The July 2018 issue of the academic journal Lingue e Linguaggi is now available online. It includes the article ‘From the VVingPP construction to the VVing pattern: A descriptive account,’ jointly written by Cristiano Broccias and myself. Download for free in PDF format! 😉
Author: Enrico Torre
A new joint presentation
On November 29-30, 2018, Cristiano Broccias and I will jointly present a paper at the International Workshop on the Diachrony of Ditransitives, which will take place at the University of Eastern Piedmont, Italy. Our contribution will be entitled ‘Revisiting the history of the English dative alternation: An attraction-based account.’ I will upload the slides shortly after the workshop; meanwhile, the program of the meeting is already available for download.
Reviewing a new book on historical linguistics
I will soon receive a new book to review for the LINGUIST List: ‘Multilingual practices in language history: English and beyond,’ a collection of contributions edited by Päivi Pahta, Janne Skaffari, and Laura Wright. Since I have always been interested in both language history (with particular – though not exclusive – regard to English) and language contact, I am looking forward to receiving the book. Stay tuned!
Download the slides of the talk Cristiano Broccias and I gave at the 9th International Conference on Historical Lexicology and Lexicography, along with the abstract! 😉 It was really great to take part in this meeting, in such a beautiful venue as Santa Margherita Ligure.
As the 9th International Conference on Historical Lexicology and Lexicography (ICHLL9) is approaching, check the program and download the book of abstracts on the conference website. Cristiano Broccias and I will be presenting our paper entitled ‘On the relationship between V and Ving in the English VVing pattern: A historical perspective’ on Wednesday, 20th June 2018 at 4.30pm. Stay tuned! 😉
A co-authored article in press
The article ‘From the VVingPP construction to the VVing pattern: A descriptive account,’ jointly written by Cristiano Broccias and myself will be published in the July issue of the academic journal Lingue e Linguaggi. It is possible to download a draft of the paper.
My review of Mattiello (2017)
Reviewing a new book on semantics
I will review Peter Lasersohn’s book ‘Subjectivity and perspective in truth-theoretic semantics’ for The LINGUIST List. Since I am interested in the study of truth-conditional semantics and its comparison with alternative frameworks (e.g., cognitive semantics), I am looking forward to receiving this book. I will post the link to the review as soon as it is published. Stay tuned!
A logical pitfall in academic writing
When I was a student, it was not infrequent for me to have an idea and write an essay in one go. In the phase of editing, I could not see any faults in my essay because I knew what I wanted to say. Much to my disappointment, when I had my essay read by somebody else, sometimes I found out that I had communicated something quite different from what I had in mind. I believe this is one of the most insidious pitfalls in essay writing. Indeed, your intentions are unfathomable (and irrelevant) to the reader: s/he will only know (and be interested in) what you have actually written. In other words, poor word choice can fatally undermine the logic of your argument. I will now clarify this point with the aid of a simple example.
Let us suppose that you are describing an entity, which is made up of three elements standing in a given relationship with each other: your description of this scenario must be careful and consistent; otherwise, you may find yourself in trouble. Let us also suppose that you have decided to introduce your entity as ‘A’. Later in the text, you want to provide some more details about this entity and say it is made up of the three components ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’. A (not so) small oversight has led you to claim, inconsistently, that ‘A’ is at the same time the whole entity and one of its three components. This already amounts to a reductio ad absurdum of your argument and you are also running the risk of going further astray. For instance, you may later term the relationship between the two components ‘A’ and ‘B’ as ‘C’. Then, you would be claiming that ‘A’ is an entity that is made up of itself and two more components, one of which (‘C’) is the relationship between ‘A’ itself and the other component (‘B’). The danger of infinite regress would then be looming large.
