The Evolution and Importance of Angloromani, a guest post by Sarah Sissum

Sarah Sissum is a member of the Honors College at Southern Oregon University, where she studies English and History.

Angloromani is one of the numerous Para-Romani languages existing in traveler communities today. Characterized by its usage of Romani terms, the language reveals many elements of Romani culture and history. The exclusivity of this community, though, has made studies of the language a challenge. Romani linguists such as Ian Hancock have synthesized the relationship between English and Romani. Much of what is currently known comes from studies of Angloromani’s phonology and grammar. Most importantly, these linguists stress the necessity of the Romani language in the preservation of their culture. This essay will look at the history of Angloromani, its composition, and the cultural ties between the Romani people and their language.

The first step in understanding Angloromani is being able to trace the Romani people to their point of origin. The Romani people, often referred to by the misnomer gypsy, are believed to have migrated from India sometime around 1000 A.D. (Fraser 18). This inference comes from the presence of similar words in both Romani and several Indian languages, such as the word pani, which means ‘water’ in over fifty Indian languages and in Romani (Hancock 9). In the same way that linguists have been able to establish an Indian origin for the Romani, they have also been able to use their language to infer the most likely route of these peoples into Europe. Hancock traces the movements of his people after their diaspora:

The presence of many words adopted from Persian (for example, baxt ‘luck’) and some Kurdish (vurdon ‘waggon’) show that the migration must have passed through Iran; Armenian and Greek words (such as kočak ‘button’ and zumi ‘soup’) show passage through what is now Turkey; Slavic and Romanian words (dosta ‘enough’ and raxuni ‘smock’) indicate a presence in the Balkans (Hancock 9).

After their arrival in the Balkan States, the Romani gradually spread to Western Europe beginning around the 1430s (Fraser 85). Almost immediately, these travelers were met with scorn and accusations of espionage, as seen in an account by German chronicler Aventinus (Johann Thurmaier) in the Bavarian Chronicle during 1439 (85-86). This marked the steady deterioration of public attitudes toward the Romani during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (86). These sentiments would set in place a tradition of prejudice towards the Romani that exists to this day.

Like any society, Romani culture has played a significant role in the formation and spread of their language. Since their initial diaspora from India, Romani travelers have tended to be an exclusive group. Non-Roma’s, known in Angloromani as ‘gåja’s,’ have traditionally not been admitted into traveler communities. Byzantine Greeks referred to the Roma as ‘Tsingani,’ which roughly translates to the ‘don’t touch’ people (Hancock 1). As a result, those limited few who have had contact with the Romani, such as George Borrow, a 19th century English novelist who wrote multiple pieces describing Romani vernacular, have been highly prized for their insight into traveler culture. Even those outsiders who have gained acceptance, though, are seldom exposed to Romani in its entirety.

In addition to the obstacle posed by limited contact with travelers, a lack of literature has made it even more of a challenge to study Romani culture and language. Romani has existed as a language written by Romanies since the early 1900s (Hancock 139). Consequentially, roughly nine hundred years of Romani culture has passed solely though an oral tradition. The most prolific studies of Rom culture have occurred sparsely throughout history, and have been recorded by non-travelers. The first known work on Romani culture was written by Andrew Borde and published in England in 1547 (Fraser 10). His Fyrst Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge contained evidence of ‘Egipt speche,’ which showed borrowings from both Romanian and Greek (10,12). Borde’s work, which claimed that the Romani tongue was Egyptian, attempted to identify Romani as a unitary language. The next text on Romani, Études sur les Tchinghianés by Alexandre Paspati, would not be published until the 1850s, and would examine the presence of Rom travelers in Turkey. Following works on the Romani would place them in Wales and Sweden, with evidence of their movement through Norway, Finland, Russia, th Balkans, Germany, France, and Poland (13). If these texts demonstrated anything, it was that Romani was not a unitary language, and that it had undergone numerous changes by the time it had left India and migrated to Great Britain in the sixteenth century.

The genesis of Angloromani has been debated for nearly fifty years. At the beginning of the 1970s, linguists Donald Kenrick and Ian Hancock offered two very different explanations for the origins of Romani English (the preferred term of Kenrick for Angloromani). Kenrick argued that Romani gradually developed over the 500-year period that the Rom had been in contact with the British (Bakker 15). As a result, their language became progressively more and more anglicized, until it was predominantly English with a Romani lexicon. Evidence from older sources indicate that the language of British Rom travelers possessed more Romani features in its early days compared to where it is at today. Kenrick estimates that the last users of Romani morphology died at the beginning of the nineteenth century, leaving behind only their lexicon for later generations (15-16).

Hancock, however, refutes Kenrick’s theory of gradual transformation with his charge that Angloromani is a creole. His proposal places the origin of Angloromani in the 16th century – immediately after the Romanies’ arrival in England (Bakker 16). Hancock posits that Angloromani formed as a sort of pidgin between the Romani speakers and the Cant speakers (16). Rather than melting into the dominant language, Hancock’s Angloromani separates the travelers from the mainstream culture (Matras, et. al, 4). This variation of Para-Romani establishes a tie between the minority groups of England and the Rom (4-5). The transmitting of Angloromani over generations has, thus, led to the creolization of the tongue (4). Above all, Hancock’s theory gives credence to the British Romani as a self-sustained culture with a language that is not a bastardization of English.

Other theories concerning Anglo-Romani origins tend to fall into either camp. Judith Okely of Oxford University expands Hancock’s creole hypothesis to cover most Para-Romani languages, particularly in instances where different Romani groups are in contact with one another (Matras, et. al, 5). Peter Bakker of the Aarhus University in Denmark, on the other hand, argues in favor of Kenrick’s proposal. His initial argument is that Welsh Romani rapidly converted into Angloromani out of a desire of the people to preserve their traveler heritage. After this point, though, Bakker contends that Angloromani gradually lost its Romani characteristics and became more and more English-heavy (Bakker 28-29). These are only a few of the numerous theories concerning Angloromani – some focusing on the speech as a type of mixed-language, vocabulary retention, or a sort of code for travelers.

Regardless of its origin, Angloromani possesses characteristics from both English and Romani. The language is predominately English with occasional usage of Romani words. Early Angloromani first saw the usage of the indefinite article a, as seen in “av a kušku ýhav,” meaning “be a good boy” (Matras, et. al, 10, 13). By the 1830’s, Angloromani had adopted English function words including prepositions, interrogatives, and possessive pronouns (13). Though Angloromani initially retained much of its original Romani structure, it eventually gave way to a more English structure. This consistent usage of English grammar is referred to as the “new dialect,” while Romani grammar is considered to be the “old dialect” (13).

Angloromani’s phonology largely sets it apart from standard English. While it tends to reflect English phonology in most ways, its variations are often unpredictable and inconsistent. Words may have multiple spelling variations, depending on who is speaking. Take, for example, the Romani word for ‘dog’: džukel. Angloromani has seven recorded forms of the word in its language. These forms include: jakkel, jokkel, jonkul, juggal, juk, jukkel, and yakkal (Matras 99-101) The word for prison in Angloromani has thirteen recorded forms (101). While variations in vocabulary and pronunciation are by no means uncommon within a language, Angloromani exhibits extensive varieties with few discernible patterns. Yaron Matras posits that this variation “is in line with observations on language decline and the relaxation of normative control on the realisation of lexical items and their structural components” (100). This, along with the widespread distribution of traveler communities, has led to a loss of key defining characteristics in Para-Romani languages.

Angloromani phonology contains relatively frequent usage of lenition and fortition. The Angloromani word for ‘blood,’ rati, is often pronounced as radi, with the /t/ morphing into its voiced counterpart, /d/ (Matras 100). Fortition is even more widespread in Angloromani. Iv, the word for ‘snow,’ turns into eef in Angloromani speech. Linguists note that the Angloromani /v/ tends to be quite unstable in speech, taking on either /f/ or /b/ (100). This usage pattern is difficult to track, though, and varies among users. ‘Snow’ in Angloromani, therefore, can either sound like eef or gib (100). Another notable characteristic of Angloromani phonology is the addition of the /h/ at the start of words beginning with vowels. An example of this would be the pronunciation of ‘Irish’ as Hirish (101). This also occurs in Romani terms, as seen when ‘iv’ is pronounced as heef (101). Rather than trying to determine when the /h/ should be pronounced, as in history, or when it should not be pronounced, like honest, the Romani tendency is to always pronounce the /h/. The Rom’s hypercorrection indicates a degree of insecurity attributed to low levels of education and a lack of exposure to institutionalized English (100-101). As such, the Romani are less likely to acquire instruction on standardized forms of English pronunciation.

The last aspect of Angloromani grammar that this essay will focus on is word formation. Angloromani retains a particular suffix –(m)engr- that functions as a common nominalizer. Matras presents five functions of the suffix: instrumental, productive-objective, agentive, descriptive, and associative-figurative (Matras 104). The instrumental usage of –(m)engr- is seen in the word dikkamengri, which means ‘mirror’ in Angloromani. It derives from the word dik, meaning ‘to see,’ and demonstrates how a word can depict an activity coming from its word stem (104). Productive-objective usage creates an object from a depicted activity. For example, chinnamegra, or ‘letter,’ comes from the root word čin, which means to ‘write/carve’ (104). –(M)engr- is usually agentive in cases of professions/occupations born of a certain activity (104). A berramengra is a ‘sailor,’ and comes from the Angloromani word for sailing, which is bero (104). The associative-figurative form of the suffix occurs when there is a direct link between the created word and the term that it references. Kannegras are ‘hares,’ and are known for their large kans, or ‘ears’ (104). The last form of –(m)engr- involves the application of multiple descriptors to the referent. The word balval, meaning ‘wind,’ and phagger, meaning ‘break,’ come together to form windmill, “bavvalpoggermengri” (104).

Perhaps even more pertinent to understanding Angloromani is understanding its usage patterns. Speakers of Angloromani tend to employ the language circumstantially. It often functions as a sort of code for the Romani (Matras 134). Using the language can signal to another person that they are recognized as being part of the “in-group” (134). Angloromani also has a highly emotive quality. In a conversation between Matras and a Romani friend of his, the two discuss the friend’s impending move from a trailer into a house. When Matras asks his friend if they signed the contract for the house, the friend responds that no, they had not signed for the house because they got trashed. In Romani, this word mean ‘to fear.’ The friend’s usage of Romani in this instance is indicative of a much larger fear of moving away from the Romani culture, as the transition from a trailer to a house is often seen as a loss of culture in Romani tradition (135). Even pesky children have been known to employ Angloromani when trying to appease angry parents, knowing the emotional ties associated with Rom culture (136). As Angloromani has virtually no logistic function outside of the traveler community, its usage is an active call to Romani heritage.

Estimating the distribution of Angloromani speakers in the world today is tricky. As of 2007, there were an estimated forty thousand to sixty thousand travelers in Great Britain. This number is made unreliable, though, by its likely inclusion of Irish travelers and Scottish travelers (Matras, et. al, 17). In the select known Romani populations in the United Kingdom, it appears that Angloromani is in decline (18). This does not come as a surprise when one considers contemporary attitudes towards the Rom. To “gyp” an individual is to swindle them out of money. Media coverage of the Romani is rare and seldom positive. In BBC reports of a drug bust from 2011, linguistic analysts were brought in to explain the meaning of certain Romani words in relation to drug paraphernalia (Tarver). The association of Romani with drug crimes perpetuates the stereotype that travelers are untrustworthy by nature. As stated by Ian Hancock, “if Romanies are not held in high esteem, than our language cannot possibly be” (Hancock 140). The future of Angloromani, based on its current state, does not appear promising.

