AWESOME, PERFECT, LOVE IT

November 16, 2022

As has been detailed more than once by Y-H-B, there is a tendency among younger speakers of American English, in particular, to use the words “awesome,” “perfect,” and the phrase [sic] “love it” in response to the most diverse utterances. I witnessed this the other day when two adult educators––one a medical doctor–-stood before a class at a local middle school in Vermont and gave a presentation on wellness and physical health to a group of young teenagers. Whenever one of the students asked a question or made a comment, the woman in charge of the presentation responded with the word “awesome” or “perfect.” This happened every time over the course of a presentation that last more than half an hour.

It is clear that such a person is suffering from advanced speech anosognosia. What can an audience of youngsters who are used to hearing the words in question over and over again think of the meaning the speaker intends by repeating “awesome” ad nauseam?

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

Guest Post by Jo Carubia

November 8, 2022

How do you think about, articulate, and perform the liminal human experience of waiting? All of our experiences are cognitive as well as physical and none more so than lingering at a threshold before or between without the guiding parameters of most other prescribed behaviors. Possibly, these in-between, prolonged occurrences challenge us precisely because they are not articulated. Complete Book of Waiting, by Jo Carubia, Ph.D. begins the process of bringing a vocabulary, guides, and commentary to a very common experience. “Waiting is just a test of creativity and imagination.” (pg.2) “The semeiotic offers us a way to understand ….the third world that lies between the private incommunicable interior and the vast spaces of the exterior universe.” (Michael Shapiro, Language Lore, April 30, 2022).

Jo Carubia, Ph.D. is a writer, educator, and artist. She was also the series editor at Paragon House who conceived of, and brought to publication, Glossary of Semiotics by Vincent Colapietro.
Complete Book of Waiting is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and stillwaterpress.com.

Addendum Re Book Launch

October 30, 2022

Dear Michael and Vincent,

What a delight to hear! The book launch was music to my ears; all my favorite themes about “speech” in a wonderful blend of personal l’histoire and scholarly delight. Vincent you are a master of the human spirit and the engaged intellectual in communication. The perfect dialogic compliment to Michael as polymath linguist and logician. You both are obvious accomplished “professors” who know how to communicate! There were many points of deep interest to me, but the conjunction of speech and music was a particular high point. I just published a piece on the concept of “home-world” and a key idea I use is Émile Benveniste’s entry for “community” in his history of Indo-European languages book where he says that speech is dependent on “speech community” which derives from “group singing” (Alfred Schütz’s “Making Music Together” essay is an example). So, Benveniste says “community” is defined as “people who sing together”. The book launch was truly the voice of a chorus! You both should post the video on your personal web pages as well as the YouTube version; it is a “go to” gem for students.
 
With Cordial Regard, Richard
Richard L. Lanigan

Praise for The Logic of Language

October 15, 2022

The first review on its Amazon page of The Logic of Language: A Semiotic Study of Speech has just appeared. Here it is:
“Authoritative explication of the relation between Peircian semiotics and Jakobsonian  linguistics as the human lived experience of communication. Clarifies Peircean notion of “diagrammatic” logic (Husserl’s Fundierung). Must buy book for anyone interested in contemporary semiotics and linguistics applied to communicology. Most important book since the classic Hubert Alexander book— Language and Logic of Philosophy.” – Richard L. Lanigan, Laureate Fellow, International Communicology Institute, Washington, DC, USA

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

The Word ‘Mentor’ Pronounced Contrary to Its Meaning

September 11, 2022

In contemporary speech on both sides of the Atlantic the word ‘mentor’ is typically pronounced with a full second vowel despite the fact that the meaning is agentive and, therefore, should be pronounced with a reduced second vowel (as in the agentive suffix -er). The spelling may have something to do with it, but the more persuasive reason resides in the word’s structure, viz. the lack of a morphological boundary between ment- and -or. Which is to say that speakers do not interpret the word as a true agentive despite its obvious meaning.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

