23 September 2005

go nmsu aggies

Some note of the broadcasting of NMSU football games in Navajo has been making the rounds, first at Semantic Compositions, and now Eric at Language Log.

Naturally it's tempting for the media to frame this as a "(no) word for X" story. Which is too bad given that there's so much meatier stuff to play with: like, is the 4th person (i.e. obviative) structure useful at all in play-by-play? (my guess is yes.) And, do linebackers get the big-blobby classifier, and do the wide receivers get the long-skinny classifier?

SC also links to this article about the baseball lexicon of French, developed for broadcasts of Expos games. Seems like the intent was to rely on native vocabulary rather than borrowing - e.g. balle papillon "butterfly ball" rather than le knuckleball.

(Knuckleball and papillon both appear in hockey; one as an airborne puck spinning edge-over-edge rather than sailing like a disk, the other as a goaltending style).

Much literature on borrowing sports lexical items tracks the intrusion of English items into other languages, like le goal. But French coverage of football in Quebec, like baseball, has an adapted lexicon (e.g., a field goal is un placement). I even found an article suggesting this could be used as a tool for American English speakers to learn French:

Berwald, Jean-Pierre; Berwald, Peter. 1974. Teaching French via American football. American Foreign Language Teacher 4, 4. 17-19

Part of its abstract from LLBA:
Fortunately for foreign language teachers, American football (and closely related Canadian football) is widely covered by French-Canadian print and broadcast media. Using a French vocabulary of players, positions, rules and verbs, teachers can present a number of concepts at various levels of instruction. Some ideas include numbers, colors, verbs, geography, etc.

21 September 2005

to clone or not to clone

In my continuing search for lexical items crossing over sports, I come across this headline:

QB or not QB.

The to X or not to X structure is pretty clearly a snowclone, of the type frequently tracked on Language Log. This one's also pretty easy to date; it's at least as old as Shakespeare's Hamlet, but I suppose it's possible that the Bard may have lifted it from one of his contemporaries' work.

A google search of to * or not to * gets the following phrases on page 1:

to be or not to be
to Lariam or not to Lariam
to spank or not to spank
to pee or not to pee
to MBA or not to MBA
to hack or not to hack
to blog or not to blog
to breed or not to breed

And none of these actually discusses the play.

Regardless, the structure is so utterly common that its absence from the Google Meme Observatory is, IMHO, forgiveable. More curiously, the search term "to * or not *" snowclone has odd results: it gets lots of accidental hits with phrases like to whether or not *, alongside discussions of other snowclones.

Only one page actually has the snowclone, viewable only in its Google cache form. The structure is in a message board post by a user named Snowclone, whose post signature includes the phrase "'To act, or not to act' is not the question for at some point in our lives we all act." It's not clear whether user Snowclone knows his/her sig has a snowclone in it.

20 September 2005

hurricane names

[Update 9/22/05: more about this subject appears in this AP article.]

This post is about hurricane names -- by now some of this is old news, and I meant to post this a few weeks ago, but haven't polished it til now. The system of naming weather systems is kind of an artificial lexicon, with interesting linguistic, sociological, and cultural aspects.

Within days (perhaps hours) of Katrina's hit, it was decided that the name would be retired as a storm name. My first thought was, aren't all names retired? The answer, actually, is no.

The basic algorithm - determined by the World Meteorological Organization - is that storms are named upon achieving Tropical Storm, the step below Category 1. Storms are given common European first names, assigned in ascending alphabetical order, using the first letter of the spelled name.

The concept of using names is apparently psycholinguistic in origin and started in the 1953. The presumption was that it would be easier to remember "Andrew" than "Hurricane Number 1 of 1992". Names are drawn from a pool of languages, to reflect the multilingual range of nations in the Carribean and Gulf that Atlantic storms effect.

In 1979, the use of male names was introduced; prior to that all storm names were female (uh, I guess they used to think it was cute, but it was also sexist). Now they alternate between girls names and boys names; the first name each season also alternates, so that one year, A, C, E, G and so on are girls names, but are boys names the next. Names beginning with Q, U, X, Y, and Z are not used.

I hadn't ever thought deeply enough about this other than to think, surely there are enough names in English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, and so on not to have to recycle. But they do recycle them every six years: this is the mandated list of storm names from 1996 through 2001, and this is the list of names for 2005 through 2010. The 1999 list is (almost) the same as 2005, 2000 = 2006, 2001 = 2007, 1996 = 2008, 1997 = 2009, and 1998 = 2010. I'm missing the names for 2002-2004, but presumably 2002 = 1996 = 1998, 2003 = 1997 = 2009, and 2004 = 1998 = 2010.

Names are retired or taken off the lists if they become associated with a particularly heinous storm. Katrina easily qualifies. There will also never be another Hurricane Camille, Andrew, or Charley. (Whether heinous hurricane names have an effect on baby naming practices is a different question, but shares a shade of taboo). And will they still serve hurricanes at Pat Obrien's?

OK, so psycholinguistics, gender and language, and taboo so far. Now that Rita (the 17th storm) is on her way, and it's still only September, a new aspect is appearing: what if the hurricane name lexicon is too small? Every year's list of names has 21 items, leaving four more for 2005 (Stan, Tammy, Vince, and Wilma). I wonder if it goes beyond that, will the WMO employ Xavier, Yvette, and Zachary? Then what?