As a language in decline, Angloromani warrants attention in academic settings. The tie between English-speaking Romanies and their ancestral tongue is imperative in their sense of cultural security. The late Matéo Maximoff stated in a 1994 interview that “Wer kein Romanes mehr spricht, its ken Rom mehr” (“whoever no longer speaks Romani, is no longer a Romani”) (Hancock 139). While language is not the sole basis of Romani culture (victims of anti-traveler legislation have often been forced to give up their dialect), extinction of Angloromani contributes to the loss of a vast and elusive history. Recent studies, though, have demonstrated the possibility of preserving Angloromani by legitimizing it in academic spheres. Through a conscious effort, Angloromani may yet survive.

Works Cited

Bakker, Peter. “The Genesis of Anglo-Romani.” Scholarship and the Gypsy Struggle: Commitment in Romani studies, ed. by Thomas Acton, University of Hertfordshire Press, 2000, pp. 14-31.

Fraser, Angus. The Gypsies, Blackwell Publishers, 1992.

Hancock, Ian. We are the Romani people, University of Hertfordshire Press, 2002.

Matras, Yaron. Romani in Britain: The Afterlife of a Language, Edinburgh University Press, 2010.

Matras, Yaron, et. al. “Angloromani: A Different Kind of Language?” Anthropological Linguistics, vol. 49, no. 2, 2007, pp. 142-184.

Tarver, Nick. “Gypsy dialect in the spotlight after Kent court case.” BBC News, 16 September 2011.

Posted in Language | Comments Off on The Evolution and Importance of Angloromani, a guest post by Sarah Sissum

An Overview of the Historical and Sociolinguistic Aspects of South African English, a guest post by Orianna Alter

Orianna Alter, a junior at Southern Oregon University, is interested in languages and mathematics. She is of South African descent.

South Africa, termed the “Rainbow Nation,” boasts a rich variety of climate zones, cultures, and ethnicities. Further diversity is reflected in the eleven official languages of this country, which include “Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu” (Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996). This paper focuses on one of the more widely used languages, English, and will explore both its historical development and subsequent impact in South African society. It will also review some of the linguistic features unique to South African English.[1]


In order to understand English in South Africa, it is necessary to understand the history of its development in the country. English was first introduced to South Africa in 1795 with the arrival of the British in the Cape Colony. Later, as additional groups of British and European settlers immigrated to the country, the language became more established, and in the year 1910 English and Dutch were both designated as official languages (Van Rooy 509-510).  Legacies of Colonial English describes South African English as an “extraterritorial language,” defining this term as a language “that has been transported from its original geographical home to another area” (363). Although both Afrikaans (from Dutch) and English can be defined as extraterritorial languages, it is interesting to note the differences in growth the languages have taken, especially in the years after apartheid South Africa. While the use of Afrikaans has dwindled in public sectors, English has grown considerably in influence.  In the paper “South African English: Oppressor or Liberator?” Silva explains this change:

Afrikaans became known as “the language of the oppressor”: apartheid was enforced in Afrikaans, as it was the language of the bureaucracy and the police force. In contrast, English was chosen as language of communication by the ANC and the other liberation organizations during the ‘freedom struggle’, and has “typically been seen as the language of liberation and black unity” (para. 19).

The ANC mentioned in the above quote refers to the African National Congress, a political movement first founded in 1912 to protect the freedoms of Black Africans. The ANC party first came into power when Nelson Mandela was elected in 1994 and has retained this position since that time (“A Brief History of the African National Congress”). The ANC’s decision to use English as their language of communication has played a vital role in the way English is perceived in South Africa. In the article “English in South Africa at the millennium: challenges and prospects,” English and linguistics professor Nkonko Kamwangamalu explains the subsequent use of English in South African society:

English has a special status in South Africa. This is evident from the language practices in the higher domains such as the media, the legislature, education, the army, and correctional services…The hegemony of English is also evident from the language practices for political events, such as the inauguration in 1994 of Nelson Mandela…the annual openings of Parliament…and various official announcements or press releases (161).

The widespread use of English in government and other public sectors has contributed to the popularity of the language, and has influenced the rise of the language as the lingua franca. Another motivating factor for adopting English as a common medium is chiefly economic, as The Oxford Handbook of World Englishes explains: “English also increased in its value as the African population urbanized and became part of the industrial economy which was dominated heavily by the English language (De Klerk 2006:11), leaving behind the agricultural economy that was dominated by Afrikaans” (513).  In today’s society, South Africans who are not fluent in English will not enjoy the same access to jobs and economic growth as other English speakers (Van Rooy 514). In addition, English is recognized as “the dominant language of academia in South Africa” (Report on African Languages 23). As a result, students who wish to pursue higher education must have a command of the English language to succeed in their studies. Therefore, although South Africa boasts a variety of official languages, the reality is that English has become a necessity for many Africans if they wish to understand the affairs of government, participate in society, attend university, and have access to better jobs and business opportunities.


As to be expected with a language in constant contact with other languages, many terms in South African English have been borrowed from Afrikaans and other African languages, and these words and phrases have become incorporated into mainstream speech. The Oxford Handbook of World Englishes notes that in earlier years, most borrowings came from Afrikaans, but later, once apartheid fell, there was an increase in borrowings from African languages (as qtd in Van Rooy 517). Legacies of Colonial English lists some of the borrowed Afrikaans terms including: “bakkie ‘pickup truck’…braai ‘barbecue’…stoep ‘verandah’…ja ‘yes’…sies ‘expression of disgust’” (382). Other words incorporated from Khoe and Bantu include “dagga /dɐxɐ/ ‘cannabis’…gogga / xoxɐ/ ‘bug, creepy-crawly’…muti ‘herbal medicine’” (382).

In addition to the rich variety of borrowed words and phrases, South African English also boasts a range of accents and pronunciations, all which differ depending on native language and regional dialects. Silva explains: “In SAE, pronunciation and intonation (and often vocabulary, and sometimes even grammar) differ markedly from one ethnic community to another (largely a result of the Group Areas act during the apartheid era, which separated communities into different residential areas, and segregated school-children into ethnically-based schools)” (para 16).  It is difficult to point to a standard South African Accent, as so many varieties exist, and research must compare White South African English (WSAE), Black South African English (BSAE), and other varieties including Coloured SAE and Indian SAE. In addition, these broad categories may contain subcategories to explore, along with changes that occur regionally and among genders, age groups, and socioeconomic classes.[2]   

Legacies of Colonial English identifies a “South African chain shift” in which the “short front vowels” such as in the words “trap” and “dress” have been raised and the vowel in the word “kit” is assigned a new value so that it no longer rhymes with “it” (374-375). Interestingly, further research has shown that the pronunciation of the vowel in “trap” may be undergoing a reverse shift in the opposite direction, a trend led by young females (Van Rooy 519).[3]

An additional feature of South African English that sets it apart from other English varieties is the use of “now”. Van Rooy explains: “The adverb now is used to indicate near future rather than immediacy in White SAfE (Bowerman 2004b), and even occurs in the reduplicated form now-now, where the immediacy is watered down further” (524). Lass concludes that the repeated now-now form has been modeled after similarities in the Afrikaans language (380). Another unique feature modeled after Afrikaans is the use of “must.” Whereas in other varieties of English, “must” is often used to denote some form of obligation, in South African English it has lost the feeling of command and has become more like a recommendation (Lass 381).


Although English has gained dominance in South Africa, there exists controversy over its use due to the wide range of ethnic and language backgrounds in the country. Some anticipate that the spread of English will endanger other less prominent languages and identities, including Afrikaans (Kamwangamalu 162). The History of the English Language reviews two of the most prevalent attitudes towards the spread of English in Africa, explaining one view it states: “The first advocates a change of balance between English and African languages in favor of the latter, a policy shift that would move African languages from the margins to the center of African life” (429). This view favors the rise of African languages to preserve the cultural and ethnic customs and identities of Africans in an attempt to prevent English from taking over valued cultural and language differences. However, others feel that English can be in effect “Africanized” and made to conform to the culture and society of the people that use it, as the following excerpt illustrates: “The second school of thought is the one that seeks to come to terms with English as part of the post-colonial African reality, appropriate it, reconfigure it materially to acquire an African identity and transform it to create a counter-(i.e., anti-imperialist) discourse” (Mazrui 429). This viewpoint seems to be more suitable for South African society, as creating equal language opportunities in a variety of public sectors, for example universities, requires more money and resources (Silva, para 24).

As changes in government and policy continue to unfold in South Africa, it will be interesting to see the implications for future English development. Since apartheid fell, the African National Congress has taken control politically. However, with the rise of new political parties, there may be shifts in attitude that affect the use of English in government and other areas, and we may see a rise in popularity of African languages. Moreover, as more racial integration takes place, South African English will surely continue to evolve, reflecting the increasing diversity of the country.


“A Brief History of the African National Congress.” African National Congress South Africa’s
National Liberation Movement, Accessed 13 Mar. 2018.

Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996. Chapter 1 Founding Provisions. Accessed 16 March 2018

Kamwangamalu, Nkonko M. “English in South Africa at the millennium: challenges and prospects.” World Englishes, vol. 21, no. 1, 2002, pp. 161-63, Accessed 18 Feb. 2018.

Lass, Roger. “South African English.” Legacies of colonial English: studies in transported dialects. Edited by Raymond Hickey, Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 363-384.

Mazrui, Alamin M. “English in Africa.”The History of the English Language. Edited by Haruko Momma and Michael Matto, Wiley-Blackwell, 2008, pp 423-430.

“Report on the Use of African Languages as Mediums of Instruction in Higher Education.” Published by the Department of Higher Education and Training, pp 23. Accessed 16 Mar. 2018

Silva, Penny. “South African English: Oppressor or Liberator?” The major varieties of English: papers from MAVEN 97, Växjö 20-22 November 1997.  Accessed 18 Feb. 2018

Van Rooy, Bertus. “English in South Africa.” The Oxford Handbook of World Englishes. Edited by Markku Filppula, Juhani Klemola, Devyani Sharma, Oxford University Press, 2017, pp.508-526.

  1. Abbreviated as SAE

  2. Observed from examining research in The Oxford Handbook of World Englishes

  3. See chart on page 7

Posted in Ideas and Opinions, Language | Comments Off on An Overview of the Historical and Sociolinguistic Aspects of South African English, a guest post by Orianna Alter

An Interview with Lynne Murphy, author of THE PRODIGAL TONGUE

Lynne Murphy is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Sussex. She grew up in New York state, she studied Linguistics at the Universities of Massachusetts and Illinois, and has taught in South Africa and Texas. Since 2000, she has lived in Brighton, England, where she now has an English husband and English daughter. She blogs as Lynneguist at the award-winning blog Separated by a Common Language and in 2016 she was a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar.

Murphy is the author of several books, including Lexical meaning (Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics, 2010) and Semantic relations and the lexicon (Cambridge University Press, 2003). Her most recent book, released this spring in the US and UK, is The Prodigal Tongue: the love-hate relationship between American and British English.

