Archive for language and society

Saturday, April 4th, 2020

“one peso for every Ilonggo word you say”: The Prestige of English in the Philippines

Gabrielle Torres

Fig. 1. Graphic by Nico Villarete,

The nuns would say to us neat little school girls in our neat little school uniforms that only English and Tagalog should be spoken within school property. I was born in Iloilo City, Philippines, where people speak Ilonggo, a language spoken by approximately 9 million people. You’re probably wondering, ‘Why not speak Ilonggo in your school, then? It’s not a dying language and it’s spoken by millions of people, anyway.’ Well, Ilonggo is not a standardized language and most definitely not as prestigious as English. Ilonggo is a funny-sounding language with too many vowels in one word, and if you are unfamiliar with the language, all you can hear are the glottal and velar stops. Still, why do Filipinos perceive English as prestigious? Within the privileged Filipino community, the English language is utilized to create a cultural divide between the highly educated English-speaking Filipinos and the less-privileged non-English-speaking Filipinos. Since English is the language of the elite and the educated in the Philippines, it is also the language of the privileged.

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Wednesday, April 1st, 2020

“Fire and Fury”: Donald Trump’s “Modern Day” Language

Brandon Fick


After midnight (ET) on May 31, 2017, Donald Trump tweeted: “Despite the constant negative press covfefe” (@realDonaldTrump).  The tweet remained on his feed for hours, and even after it was deleted, Trump would not admit it was a misspelling of coverage.  In the immediate aftermath, covfefe went viral as a hashtag, meme, and Google search term.  There has been a multitude of covfefe merchandise, and a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives requiring preservation of a President’s social media activity even used covfefe as its acronym (Wamsley).  This is a prime example of the attention Trump commands.  As President of the United States and with seventy-three million Twitter followers, no other person has had such a platform in the history of English.  His Twitter use is a matter unto itself, but underlying it is the way he speaks on a daily basis, in unscripted remarks, speeches, and interviews.  Trump’s “leadership” is inextricably tied to his language, as whether intentional or not, his vocabulary and syntactic traits resonate with a significant portion of America.

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Saturday, March 28th, 2020

What’s in a Name?

Katherine Luneng

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash.

Names have a huge significance in our society particularly, our first names. Names are connected to a large part of some individual’s identity. Has anyone ever mispronounced your name? How did you react or feel when they did that? Do you like all your nicknames? Does your name resemble another name that is in another language? The study of proper names is called onomastics and, there are a lot of unanswered questions. However, it is a large field within linguistics. Due to the size of this field, I can only discuss a small amount about it. Research needs to answer the questions above, because there is a lot of research about last names becoming anglicized but otherwise, not much else about what I want to explore further. We can, for example, observe the linguistic features occurring from French first names becoming anglicized. Anglicization is the phenomenon where one’s name that is originally from a different language, gets modified to sound more English.

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Wednesday, March 25th, 2020

The Linguistic Treasure Trove of Twitter

Olivia Lenferna

When most people think of Twitter, they simply view it as a place where people go to vent their thoughts, opinions and frustrations to the world in 270 characters or less. It is an avenue for celebrities, world leaders, organizations, and different public figures to interact with the world in a safe, controllable and more personal way. Twitter allows people to react simultaneously in live time whether it is to movies, TV shows, sports, world events or disasters. It is also a place full of internet trolls, divisive opinions, rampant debating (educated or otherwise) and spam posts. Whether you’re looking at the light or dark side of Twitter, linguists can find the silver lining.

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Friday, March 13th, 2020

Gaelic Loanwords in Early Modern English

Mae McDonald

Dunquaire Castle near Kinvarra in the County of Galway. Image: (c) Tammy McDonald.

With Ireland and Scotland close to parts of England, loanwords from Gaelic were bound to enter the English language in some way. Loanwords began to really pop up around the 14th century and slowly increased until the 20th century where there was a large drop. Focusing on the 16th century, there is a commonality in the types of loanwords. A large chunk of the most used words that came from Gaelic in this time period were words that described landscape features or had to do with agriculture. I didn’t go into a specific dialect of Gaelic, in order to keep it open to both Irish and Scottish Gaelic. Most of the words I’m planning on looking at are under the Goidelic branch of Celtic. Because of this, there are only a few words that have about a medium frequency and must have been universal throughout the Gaelic dialects.

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Monday, February 17th, 2020

Hey, you people, what are we going to do about it?

Bryce Bulgis1

“I definitely won’t say ‘they’ or ‘them’ for one person. I speak English, so ‘it’ will do.”

This quote, an excerpt from a texting conversation,2 comes from one of my oldest friends from grade school, a man named Bob.3 Knowing me as an English scholar, someone well versed with the intricacies of our lingua franca, you may be surprised to learn that Bob is actually my best friend, ha ha. You see, Bob and I sometimes clash over certain topics, many of which centre around how people use language to describe certain phenomena. And we most recently clashed over the usage of the third-person gender-neutral singular pronoun it when referring to people, particularly transgendered people. Bob thinks that “[t]ransgenderism is just another thing that people do . . . . They have a mental disorder and I hope they can get help.” And what’s his solution to when they face scrutiny in public? To “do what we all do. If you go somewhere that people don’t accept you, stop going there. Only go places where people don’t care about you . . . . It’s as simple as that.” However, being transgendered isn’t a phase, a joke, nor an act; it’s who these people are, and their pleas to seek acceptance and equality in society is anything but simple as they and their allies advocate for society to use language to recognize them as people.4

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Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

Linguistic Appropriation: AAVE, Hip-Hop, and Digital Culture

Nathan Metivier

If you are below the age of thirty and/or active on social media, you are probably familiar with words like squad, woke, salty, cap, and others. You may recognize these terms as only the trendy slang of teenagers and young adults. However, most of these terms originate from African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Despite the ubiquity of these lexical items, their cultural origins remain largely unknown by the white, English-speaking communities that often use them. The widespread use of AAVE outside of its native speech community can be explained, in part, by the popularity of hip-hop music and the widespread use of social media platforms. The profound effect of digital media culture on the speech of young white people demonstrates the potential for digital media to radically alter common vernacular English. That said, the effects of digital media on English vernaculars have consequences. While the widespread use of AAVE by white speakers may appear to reflect an appreciation of African American culture or a bridge across racial tensions, the lack of recognition for the origins of culturally embedded AAVE terms and the attitudes of the white speech community — who flippantly overuse and eventually dismiss appropriated AAVE terms as “outdated” or “no longer cool” — ultimately reflect a lack of appreciation for the African American speech community’s language, culture, and art forms by the cultural hegemony.

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Thursday, April 5th, 2018

Us Versus Them: Discrimination as Illustrated by the History of English

Rachel Petkau

The age-old issue of discrimination is reflected in language. An “us versus them” mentality is easiest to measure in words and numbers, stereotypes defined with words like “primitive” and “civilized.” Though it is obvious that discrimination has an impact on language use, it is less clear whether language has had an impact on the methods and severity used in separating groups of people. My primary object in this post is to show why the English language has not only had an impact, but has actually been a deadly tool in the establishment of negative interracial and interethnic relationships.

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