You may be tempted to dismiss the present post as ‘stating the obvious’ and/or dealing with a trivial issue. Though perhaps legitimate, this comment does not find support in my experience. It is true that the problem mentioned above can be resolved by rephrasing the concept so that ‘A’ is an entity made up of three components ‘B’, ‘C’, and ‘D’, with the relationship between ‘B’ and ‘C’ being labeled ‘E’ (for the sake of completeness, let us add that the relationship between ‘C’ and ‘D’ could be labeled ‘F’ and the one between ‘B’ and ‘D’ could be termed ‘G’). However, this is the kind of issue that tends to slip under the radar. Indeed, not only can you find this kind of oversight in student essays, but also in academic books. For instance, in an otherwise well-written monograph on English phraseology, an internationally recognized linguist claimed that his analysis was “… expected to reveal very strong qualitative trends rather than statistically measurable patterns” (the emphasis is mine). This assertion is controversial because the notion of ‘trend’ is inherently quantitative, i.e. a trend is a statistically measurable pattern. In a nutshell, the author is claiming that the analysis is expected to reveal ‘As’ rather than ‘Bs’ but he is overlooking the fact that ‘A’ and ‘B’ are extensionally identical.
Putting the above quotation into context, I guess that the author aimed to say that the scope of his study was not carrying out a detailed statistical analysis, but rather identifying general tendencies and then proceeding to carry out a qualitative analysis. However, this is just my interpretation. To prevent misunderstandings in your essays, you will need to put forward sound arguments as clearly as you can. To do so, reflecting on what you want to say will be vital. However, the way you choose to say it is no less important since an unfortunate lexical choice may turn into a serious logical problem. Indeed, it seems safe to state that, in academic writing, logic and word choice must go hand in hand.
The myth of ‘real English’
It happens very often, and it is quite amusing. Speaking about someplace in the English-speaking world, at some point somebody (often a non-native speaker) will say that locals “do not speak ‘real English’ there.” Even if I limit the scope of my attention to England, I have heard this comment about the North West, the North East, the West Midlands, the East Midlands, the South, and recently even London! It is funny because it would mean that ‘real English’ is not spoken anywhere in England. I have singled England out because I live there, but of course, I have heard the same comment about the rest of the UK, not to mention the US, Australia, Jamaica, and so on… nobody in the English-speaking world speaks real English! This rather awkward claim makes one wonder what on earth this ‘real English’ is supposed to be.
When a native speaker mentions ‘real English,’ they normally refer to a variety or a cluster of varieties (usually, including their own) that are supposed, for some reason, to be better representatives of the English language than others. Sometimes these comments are made in jest but sometimes they are meant to be taken seriously. When a non-native speaker mentions the phrase ‘real English’ instead, they normally mean a speech that is similar to the English they were taught in school. In European countries, this is usually a standard variety of British English, which is supposed to be close to the variety spoken in London (as if a single, uniform variety of English could be detected in such a diverse megalopolis). Both native and non-native speakers are wrong on this point.
The former are mistaken because although different varieties are more prestigious than others, and more used in formal situations, the English language belongs to the whole English-speaking community. No variety is inherently ‘superior to’ (let alone ‘more real than’) any other: it is a matter of social perception, which depends on variables such as region, class, age, gender, and so forth (the interested reader is referred to the sociolinguistic literature on this topic, in particular, the seminal work of William Labov in the US and Peter Trudgill in the UK) Non-native speakers are mistaken because the variety of English they are taught in school is just a variation-eliminating idealization based on a (rather artificial) variety which is used in the media and other formal contexts. The importance of this kind of language can hardly be overstated, and it has always proved its worth in language teaching. However, standard varieties are largely the result of a process of abstraction, and surely there is no reason to consider any of them as representing ‘real English’.
In conclusion, there is no such thing as an opposition between ‘real’ and ‘non-real’ English. The English language is a diverse, multifaceted entity, which is characterized by a myriad of (to a large extent, mutually intelligible) varieties whose commonalities and differences cut across a range of dimensions. Of course, non-standard varieties can be hard to understand for the non-native speaker, but there is no reason to claim that these varieties are any less representative of ‘real English’ than more standard ones. Rather, the high level of diversity which characterizes contemporary English reflects the different historical and cultural heritage of the many distinct English-speaking communities around the world. Therefore, while it is a fact that some varieties of English are more standard and/or more prestigious than others, we are not entitled to claim that any of them is ‘real English’. Instead, we should recognize that all these varieties are integral parts of this beautiful, multi-colored entity that is the English language today.
Image credit: Talking People