Publishers Weekly calls The Prodigal Tongue “thoughtful, funny, and approachable” with a “commitment to inquiry.”

You can follow lynneguist on Twitter:

Ed Battistella: I’m really enjoying The Prodigal Tongue. You’ve coined the term Amerilexicosis. What is that?

Lynne Murphy: Thanks, Ed! I’ve coined a number of words relating to the British media’s treatment of American English, because a lot of that treatment seems to be pathological in nature. Amerilexicosis is the most extreme form of the disease, marked by paranoia and “delusions of America”. You see that when British people blame Americans for the now-popular British pronunciation of controversy as conTROVersy or when they think “It’s a big ask” is an import from US business culture. In reality the pronunciation is 100% British and big ask is an Australianism, but that hasn’t stopped some English people from pointing at them and saying “Look! The Americans are taking over our language and ruining it!”

EB: Do the British have a linguistic superiority complex? Or does the US have a bit of an inferiority complex, language-wise?

LM: They both can be true—and they feed each other. There’s a tendency for British (especially English) people to view standard British English as “the real thing” and to see the parts of American English that differ as “mistakes” or “non-standard”. But Americans don’t tend to see the British differences as mistakes, and they often assume that if it’s said in England, it must be proper. Americans often admire British English, and that helps stoke the British feeling that their English is the best one.

A big part of what I’m trying to communicate through The Prodigal Tongue is that the assumptions underlying those attitudes are often just wrong. The English spoken in Britain is no older than the English spoken in America, in that they both started with the same people on a certain island. The differences we see in Britain and the US aren’t there because a new English sprouted up in the colonies, but because the language forked and developed in different ways in different places. The English now spoken in England is not “original English”. It’s just “sedentary English”.

EB: Does language mean different things emotionally to the average Brit versus the average American?

LM: We probably have to be careful here when talking about “the average Brit”—since not all Britons are English and the English have a different relationship to the language than the Scots or Welsh do. The thing that’s hard for Americans to really understand is how much accent matters in Britain and how much accent is intertwined with social class—and even what social class means in the British context. I mean, Americans have accents and they belong to socioeconomic classes, of course. And we know some accents are discriminated against in America. But most Americans just do not have the kind of accent–class sensitivity that comes naturally in England, where the highest-status accent has its own name: Received Pronunciation. It even has a nickname: RP.

Americans seem to get more exercised about grammatical things and punctuation and the like. Perhaps not the average American, but those who have reason to think about language. When I get a new follower on Twitter and I see they’ve written “Team Oxford Comma” in their bio, I can be pretty sure it’s an American. The style guides, like the Chicago Manual of Style or Associated Press Stylebook, are huge in comparison to their modern UK counterparts. National Grammar Day is an American invention—and so forth. In some places where Americans use hard-and-fast rules about grammar, British writers and editors are more willing to say “see what sounds right in the context”.

Which is to say, Americans are more willing to be told what to do grammar-wise (and to then tell others what to do). That sounds kind of subservient to the rules, which you might not think of as an American characteristic. But it is! And I think it comes from a really democratic urge. If the rules of grammar are written down, they can be the same for everybody and everybody can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and learn those rules. The British way relies on having an “ear” for the language—something that you’re not taught and that not everyone can be expected to do well. I talk about this a lot in the book—that for Americans, English is a tool that anyone can learn to use well (if they try hard enough). In England, though everybody uses English, there is a sense that not everyone is expected to be able to really master it—it’s not so clearly seen as a teachable skill. Though I think this difference goes way back to the start of the United States, it’s probably been strengthened by the fact that most Americans have not-so-long-ago ancestors who had to learn English as a second language.

EB: As an American living and working in England do you find people commenting on your speech? What do they say?

LM: When you’re an American in England, Americanness becomes your main identifying characteristic and personality trait. I’m not “that red-headed woman” or “that professor from the university”, I’m “that American woman”. These days, I tend to get comments like “Your accent is rather soft”—because I often hit my t’s in words like butter and my vowels have moved in the direction of the people around me. (I’ll never be mistaken for English in England—though I’ve had people in the States think I’m British.) But a big part of the reason those vowels have moved is because I was mocked for my Great Lakes vowels when I first moved here. So, when I say box in England, it’s a bit more like “bawks” now, rather than my native “bahks”.

People do tend to assume that anything unfamiliar that comes out of my mouth must be an Americanism—so often I have to explain, “no, that’s just a Lynneism”.

EB: A lot of the differences you discuss are very subtle and go beyond the usual biscuit-and-cookies sort of thing. Can you give us a couple of examples of the complexity of linguistic differences?

LM: Well, even the biscuit-cookie thing is complex, because the British now use the word cookie, but they don’t use it like Americans do. Many Brits make a distinction between biscuits (which are the cookies they’re used to eating—they’re always crunchy) and cookies, which are the big soft, round ones you can buy in the mall, plus Oreos and anything with chocolate chips—that is, the specific recipes that have been imported from the US. When I make cookies out of my Betty Crocker cookbook, my English friends don’t recognize them as cookies. They compliment me on my “little cakes”. Their meaning of cookie just doesn’t extend as far as the American one does.

I have a lot of food examples in the book, I could talk about them for days. But to try to give you something different, there’s middle class—which in American has the feeling of ‘normal, just like everybody else’, whereas in Britain middle class often connotes something more like ‘well off’ and even ‘pretentious’.

And then there are the differences in how we use polite words. The way Americans use excuse me before cutting in front of someone can sound really pushy in England, because there it’s usually used after the sin, not before it. The English use please twice as much as Americans do, because they mostly use it when making very small requests. Adding please to little requests in American can make the speaker sound impatient or like they’re pleading. So in ordering in a restaurant, for example, Americans tend not to use it. They say things like I’d like the salad where Brits often order in a way that sounds (to an American ear) like asking permission: Can I have a salad, please? In new work that I’m doing with my colleague Rachele De Felice, we’re looking at thanking and we’re finding that Americans thank a lot more than British folk do. We’re wondering if that sometimes does the work that Brits would do with please. To give one example, if you put a plate of cookies in front of me and said “Would you like one?” I might Americanly say “Yes, thanks.” But the Brit would almost certainly say “Yes, please.”

EB: You also have a terrific blog, Separated by a Common Tongue. Did the book emerge from the blog?

LM: I’d say the blog gave me the opportunity to write the book. I started the blog as a hobby, to satisfy my lexicographical desire to write down the words and meanings I was learning in England. As the blog became more popular, I started talking about the subject in a lot of public venues. I gave a talk called How America Saved the English Language to a lot of English audiences. It provided the outline of the first six chapters of the book.

When I started writing the blog, my professional research was more about how vocabulary is organized in the mind. I was researching things like how children learn which words are opposites. This is to say, I was not a sociolinguist or a language historian. But as I wrote the blog, I wanted to learn more about the hows and whys behind the differences, and so I learned a lot about it. And then I had enough for a book that really looks at the issues, rather than just listing differences.

EB: Are there some Briticisms that play better in the US than others? And vice versa?

LM: Depends on what you mean by ‘play better’. Americans are acquiring Briticisms all the time and not always knowing it. For instance, people who disappear go missing now. That was an import from Britain about 20 years ago, but I don’t think most Americans knew it was British at the time. It just slipped in. Similarly Americans now take gap years, they vet candidates, they’re gutted when those candidates don’t win, and I just today read a Facebook status from an American friend having a lie-in. Do Americans know these came over from Britain? I’d say most don’t. So they play well with American English. (I have to recommend Ben Yagoda’s blog Not One-Off Britishisms here. He is keeping track of Briticisms that are sneaking into US journalism.)

But if by “play better” you mean that Americans enjoy these words as Briticisms, my sense is that Americans love British words that sound a bit silly to them. I’ve been watching The Good Place and there are a number of points where British English is gently mocked as silly and incomprehensible. My colleague Justyna Robinson and I are currently doing some research into how British English is stereotyped in American culture and I’ll be including some Good Place material in that!

In the UK direction, there are the Americanisms that aren’t noticed and just slide in and get used, then there are the ones that are noticed and they usually have someone complaining about them until they’ve been around long enough that they just feel like English. I love it when British people complain about the American use of reach out and they say “Why do we need this Americanism? Why can’t we just stay with contact?” And I get to reply “Well, why would you want that Americanism?” because the verb to contact came over from the US in the 1930s. (Incidentally, I hate reach out too. But I’m not going to pass up the opportunity to make that point about contact!)

I have a project in development where I look at how British people continue phrases like “As the Americans say…” or “This is what the Americans call…”. These crop up a lot in British media and politics, and they’re often expressions with roots in metaphor. Whether they’re actually things that Americans say is another matter. Sometimes they’re not, but they reveal a bit about what the British sense of “Americanness” is. So it might be said that colorful American metaphors go down well.

EB: I imagine that some difference between British and American are dialect sensitive —and that some differences pertain to some British speech but not others. Is that the case?

LM: Absolutely. It’s pretty much impossible to compare accents on an international scale because two accents in Britain might have less in common with each other than they have with one accent from the US. And it’s important for Americans to note that Brits will get very annoyed if you’re heard talking about someone having a “British accent”, especially since most Americans use it synonymously with “English accent”, ignoring that there are other countries in Britain. (I’ll pause to note here that English people conflate “English” and “British” a lot too, but that they tend to notice that conflation more when Americans do it!)

At the level of spelling, it’s easy to make the international comparisons. For vocabulary and grammar, you have to be a little careful.

EB: Can you enlighten us on the pronunciation of “h”?

LM: You mean the name of the letter? The usual in Britain, like in the US, is to call it “aitch”. But in the UK, it’s increasingly called “haitch”, which is a fairly common pronunciation in Ireland and may have some class connotations in England — that is, haitch is often heard as a bit down-market. Some might say it that way because they are hypercorrecting—they want not to be dropping their h’s, since h-dropping has been a marker of lower-class speech since the 1800s. So they add an extra h just to be sure. (The British did the same with herb—starting to pronounce its h in the 19th century.) But haitch also might stem from the sense that almost all the other letters have names that start with their sound. So why shouldn’t H? All I know is: my 10-year-old says haitch a lot, but she also sometimes catches herself doing it and corrects to “aitch”. I think it must be a matter of discussion in her school.

EB: Are you working on another book?

LM: At the moment, I’m trying to get some smaller projects into press. But I do tend to have book-sized ideas, and I’ve got two book proposals burbling in my head. The problem now is choosing between them.

Cover of the UK edition

EB: Thanks for talking with us. I love The Prodigal Tongue. But I notice that the UK and US editions have different covers. What’s up with that?

LM: It has two different publishers, so they get to have their own way with it, and publishers have firm ideas about what will work in their markets cover-wise. I think they know what they’re doing, because both my husband and I have had books with different covers in the US and UK, and our American friends tell us that the US covers are better, and our British friends tell us the UK covers are better.

I insisted that the subtitle differ by country: that American should come first in America and British in Britain. It was a nice idea, but it’s made talking about the book a bit more difficult when I’m speaking with international audiences!

It’s been great talking with you, Ed. Thanks!