The Logic of Language: A Semiotic Study of Speech

August 24, 2022

Readers of this blog might be interested in knowing that Y-H-B’s new book, The Logic of Language: A Semiotic Study of Speech, has just been published by Springer Nature in an ebook, with a hard cover version to become available next month. Here is the Preface:
PREFACE
This book is intended as a companion volume to one of my most recent books, The Speaking Self: Language Lore and English Usage (2nd ed., 2017), which incorporates revised versions of posts on my blog, www.languagelore.net. It is hoped that this new volume will serve as a basis for the exploration of language in a more systematic way. A college instructor wishing to use it among recommended readings may consider assigning excerpts from The Speaking Self by way of exemplification of basic points and approaches to analysis. I believe that the two volumes used in tandem will provide a solid grounding in the observational science of linguistics, linking theory with practice in a way that will expand a student’s understanding of language as a global phenomenon.

My own conception of language is tinctured by my polyglot background and by my more than half-century experience as a research scholar and college teacher. I was born in Yokohama (Japan) before World War II and grew up speaking three languages simultaneously, Russian, Japanese, and English, in a family of Russian-Jewish émigrés who spent twenty-five years in Japan. My parents’ habitual languages were Russian, English, German, French, and Japanese, all of which they spoke fluently. Although my mother tongue is Russian, almost all my formal education was in schools in which English was the language of instruction. Having spent the war years in Japan, I immigrated to Los Angeles at the age of twelve and attended high school, college, and graduate school in America. The only exception was a postdoctoral year (1965-66) spent at Tokyo University, where I brushed up on my written Japanese and did some research on the contemporary language. After that I specialized in Slavic linguistics and poetics, in the first instance, and in semiotics (the theory of signs) thereafter, applying the whole philosophy of the American logician and scientist, Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), as a framework for the analysis of language and literature.

Readers who are familiar with the history of linguistics in the twentieth century will recognize that the title of this book has been influenced by my namesake Edward Sapir’s classic book Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech (1921)––with two important modifications: the insertion of the words Logic and Semiotic. Here the reason may not be clear. It is in fact a nod in C. S. Peirce’s direction, whose conception of logic as a normative science amounts to regarding it as a theory of knowledge. The phrase ‘logic of language’ is, therefore, meant to show how I conceive the patterned relationships constituting the structure and history of language. The analyses of linguistic phenomena offered in this book will accordingly strive to make this conception clear in all of language’s aspects, but most notably in its variegated uses as the instrument of thought and speaking.

This book also systematically examines the facts of language as a semiotic structure––as a system of signs–– and as the passkey to all other human sign systems. By surveying the several major divisions of language (phonology, morphology, syntax, lexis, tropology) and explicating the way in which sound and meaning cohere in them, the book will give readers an understanding of what makes language the sign system par excellence in the service of its most important function as the instrument of cognition and of communication.

I have also followed Sapir in keeping the technical paraphernalia of contemporary linguistic description to a minimum, without, however, utterly eschewing (as does Sapir) diacritics and other symbols needed for a thorough discussion of linguistic phenomena. Most of the examples in the book are from English, although a sprinkling from other languages will be cited when appropriate. References to “Further Reading” will be supplied where needed at the close of each chapter for students wishing to pursue the subject in greater detail. This obviates the need for footnotes, which means that any controversies surrounding the examples discussed are silently elided in the interests of clarity and coherence of presentation.

Apropos, and given the dauntingly balkanized state of linguistics as a discipline today, it may be useful for readers to be given some clues in advance regarding the theoretical outlook that has influenced me in shaping my book’s orientation. Some biographical data are germane in this respect. I started my serious study of linguistics at the University of California, Los Angeles, under the tutelage of the late Anglicist Robert P. Stockwell (1925-2012), the best classroom teacher I ever had, bar none, who introduced me to the methods of American structural linguistics in his year-long course on the structure and history of English. I followed this by study at Harvard under Roman Jakobson (1896-1982), one of the founders of the Prague School of linguistic theory and arguably the most important linguist of the twentieth century, who directed my doctoral dissertation. Whatever else it may be, I consider my way of doing linguistics to be Jakobsonian at its root (even though he and I fell out publicly before we reconciled at the end of his life).

