[Smt-talk] One thought on Language Use (was: Two thoughts on Normal Form)

Dmitri Tymoczko dmitri at Princeton.EDU
Tue Sep 11 07:39:06 PDT 2012

On Sep 7, 2012, at 10:38 AM, art samplaski wrote:

> "Transition" is a NOUN, ladies and gentlemen. 

I have two things to say about this, one frivolous and one serious.

1. (Frivolous)  For those who are interested in issues of prescriptivism and language change, I heartily recommend the blog "Language Log," run by my friend Mark Liberman (with the help of many very smart contributors).  Mark recently wrote the latest in a long series of posts on "verbing." (The name originates with Calvin's memorable remark to Hobbes: "verbing weirds language").  


It's interesting how these complaints from 1917 echo Art's complaints about the verb "transition" (which sounds fine to me), though with respect to words which have now been completely assimilated (e.g. the noun "urge").  

Mark was kind enough to send me examples of verbal "transition" from Science magazine, a recent presidential speech, the New York Times, and the New Yorker, which I will happily provide (off list) to anyone who is curious.  The usage originates around 1975, which means it is just shy of the 50 years generally needed for full acceptance (according to Mark).  "Younger" people (like, I suppose, me) will have been hearing it all our lives, while older folks may still find it unfamiliar.

Also of interest is his recent post on "chord" vs. "cord," which have actually switched meanings -- "cord" comes from "accord" while "chord" comes from "chorda" yet we now use "cord" to mean "rope" and "chord" to mean "accord"!

2. (Serious) We all have intuitions about what is and is not acceptable in language.  Mostly these are reliable, but not always.  The same is true in music.  Some people find "I-ii-I6" to be a standard common-practice progression, others don't.  The goal of corpus-based approaches, in both linguistics and music, is to actually *check* these intuitions against real data.  The results can often be surprising.


Dmitri Tymoczko
Professor of Music
310 Woolworth Center
Princeton, NJ 08544-1007
(609) 258-4255 (ph), (609) 258-6793 (fax)

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