Posted in Interviews, Language | Comments Off on An Interview with Lynne Murphy, author of THE PRODIGAL TONGUE


Photograph of Dr. Tumbaga by Bella Jeanne Photography

Born in Sonora, Mexico, Ariel Zatarain Tumbaga is a scholar of Mexican and Chicana/o Indigenous literature and culture. He has a PhD in Hispanic Languages and Literatures from the University of California Los Angeles. His book Yaqui Indigeneity: Epistemology, Diaspora, and the Construction of Yoeme Identity was published by the University of Arizona Press in March of 2018.

Ed Battistella: Congratulations on your book. Can you tell our readers a bit about it? What fascinates you about Yoeme Identity and the trope of the Yaqui warrior?

Ariel Zatarain Tumbaga: Thank you Ed. Yaqui Indigeneity: Epistemology, Diaspora, and the Construction of Yoeme Identity is a study of the representation of the Yoeme (or Yaqui) indigenous nation in Mexican and Chicana/o (Mexican American) literatures. In it, I study Native depictions with an emphasis on Yaqui history and culture. Until now, there has not been a book length study on this community’s representation in literature, despite their historical and political importance in Mexico, and their presence in the United States. Yaqui Indigeneity is also unique in that it looks to Yoeme history, cosmology, and traditional ceremonies (oral tradition known as etehoi and dance) as a basis for its literary analysis. Finally, it identifies a group of authors that I call Chicana/o-Yaqui writers, who are the sons and daughters of the Yoeme diaspora, often a direct result of Mexican Wars of Extermination perpetrated by federal and Sonoran state authorities. Yaqui Indigeneity works to retrieve an indigenous voice to nonindigenous portrayals of the Yoeme community.

What I found fascinating about the Yaqui warrior trope is the polysemy with which it has existed since the 1500s. Like other scholars, I was taken aback by the varying ways a Native nation’s assertion of its territorial tenure became, one the one hand, a subject of admiration by would-be conquerors, and on the other hand, justification for the dehumanization and violence colonial Spaniards, as well as 19th and 20th Mexican regimes, used in land grabbing efforts. Even today, Sonoran Mexicans will brag about the fierceness of their indigenous “ancestors,” while simultaneously considering it offensive to be called an indio. While the Yoeme people have a war history, that history is seldom told by them or from their perspectives.

EB: How did you first get interested in Yaqui culture?

AZT: This book has been a long time in the making, beginning with early childhood stories about invincible indigenous warriors and later with the Mexican and Chicana/o literatures I studied as a graduate student. My mother, a Mexican woman of Mayo descent, still tells popular and personal stories of Yaqui (Yoeme) and Mayo (Yoreme) history and people. She likes to remind people about the Mexican Revolution Era Mayo general Yocupicio who became governor of Sonora. As a child, she accompanied her Yoreme language-speaking grandmother in Mayo celebrations, like Santísima Trinidad in Júpare, San Juan in Navojoa, and Easter celebrations. She likes to tell us about the time when my tío Mario received a whipping from a sacred fariseo performer for disrespectfully mocking him during Holy Week. One of her favorite stories was about the defiant Yaqui warriors who drew a line on the ground to delineate their territory before impending Spanish invaders. The former story, based on the 1533 first Yaqui encounter with Spanish Conquistadors, is legendary and historical, but also serves as the beginning of the Yaqui warrior myth.

When I began studying Yoeme literary representations, I studied Yoeme culture out of necessity. In many instances, Yoeme defense of their territory is described as both political and religious. Therefore, I reasoned that studying their community’s presence in literature purely from a Western literary perspective would result in a superficial study of the Yaqui warrior myth.

EB: How has that construction of indigeneity evolved in literary works?

AZT: Indigeneity has had a long life in nonindigenous literature. Colonial literatures in Latin America were highly ethnographic, as if the power to rename indigenous people gave conquerors and colonial authorities a sense of power over them. For example, though they referred to themselves as Yoemem, they were nonetheless called Yaquis by Spanish priests and soldiers; the latter has persisted in public discourse. Literary and academic indigeneity has since been largely an exercise in denying Native people participation in their own representation. Nineteenth century representations were Romanticist depictions in which Native contemporaries represented peculiar national pasts differentiating Latin America from Europe and the United States. By the early twentieth century, literary depictions had become unapologetically anthropological works that, while well-meaning, often presented indigeneity as more Other than contemporary. Chicana/o literature had made progress in its representation of indigeneity, considering that Mexican Americans were racially and culturally part indigenous. At times, Chicana/o writers have focused heavily on pre-Columbian empires, which proposed Native American history and mythology to be as significant as Greco-Roman cultures. Though, a pre-Columbian focus has at times had the effect of obscuring the experiences of contemporary Native Peoples in Mexico and the United States. Indigeneity will keep changing in accordance with varying nonindigenous ideologies and political ebbs and flows, until we recognize and support self-identifying Native authors. Chapter five of Yaqui Indigeneity studies the question of Mexican American authors who are also of Native descent.

EB: You talk about the Yaqui as a transborder culture. Can you elaborate on that a bit?

AZT: The Yoeme people’s homeland is in southern Sonora, which is home to a coveted water source and fertile lands. This territory, and their much admired labor, made the Yoemem the targets of violent land grabbing efforts that resulted in waves of refugee migrations, as well as forced deportations, within Mexico, as well as into the United States. The result is the federally recognized Pascua Yaqui Tribe in Arizona. Arizona Yaquis participate in ceremonial traditions in the United States and across the border in Sonora. The diaspora resulting from the Wars of Extermination, of course, spread beyond Arizona, which forced many Yaquis to lose touch with their religion and culture, but not their history. In my final chapter, I offer my analysis of Chicana/o-Yaqui writers who use their writing as a form of cultural reclamation. These are writers of Yaqui descent who in some cases recovered some of their heritage through the process of researching their family histories. Seminal Chicano playwright Luis Valdez controversially represented the sacred deer dance in his play Mummified Deer as part of his artistic portrayal of Yaqui history and diaspora from Sonora, Mexico, into California. The late Yaqui-Chicano writer Miguel Méndez’s “Tata Casehua” reimagines heartbreaking instances of genocide against Yaqui resistance fighters and their families. Alma Luz Villanueva and Alfredo Véa Jr.’s works reveal creative adaptations of an impressive knowledge of Yoeme history and culture. And in the historical novel The City of Palaces premier noir novelist Michael Nava steps outside his genre to reimagine an award winning reinterpretation of the Mexican Revolution in part through Yaqui politics and religion. This body of work depicts individual and collective Native cultural-political experiences, and their historical significances, in Mexico and the U.S. So, the Yoeme people, culture, and the literature in which they appear are a transborder phenomenon.

EB: There was a lot of historical research involved in this book. Can you describe that process?

AZT: There are some studies on Yaqui history by authors like Evelyn Hu-Dehart and Edward H. Spicer, but not enough to satisfy a book length study like Yaqui Indigeneity. Luckily, the historical and geographical ubiquity of the Yoeme nation in Colonial, post-Independence, Revolution Era, and contemporary politics, has compelled historians to recognize them in their studies. Nonetheless, I relied on anthropological studies or anthropologically inspired biographies that informed my studies. For my chapter on the Mexican Revolution, Rosalio Moisés’s The Tall Candle: The Personal Chronicle of a Yaqui Indian, by archaeologists Jane Holden Curry and William Curry, provided me with real instances of Native survival, family disintegration, and diaspora into the United States. Jane Holden Kelley’s Yaqui Women: Contemporary Life Histories, which follows the lives of four Yaqui soldaderas, women who participated in the Revolution, was an invaluable source for its historical significance and its affirmation of Yaqui rituals during the Mexican Revolution. David Delgado Shorter’s We Will Dance Our Truth: Yaqui History in Yoeme Performances validated many of my conclusions regarding the importance of Yoeme religion, storytelling, and dance traditions. So, it was a real enlightening process of putting together relevant historical context from a multidisciplinary array of sources.

EB: What was the most surprising this you found in your research?

AZT: I was astonished not only by the Yoeme community’s hundreds of years of persistence, but also by their presence. As a collective, they staved off Spanish conquerors, thrived during colonial rule, rebelled after the War of Independence, fought in the Mexican Revolution, and recently publicly fought against the state appropriation of their water source. Individually, they participated in the California Gold Rush, served as military generals, were seminal Chicana/o activists, and, in the case of Alfredo Véa Jr. and Michael Nava, have been lawyers and award winning novelists. But I suspect that we might find it surprising partly because of how little people know about the Yoemem despite it all.

EB: Based on your research, how is your view of the Yaqui culture different from earlier work on the topic?

AZT: Well, Yaqui Indigeneity certainly follows in the footsteps of Spicer, HuDehart, and the work of Larry Evers and Yoeme scholar Felipe S. Molina. As I point out throughout my study, despite the complexity of many Mexican and Chicana/o works, their depictions of Yaqui culture has often been limited to a superficial understanding of deer dancers and warrior legends. Yoeme means “the people,” people who have been denied a public voice. And as such, their communities have given and sacrificed extraordinarily. I think that the more we learn about Native communities’ history and culture, the clearer their dehumanization, be it in the form of literature, regional legends and myths, military weaponry, or sports mascots.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

AZT: On the contrary, it was my pleasure.


Posted in Interviews | Comments Off on An Interview with Ariel Zatarain Tumbaga, author of YAQUI INDIGENEITY: EPISTEMOLOGY, DIASPORA, AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF YOEME IDENTITY

Australian English, a guest post by Dillon Garrison

Dillon just completed his bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a minor in English at Southern Oregon University. He works as a freelance copywriter and editor.

Australian English has been perceived in a variety of ways over its relatively short history. With its distinctive accent and penal colony beginnings, Australian English has often been looked down upon in popular mythologies, being seen as “slovenly,” “poorly articulated,” and “nasal.” Yet beginning in the 1980s, the popularity of the Crocodile Dundee movies and television personality Steve Irwin led many to associate Australians and their unique dialect of “Strine” with friendliness, a more relaxed lifestyle, and exotic natural environments. Throughout its evolution separating from British English dialects, Australian English has developed largely through its speakers’ rebellion against British class consciousness and their interaction with the Australian landmass and its original Aboriginal occupants.

Australian English first emerged from the establishment of the British penal colony of New South Wales in 1788. The colonists and convicts who formed the colony came from all over the British Isles, and had to smooth out their regional dialect differences in order to communicate with each other in a process known as “leveling down.” The children of these early colonists were the first speakers of what could be considered the Australian English dialect. By the 1820s a distinct dialect had emerged, and in 1827, Scottish naval surgeon Peter Cunningham released Two Years in New South Wales, documenting the unique accent and vocabulary of the native-born colonists. Cunningham characterized the young colonists as differing from their parents through a heavy London influence. By the 1840s, some English visitors to Australia claimed that Australians were speaking “the purest English on earth:” English with the dialect variations taken out. The discovery of gold in the 1850s brought new waves of (non-convict) migrants to Australia, and new influences upon the language.

Cockney English, the dialect traditionally spoken by working-class Londoners (particularly of the East End), became a big influence on the new Australian dialect, as many of the new arrivals came from London’s slums and prisons. According to Anthony Burgess, ”Australian English may be thought of as a kind of fossilised Cockney of the Dickensian era.” Just why Cockney had such an influence compared to other English dialects is a matter of debate, considering the majority of convicts were from the north of England, as well as Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.