Perhaps an even more profound and lasting influence on my conception of linguistic analysis has been the work of the Slavic linguist Henning Andersen, who was my fellow-student at Harvard in the early 1960s. Although Jakobson is widely recognized as the first person to reveal the importance of Peirce for linguists, it was actually Andersen who pointed me in the direction of Peirce as the modern founder of sign theory whose semeiotic insights (I use the spelling semeiotic advisedly) I should explore in my investigations of linguistic theory. Despite the absence among his prolific oeuvre of a synoptic book summarizing his conception of language, Andersen’s own work over many years, principally in Slavic historical linguistics, has had an indelible influence on my thinking about language and on the conduct of my own investigations. When it comes to meticulousness and analytical acuity, Andersen has no peers among contemporary linguists and surpasses even our teacher’s accomplishments in this regard.

Among other Slavists I also want to single out Nils B. Thelin, a Swedish scholar of the first rank, who was among the first of my friends to urge that I undertake this project. Nils, a linguist of great scope and significant accomplishments, has been a lifelong friend and a strong supporter of my work over many years. My debt to him goes far beyond scholarship and encompasses the emotional encouragement crucial to the writing of a book of this ambitious scope.

When it comes to Peirce scholarship, my understanding of Peirce’s whole philosophy has been influenced by the work of Thomas L. Short, whom I consider the founder of American pragmatism’s most astute contemporary interpreter. Since our first correspondence forty years ago, I have been a careful reader of Short’s published work, so that my account of Peirce’s semeiotic here and in my earlier books (1983, 1991) owes a fundamental debt to his probing analyses.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the influence on my understanding of language as a product of history of my friend and former colleague at UCLA, Raimo Anttila, whose book Historical and Comparative Linguistics, with its semiotic orientation, remains the best introduction to the field and has been a beacon for me over the many years that its author and I have been friends.

This book is dedicated to the loving memory of my wife, Marianne Shapiro.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

Manchester Center, Vermont
April 14, 2022

‘Awesome’: A Current Speech Tic Among Younger Speakers

August 17, 2022

As has been mentioned in earlier posts, one word that can be heard emanating from the mouths of younger speakers of American English is ‘awesome’, uttered in complete disharmony from the speech context. Y-H-B was reminded of this peculiarity in my interactions recently with a young man at an Apple store in Manhattan, whose response to any utterance of mine was “awesome.”
Besides being an instance of anosognosia, this widespread speech tic (which is what it is) is underlain by a total ignorance and awareness of the word’s original meaning (‘inspiring awe’). Why just this word has come to assume its current status among the young is unclear.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

The Last Straw Revisited

July 7, 2022

In an earlier post on this blog (from 2009), Y-H-B pointed out the increasing tendency in English speech and writing on both sides of the Atlantic to mistakenly substitute the word “final” for the the traditional and normative “last” in the phrase “the last straw.” This speech error has penetrated even scholarly writing, as I witnessed today in rereading a book on Tchaikovsky by a British author, John Suchet, who uses “final” instead of the traditional “last” more than once.
This mistake is an illustration not only of hypertrophy (v. my earler post) but of lack of historical knowledge. The complete phrase is “the straw that broke the camel’s back” which comes from an old Arab fable.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

‘Around’ as an All-Purpose Preposition

June 29, 2022

In the last decade (or longer) the preposition around has come to serve in media language as an all-purpose word instead of words and phrases such as “with regard to,“ “concerning,” and “regarding.” The object of around  can be any word or phrase, which makes this preposition ubiquitous. Why it has taken English so long in its history to elevate around to all-purpose utility is just one of those ever-lurking mysteries of language use.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO