A New Article by Y-H-B

February 25, 2022

Readers of this blog can now examine the newest article by Y-H-B, ““Language as Semiosis: A Neo-Structuralist Perspective in the Light of Pragmaticism,” Chinese Semiotic Studies, 18 (2022), 131-146. It can be accessed by clicking on the link “PDFs of Papers by Michael Shapiro” under the title “Semiosis.” Cf. also the comment  (in a recent email to the author) by Vincent Colapietro, one of the world’s leading Peirce scholars (and a friend of long-standing), to wit: This is a very important essay, a distillation of years of intensely focused thought, but more than this a deepening of some of your most important insights into the nature of language and, more generally, of symbols. In sum, bravo!”


The Emotive Value of Yiddish

February 20, 2022

As has been characterized several times on this blog, Yiddish words and phrases as used in (American) English have a distinct role to play in uttertances with an emotive tinge. This aspect of lexicology and phraseology was brought to the fore of Y-H-B’s consciousness recently when he remembered that as an octogenarian he was approaching the status of an “alter kaker,” alias an “old geezer.” The difference between these two phrases is purely emotive to those speakers of American English who know both, and the nub of the difference is in the word kaker, which literally means ‘shit(-ter)’. The presence of the Yiddish profane verb root gives the phrase a pointedness that the translation lacks. Sic transit gloria mundi!


ADDENDUM: A better English equivalent for the Yiddish would be “old fart.”

Proposing a Neologism (= new word): Covidaceous

February 9, 2022

Even though the word ‘covid’ is a dephrasal abbreviation (< ‘coronovirus disease’), an appropriate derived adjective can and should be proposed, viz. ‘covidaceous’, on the model of arenaceous ‘resembling, made of, or containing sand or sandy particles’.
I hereby launch covidaceous for general use.

New Book on Linguistics and Semiotics

January 23, 2022

My  new book, The Logic of Language: A Semiotic Study of Speech, will be published by Springer Nature (New York and Berlin) in 2022. This work is an updated and amalgamated version of my two earlier books in the field (published by Indiana University Press in 1983 and 1991, resp.), The Sense of Grammar: Language as Semeiotic and The Sense of Change: Language as History, and will provide a companion volume to my earlier Springer opus, The Speaking Self: Language Lore and English Usage (2017).

New Uses for Function Words: Prepositions and Prepositional Phrases

December 30, 2021

When making secondary references to items with a complex sentence, American English (but not only; cf. BBC World Service reporters’ speech) now regularly uses the preposition around  and the prepositional phrase in terms of instead of resorting to locutions like “with regard to” in referencing material that is subordinate to the main content. This regularly results in sentences like “The prospect of development around/in terms of  the unification of the parties.” This syntactic development in the history of the English language is a good example of how linguistic means are always subject to refashioning historically, esp. when it comes to media language.


Overuse of Words and Concomitant Loss of Semantic Power

December 12, 2021

In the American media––particularly the audio and video––there has been a marked overuse of certain words, namely the adjectives denoting something emotionally negative such as dire, heart-breaking, devastating, etc. This is amply illustrated by the reporting in the last few days on the torndaos in the south that have wreaked such horrendous damage.

What the media correspondents fail to realize is that by ceaselessly resorting to the same adjectives they are significantly weakening the emotional power of these words. These news sources would be better served if their producers would take the time and the effort to search for alternative lexical means in describing the effects that the terrible disasters have on the victims and on the public at large.


What, Me Worry?

October 16, 2021

Among the most imbecilic innovations in contemporary American speech is the retort “No worry/worries” as a substitute for “You’re welcome” in response to the words “Thank you.” This new phrase can be heard emanating from the mouths of younger speakers such as servers in the hospitality trades.
“No worries” can now be added to “No problem.” Why “You’re welcome” is going out of use can only be ascribed to the general tendency in American English to increase the store of clichés of all stripes.

Phonetic Fatuity: The Pronunciation of Taliban

September 18, 2021

As has been documented in full on this blog before, contemporary speakers of American English vacillate a great deal in their pronunciation of broad and flat [a] in items of foreign provenience. This is due largely to a kind of inferiority complex stemming from a lack of acquaintance with foreign languages, which results in speakers routinely favoring the broad vowel (as in swap) over the flat vowel (as in flat).
With the current prominence of Afghanistan and the Taliban in the broadcast media, the latter name for the dominant Afghan regime can be heard pronounced in several ways as far as the [a] vowels are concerned, not to speak of the variation in rendering the [l] and the [i]. Perhaps this vacillation has its origin in former President Barack Obama’s constant pronunciation of Taliban with broad [a] vowels and a palatalized [l], the latter resulting in the same [i] as in leave rather than that in live.
The normal––i. e., unfatuous, unself-consciously “foreign-sounding”––pronunciation is clearly the one that does not mimic Obama’s.


Senseless Idioms

August 14, 2021

Every language has idioms that appear repeatedly in speech and writing. From the strictly grammatical viewpoint, however, they don’t always make sense. Such is the American English idiom “You know what?,” which is defined in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary as:

1 —used to emphasize the statement that comes after it You know what? I never trusted her. She lied to me again, but you know what? I really just don’t care anymore.
2 —used to get someone’s attention Hey, you know what? I’m hungry.

Senseless idioms are a good example of the arbitrariness of language.


The Meaninglessness of Gestures Accompanying Speech

June 20, 2021


All languages of the world involve accompanying gesticulations by speakers, but not all such actions are meaningful (convey meaning). When a speaker or hearer raises his/her eyebrows to signify incredulity or lack of comprehension, this is widely understood as a paralinguistic sign that may substitute for a speech act such as an expression of doubt in words. But such meaningful gestures are very much in the minority.

Contemporary American English is widely utilized by its native speakers with a mesmerizing assortment of gestures––mostly hand gestures–– that are not meant to convey any meaning at all and must be deemed silently senseless to their producers as well as to their interpreters/interlocutors. Whereas women are traditionally viewed as being more “expressive” or “emotional” than men during acts of speech, in twenty-first-century America both sexes produce these meaningless paralinguistic signs in great profusion. Why they do so is anybody’s guess. Perhaps senselessness is just a sign of our times.