Two more forms grew of Australian grew out of that original dialect. Linguists, beginning with A.G. Mitchell and Arthur Delbridge in 1965, classify three main varieties of Australian speech: Broad, Cultivated, and General Australian (These “varieties” are not distinct but rather are rough markers along a dialect continuum). Starting in the 1880s and well into the 1950s, the elocution movement swept through Australian in response to the newly-developed Received Pronunciation in Britain. Socially-aspirational Australian speakers modified their vowels and diphthongs in order to more closely resemble RP. This form came to be known as Cultivated Australian, and is historically associated with higher social status and levels of education. Some Australian speakers went the opposite way, and in the early twentieth century, a new form now known as Broad Australian emerged, which emphasized the nasality, flatness of intonation, and elision of syllables present in the Australian dialect. While Cultivated Australian expressed a longing and nostalgia for Britain and an upper-class consciousness, Broad Australian expressed Australian nationalism, the working class, and egalitarianism in opposition to the British fixation with class. Meanwhile, the original Australian dialect continued as the most common and became what is now known as General Australian. General Australian is prominent in urban areas and is the standard language for Australian broadcasting.

At the time of colonization, Australia was home to 700-800 Indigenous language varieties across the continent, which can be grouped into over 250 distinct languages (with some estimates as high as 363) and around 28 language families, spoken across a population of around one million people. Many language varieties were spoken by small populations of 40-50 people, with the largest populations speaking a single language numbering around 3-4000 people. The process of colonization proved to be devastating to the traditional Aboriginal languages of Australia; of the 250 distinct languages spoken in 1788, only around 15 are now learned by children as a first language. Another 100 have only small numbers of speakers remaining, and most have no fluent speakers left at all. Australia has experienced the greatest and most rapid loss of languages over the last century of anywhere in the world, with some estimates predicting if current trends continue, there may be no speakers of Indigenous languages at all by 2050.

Most of the vocabulary assimilated into Australian English from Aboriginal languages came from the language spoken in the Port Jackson (now Sydney) area, known variously as the Port Jackson, Sydney, Dharuk, Dharug, or Eora language. The majority of Aboriginal words were used for place names (such as the capital Canberra, which means ‘meeting place’ in Ngunnawal), the unique flora, fauna, and landscape features of the continent, and some slang terms. The first words to come from Dharuk include the names of now internationally-known animals, such as dingo, wallaby, wombat, and koala. The first and most famous borrowing, kangaroo, has long been a matter of debate in terms of its origin. Unlike the others, it did not originate from the Dharuk language, but was encountered by the crew of Captain James Cook during contact with the Guugu Yimidhirr people in 1770, when Cook’s ship the Endeavor was beached for repairs near modern north Queensland. One famous theory claims that an Endeavor crew member pointed at the animal, and an Aboriginal replied something like “kangaroo,” which translated not as the animal’s name but as something like “I don’t understand what you’re asking.” Whatever the term originally meant, the name stuck. In addition to the animal, the word has become a symbol for Australia, used to refer to members of Australia’s international rugby team, to Australian soldiers during both world wars, and in the creation of a wide range of compounds (i.e. ‘kangaroo bar’).

Other popular borrowings include the slang term bung, originally from the Dharuk language via Sydney pidgin English, meaning dead, useless, or broken; cooee, a shout used to attract attention or find missing people; hard yakka, meaning hard work, derived from yakka in the Jagera language; billabong, meaning “dead river” and now the name of a global surf clothing brand; and boomerang, whose exact origins are unknown but refers to an Aboriginal hunting tool which has also become a popular toy and symbol of Australia. Many names for the local fish and birds are also borrowings (and many are onomatopoeic, imitative of the birds’ calls), such as currawong, while others were adapted from English names for similar birds (i.e. magpie). In the same way many American borrowings from Indian languages became localized in use or obsolete, the use of Aboriginal terms in Australian English had long been dwindling; however, the usage of Aboriginal terms has been slowly rising since the 1980s. In 2016, the Australian National Dictionary listed around 500 words in common usage from 100 different Aboriginal languages, up from 400 words from 80 languages in 2008, and 250 words from 60 languages in 1988.

Separate from the Aboriginal languages is Australian Aboriginal English (AAE), a dialect of Australian English used by a large section of the Indigenous Australian population, which has a number of varieties that have developed in different parts of Australia. AAE does not make use of auxiliary verbs such as “to be” and “to have,” and the masculine pronouns he and him may also be used for females and inanimate objects, particularly in northern Australia. Several slang words used by young Australian Aboriginal English speakers have begun to spread to Australian English speakers, such as deadly to mean “excellent” or “good” (in the same way wicked is used) and dardy, meaning “cool.”

American English has also been a big influence on Australian English, particularly since World War II and the expanded international influence of American media, entertainment, and pop culture. Some North American borrowings, such as bushranger, phoney, and squatter, have been so thoroughly integrated they are thought to be of Australian origin. Australians overall seem to be less concerned with the impact of adapting American terminology upon national cohesion. However, studies have shown Australian borrowings from American English to be selective and often readapted for other purposes.

In addition to borrowings from indigenous languages and American English, Australian English has coined a large number of its own words, some of which descend from older British dialects, and in particular, working-class and prison slang. Some of the most popular and important of these have to do with fairness and hard work. A battler is a person who works hard to make a decent living in difficult circumstances, while its opposite is the derogatory bludger, a person who expects another person to do all the work. Related to these terms in dinkum or fair dinkum, which originally meant “work” or “a fair share or work,” evolved to mean “above board” or “true,” and is now used to mean “true” or “is that true?” (among other things depending on context and inflection). The term fair go also arose as an Australian principle, referring to the lack of formal class distinctions in Australia and the importance of fair play and equality of opportunity.

One of the most famous phrases associated with the Australian dialect is “shrimp on the barbie,” thanks to a series of Australian tourism commercials in the 1980s and a 1990 movie of the same name (with “barbie” in this case referring to barbecue). Such diminutives are a core feature of the Australian dialect. With over 5000 recorded, Australians use more abbreviations and diminutives than any other English speakers. Common uses include: arvo (afternoon), footy (football), sunnies (sunglasses), rego (registration), servo (service station), brekkie (breakfast), cuppa (cup of tea) and sanga (sandwich). Brand names are not exempt, such as Maccas for McDonald’s, Blunnies (Blundstone boots), Subie (Subaru) and Suzy (Suzuki), nor are new technologies: lappy (laptop), webby (webcam), remi (remote control) and mobes (mobile phone). Unsurprisingly, the now internationally-popular term selfie originated in Australia.

While such hypocoristics exist in many dialects of English, they are particularly frequent in Australian English and considered one of its major differentiators, with one estimate finding that these forms make up 4% of the Australian lexis. In an elicitation study, Kidd, Kemp, and Quinn (2011) asked 115 speakers of Australian English to generate as many hypocoristic forms as they could in 10 minutes, and reported more than 1,500 different forms. Diminutives are no modern degradation, but rather a long tradition with examples going back to the 1800s. Use is common even in formal contexts such as by politicians and journalists, and some hypocoristic forms are now more common than their standard forms, such as uni for university and Salvos for Salvation Army. This pervasive use of diminutives has generally been interpreted to reflect core Australian cultural ideals of informality and egalitarianism, as they sound more informal and relaxed, and usage is reinforced as a marker of in-group identity and a shared cultural history.

Australian is a non-rhotic (r-less) variety of English, meaning the /ɹ/ sound does not appear at the end of a syllable or immediately before a consonant. As with most dialects of English, it is distinguished primarily by its vowel phonology. The Australian English vowels /ɪ/, /e/ and /eː/ are noticeably closer, pronounced with a higher tongue position, than their Received Pronunciation equivalents. Like General American, General Australian has completed the weak vowel merger, which is the loss of contrast between /ə/ (schwa) and unstressed /ɪ/, that occurs in certain dialects of English. Most speakers of Australian English replace the unstressed weak /ɪ/ with schwa, although where there is a following /k/, as in paddock or nomadic, some speakers maintain the contrast, while some who have the merger use [ɪ] as the merged vowel. While relatively homogenous, there is some regional variation with phonology, including the celery-salary merger in Victoria (where the words celery and salary sound the same), and differences in the distribution of the trap-bath split. In the trap-bath split, the lengthened vowel in words such as bath, laugh, grass, and chance, which in RP is pronounced as a broad A or long A [ɑː], is pronounced more near the front of the mouth ([ɐː] or[aː]). Australian English has also diverged from Cockney since the settling of Australia in the use of a glottal stop where a /t/ would be found, in th-fronting, and in h-dropping. In terms of intonation, the variable that has been most extensively investigated is the “Australian questioning intonation,” or AQI (also known generally as high rising intonation, high rising terminal, or rising intonation), where declarative clauses end with a rising intonation. The AQI began to appear in the 1970s, and there is general agreement among linguists that the function of AQI is to seek verification of the listener’s comprehension. As with American English, but unlike British English, collective nouns are almost always singular in construction. However, Australian spelling is closer to British than American spelling. As with British spelling, the u is retained in words such as colour, honour, labour and favour.

Evolving from a mix of transplanted local English dialects, then interacting with indigenous Aboriginal and migrant languages, American English, and other global varieties of English, Australian English has emerged as a unique dialect expressing Australian national identity values. While it shares much of its phonology and grammar with the other major varieties of “settler English,” Australian English manifests uniquely egalitarian and anti-authoritarian leanings based in its underclass past, a pervasive relaxed informality, a wry understated humor, a desire for fairness, and a set of distinctive vocabulary drawn from the island’s original Aboriginal inhabitants.


Baker, Sidney J. The Australian language; an examination of the English language and English speech as used in Australia, from convict days to the present, with special reference to the growth of indigenous idiom and its use by Australian writers. Sydney: Currawong Publishing Co., 1966. Print.

Bragg, Melvyn. The Adventure of English: the Biography of a Language. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2011. Print.

Kidd, E., Kemp, N. & Quinn, S. (2011). “Did you have a choccie bickie this arvo? A quantitative look at Australian hypocoristics.” Language Sciences, vol 33, no. 3, pp. 359-368. DOI: 10.1016/j.langsci.2010.11.006

Koch, H., & Nordlinger, R. (Eds.). (2014). The Languages and Linguistics of Australia : A Comprehensive Guide. De Gruyter, Inc., 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central. Retrieved from

Kortmann, B., & Lunkenheimer, K. (Eds.). (2012). The Mouton World Atlas of Variation in English. De Gruyter, Inc., 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central. Retrieved from

Moore, Bruce. “The English of Australia | Oxford Dictionaries.” Oxford Dictionaries | English, Oxford Dictionaries,

Ramson, W.S. Australian English. Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1966. Print.

Posted in Language | Comments Off on Australian English, a guest post by Dillon Garrison

An Interview with Kory Stamper, author of WORD BY WORD

Kory Stamper grew up in Colorado and graduated from Smith College with a degree in medieval studies. She is a lexicographer who was on staff at Merriam-Webster from 1998 to 2018.

Her debut book Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries was relased in hardcover in 2017 and is now available in paperback.

Writing in the New Yorker, Adrienne Raphel called Word By Word “Both memoir and exposé, an insider’s tour of the inner circles of the mysterious fortress that is Merriam-Webster,” adding that “Stamper leads us through her own lexicographical bildungsroman, exploring how she fell in love with words and showing us how the dictionary works, and how it interacts with the world that it strives to reflect.”

Kory Stamper has written and appeared in the “Ask the Editor” video series at Merriam-Webster, and she has been a contributor to The Washington Post, The Guardian, and The New York Times.

