A linguistics book for the rest of us

For several years now I’ve been looking for a book about linguistics that doesn’t assume I know diddly squat about the subject. I tried Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By.
I tried Pinker’s The Language Instinct. In desperation I got a copy of the Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics. Not one of them was what I wanted or needed.

I ordered a copy of Steve Kleinedler’s Is English Changing? because I follow Steve on Twitter and I enjoy his tweets. (I’ve found that following lexicographers is one of the smartest moves a editor can make.)  When it came today, I opened it and started reading. At the beginning, as one should.

And I shouted for joy.

THIS IS THE BOOK I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR.

It’s part of the Routledge Guides to Linguistics, which means it’s on the pricey side for its size (172 pages of actual text, plus front and back matter), but already I can tell you that if, like me, you want a totally accessible text about what linguistics is and how it affects YOU, it’s worth the US$30 and change. This snippet is what made me shout HOORAY:

“You will be asked to observe how you use language. These observations will help guide your understanding of basic linguistic concepts.”

FINALLY! A simple book, in plain language, for me and folks like me who are interested in the topic but are put off by academic texts and theoretical presentation. I want hands-on exercises that don’t use highfalutin terminology. I want explanations that don’t rely on lingo. (Linguistics. Lingo. Ha.)

“The language you speak is different than that of your parents, and of their parents, and so on, running backward through a multitude of generations. Indeed, the language you yourself speak is different from what you spoke last year, or 10 years ago.”

[insert GIF of owl’s head turning to face the viewer with the text O RLY? below it]

Sprinkled liberally throughout every chapter are boxes labeled “Something you can do!” I cheer every time I see one, because I CAN DO A THING AND THAT THING WILL HELP ME LEARN!

I haven’t gotten past the first chapter, because I’m squeeing and nodding and rereading and THIS IS THE BOOK! THIS ONE!

Thank you, Steve, for finally writing the book I’ve wanted for years.

Listen to the words

I’ve blogged before about when to use “a” and “an” with initialisms. Here’s a real-world example, taken from Huddleston and Pullum’s A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar:

It is typical for the subject of a clause to be an NP.

“But Karen, ‘n’ would take ‘a’ because it’s a consonant!”

Nope. “N” takes “an” when it’s pronounced as itself, the letter “en.” It begins with a vowel sound, which takes “an.”

Clearly, the authors intend for us to say “en pee” rather than “noun phrase.” The indefinite article “an” is the cue.

Intimate Register in the Real World

In my ongoing efforts to bring the various registers of English to light, so that writers, editors, and readers may make use of the knowledge and understanding, I’m linking to a thread from Iva Cheung that quite literally exploded on Twitter over the last couple of days, including being picked up by Buzzfeed. (How exploded did it get? She hit her tweet limit. There is one.)

Here are dozens upon dozens of terms from people’s familiolects (words they use only with their family members, or “intimate register”) for people, places, things, actions … all kinds of words for all kinds of situations.

I love that so many of them come from toddlers’ mispronunciations.

On peeververein and the burnishing of credentials

This post has been banging around in my head for a few days. I’m going to try again to get it out of my gray matter and into pixel form so I can stop thinking about it.

Perhaps I’m a bad editor, but I refuse to read the local papers’ columns by “grammar experts.” (When I say “local,” I mean local to anywhere; the tiny burg I live in has little more than a broadsheet filled with want ads, for-sale/giveaway ads, and minutes of the local school board and PTO meetings. However, the power of the internet lets me access papers from all around the country. But I digress.) Why don’t I read them? Continue reading “On peeververein and the burnishing of credentials”

ACES 2017: The rest of it

Friday night, as I said last time, was the banquet. Because so many of us editor women have embraced colorful hair, there was a group photo taken before we were seated. Eleven of us assembled in front of the (old) ACES logo sign in the hallway for our moment of fame. The largest discussion focused on whether we should line up in ROYGBIV order. (We did not.) As most of us are purple of some flavor or other, we were in the middle, with the green, blue, orange, and red on the outside. Molly McCowan (@InkbotEditor) has rainbow streaks in her blonde mane, and took center position. (I envy her ink.) Continue reading “ACES 2017: The rest of it”

REVIEW: The Perfect English Grammar Workbook, McLendon

Any grammar text that makes me literally laugh aloud is a winner on at least one level. Making grammar fun is one of my personal goals, so I always enjoy seeing others succeed at doing so. I laughed a lot during my read-through of Lisa McLendon’s workbook. This is a very good thing.

Not only does she know her grammar (she’s the one who teaches the Deep Grammar classes at various editing conferences), she explains it in plain language. No small feat, that. Lisa won me over right off the bat with her statement that she’s not a “grammar cop,” but rather a “grammar cheerleader.” I don’t know as I’m bubbly enough to be one of those, but I appreciate the imagery, that’s for sure. Continue reading “REVIEW: The Perfect English Grammar Workbook, McLendon”