his friend. Dwalin shrugged and stepped over until he stood right by his side and they were both looking at the bed in front of them.

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17 things (other than grammar) linguists know about language. And so should you. #lingchat

Languages are not a simple matter of grammar. Any language policy must consider what is known about language from the fields of pragmatics, sociolinguistics, and cognitive linguistics. These are the key aspects of what we know about language collected from across many fields of linguistic inquiry:

  1. Every sentence communicates much more than just its basic content (propositional meaning). We also communicate our desires and beliefs (e.g. “It’s cold here” may communicate, “Close the window” and “John denied that he cheats on his taxes” communicates that somebody accused John of cheating on his taxes. Similarly choosing a particular form of speech, like slang or jargon, communicates belonging to a community of practice.)
  2. The understanding of any utterance is always dependent on a complex network of knowledge about language, about the world, as well as about the context of the utterance. “China denied involvement.” requires the understanding of the context in which countries operate, as well as metonymy, as well as the grammar and vocabulary. Consider the knowledge we need to possess to interpret “In 1939, the world exploded.” vs. “In Star Wars, a world exploded.”
  3. There is no such thing as purely literal language. All language is to some degree figurative. “Between 3 and 4pm.”, “Out of sight”, “In deep trouble”, “An argument flared up”, “Deliver a service”, “You are my rock”, “Access for all” are all figurative to different degrees.
  4. We all speak more than one variety of our language: formal/informal, school/friends/family, written/spoken, etc. Each of these variety has its own code. For instance, “she wanted to learn” vs. “her desire to learn” demonstrates a common difference between spoken and written English where written English often uses clauses built around nouns.
  5. We constantly switch between different codes (sometimes even within a single utterance). Think about what is going on in a sentence like “The Joe said unto Karen.”
  6. Bilingualism is the norm in language knowledge, not the exception. About half the world’s population regularly speaks more than one language but everybody is “bi-lingual” in the sense that they deal with multiple codes in their language. They may seem like very close but for a child without much familial academic background, entering school and learning to read may feel very much like a foreign language and they often need the same sort of support learners of second languages need.
  7. The “standard” or “correct” English is just one of the many dialects, not English itself. It is not something other dialects diverge from, it is their linguistic equal.
  8. The difference between a language and a dialect is just as much political as linguistic. An old joke in linguistics goes: “A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.” There is no standard measure or universal definition of one language as opposed to another.
  9. Language prescription and requirements of language purity (incl. simple language) are as much political statements as linguistic or cognitive ones. All language use is related to power relationships. Language purists often just parrot half-remembered rules from school and personal peeves.
  10. Simplified languages develop their own complexities if used by a real community through a process known as creolization. (This process is well described for pidgins but not as well for artificial languages.)
  11. All languages are full of redundancy, polysemy and homonymy. It is the context and our knowledge of what is to be expected that makes it easy to figure out the right meaning. Speakers always use context, expectation and all kinds of inference to figure out the intended meaning.
  12. Language speakers have many tools to figure out what a statement is about other than just listening or reading carefully. In a dialogue, people use something called ‘conversation repair’, they raise their eye-brows, ask 'Sorry’, etc. With written texts, they use reference materials, highlight, bookmark, look things up in an index, etc. All of these strategies are a part of their language competence.
  13. There is no straightforward relationship between grammatical features and language obfuscation or lack of clarity (e.g. It is just as easy to hide things using active as passive voice or any Subject-Verb-Object sentence as Object-Subject-Verb).
  14. It is difficult to call any one feature of a language universally simple (for instance, SVO word order or no morphology) because many other languages use what we call complex as the default without any increase in difficulty for the native speakers (e.g. use of verb prefixes/particles in English and German)
  15. Language is not really organized into sentences but into texts. Texts have internal organization to hang together formally (John likes coffee. He likes it a lot.) and semantically (As I said about John. He likes coffee.) Texts also relate to external contexts (cross reference) and their situations. This relationship is both implicit and explicit in the text. The shorter the text, the more context it needs for interpretation. For instance, if all we see is “He likes it.” written on a piece of paper, we do not have enough context to interpret the meaning.
  16. Language is not used uniformly. Some parts of language are used more frequently than others. But this is not enough to understand frequency. Some parts of language are used more frequently together than others. The frequent coocurrence of some words with other words is called “collocation”. This means that when we say “bread and …”, we can predict that the next word will be “butter”. You can check this with a linguistic tool like a corpus, or even by using Google’s predictions in the search. Some words are so strongly collocated with other words that their meaning is “tinged” by those other words (this is called semantic prosody). For example, “set in” has a negative connotation because of its collocation with “rot”.
  17. All language is idiomatic to some degree. You cannot determine the meaning of all sentences just by understanding the meanings of all their component parts and the rules for putting them together. And vice versa, you cannot just take all the words and rules in a language, apply them and get meaningful sentences. Consider “I will not put the picture up with John.” and “I will not put up the picture with John.” and “I will not put up John.” and “I will not put up with John.”

