27 November 2008

orbis pro vox doesn't mean anything

The plot of last night's episode of Pushing Daisies featured a secret society of bellmen dedicated to helping the poor. Their motto, "Ring for Right", is their rallying call; they ring their bells in fundraising campaigns, to do the right thing.

The motto also appears in the story in a supposedly Latin form, Orbis pro vox. This makes for a great story, since secret societies are always more nefarious when they have mottos in ancient languages. Of course, this is a brutal mistranslation ... I was tipped off by the appearance of nominative vox instead of ablative voce, which would be required by the pronoun pro.

Probably the show's writers tried online translators to get a Latin rendition of "ring for right". These translators give only orbis for "ring", without explaining that this is limited to the notion of a physical circle. orbis means globe, sphere, circle, or ring.

"for" is well translated: pro means for. It is a preposition in Latin, as for is in English.

"Right" is mistranslated, as vox means "voice" or "cry". There apparently is also a phrase vox vocis which has more to do with right as in "power" or "authority" rather than the "right" (i.e. correct or appropriate) thing to do.
Given a list of translations of different senses of the word, they probably settled on vox vocis, thinking vox would be sufficient, and that of the Latin words meant the same kind of "right". A better word for the "right" they wanted in the episode would be iustus "justice" or rectum - literal "right" as in straight.

In short, this is sheer laziness. Does the world suffer because of this corner-cutting? No. But this show has a decent production budget - could they not put a little more effort into this, like call someone who took Latin in school? It's just indicative of the profoundly ungrounded confidence we sometimes have in linguistic matters.

14 July 2008

english with an accent

Recently announced on Linguist List is a companion website for English with an Accent by Rosina Lippi-Green. I use this text as primary reading in a class I teach called Language and Society, whose focus is on addressing issues of folk linguistics.

27 March 2008

welsh dictionary

Q: What do you call a Welsh dictionary?
A: a LLexicon.

06 January 2008

dropping by

Wow, it's been quite a while since I posted anything here - for a variety of reasons no doubt. Though I can update that an unintended consequence of piloklok is near fruition - the recurring topic of language and sports, that basically got rolling for me here, is now about to emerge as a full-blown undergrad class at UCSB. This quarter it's listed as a special topics course, so enrollment is low, but we'll have it on the books for future years as well. I'll update on its progress whenever I can.

15 March 2007

I'll be here all week

Just a few linguisticky jokes to pass the time...

Knock Knock!
Who's there?
Recursivity Who?
Knock Knock!
Who's there?
Recursivity Who?


What did the causative say to the reflexive?
Go verb yourself!

first voice to break the sound barrier

Not sure how long this link will stay up but; it's to a press release about research on airflow vortices generated in/above the larynx during speech. And for the coarse analogy, we get the title "Human Voice Works Like a Jet Engine." Well, not quite. The larynx isn't a turbine, and can't generate very much thrust - the analogy is just that vocal airflow and jet engine wash both involve turbulence marked by vortices. I'm fairly certain the research itself is serious, but also difficult to engage casual readers without this kind of teaser.

Maybe this is precisely the kind of catchy analogy I need for my own research. Athletes Get Nicknames Like Comic Book Heroes. Prefixes Regenerate Like Rabbits.

23 January 2007

sports linguistics

Several recent Language Log posts have channeled a series of Tank MacNamara strips poking fun at the language of sports personalities. It's not clear whether the posters (Thomason and Liberman) subscribe to the tongue-in-cheek treatment in the comics, but my guess is that both would actually find broadcast discourse to be a worthwhile subject of analytical study rather than an object of ridicule.

I think there's some interesting observations to be made in this domain. On piloklok we occasionally track lexical-level phenomena in sports language, but I'd argue that the structure of the language of sports broadcasts differs in principled ways from other domains of language usage in every level of analysis - the discourse structure is pretty tightly constrained to begin with, but the syntactic, prosodic, and phonological structure could, I think with serious research, be shown to have properties adapted to the circumstances. Ferguson's work on sports announcer talk (Language in Society 12, 1983) suggests exactly this.

As for the apparent inanity that arises in on-air analysis (e.g., the stating of the obvious), it is essentially true that the parties involved are "paid to talk". Another way of framing it is that it's just in everyone's best interest to talk: this applies to the play-by-play and the colour analysts in broadcasts, whose goal is to entertain the viewer (try watching baseball with no sound to see what I mean), and to the coach and players in interviews and press conferences, which gives their organization good PR and the appearance of accountability. These reasons may provide enough motivation for the speakers to have a fairly high ratio of words to new bits of information. I don't know if there's an objective way to measure this, but I remain curious.

11 January 2007

random data point: double object + particle verb

Overheard not 5 minutes ago:

"...and I wanted to know if I could pick you up something for the ..."

This combines a double object verb construction (V NP NP, where the first NP is essentially a recipient, as in [give][me][a book] or [make][her][lunch]) with a particle verb construction (V + Part, where the verb and particle semantically form a unit but are necessary separated if the direct object is a preposition, as in look me up or track him down. I don't recall ever hearing a construction in which the verb is both a double object and a particle verb (and hence V NP Part NP, as in pick you up something).