26 August 2009

U-huh, uh-uh.

by Cecily
I think my favorite discourse phenomenon in Standard American English these days is the use of the introductory phrase "Yeah, no."

I use it ALL THE TIME. It is the most awesome way to disagree with someone, ever.

There's no real great way to do it in actual manual ASL, but a smooth gradual transition between nodding your head "yes" and shaking your head "no", combined with appropriate transformation of facial expression, does the trick discourse-wise.

Julie always gets mad at me for starting every sentence with "right, but" (in both English and ASL). This is a similar but nonidentical expression. "Right, but" expresses that while what your interlocutor has just said is true, it has failed to account for some major point that you are about to bring up. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with "right, but"; I'm just saying it's a different kind of statement than "yeah, no".

"Yeah, no", as opposed to "right, but", does not imply that the content of the interlocutor was correct, but merely that you have understood what they meant and are now contradicting it. Surprisingly, this is not necessarily a hostile position to be taking- often, in my experience, "yeah, no" is employed to acknowledge that the interlocutor's position makes sense and would be a reasonable assumption, but in fact does not obtain.

For example,

A: I'd heard of the Barefoot Benefits and all that stuff - here, no less, with that fingery-shoe conversation - but I didn't realize that by "barefoot" they meant "nothing to do with bare feet whatsoever, but rather walking on barrels like an idiot".

B: Yeah, no, these are a different phenomenon from the barely-there shoes that hippie lifeguards like.

One of my favorite undergrad professors did a really fantastic super-subtle version of this: in class, when anyone was talking, he would thoughtfully listen and nod as you went. You would gain confidence (the professor is nodding thoughtfully!) and so expand on your thesis, often to somewhat absurd little thin branches (the professor was a Professor of Art History). Finally, having concluded your analysis, you would sit, quietly, while the whole class waited and the professor continued to nod thoughtfully for a few moments.

Then he would sit up straight and say "No, I don't think that's right." Then he would tell you about how wrong it was for a while.

I loved this professor greatly, and I think everyone else did too. And I really appreciated the fact that he thought carefully about even the dumbest, longest, most hare-brained expositions about art. He thought about them carefully, nodding all the while, and then, very politely, shut you down good.

Yeah, no.

21 August 2009

rockin it contagious

by Cecily
I want this guy to be my new best friend:


17 August 2009

it means "related to awesome"

by Cecily
Language Log has a series of posts up wherein Geoffrey Pullum tries to figure out the meaning of a mysterious word that he doesn't know and has never seen written.

The great naturalist Sir David Attenborough, on Radio 4, mentioned a curious-sounding class of animals that he appeared to be calling Sicilians... I listened carefully; it definitely sounded like "Sicilians". But what was this word? These creatures (he made it clear) did not live in Sicily.

Professor Pullum uses the Power of Phonetics to decide that the word must go like this at the beginning:
[PS or C or S] then [E or I or Y]* then [C or S or SS]

but he can't figure it out!

He should have asked someone with a name like mine, because I totally knew what the word was, because all my hopelessly recondite lovers-of-abstrusity friends and relations are always making hilarious jokes in which I am compared to a blind underground snake-worm. Other times the jokes are about sewage systems. My friends and relations are so educational.

*I kind of think he is wrong about this. The second part is only limited to E/I/Y if the first part is a C or PS. Otherwise the vowel could be anything (ANYTHING!) and it'd come out schwa. That's what I think. Now you know.

09 August 2009


by Cecily
update: now with captions! Thanks secret internet listener!

02 August 2009

jiggety jug, jag, jeg

by Cecily
I'm back in DC. The vines grew a lot while I was gone. The cat's happy to see me.