You can find her blog at and follow her on Twitter.

Ed Battistella: I really enjoyed Word By Word, especially the stories of the individual words and description of the process of lexicography itself. It had not occurred to me that there was an extensive training. What was that training like?

Kory Stamper: You know that scene at the beginning of Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” where Alice and her cat Dinah follow the White Rabbit into a hole in a tree trunk, and as Alice says “Curiosity can lead to trouble,” she falls down the rabbithole into Wonderland? And as she tumbles down, she waves goodbye up at Dinah? That’s what training is like mentally, only fewer cats are involved.

Essentially, the training you get as a lexicographer is designed to make you unlearn everything you have learned about English. You re-learn grammar, you re-learn what meaning is, you even learn how to read differently. It can be very disorienting, but if you’re the right kind of nerd, also really exciting. You come into this work thinking of language as a fixed, almost inviolate thing, and you quickly discover that it’s a living, moving entity with its own will and history and direction. That’s both freeing and terrifying.

EB: Do you remember the first word you got to define? How did that feel?

KS: By the time I was actually put to work on a dictionary, I had written so many practice definitions that I don’t remember what the first word I defined was. I do remember that “body English” was in one of those early batches of real defining, and I was pretty pleased with the definition that I had come up with (which currently reads “bodily motions made in a usually unconscious effort to influence the progress of a propelled object (as a ball)”).

EB: What’s the toughest word you’ve worked on?

KS: “God.” Absolutely, without a doubt. I had to revise the entry for the Unabridged Dictionary, and one of the first things I discovered was that the word “god” was used pretty vaguely in print, which doesn’t give the lexicographer much to work on. So much of the written evidence was stuff like “humanity’s conception of God is inadequate,” which tells me exactly bubkes about what the word “God” means in that sentence.

Lexicographers talk a lot about the difference between lexical defining and real defining. Real defining is the attempt to explain the essential nature of a thing—what is truth, what is beauty. Lexical defining is the attempt to explain what the word which signifies a thing means in particular contexts—what does “beauty” mean in the sentence, “That car’s a real beauty.” We do lexical defining and not real defining. But a word like “god” makes that tightrope even thinner and harder to navigate. Can I say that the word “god” means “a being,” or should I use “a deity”? What about “a spirit”? Can I use the word “omnipotent” in the definition which is meant to cover the Abrahamic religious uses of “god,” or should I fudge it because I have just run across a theological debate about whether or not the Abrahamic God is actually omnipotent? Should I capitalize the word?

In the end, it took me four months of nonstop work to revise the entry, and while I feel like I did as good as job as anyone who is tasked with defining “god” could do, I’m nonetheless sure that there’s something unintentional in that entry that has condemned me to an unpleasant afterlife destination. Occupational hazard!

EB: I was fascinated to many of the backstories of particular bits of lexicography, like the interesting discovery about irregardless. Can you explain that one for our readers?

KS: I came into this job knowing, on a molecular level and like everyone else, that “irregardless” wasn’t a word. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that this nonword was entered into dictionaries! As I researched more about how it ended up in our dictionaries, I found that when it first showed up in writing, it was unremarkable—only later was it tarred and feathered as “uneducated” or “illiterate.” That happened during a point in American history when we were giving more lexical weight to the types of English spoken by affluent city dwellers, and we were condemning the types of English spoken by rural communities. “Irregardless” was one of the words that was caught in the crossfire, though there is evidence of its use among highly educated speakers.

I actually came to have a deep respect for “irregardless”: here’s a word that everyone despises, that everyone says is illogical or ugly or not a word, that has, in spite of everything, hung out on the periphery of English for more than 200 years. It’s a word that no one will cop to using, but which still has enough written historical and current use to merit entry into a dictionary. I don’t use it myself, but I no longer look askance at people who do.

EB: What’s on your radar now, word-wise?

KS: I just wrote a piece on the squishiness of the meaning and use of “intersectionality,” which isn’t a new word but feels new to many people. Today I wondered if “Novichok” was a trademark and if you’d use it as a bare noun (“poisoned with Novichok”) or as an attributive noun (“poisoned with Novichok nerve agent”). And I’ve started noticing the use of “blockchain for” more recently: “blockchain for legal references,” “blockchain for science,” “blockchain for social good.”

EB: How has your work as a lexicographer affected you as a writer? Do you think about using words in novel ways when you write?

KS: Absolutely. This work makes you aware of how flexible and fluid language is, and as a lexicographer, you live inside the language in a different way. You get to see and enter into the vocabularic nooks and crannies of English in a way that most people don’t. I’m sure there are plenty of lexicographers who can maintain a professional distance from the material, but I’m not one of them. So I found, while I was writing Word by Word, that I kept unearthing these little lexical treasures, and I couldn’t help but present them to the reader like a sugared-up toddler on a walk: lookit this! Lookit this! Handing the reader weird rocks and twigs and hollering at them “Isn’t this wonderful and amazing?”

EB: Do you have any advice for young people trying to break in to lexicography?

KS: The field is, honestly, shrinking. We used to have a letter that we’d give to prospective lexicographers that essentially said that getting a job writing dictionaries was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Now I think it’s a matter of being ahead of the right place and the right time, of really thinking about and pressing into what dictionaries could be instead of what they are. For example, just added a few emoji to their online dictionary, which I think is brilliant. Emoji can be used lexically, just like words; they have register and different connotations depending on context and even which device you’re using; and people are likely to run across them online, in social media, in texts, on Slack—basically, in the new type of public-private writing that has emerged as more of our lives are lived online. Emoji is one new place that the language has gone that traditional lexicographers have pooh-poohed as faddish or nonlexical. Maybe emoji will fade away—but there are plenty of language trends that the traditional lexicographers of the 1700s and 1800s thought would flourish or fade away that haven’t.

EB: I know that from time to time lexicographers are called upon to answer reader mail. What’s the oddest bit of mail you’ve gotten?

KS: My favorite bit of weirdness was a poem or freestyle that had nothing to do with words, but was instead about a character named Mr. Baby Burper and his adventures. I don’t remember the whole email, but it definitely had flow: “I’m Mr. Baby Burper, I burp all the babies in the eternity in harmony with all the ladies, I just pat my hand on my leg and say burpady burpady burpady.” It went on from there. It was the most amazing email I had ever read, and it definitely won me some tchotchkes from Marketing back when we had a National Poetry Month celebration.

EB: I’ve also really enjoyed the Merriam-Webster “Ask the Editor” videos, which I sometimes play for my students to show them that I’m not making things up. How did that idea come about?

KS: Our former Director of Marketing came up with the idea. We already had other formats in which we could share discoveries about words, but they were all written, and she thought that sharing that information via video would be great. I believe that she initially put out a call to all the editors, asking if anyone would be interested, and she got exactly zero replies: you’re asking a bunch of introverts to talk on camera? In the end, she asked three of us that she knew had done publicity for the company, or had outside public speaking experience.

Early on, we were just encouraged to share whatever we thought was noteworthy or winsome about the language. Each of us came up with topics that seemed intriguing, or that answered questions that we each had gotten a number of times. The things that people responded to floored us. Who knew that my pasty face and knowledge of 18th-century grammatical movements would launch a resurgence in the use of the plural “octopodes”? I sure didn’t.

EB: Are you working on another book?

KS: I am! I’m writing a nonfiction book about the historical quest to define color. It touches on art and war and secret identities and dictionaries, and in the process of writing and researching it, I’ve turned back into that sugared-up toddler: lookit! Lookit! This is amazing!

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

KS: Thanks so much for asking!

Posted in Interviews, Language | Comments Off on An Interview with Kory Stamper, author of WORD BY WORD

An Interview with George Dohrmann, author of SUPERFANS

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer George Dohrmann graduated from Notre Dame in 1995 with a B.A. in American Studies and later earned an MFA in creative writing from the University of San Francisco. He has worked at the Los Angeles Times, the St. Paul Pioneer Press in Minnesota, and Sports Illustrated, and he is currently a senior editor and writer for The Athletic. In addition, he has taught journalism at UC-Berkeley, Santa Clara University and Southern Oregon University. Dohrmann lives in Ashland.

He is the author of Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine, , which won the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing, the Award for Excellence in Coverage of Youth Sports, and was Amazon’s pick as the best sports book of 2010.

His latest book is Superfans: Into the Heart of Obsessive Sports Fandom, published in 2018 by Random House. Publishers Weekly says Superfans “gives soul to a much maligned and misunderstood aspect of sports.”

Ed Battistella: What prompted you to write Superfans?

George Dohrmann: I’ve been a sportswriter for more than 20 years and have had so many interactions with fans, good and bad. And in the last few years, with the explosion in popularity of social media, we see and hear from fans more and more. I felt like that while I was interacting with a lot of people who are diehard fans, I didn’t really understand why they were so devoted to their team, why they might do things that I would probably never do, even having been involved with sports in different ways most of my life. It really started with the simple idea that I should know more about the people who are consuming my work and out there in the world I cover.

EB: Would you consider yourself a superfan?

GD: When I was younger I was certainly a superfan of Notre Dame, where I went to school, but that has faded. Now, the only team I would say that about is the United State’s men’s national soccer team. That is the one team that I follow very closely and I will schedule my life around games.

EB: How do people become sports fans and then superfans?

GD: Most people become fans of a specific team because a parent or sibling is a fan of that team. It can happen other ways but that is the most common. Some people then make transition from casual fan to what I called superfans. In my book, the people profiled often ramped up their fandom at transition points in their lives, like when they got out of the military or got divorced or relocated to a new city for a job. That makes sense. People at a transition point are forming a new identity and they chose to dedicate some of who they are to being a fan of a specific team.

EB: What happens if you are a superfan and your team keeps losing?

GD: Well, studies show that very little happens. Researchers who study fans use a term, CORFing, which stands for Cutting Off Reflected Failure, to describe people who are tired of losing and so, to protect their self-esteem, they cut off some or all of their fandom. But that is not common. Most people will do things to protect their self-esteem from the blows of consistent losing, like lowering expectations for the team, but they won’t quit on their team entirely. It is too big a part of who they are to walk away, and even rooting for a loser can become, in a way, part of their identity and something they take pride in They can always say they are not a fair-weather fan.

EB: You talk about kids and fandom. Should parents involve young kids in fandom?

GD: Because of how big fandom is in some people’s lives, it would be very difficult for them to not show that side of themselves to their children, to hide this huge part of their identity. So, it is probably not a question of should people introduce kids into fandom but how they do it. Young kids want to see the world in black and white, so if you tell them: “Oregon is good and Oregon St is bad” or convey that in some other way they are going to embrace that almost too strongly. They might think of anyone who went to Oregon State as bad. They don’t understand nuance or have perspective at a young age. Also, sports fandom has a way of teaching kids to hate. Again, if you say you “hate” the Beavers, they will too. I think parents should minimize exposure to really passionate displays of fandom and also be careful with some of the words that are inherent in extreme fandom. When I am watching a game, my kids always ask: “Who are we rooting for?” Most of the time I tell them: “No one. We are just enjoying the game.” I want them to learn to watch because it can be pleasurable to see great athletes perform.

EB: You attended the Sports Psychology Forum to talk with academics researching fans. What was that experience like?

