Miscellaneous language questions

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Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Mega85 » Sat Apr 23, 2016 10:18 pm UTC

What would you use for the plural of father-in-law and other "in-law" terms? Dictionaries say the plural is "fathers-in-law", but I've heard many people pluralize it as "father-in-laws".

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Derek » Sun Apr 24, 2016 11:02 pm UTC

Historically and prescriptively, it's "fathers-in-law". "Father" is the noun here, and "in-law" a modifier, and if you think about the phrase that way then it's obviously "fathers-in-law". But the phrase has become such a fixed expression these days that many or most speakers view "father-in-law" as a compound word (this is why we hyphenate it). If it's viewed this way, then "father-in-laws" becomes the correct plural form. There are other similar words with this problem, like "attorney general".

Personally, I probably use "father-in-laws" when I'm not thinking about it.

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby HES » Mon Apr 25, 2016 9:54 am UTC

Both parents together are generally referred to as "the in-laws", which would support the use of "father-in-laws".
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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Lazar » Mon Apr 25, 2016 10:32 am UTC

This is analogous to a term like "attorney general", where the prescriptively correct plural is "attorneys general" but most people will, based on intuition, go for "attorney generals" instead.
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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Aiwendil » Tue Apr 26, 2016 3:27 pm UTC

I think I tend to say "fathers-in-law", but it's a plural that occurs so rarely in everyday speech that I'm not entirely sure.

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Xanthir » Wed Apr 27, 2016 8:40 pm UTC

Lazar wrote:This is analogous to a term like "attorney general", where the prescriptively correct plural is "attorneys general" but most people will, based on intuition, go for "attorney generals" instead.

Attorney general is a pretty messed up word in English, anyway. The adjective comes after the noun!

But yeah, what Derek said. As a term becomes fixed in English, it begins to be treated as a noun in its own right (rather than a noun + a modifer), so things like pluralization start working on the whole term, rather than on just part of it. So both are right, depending on how you treat the term, tho pedants will try to sell you on "fathers-in-law".
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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Derek » Thu Apr 28, 2016 9:34 am UTC

Xanthir wrote:Attorney general is a pretty messed up word in English, anyway. The adjective comes after the noun!

You can thank the French for that. Really, the word makes a lot more sense when you realize that it's literally just "general (as in not specific) attorney". When I was young I always thought the word was analogous to a military rank, like "lieutenant general".

Other messed up words in this pattern to blame on the French: Surgeon general, secretary general, court martial, and notary public. All of these should, prescriptively, be pluralized by making only the first word plural.

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Aiwendil » Thu Apr 28, 2016 3:27 pm UTC

Derek wrote:
Xanthir wrote:Attorney general is a pretty messed up word in English, anyway. The adjective comes after the noun!

You can thank the French for that. Really, the word makes a lot more sense when you realize that it's literally just "general (as in not specific) attorney". When I was young I always thought the word was analogous to a military rank, like "lieutenant general".

Other messed up words in this pattern to blame on the French: Surgeon general, secretary general, court martial, and notary public. All of these should, prescriptively, be pluralized by making only the first word plural.


I sometimes jokingly pluralize "Trader Joe's" as "Traders Joe". Most people either don't get it at all or try to point out to me why that's wrong.

Also, as a child, I parsed "notary public" as "Nota Republic". I assumed it was some company with locations you could go to to have things "notarized", whatever that meant.

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Lazar » Thu Apr 28, 2016 3:38 pm UTC

Yes, the vaunted mondegreen. You could write a book about them and win a Pulit Surprise.
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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Xanthir » Thu Apr 28, 2016 8:36 pm UTC

Derek wrote:Other messed up words in this pattern to blame on the French: Surgeon general, secretary general, court martial, and notary public. All of these should, prescriptively, be pluralized by making only the first word plural.

Again, that is if and only if the term is being read as a "[noun] [adjective]" noun phrase. If it's instead read as just a multi-word "[noun]", then standard English rules suggest the plural marker goes on the last word. Which is "correct" is based on how you treat the term; there isn't an absolutely-correct answer. English's normal term construction just avoids the problem altogether, as it puts the noun *after* the adjective when constructing noun phrases, so it doesn't matter how you read it, the noun always picks up the plural marker.
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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Derek » Fri Apr 29, 2016 10:49 am UTC

Right, that's why I said prescriptively. In practice I would put the plural on the second word of all of those, because I treat them like compound words.

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Mega85 » Tue May 03, 2016 1:25 am UTC

Aiwendil wrote:
Derek wrote:
Xanthir wrote:Attorney general is a pretty messed up word in English, anyway. The adjective comes after the noun!

You can thank the French for that. Really, the word makes a lot more sense when you realize that it's literally just "general (as in not specific) attorney". When I was young I always thought the word was analogous to a military rank, like "lieutenant general".