More details and examples THE COMPLEXITIES OF SIMPLE: WHAT SIMPLE LANGUAGE PROPONENTS SHOULD KNOW ABOUT LINGUISTICS on MetaphorHacker.net

bbc.com
The language the government tried to suppress
Most of Singapore’s population speak the unofficial language or dialect known as Singlish. But why would the government rather it went away? James Harbeck takes a look.
By James Harbeck

An article about Singlish by James Harbeck, going into more grammatical detail than you typically get in a news article. Excerpt: 

Jerlyne Ong, a Singaporean now living in Canada, sends a message to a friend back home: “Cannot imagine sia. In Singapore, you strike, you lose your job. But ya, the postal service stopped liao. Cannot agree, buay song, so liddat lor. No postal service for now. Also dunno how long some more. So pek chek.”

Is that English or not? Most of Singapore’s 6 million people speak it, but they don’t agree either. What they do agree is that it’s Singlish. Singlish is the unofficial language – or dialect? or slang? – of Singapore, born out of the contact between the several cultures that make up the city state. It’s a living example of how languages can change and develop. It is also an expression of the Singaporean character and culture, a national treasure – or a detriment and danger to the country, depending on whom you ask. […]

All syllables have approximately equal length and stress. It sounds almost like a tone language in places. Some sounds are changed, and consonants at the ends of words are often dropped or reduced – “like that” becomes liddat. Conjugational and plural endings often disappear. There are quite a few loanwords, such as kena, ‘get something bad’; kiasu, ‘fear of losing out’; shiok, ‘very good’; sian, ‘boring’; buay song, ‘not happy’; pek chek, ‘annoyed, frustrated’; and sia, which is used as an emphatic rather as we might use ‘man’. […]

Lah is surely the most famous word in Singlish, and is emblematic of a whole class of words that set Singlish apart: pragmatic particles – a kind of verbal equivalent of an emoji. These words inserted at the ends of sentences are mostly borrowed from other languages (especially Chinese dialects), and they have to be said with the right tone, as if in Chinese. Lor (mid-level tone) expresses resignation (So liddat lor, “It’s just like that, what can you do?”); meh (high tone) expresses a proposition in need of confirmation (Cannot meh, “You really can’t?”); liao (low falling-rising) indicates a completed action (The postal service stopped liao). 

Even wut – which is to say, what – when said with a low falling tone at the end of a sentence expresses objection (if you are asked to buy something you have already bought, you might say Got already wut). And lah? It can be said with different tones to express different things; quite a bit of linguistic analysis has been done of just what it means – Jock Wong of the Australian National University has done a study teasing apart its different uses, which he boils down to “impositional”, “propositional”, and “persuasive”.

Read the whole thing.

Another article, in Unravel Magazine, looks at Singlish and food

2

a detail - Solas makes this last gesture with his left hand, which is really weird because he’s right-handed. His left fist then flashes.

It’s weird until you think the Inquisitor always had the Anchor in their left hand.

This might have been obvious to other people, but I always thought that, since the Anchor was so unstable, that it meant this was the end for the Anchor. Goodbye, see you later.

But I mean, looking at this, there’s a good possibility that he now has the Anchor in his left hand, isn’t there? - that the flashing means it was transferred, and stable again. Only he can control it and live, right? Well, it’s not going to melt down on him. It likes him.

So all the powers the Anchor could do… the Mark of the Rift, the overpowered projectiles barrier… the explosions… opening and closing rifts… over powered. I don’t want to fight that (too).

Saving the Inquisitor (for now) is really nice, but so is getting the Anchor back under his control. Two birds, one stone, and all that. I won’t be surprised if his hand is glowing later, is what I’m saying.

Welcome to Night Vale: where even "not" isn't what it seems

Normally, we expect a negative statement to mean the opposite of a positive one. For example, “Carlos is a scientist” means the opposite of “Carlos isn’t a scientist”. It’s impossible for both of them to be true at the same time, unless we’ve sneakily introduced two Carloses or two meanings for “scientist”, in which case the one sentence isn’t really the negative equivalent of the other. Existing is the opposite of not-existing. A and not-A are mutually exclusive. That’s negation. 

So far, so good. But in the delightfully surreal podcast Welcome to Night Vale, the writers do some cool things with negation that allows us to conclude a positive statement when we hear someone saying a negative one, using just a little bit of pragmatics. How? Read on. (Minor spoilers for episodes up to 25; knowledge of Night Vale not required). 

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There’s definitely a world in which one day Mycroft will turn out to be the ‘baddie’, as it were, because he represents the pragmatic arm of government and sometimes its pragmatism is terrifying.
—  Mark Gatiss [x]