GD: It was a blast. It is so small-timey, and the handful of academics there know it and they sort of celebrate their irrelevance. We played mini-golf; we watched a lot of sports; we smelled Kentucky sweatshirts sprayed with deer urine (seriously). I learned a ton about how fans think because the researchers there are smart and passionate folks.

EB: What sports seems to have the most obsessive fans? And what sports have the least?

GD: I think college sports, especially football, have probably the most obsessive fans. That’s just an observation; there is no research showing that. College football fans (think Alabama fans or Ohio State or Georgia or Texas or a similar school) are indoctrinated at a very young age. Devotion to that school is something that runs in the family, and they are also often surrounded by others who are as devoted to that school. It leads to a strong connection.

EB: Can fandom go too far?

GD: Absolutely. Someone can become addicted. You’d look for any of the markers of addiction, like is their fandom negatively impacting their job or relationships or financial situation. There are clinical psychologists who treat fans for addiction. That said, most fans are doing fine and even the ones you might see on TV and think are crazy – many of whom I profile in the book – are normal people with very stable lives who are positive members of society.

EB: How have sports fans responded to the book?

GD: One of the more interesting reactions has been people complaining that I didn’t profile a fan or fan group related to their favorite team. I love that because it is the reaction of a superfan, someone for whom a team is such a huge part of their identity they can’t read a book about fans and not think: Why not my team? That is exactly the kind of behavior that made me want to write this book in the first place.

EB: Thanks for talking with us. I’m a fan of your book—in a good way.

GD: Thanks so much.

Visit George Dohrmann’s website and follow him on Twitter at

Posted in Ideas and Opinions, Interviews | Comments Off on An Interview with George Dohrmann, author of SUPERFANS

I’m Lovin’ It; But Should I Be? a guest post by Ethan Arlt

Ethan Arlt is a graduate student in his first year of the Masters in Teaching program at SOU. He grew up in Southern California, and completed an undergrad degree in Business and Creative Writing at the University of Oregon. He loves it here in Southern Oregon. In his spare time, he likes to hike, write poetry, and play volleyball and board games.

“Love” is a strange, complicated word. In some respects, it is frivolous (McDonald’s, “I’m lovin’ it”) and in other contexts, such as between partners, it can be one of the most powerful expressions of affection toward one another (“I love you”). How can these two very separate instances be connected by a simple word? What could be the dangers and implications of loading such a semantically powerful word with so many meanings? In this paper, I will seek to understand the meanings of the word “love” by tracings its history of meaning and comparing it to one of its most similar counterparts, “like;” in doing so, I will seek to understand the implications of its widespread use in media, especially advertisements, and the potential dangers associated with using “love” when it relates to products or brands.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “love,” comes from multiple origins, and multiple meanings; the noun form traces its origins to Old Frisian, Old Saxon, Old High German, and also Gothic, and the verb form derives much of its use from Old English. Evidently, the word has a variety of origins, which match up with its variety of meanings. There are many root words, and therefore many meanings, some overlapping, so for the purposes of understanding the complexity of the word, I will highlight the root meanings that I feel are most pertinent and contain a semantically significant meaning. Some of these meanings of the noun form include: inclination, piety, willingness, hopefulness, agreeableness, friendship, and the pleasure one experiences for or through an act of goodwill. Its verb form consists of meanings such as: to desire, to cherish, and to become dear. Likewise, the current definitions reflect this array of meaning, as the primary definitions for the noun form include: senses relating to affection or attachment, affection toward a spiritual ideal or entity, a strong liking of something, and an intense passionate feeling toward something or someone (often including sexual desire). Most notably, the verb form contains meanings such as: “to show love towards…to caress..,” to love reciprocally, and “To have a strong liking for…to be devoted or addicted to” (Love, n.1.). While the most common definition seems to relate to the idea of desiring and cherishing, what’s interesting is what sets “love” apart from “like” – the idea of love as connected to piety, that it can be action, that love can be addictive, and that love is a form of reciprocal trust .

To further understand the complex idea of love, researcher Robert Sternberg delineates the word into three separate marking components: Intimacy, Passion, and Commitment. From each one, he describes eight different types of love, based on whether the three previously mentioned categories are fulfilled. These types include Nonlove, Liking, Infatuated Love, Empty Love, Romantic Love, Companionate Love, Fatuous Love, and Consummate Love, which represents the most “complete form” in which all three aspects of love are represented (Sternberg & Weis 119). Sternberg’s definition of love then attempts to break down the word, however it only does so in a relational, person-to-person sense, as the word still maintains its connotations of piety, and generalized feelings of inclination toward an object or brand. What’s interesting in Sternberg’s definition is the idea of commitment. To include commitment into the three categories of love is to elevate and highlight this notion that to love implies a bonding, one that persists over time. If a person is to love something, that person’s commitment toward it is just as important (definition-wise) as that person’s feelings of intimacy and passion toward it. Again, this is developed mostly for a person-to-person relational sense, but its implications should not be understated, as they may impact the efficacy of the word’s use, especially in marketing situations.

In Sternberg’s model, “liking” is included as a form of love, but it is absent of those important qualities of passion and commitment. In a purely definitional sense, too, it only relates to an indication of similarity (“I like to be around like-minded people), and overlaps with love in how it indicates agreeability or pleasure (“I really like that chocolate”) (Like, n.1.). “Like” is often used as a precursor to love, and it seems we also have the capacity to love without liking (“I don’t like my brother, but I still love him”), perhaps by hitting either one or both of the passion and commitment aspects of Sternberg’s model. What then can these slight differences tell us about the power of the word, and also about the effect of its usage?

In his study, Zick Rubin sheds light on this issue. He also attempted to define love, but chose to do by comparing it to “like.” People we like, he found, are those that we have admiration for, appreciate their company, and want to do things with. The connection for loving, however, had some other, deeper connotations. He found that couples in “love” tended to gaze into each other’s eyes more, included desires for contact and intimacy, and also included caring about the loved one’s needs as if they were one’s own (Rubin 265). Rubin’s research then highlights and confirms one of the important differentiations, which is also touched on in the formal definitions – love is not only a process of attachment, but when we attach via love, we are connected to the desires and needs of the other. In this way, love is a reciprocal act, as opposed to liking, which is absent of this kind of reciprocity. This idea of reciprocity also has the implications of action. If one is to care about another’s needs as much as one’s own, then this could be a prelude to loving action. Love, then, as opposed to like, carries more inclination toward action.

There is, along with an action-orientation to the word, also a connection to trust. In their study, Hatfield and Rapson distinguished and two types of love – passionate love, and companionate love. Passionate love is love that begins with intense feelings of emotion, as well as sexual attraction. Companionate love, on the other hand, is love that is based on mutual respect, caring and affection, and trust. Essentially, then, semantically, love can connote both a feeling of energy, and also of long-term trust (Hatfield & Rapson). Love then, unlike its pseudo-synonym “like,” is not simply a word of agreeability or sameness, it connotes commitment, energy, action, reciprocity, and trust.

If this is true, then how can we begin to understand the word’s usage in our current everyday lives, and the effect it might have? On a micro-scale, its overuse has the potential to dilute its meaning. If the word is frequently used in its sense of agreeability, it has the potential to reduce its meaning when its other connotations are needed most, in conveying the deepest form of affection for another. On a broader scale, we can postulate and examine the influence that the usage of this word might have on people as it connects to brands and objects.

In her book, Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel, Jean Kilbourne discusses this very effect; she states, “Advertising encourages us not only to objectify each other, but also to feel that our most significant relationships are with the products we buy. It turns lovers into things and things into lovers and encourages us to feel passion for our products rather than our partners. Passion for products is especially dangerous when the products are potentially addictive, because addicts do feel that they are in a relationship with those products” (Kilbourne 27). These kinds of connections of loving relationships to brands are prominent. Take for example, McDonald’s popular slogan “I’m lovin’ it.” Because of those various connotations with love – trust, action, attachment – through its use of language, the brand is subtly developing a relationship with the audience. It’s not simply that the brand is agreeable or enjoyable; rather, the slogan encourages the audience to feel connected to the brand on a deeper level, to care about its well-being, and to take action to ensure that well-being.

One study proves that people can indeed feel a type of love toward a brand (and that love is delineated into multiple aspects), as it shows that both US and French consumers show aspects of love toward brands, specifically in the realms of passion and pleasure. However, what’s interesting to note is that French consumers relate to their brands by saying they “like” or “adore” them, while American consumers explicitly use the word “love.” In the same study, French consumers were more likely to align with the memory (inciting positive nostalgia) and trust aspects of their relationship to the brand, while American consumers were more likely say they feel attached to a brand (Albert, Noel, Merunka, & Valette-Florence 13). While this data is not entirely conclusive, it is interesting to note “love’s” usage toward brands in the US, as opposed to the French words such as “like” and “adore,” and what implications that might have for what level of attachment (or addiction) we have to our products. It is entirely possible that “like” and “adore” connote different meanings, and therefore foster a different kind of brand relationship.

Love, then, is evidently a semantically powerful word, connected to action, trust, and deep attachment. Because of its power, it seems worth considering its current usage, especially in forms of media and advertisement; it is a word that can be so ambiguous, so apparently surface-level, and yet, one that we desperately need to describe our deepest affections.

Works Cited

Albert, Noel, Dwight Merunka, and Pierre Valette-Florence. “When consumers love their brands: Exploring the concept and its dimensions.” Journal of Business research 61.10 (2008): 1062-1075.

Hatfield, Elaine, and Richard L. Rapson. Love, sex, and intimacy: Their psychology, biology, and history. HarperCollins College Publishers, 1993.

Kilbourne, Jean. Can’t buy my love: How advertising changes the way we think and feel. Simon and Schuster, 2012.

“Like, n.1.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, June 2017, Accessed 26 November 2017. “Love, n.1.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, June 2017, Accessed 26 November 2017.

Rubin, Zick. “Measurement of romantic love.” Journal of personality and social psychology 16.2 (1970): 265.

Sternberg, Robert J., and Karin Weis, eds. The new psychology of love. Yale University Press, 2006.

Posted in Ideas and Opinions, Language | Comments Off on I’m Lovin’ It; But Should I Be? a guest post by Ethan Arlt

An Interview with Asya Pereltsvaig, co-author of The Indo-European Controversy

Asya Pereltsvaig received a PhD in Linguistics from McGill University in 2002. Specializing in Slavic and Semitic languages, she has taught at Yale, Cornell and Stanford University and is the author of three books: Copular sentences in Russian, published by Springer and Languages of the World: An Introduction and, with Matin Lewis, The Indo-European Controversy, published by Cambridge University Press.

Ed Battistella: I really enjoyed reading The Indo-European Controversy. What prompted you and your co-author Martin Lewis to write this book?

Asya Pereltsvaig: Thank you for your kind words about the book, Ed. Martin and I were driven to write this book by what we saw as an assault on the entire scientific discipline of historical linguistics, arguably the oldest field of linguistic science. We strongly believe that true scientific progress can be achieved only building upon previous work. Yet, there’s an entire body of work now whose starting point is a wholesale dismissal of what historical linguistics has achieved in the preceding two and a half centuries. Not paradigm change, but dismissal. That trend worried us. Even more so, we were concerned about the popular appeal of said body of work, the popularity it had gained in the media. In the era of “fake news”, this is a prime example of “fake science”. That’s why we wanted to sound an alarm, and why we intended the book to be read not only by specialists in the field, and not even primarily by specialists, but by the general public as well.

