Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Linguistic Discussions

This morning, I invited most of the authors of the Language Log blog to take a look at my last blog entry. (Most, not all, only because there were a few whose e-mail addresses I was unable to locate.) Anyway, what has ensued is a fairly fascinating discussion that's been carried on via an e-mail thread rather than as comments to my blog. Oh well. At least they all included me in the e-mails, which have been most edifying. (They're a bunch of professional linguists, and I certainly am not.)

So here's the gist of what seems to be the consensus:

  • Both usages are in common parlance.
  • This does cause confusion when people of one camp converse with people of the other camp (especially when scheduling, as the "next Wednesday" issue is just as much a problem as is the "last Wednesday" issue).
  • The rift does not seem to be a recent development.
  • This has been previously studied from a linguistic perspective.
  • Such divergent dialectical usages are probably more common than most of us think.

In addition, I've gotten to learn two nifty words today: ideolect and ecolect. (Interestingly enough, both trigger the Blogger spell-check alarm.)

Amateur though I may be, I am much amused by linguistic topics. So today I will add yet another linguistic topic to my blog:

What I've learned from working in bookstores for so many years is that sometimes book covers have proofreading errors. Sometimes, these are especially interesting, including misprints of book titles on the spine. A few years ago, for example, I noticed the spine of a paperback edition of William Gaddis' novel, entitled A Frolic of His Own. The title on the spine read as follows (in two lines):


This is especially interesting because sometimes the mind lets us see not what's actually there, but rather what it seems should be there. Most people, seeing that spine, would read the title the way it should have been printed rather than the way it was printed.

I'm sure the linguists have a scientific name for this phenomenon.

Anyway, on to tonight's discovery:

I found a Phonics book in the Spectrum series from McGraw-Hill. It's for Grade 3. The spine reads:


So I asked a coworker, "What does that say?"

His response: "Phonics, grade three"

So I asked again, "What does it really say?"

Same response.

Now, of course, this reading error is not any indication of stupidity. My coworker is quite literate and quite intelligent, and I don't mean to suggest otherwise. The point is that the mind plays tricks on us, and it's purely by chance that I happened to notice the printing error. Nine times out of ten, I might've read it incorrectly just as he did.

I bring this up, however, specifically because I find this to be an especially funny printing error. After all, it's a book about phonics!

My favorite t-shirt of all time had the following text:

Hukt on foniks wurkt fur me!

(If you're too young to get the reference, ask your mother!)

So, for the kids who have to spend their time plowing through this particular book, I think the final payoff is that they can claim, "I lurnt my fonciss!"

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