Other messed up words in this pattern to blame on the French: Surgeon general, secretary general, court martial, and notary public. All of these should, prescriptively, be pluralized by making only the first word plural.


I sometimes jokingly pluralize "Trader Joe's" as "Traders Joe". Most people either don't get it at all or try to point out to me why that's wrong.

Also, as a child, I parsed "notary public" as "Nota Republic". I assumed it was some company with locations you could go to to have things "notarized", whatever that meant.


For all intents and purposes.

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby PM 2Ring » Tue May 03, 2016 7:41 am UTC

Spoiler:
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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Mega85 » Mon May 16, 2016 7:13 pm UTC

Anyone here use the term "bubbler" for a water fountain or drinking fountain? And how do you pronounce it? "bubb ler" (two syllables) or "bubb uh ler" (three syllables)?

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Lazar » Mon May 16, 2016 7:40 pm UTC

Yes, I do. (Three syllables.) It's used in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and eastern Wisconsin.
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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby PM 2Ring » Tue May 17, 2016 7:36 am UTC

"Bubbler" (with 3 syllables) was the preferred term when I was in primary school, in Sydney, Australia, several decades ago. And they were generally of the unsanitary vertical stream design. In high school, we tended to call the bubblers "the taps"; "bubbler" was a term that little kids used.

FWIW, Wikipedia has this link: Sum: Use of bubbler as a synonym for drinking fountain

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We are in five.

Postby Mega85 » Mon Jun 27, 2016 9:26 pm UTC

I saw this question asked on a linguistic survey that apparently was done in a now defunct forum. Whether or not "we are in five" sounds okay to you. Does anyone have any idea what this means? I have no idea what "we are in five" is even supposed to mean.


2. Do the following sentences sound okay to you? (Don't worry about "technically" correct grammar, just tell me if these sound allright in your opinion, or if you use them.)

We are in five.


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Re: We are in five.

Postby poxic » Mon Jun 27, 2016 9:29 pm UTC

Doesn't make much sense to me. The only time I could see myself saying this would be in answer to the question 'which room number are you guys in?"
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Re: We are in five.

Postby Deva » Mon Jun 27, 2016 9:36 pm UTC

Interpreted it as a response.
- "Who is up next?"
- "We are in five." (Refers to five minutes.)
Edit: Alternatively,
- "How many countries are we in?" (Assumes product markets.)
- "We are in five."

Would have replied "no", however.
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Re: We are in five.

Postby Soupspoon » Mon Jun 27, 2016 9:41 pm UTC

"Yes, it's a nice street. We've just moved into number eleven." "We are in five."

"Sorry I'm late for the meeting, but I'm just passing reception. Which meeting room is it?" "We are in five."

"Are you gentlemen in any of the British security services?" "We are in [MI-]five..."


(Basically, "five" souns like a location or other 'noun' use, context being somewhat important. Although "We will be there in five [minutes]" is a common enough phrase, and doubtless there's other not-necessarily-contrived forms I've not thought of.)

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Edit: Forgot another example: "Sean Conlon, Ritchie Neville and Scott Robinson; I hear you're a pop group." "We are in Five."
Last edited by Soupspoon on Mon Jun 27, 2016 10:41 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: We are in five.

Postby measure » Mon Jun 27, 2016 10:36 pm UTC

I first interpreted it as relating to musical time signatures (i.e. five-four or five-eight time). Perhaps the statement could have been made one of a group of musicians.

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Re: We are in five.

Postby Soupspoon » Mon Jun 27, 2016 10:44 pm UTC

Hah, you said that as I was checking my facts about my music-based addition. (As an edit because I didn't want to doublepost... Should have just waited.)

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Re: We are in five.

Postby Xanthir » Tue Jun 28, 2016 12:34 am UTC

Ah, yeah, at first I was like "what the hell is it even asking", but as soon as a context was provided (such as discussing room numbers), where "five" is an acceptable noun that you can be in, it makes total sense and is completely reasonable English.
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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Thu Jun 30, 2016 3:14 pm UTC

Do people using non-phonetic languages ever mix of homophones when writing?
I'd assume not, but I can't ready any non-phonetic languages to check what mistakes appear in badly written Chinese.
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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Lazar » Thu Jun 30, 2016 3:24 pm UTC

Well, it's a bit of a misconception to class languages as phonetic or non-phonetic: all writing systems lie somewhere on a spectrum of phonetic opacity. For example, phonetic elements actually play an important role in the construction of Chinese characters. I don't know Chinese or Japanese myself, but I have read a fair bit about their writing systems on Language Log and elsewhere – and yes, speakers of those languages do often mix up homophonous characters when it comes to obscure words, or slang words that aren't well established in writing.
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Pronunciation of "aur" words like "aura", "aural", "Laura", "Lauren" and "laurel".

