Animal language

Les actualités concernant ces singes qui utiliseraient des «phrases» — resutats de recherche de crédibilité douteuse, il faut le dire, me rappellent le devoir de toute blogueuse qui se respecte : publier ses googleries, de temps en temps.

  • 2006-05-23
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The latest batch of news from the “talking animals” department, and the exasperation it is met with by the linguabloggers reminds me that I neglected to post a particularly expressive keyphrase for a search engine hit that brought someone to my site back in January 2006:

talking seals|rats|dogs|unicorns|horses|animals language log

At the time, I thought this was better than Mark Liberman dopebook or occitan autocollant [autocollant means “sticker”] or apostrophe europe or couilles epingles [épingles means “needles”, and you can look up couilles yourselves]; and more constructive than chirac en prison mp3 download or les angicismes - un problème? or horiflamme shape or chinese words such as serendipity.

(And then there’s the search term that asks the thorniest question of all, and that, unsurprisingly, keeps returning in various guises: nutella masculin ou feminin. Dear visitors: it’s supposed to be masculine, but why, I don’t know.)

(I swear on my copy of CGEL that all these search terms are authentic. And I particularly liked the unicorns.)

(Beautiful French neologism to note down: googleries.)

London signage 02: Dummy “it” in non-parallel construction.

Deuxième partie de notre série sur les panneaux londoniens. Celui-ci pose un problème de syntaxe.

For our second instalment let’s turn our attention to a bit of syntax. This sign adorns a narrow footpath from Charing Cross train station down to the river Thames:


If we give the first sentence its final punctuation back and try to group together what goes together, we get, on the surface, this:

  • [It [is an offence [to ride a cycle [on the footway]]] and [is punishable [by a £30 fine]]].

Now I know I have a high tolerance for non-parallel constructions in English, but this one bugs me. The culprit? The first and the second instance of “it” aren’t the same: in the first half of the sentence, it is a dummy subject; the only reason it’s there at all is because the sentence needs a subject, however perfunctory. there’s another way of saying the same thing, using the Vb+ing form: Riding a cycle on the footway is an offence. On the other hand, the (virtual) it in it is punishable by a £30 fine replaces the entire referential subject of the first half, riding a cycle on the footway.

But if we pull that part out and front it, the sentence’s okay for me: Riding a cycle on the footway is an offence and punishable by a £30 fine. Weird.

(On Flickr and IRC, the discussion about the grammaticality of the sentence got sidetracked into a) whether cycle is the appropriate word (it is indeed the legal term) and b) whether it makes sense to restrict cycling (in this particular place — a narrow walkway filled with foreign teenagers in London for the first time — I’d say it’s defensible, though the Met’s priorities should lie elsewhere).

[The spell-checker didn’t know: footway.]

What misspellings can tell the reader about the underlying speech: This shop on Portobello Road had three or four hand-written signs indicating the prices of various types of “scalf”:

'scalf' on a sign in London
And even more scalves.

No rhotic speaker (who would pronounce the R in scarf) would have chosen this spelling.

This is London!

Version ramassée : j’ai posé ma tente à Londres, ville où il fait bien vivre ; je présente mes excuses pour la sécheresse blogique par ici ; une petite série légère basée sur mes photos de panneaux londoniens et parisiens devrait réanimer ces pages ces jours-ci.

For once there is a good excuse for this latest bout of silence on Diacritiques: For the last month I’ve been in London, after a somewhat hurried move across the Channel. Indeed, if everything goes well, I’m here to stay. I manage to be insanely busy just settling in, searching for permanent work and in […]

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Fake French in Victorian novels

Du faux français dans un roman d’une auteure anglaise de l’ère victorienne, qui de toute façon emploie un curieux mélange d’anglais et d’allemand.

«Carlesse contente», c’est clair pour vous ?

Some time ago, on the occasion of doing other editing/proofreading work, I reconnected with Project Gutenberg, and in particular the excellent network of distributed proofreaders — the folks who bring you the wonderful Project Gutenberg eBooks. Poking around among the current projects, I came across a curious Victorian novel written by Jessie Fothergill and called […]

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Overnegation … or not?

La surnégation, ça fait tourner la tête.

From Alternet (emphasis mine): When the U.S. State Department released its annual report on human rights on Wednesday, countries like Iran, Pakistan and Zimbabwe scored very poorly, as they have for many years past. But trumpeting these countries’ shoddy rights’ records was apparently no disincentive to prevent the United States […]

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Do you want some Wood flower picks sea cucumber hoof with your Cowboy leg?

Il est incertain qu’on puisse encore appeler cela une traduction. Lien déconseillé aux asthmatiques capables de lire l’anglais.

What about Gold silver lotus root silk fries shrimp fucks? Carbon burns black bowel? Maybe Benumbed hot Huang fries belly silk? Or a Good to eat mountain? It’s like Patrick Hall said: the worst-translated restaurant menu ever. (The link comes with a health warning — it can bring on an asthma attack if you are asthmatic.) P.S.: […]

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Moins dérangeants politiquement pingouins

A question about French modifier ordering.

Juste une petite question aux francophones, déclenchée par une phrase dans Libération d’aujourd’hui : Ce n’est pas le documentaire sur les méfaits des hommes d’Enron qui gagne l’Oscar mais les moins dérangeants politiquement pingouins français («La Marche de l’empereur»). L’ordre des adjectifs et autres adjoints du nom, cela n’a rien de dérangeant pour vous ? Si oui, […]

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French brand name gender

Une note sur le genre grammatical des noms de marque. Qui n’explique pas pourquoi le Nutella est masculin.

Here’s a scan of the top of a yoghurt I ate this morning: The noun nature, like nearly all feminine nouns that came directly from Latin, has feminine gender: la nature. But we aren’t talking about nature as such here, but about a product name (of the supermarket chain Casino’s house brand). In this case, gender […]

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Some time ago, Kevin Marks told me about a strange little OS X application that comes with Apple Macs. It is called “Speak After Me”, and takes a bit of text, records the user speaking the text, cuts it up (the speech, not the user) into phonemes — at least that’s what the program calls […]

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