EB: You note that the history of IndoEuropean has been steeped in race and ideology since its inception. Could you discuss an example or two?

AP: The prime example is, of course, what happened to the idea of Indo-Europeans, or Aryans, in the twentieth century. This scientific construct was taken out of context, in fact out of the academic environment, misinterpreted and placed as a cornerstone of the racist ideology of Nazism. For Nazi ideologues, Aryans were not just speakers of a long-ago dead language, a scientific construct of sorts, but a race, and a superior one at that. We all know what tragedy that instance of ideologizing a scientific concept led to. But the conflation of race, or blood, and language started long before Nazism. Already in the middle of the nineteenth century, people like Arthur de Gobineau claimed that Aryans were a race, one that founded many civilizations in the Old World, and perhaps a few in the New World as well. According to Gobineau, the Aryan race later mixed with other races and consequently was in danger of losing its purity and, with it, its superiority. It is easy to see how these ideas led to the ideology of Nazism. In the book, we warn time and again against the conflation of language and “blood” (be it construed as race or DNA), echoing Max Müller’s sentiment that “an ethnologist who speaks of Aryan race, Aryan blood, Aryan eyes and hair, is as great a sinner as a linguist who speaks of a dolichocephalic dictionary or a brachycephalic grammar”. But while “race science” pretty much ended (at least in the West) after World War II, the conflation of biological attributes (the “blood”, DNA, or “race”) with cultural attributes such as language or ethnicity continues to this day. It’s become very popular to get tested for one’s genetic ancestry, but I think many people completely misinterpret the results of such tests as showing one’s ethnicity, a cultural rather than biological concept. Similarly, most people who speak an Indo-European language today are not biological descendants of the original Indo-Europeans, but the cultural importance of the latter cannot be underestimated.

EB: Your book also offered a fascinating discussion of different theories of the spread of Indo-European, including one related to cannabis cultivation, which was new to me. What was that about?

AP: I don’t know if I’d call it a “theory”, but there is this idea, originally from the anthropologist blogger Al West, that the spread of Indo-European languages was stimulated by trade or exchange of such intoxicating substances as cannabis or what the Rigveda calls soma. Geographically speaking, West’s idea aligns with what we called the Revised Steppe Theory: that the Indo-European languages originated in western Eurasian steppes (roughly, present-day southern Russia). Most scholars who subscribe to some version of the Steppe theory describe the contacts between the original Indo-Europeans and their non-Indo-European neighbors, who were probably sedentary farmers, as driven either by violent attacks on the part of the Indo-Europeans or by trading horses (presumably, domesticated first by the Indo-Europeans) and other animal products. West suggests that the spread of cannabis, and of other recreational or spiritual drugs, could have been a factor in the contact between the original Indo-Europeans and their neighbors. We mention this idea in the book in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner, but the goal is serious: to show that the Steppe theory does not automatically mean that the Indo-Europeans were marauding warriors brandishing blood-drenched swords. Maybe they were much more peaceful pot-smoking proto-hippies.

EB: You mention several misconceptions in the modeling associated with Russell Gray and Quentin Atkinson, which proposes an Anatolian homeland. What is the biggest flaw, in your view?

AP: The biggest flaw of the Gray-Atkinson school of computational phylogenetics, we think, is exactly what prompted us to write this book in the first place: their wholesale dismissal of foundational facts about language change and language relatedness. As far as we can tell, their work is driven by the idea that a computer can give a better answer than two centuries of research by human scholars ever could. While we are not against computational linguistics in general, or computational methods in historical linguistics in particular, we strongly believe that a computer can give an answer only as good as the algorithm it uses and the data that serves as its input. In our book, we stayed out of discussing the computational algorithms—there’s a separate body of work that deals with that issue—but we discuss in great detail the kinds of data that the Gray-Atkinson school uses, be it linguistic data or geographical data. One of our biggest criticisms is that the Gray-Atkinson research program relies completely on lexical material. While they claim to take into account lexical borrowing, we show that a fair amount of it might have slipped between the cracks of the model anyway: it is exactly those languages that are known to have borrowed many words from other languages that are misanalysed as differentiating earlier than we know from the historical record, from analyzing grammatical changes, or from genetic findings. A prime example of that is Romany, the language of the Roma people. According to the Gray-Atkinson model, it differentiated from other Indo-Aryan languages around 1500 BCE, while other research in linguistics and genetics points out to a much later date, around 1000 CE. That’s a gap of two and a half millennia! The biggest reason for this erroneous dating of the Romani split, we think, is that this language borrowed a great deal of its vocabulary, including basic vocabulary, from other languages: Greek, Armenian, Persian. In other words, it’s distinctive because of extensive horizontal transfer, not early diversification. Other languages that the Gray-Atkinson model erroneously treats as having separated too early include Russian and Romanian, both of which also borrowed heavily from other languages.

EB: With respect to Indo-European studies, what stills needs to be done? What are a few of the key open questions?

AP: It is fascinating that the Indo-European question has been studied for so long and so extensively, and yet so much still has to be figured out. One of the key open questions, I think, is the mid-level organization of the family. Since the late 1700s, it’s become pretty clear that this wide range of languages, extending geographically from Icelandic to Sinhala in Sri Lanka, all belong to one language family. Low-level organization of the family—within the so-called “benchmark groupings” such as Germanic, Celtic, Romance, Slavic and so on—is also pretty well-understood. However, there’s less agreement as to how these benchmark groupings relate to one another: for example, are Slavic languages more closely related to western European groupings like Germanic or to Indo-Iranian languages? How do Greek, Armenian, and Albanian (each of which forms a benchmark grouping of its own) relate to the rest of the Indo-European family? And so on… This is the area of Indo-European phylogenetics where novel approaches are most welcome. However, approaches such as that of Gray and Atkinson, which fail to reproduce the low-level organization of the family, are hardly reliable to give us answers about the mid-level organization.

EB: What else are you working on?

AP: Lately, and partially as a result of working on this book with Martin Lewis, I got interested in language contact. As I mentioned above, contacts between languages cannot be overlooked when one examines language change. And yet, contact linguistics is a relatively new field and there’s still a lot to be done there. Being a syntactician by training, I’m particularly interested in the effects of language contact on grammatical changes. The specific empirical problem that caught my attention is the historical changes in the syntax of Yiddish, a language that my grandparents spoke but which, sadly, got lost somewhere between our generations. Besides this personal connection to the language, my research was driven by the fact that Yiddish is a prime example of language in contact. The specific phenomenon I’m investigating is the extension of the Verb-Second model from embedded to main clauses. Like so much that’s happened in Yiddish once it spread to Slavic-speaking territories in Eastern Europe, this phenomenon was suggested to have originated from contact with Slavic languages. But… Slavic languages do not have the Verb-Second model in either main or embedded clauses, so it seems paradoxical that they would produce such an effect on Yiddish. Also, I was intrigued that this happened only in Yiddish but in no other Germanic variety spoken in Slavic-dominated areas. This research led me to build bridges between historical linguistics and historical, geographical, demographic, anthropological, and genetic research, again linking with the Indo-European book that Martin and I wrote earlier.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

AP: Thank you for inviting me to speak about the book. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

Posted in Interviews, Language | Comments Off on An Interview with Asya Pereltsvaig, co-author of The Indo-European Controversy

Grad School: An Interview with Jenean McGee

Jenean McGee

Jenean McGee was a graduate student and First-Year-Writing Instructor at UMass Boston. She was a Ronald E. McNair scholar at Southern Oregon University, graduating in 2015 and completed her Master’s degree in American Studies in 2017.

Ed Battistella: Tell us a little about your graduate program?

Jenean McGee: My graduate program was a two-year Master’s program at the University of Massachusetts Boston in the interdisciplinary subject of American Studies. The program is centered around six core courses that that focus on the ideas that surround the meaning of culture, citizenship, race, gender, sexuality, class, and politics in the context of the United States.

EB: What sorts of things are you reading and working on?

JM: I have recently graduated, however, as a grad student I was introduced to a wide variety of scholarly text. In my first year I on average I read three books a week. Out of the relatively long reading list I have narrowed down three texts that I enjoyed the most. The three are David R. Roediger’s Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, Eric Avila’s Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles, and Peggy Pascoe’s What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Laws and the Making of Race in America. I have selected these three texts because of their interdisciplinary scholarship that traces systemic racism in the United States through cultural history that focuses on legislation, popular culture, and democracy.

EB: How has your experience so far—-at SOU, as part of the McNair program, and at UMB–shaped your career goals?

JM: My experience so far has been rather challenging, and exciting. As a student I have always struggled with my writing. I have picked disciplines that I am passionate about, but have all been writing intensive. At SOU as an English major I often struggled when it came to writing my papers. I have always been able to understand course material and verbally communicate however, articulating my thoughts on paper has been my biggest challenge. At UMass Boston I have experienced similar issues. The McNair Program along with my mentor Prof. Alma Rosa Alvarez encouraged me to continue on my academic journey by believing in me, when I found it hard to believe in myself. They showed me that my challenges are part of my journey, and that I have nothing to be ashamed of. Thus far my academic journey has shown me that I belong in academia. As for my career goals I wish to earn my PhD and continue on in academia as a professor in the field of Cultural Studies. Beyond teaching, my goal is to mentor students. I am passionate about helping others see their true potential and aiding in an academic journey that is unique to them. No two students are the same, and my aim is to continue to promote an academic culture that is inclusive and supportive of “non-traditional students.”

EB: You were also a graduate assistant. What did that entail?

JM: Yes, I was a graduate assistant. For my first year at UMass Boston, I was a teaching assistant for several lower division courses. As a teaching assistant my role in the classroom varied depending on the professor I was aiding. Most of my job as TA entailed grading papers, and holding office hours to help students with their papers and understanding the course materials. For my second year I was given the opportunity to work for UMass Boston’s Center for the Study of Humanity, Culture, and Society. The Center put on events that showcased various aspects of interdisciplinary work within the Humanities. There I aiding in organizing and hosting events, and managing the website.

EB: What has been the most interesting part of your graduate work?

JM: The most interesting part of my graduate work thus far has been working closely with professors and cohort members to further develop my research interests. I have found that brainstorming with my peers and professors allows the creation of more innovative research all together.

EB: What’s been your academic focus? How it changed at all since you began?

JM: My academic focus in my Master’s program has been centered around African American history particularly African American popular culture. Throughout the program my focus has developed to encompass researching social media platforms and the role they play in forging bonds between African diasporic women.

EB: You lived most of the life in California and Oregon. How did you like Boston?

JM: I enjoyed my time in Boston. I particularly enjoy the academic atmosphere and the rich history; however, I could do without the cold weather.

EB: What’s next for you?

JM: My next to is a PhD program. Last spring I was accepted into the Comparative Ethnic Studies PhD program at the University of Colorado Boulder. They were unable to secure funding for me for the 2017-2018 academic school year. However, I deferred my acceptance and am currently waiting to hear about funding for the 2018-2019 academic year.

EB: Any advice for potential grad students?

JM: My advice for potential graduate students is to have confidence in yourself, build strong relationships with faculty and peers, and enjoy the journey; it is not a sprint, it is a marathon.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

Posted in Grad School, Interviews | Comments Off on Grad School: An Interview with Jenean McGee