Postby Mega85 » Thu Jul 07, 2016 10:05 pm UTC

For those who distinguish the vowels in "story" and "torrent" what vowel do you use in "aur" words like "aura", "aural", "Laura", "Lauren" and "laurel"?

This dictionary puts "aura", "aural", "Laura" and "Lauren" in the same category as "story" in pronunciation.

http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictio ... glish/aura

http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictio ... lish/aural

http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictio ... lish/laura

http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictio ... ish/lauren

http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictio ... sh/story_1

Whereas it puts "laurel" in the "torrent" category.

http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictio ... ish/laurel

http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictio ... sh/torrent

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Re: Pronunciation of "aur" words like "aura", "aural", "Laura", "Lauren" and "laurel".

Postby flicky1991 » Thu Jul 07, 2016 10:07 pm UTC

For me, aura/aural/Laura match "story", and Lauren/laurel match "torrent".
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Re: Pronunciation of "aur" words like "aura", "aural", "Laura", "Lauren" and "laurel".

Postby Lazar » Thu Jul 07, 2016 10:26 pm UTC

Yeah, it varies by dialect and speaker. As I said in the other thread, I say all of the words in the title with [ɒː] (my "torrent" vowel), but there are some others like "Taurus" and "saurian" which I say with [ɔɚ] (my "story" vowel).
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Re: Pronunciation of "aur" words like "aura", "aural", "Laura", "Lauren" and "laurel".

Postby Soupspoon » Thu Jul 07, 2016 10:43 pm UTC

flicky1991 wrote:For me, aura/aural/Laura match "story", and Lauren/laurel match "torrent".

Moi aussi.

Although I've heard "aural" pronounced more towards a trisyllabic "hour-al" (silent 'h' version of 'hour', but not necessarily the same as dialect 'our') to deliberately differentiate from "oral". Rarely (but not unknown) are the mystical outline "aura" or names "Laura"/" Lauren" similarly stressed, by native English speakers, but it would not be an unknown phoneme when used by foreigners. (Either as their native pronunciation, or caught out by an assumed version of the English one.)

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Re: Pronunciation of "aur" words like "aura", "aural", "Laura", "Lauren" and "laurel".

Postby Mega85 » Fri Jul 08, 2016 12:24 am UTC

Soupspoon wrote:
flicky1991 wrote:For me, aura/aural/Laura match "story", and Lauren/laurel match "torrent".

Moi aussi.

Although I've heard "aural" pronounced more towards a trisyllabic "hour-al" (silent 'h' version of 'hour', but not necessarily the same as dialect 'our') to deliberately differentiate from "oral". Rarely (but not unknown) are the mystical outline "aura" or names "Laura"/" Lauren" similarly stressed, by native English speakers, but it would not be an unknown phoneme when used by foreigners. (Either as their native pronunciation, or caught out by an assumed version of the English one.)


I've heard Americans pronounce "aural" as "ahral" to deliberately differentiate it from "oral".

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Re: Pronunciation of "aur" words like "aura", "aural", "Laura", "Lauren" and "laurel".

Postby Derek » Sat Jul 09, 2016 2:07 am UTC

"Aural" with "or".
"Aura", "Laura", and "Lauren" with "or" or "are".
"Laurel" with "are".

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Re: Pronunciation of "aur" words like "aura", "aural", "Laura", "Lauren" and "laurel".

Postby Aiwendil » Sat Jul 09, 2016 4:40 pm UTC

I don't distinguish the "story" and "torrent" vowels, and I pronounce both with a vowel somewhat higher than my "caught" vowel. Normally, the lower "caught" vowel doesn't occur before "r", but I will sometimes pronounce use it in "aural" to distinguish that word from "oral".

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Re: Pronunciation of "aur" words like "aura", "aural", "Laura", "Lauren" and "laurel".

Postby Xanthir » Fri Jul 15, 2016 6:21 pm UTC

Mega85 wrote:
Soupspoon wrote:
flicky1991 wrote:For me, aura/aural/Laura match "story", and Lauren/laurel match "torrent".

Moi aussi.

Although I've heard "aural" pronounced more towards a trisyllabic "hour-al" (silent 'h' version of 'hour', but not necessarily the same as dialect 'our') to deliberately differentiate from "oral". Rarely (but not unknown) are the mystical outline "aura" or names "Laura"/" Lauren" similarly stressed, by native English speakers, but it would not be an unknown phoneme when used by foreigners. (Either as their native pronunciation, or caught out by an assumed version of the English one.)


I've heard Americans pronounce "aural" as "ahral" to deliberately differentiate it from "oral".

Yup. I'm an American (Houston, Texas), I don't distinguish "story" and "torrent", and all the words in the list use that same vowel, with the exception of "aural". I learned to say it as "ahral" specifically to distinguish it from "oral".
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Re: Pronunciation of "aur" words like "aura", "aural", "Laura", "Lauren" and "laurel".

