Tuesday, 26 February 2013

40 People Killed After Crash ...

What has happened to the use of "after" in UK news bulletins? We often hear something like: "40 people died after" or even "were killed after a train crash ..."

What?! It suggests to me that the rescue workers went around putting badly injured victims out of their misery. I hope this doesn't seem a facetious point or a bad taste joke. It is a serious query about usage. Also, I feel that newsreaders (and writers) have a special duty to be careful about tragic events. This means that some gravitas is needed in tone of voice and that special attention should be paid to the writing, even to the grammar.

I think the awkwardness I have noticed may be related to a change in the use of tenses. There used to be a clear distinction between Past Simple and Present Perfect, at least in BrE. So "have died after a train crash" ("rail" and "railway" seem to be less commonly heard) would not sound strange. The Present Perfect would imply that the crash was fairly recent and the effects were continuing: so many people died or were killed instantly, others were injured, some have since died, some may still die as a result.

Also, in BrE the Past Simple was formerly used mostly with past time references and indeed with mentions of place, too, as in "died in an accident yesterday in X". The Present Perfect was often used in a vaguer, more general way more suitable for fluid, ongoing situations. (By the by, wasn't there once a journalist's check list on the lines of "Who, What, Where, When..." Do people still learn that sort of thing? Did it go out at the same time as the advice against using direct Yes/No questions?)

But, under AmE influence - and perhaps European language-speakers have had an effect, too - usage seems to be changing. The Present Perfect is sometimes used with past time-expressions ("Something has happened last year") and the Past Simple is used where BrE once had the Present Perfect eg "Did you finish yet?", which still seems strange to me.

Of course, I love all these changes! But sometimes they have a weird effect and can lead to a loss of distinctions, or even ambiguity. What do all you AmE and German-speakers think?

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Scrabble Apps, I's, Is Is, Isos

If you play Scrabble nowadays, perhaps using the app on your computer or phone, you will find that not only does your opponent Crome (see that? I typed "come") up with very strange little words to fill those awkward or triple-scoring spaces, but that many of the silly, random combinations you try are accepted too. It is not just the famous QI, but LI, ZO, ISO or even ST. After a while you think, "Oh, it just isn't fun any more" [de-autocorrected from "anymore"]. Or rather, "It's not very fun anymore!"

I was grateful to Barrie England of the excellent Twitter account
for replying to my query about "I's" (see previous post). He tells me that there are citations in various corpuses (corpi?) going back twenty year or more. I suspected there would be but suggested, slightly tongue-in-cheek, that it might be becoming standard. Barrie tells me that "the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language" does indeed list it as a "variant Standard English form". So there.

But I was also rather deflated. This is an amateur blog, in the sense that it is fairly off-the-cuff, random and done only for love. In my innocence, I note down usages or phrases that I think are interesting or amusing, or  just new or changing. But then I make the mistake of asking for help or advice from proper linguists. They nearly always tell me that this was first noted decades, or perhaps centuries ago, that it is now moving towards standard, appears in grammar books and indeed the President of the United States says it. At least that's what happened with "double copula" or "is is". And I thought when I heard John McEnroe say it twenty or so years ago that it was an interesting departure in and from native speaker grammar!

But, by the by, I do recommend looking at Barrie England's satirical (I think) website "the Proper-English-Foundation" (and his other sites and contributions). It makes fun of prescriptivists in an
ironical, deadpan way which you may like. On the other hand, I have had problems with irony and
did invent an Irony Warning Scale for previous posts.
NB I am not one of those prescriptive people, more an amused descriptivist who finds it rather less amusing (as with Scrabble) when he realises that now anything goes. Even things that conflict with basic English structures using the verb "to be". But  as the POTUS says, "The thing is is that..."

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Jack and I's marriage - "My" to join "me" on the way out?

I think it may be becoming more or less standard. It certainly seems so in "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills", and perhaps in California generally. And what they say in Los Angeles today, they say in London tomorrow - and Essex is always up there. I know we have heard it over here now and then but I expect it to be on everyone's lips soon - and maybe in writing, too?

Yes, "I's" is definitely replacing the awkward "my", as in "Jack and I's marriage" - or in general "Somebody and I's something". We've moved on from "between she and I". We are not just avoiding "me" and object pronouns, but we have extended it to "my" (possessives) too. So many of the best things come from that sunny state, not least language innovations.

But, on second thoughts, maybe I am being silly and this has been around for years and I just haven't been meeting the right people. Let me know, please: I don't get out much.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Both ... but

When someone says "both x but also y ..." I feel that it is worse than a slip. It seems like deliberate hype: the speaker feels, perhaps only half-consciously, that ordinary language is inadequate.*** In the same way that satisfactory is just not good enough and that even good is not satisfactory - all must be outstanding nowadays - "both ... and" simply doesn't do it any more.

Doesn't this show, though, an insensitivity (and even insensibility) both to normal phrases but also to the way the language works, or used to?

Did that sentence seem ok? Weren't you expecting a sort of addition and reinforcement, agreement even, after "both"? An "and",  in fact? (A lot of people wouldn't understand what I'm going on about by now.)

"Both" talks about two things, not more, and is not, or was not, normally followed by the contrast or disagreement shown by "but". (That is not to say that it didn't allow a semantic contrast, of course, eg "both light and dark".)

Does anyone else feel almost hurt every time they hear this? It is not like most grammatical slips, often caused by insecurity, but more like a blow to the guts of the language. And something rather representative of the hype and falsity of a lot of life in 2013.

***Of course, this may not always be true. Some deliberate use by influential speakers in the media may be copied, consciously or unconsciously or somewhere in between. Distinguished sociolinguists may well tell me I am wrong on this, or, at least, that there is no evidence for imitation of the media at all. Please do and discuss it here.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Omost but not olso

Has anyone else heard the pronunciation of "almost" as "omost"? Is it a regional one, Lancashire, perhaps? One of the first people I noticed say it was Mark Lawrenson and I think the Irish international is from Preston, or somewhere near. I haven't noticed these speakers extend it to "also" but there are some funny pronunciations of "albeit" around. Don't worry obout that one: I think only footballers use it.