Category Archives: Dialects


A Postcard From Salzburg


Members of Golden Dawn break up a dictionary launch in Athens. Photograph by Victor Friedman.

Salzburg, Austria—Mozart’s beautiful city provided an ideal locale for the conference I am attending here, where Slavicists and Balkanists have been discussing the role of ideology in grammar. Salzburg is close enough to allow scholars from Croatia or Kosovo or Macedonia to attend easily, without being actually in the Balkan region itself.

Matters relating to the great Balkan laboratory for sociolinguis…


‘Yooper’ and ‘the Dictionary’

Upper_Peninsula_of_Michigan[1]Michigan was buzzing last week with the news that the word Yooper is going to be included in the new edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary this spring.

For those of you who may not know, Yooper refers to someone who is from or lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (known as the UP, hence UP-er, or Yooper). Yooper is now a term of pride for many residents of the UP. According to Steve Parks (the man who lobbied for 10 years for the word to be included in Merriam-Webster’s), the te…


Communicating With the Public

The last time I dared to look at Tom Chivers’s article about my work and my views online (published inSeven, the Sunday Telegraph magazine, March 16, 2014, 16–17), the number of comments had risen to more than  1,400. And they formed a sorry spectacle. I couldn’t bear to do much more than skim a small quantity of the discussion. Even if the average comment length is no more than 50 words, the whole thing must be approaching monograph length. But not monograph quality.

If I had ever thought that …


Undivided by a Common Language

The alleged chasm that separates American from British English is often discussed in highly emotional terms. It probably won’t make me popular on either side of the Atlantic when I say that I think the differences have been wildly, insanely overstated. To cite just one example, I once met a British woman in Edinburgh who told me loudly and confidently that Americans had completely abandoned the use of adverbs.

People have been exaggerating the trans-Atlantic dialect distinctions ever since Oscar…


That NPR Sound

Scott Simon: "My word!"

Scott Simon: “My word!”

I don’t get it when people say or imply that people on NPR all talk alike. To me their voices contain multitudes.

To be sure, there’s no question that, if the factors that determine dialect are age, ethnicity/race, class/education, and  region, NPR folk skew heavily oldish, white, overeducated, and from the U.S. quadrant that’s north of the Mason-Dixon line and east of the Minnesota-Dakotas line. It has to be that far west so as to include Garrison Keillor, whose voice is…


Weed Better

keep_calm_and_smoke_weed_by_maxwwy-d66xc24In a piece the other day about Ronan Farrow’s new MSNBC chat show, Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times noted that Farrow “made an effort to seem hip. He referred to marijuana as ‘weed’ and made an aside about the Ukrainian opposition leader, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, who was recently freed from prison, saying that she ‘also has amazing hair.’”

Yes, weed is apparently the broadly hippest current term for marijuana, that venerable fount of slang. (I’ll save for another day a discussion of the rela…


Arrivederci! A Dopo!

2417_do-you-want-to-learn-italian-628x366I’ll be taking a work-intensive book leave from Lingua Franca beginning next week. Just before I return, I’ll be relaxing for a week in Tuscany, where we chose a villa based on the reviews. The negative reviews, that is, the ones that said, “Wi-Fi here is really terrible.” Yes.

I’m uncomfortable in countries where I don’t speak the language. My short-term experiences in Italy, which include two Italians playing a joke by helping me onto a train going south rather than north at 2:00 a.m., sug…


Happy Otchig Day!

Moonack in the sun (courtesy of Wikimedia)

On what we could have called Otchig Day, February 2, legend says the gopher rat will emerge from its underground burrow to look for its shadow. In case of shadow, this pasture pup will retreat underground, and we’ll have six more weeks of winter. But a cloudy day will encourage the johnny chuck to stay above ground, and winter will be over.

Most of us know this subterranean dweller by the widely used names groundhog and woodchuck. The recently published…


‘All Plogged Up’ … Am I All Alone?


Remedies for a plogged nose.
(Image courtesy of flickr.)

It could be the fact that it is below zero outside here in Michigan or it could be the sniffles that I seem to have acquired in the past 24 hours. For whatever reason, I’ve been thinking about the word plogged.

I had a glimmer of hope that I could solve the mystery of plog  now that The Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) has gone digital. I knew that DARE did not contain plog  or plogged  as headwords, but I thought one of them…


Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Words

imagesA colleague sent me a contest offering from the venerable American Scholar, magazine of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Titled “Lingua Americana,” it begins by setting out examples of “wonderfully expressive [English] words that defy translation,” including flaky, finagle, and hullaballoo. Remember those words; we’ll return to them.

The contest then proceeds to list untranslatable words that it considers “a bit of a mouthful,” like schadenfreude, or simply unacceptably non-English, like frisson, sim…