Postby doogly » Mon Jul 18, 2016 12:39 pm UTC

All the same, and "ahral" sounds really jarringly wrong to me. NYC.
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Many people apparently think there's a [g] sound in words like "sing" and "thing".

Postby Mega85 » Tue Jul 19, 2016 1:19 am UTC

I saw this in the Phonetics for Dummies book.

Beginning transcribers may sometimes be confused by “ing” words, such as “thing” (/ɪŋ/ in IPA) or “sang” (/sæŋ/ in IPA). A typical question is “where is the “g”? This is a spelling illusion. Although some speakers may possibly be able to produce a "hard g" (made with full occlusion) for these examples (for example, "sing"), most talkers don't realize a final stop. They simply end with a velar nasal.


So apparently it's common for people to think words like "sing" and "thing" actually end in a [g] sound due to the "g" present in the spelling.

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Re: Many people apparently think there's a [g] sound in words like "sing" and "thing".

Postby Carlington » Tue Jul 19, 2016 1:24 am UTC

Some speakers do pronounce a [g] in inflected forms like [siŋgiŋ] which may have an influence as well, and I'm quite sure I've heard sing with a final velar stop although it's not universal.

Is this just a beginner's transcribing error, or could it speak to how our perception of pronunciation is informed by spelling?
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Re: Many people apparently think there's a [g] sound in words like "sing" and "thing".

Postby Lazar » Tue Jul 19, 2016 1:44 am UTC

Yeah, in my experience it's extremely hard to get laypeople to understand that [ŋ] is a single, distinct sound rather than a sequence of [nɡ], and that it can occur in initial position in other languages.

@carlington: Most English dialects have undergone what's called ng-coalescence, causing word-final and (usually, but not always) morpheme-final [ŋɡ] to become [ŋ]. (This had the interesting side-effect of causing "singer" and "finger" to no longer rhyme.) Non-coalescence is still found in Lancashire and the English West Midlands, as well as in the NYC area – hence the eye-dialect "Lawng Guyland".

Conversely, simple [ŋ] inside a morpheme is prohibited in almost all English dialects – so foreign names that use it, like "Inge" or "Nyong'o", will be (mis)pronounced with [ŋɡ].
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Re: Many people apparently think there's a [g] sound in words like "sing" and "thing".

Postby Soupspoon » Tue Jul 19, 2016 1:52 am UTC

Mega85 wrote:I saw this in the Phonetics for Dummies book.

Beginning transcribers may sometimes be confused by “ing” words, such as “thing” (/ɪŋ/ in IPA) or “sang” (/sæŋ/ in IPA). A typical question is “where is the “g”? This is a spelling illusion. Although some speakers may possibly be able to produce a "hard g" (made with full occlusion) for these examples (for example, "sing"), most talkers don't realize a final stop. They simply end with a velar nasal.


So apparently it's common for people to think words like "sing" and "thing" actually end in a [g] sound due to the "g" present in the spelling.

It's hard to quantify such a borderline vocalisation, but whilst I don't have an actual hard-[g] sound in my voicing of it, there's definitely potential for something of a "ñ as in mañana"-cum-glottlestop, in my accent, in the 'ng' area. A sight unintentional 'throat click', maybe from the extreme rear of the tongue/epiglotis contact area; further back than where a deliberate 'g' occurs, but conceivably indistinguishable (see "gottle of gear" substitutions for the "b" sounds that a ventriloquist tries to avoid).

And more so if its not the word-end "ng", but variably so. More common in "minging" than "singing", whilst "impinging" (probably hecause of its root of "impinge" goes towards a [dʒ], I think, if I have my IPA correct.

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Re: Many people apparently think there's a [g] sound in words like "sing" and "thing".

Postby bloomsbury » Tue Jul 19, 2016 10:44 am UTC

When I was training for a TEFL course a few years back I was reading an English pronunciation guide that mentioned in most English dialects 'singer' and 'finger' don't really rhyme because of the ng coalescence in the former. It totally blew my mind; how could any one possibly pronounce singer in a way that doesn't rhyme with finger? I even checked with my flatmate and she was as incredulous as me. Anyway it turns out we were both from the relatively small Manchester - Birmingham- Stoke triangle area which maintains the g in singer. When we asked our other flatmates (Southern BrE-ers) they confirmed the non rhymingness, and we spent the rest of the evening over- and under- pronouncing the 'g's in various words. Good times.

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Re: Pronunciation of "aur" words like "aura", "aural", "Laura", "Lauren" and "laurel".

Postby CharlieP » Tue Jul 19, 2016 3:16 pm UTC

flicky1991 wrote:For me, aura/aural/Laura match "story", and Lauren/laurel match "torrent".


Ditto.

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