DROPPING THE G.

Trying to find something about when non-rhotacism developed in Barbara M. H. Strang’s A History of English (a great book with an inadequate index), I stumbled on this passage, which I provide as a public service:

The sound /ŋ/ now appears medially and finally in stressed and unstressed syllables, as in singing; it has never been accepted in initial position. Its extension to unstressed syllables is quite recent, and has spread from middle class into general usage under the influence of spelling (or so the expression ‘dropping the g’, for the older pronunciation, indicates). As recently as 1936 Wyld retained his 1920 comment that the older pronunciation (/ɪn/, /ən/) was ‘still widespread among large classes of the best speakers, no less than among the worst’ (op. cit, 283). He describes these forms as ‘of considerable antiquity’ and ‘at one time apparently almost universal in every type of English speech’, he notes that Swift had objected to them in the early 18c, and in 1801 Walker ambiguously remarks that the best speakers use ‘g-less’ forms, but yet these forms savour of vulgarity (ib., 289). During the same period unease about the pronunciation was shown by hyper-correct ‘reverse forms’ in -ing where it had no place historically – as in lupin, chicken, children. The movement towards -ing gained momentum in the 19c:
Apparently in the twenties of the last century a strong reaction which set in in favour of the more ‘correct’ pronunciation, as it was considered, and was in reality an innovation, based upon the spelling, was so far successful that the [ŋ] pronunciation . . . has now a vogue among the educated at least as wide as the more conservative one with -n (Wyld, loc. cit.)

Let me just repeat the money quote: “the more ‘correct’ pronunciation, as it was considered, … was in reality an innovation, based upon the spelling.” Those people who say “I’m goin”? They’re historically correct. The people who laugh at them for “dropping the g”? They’re historically wrong, wrong, wrong, and should be pointing the finger at themselves for abetting the degeneration of our precious mother tongue.
This has been #3514 in the series “For Pete’s sake, stop worryin’ so much about what you think your neighbor is saying ‘wrong.’”

Comments

  1. I’m glad to read this, because I’d always thought the upper-class ‘dropped’ G (it probably occurs in Wodehouse, although I can’t really remember), the one that actors have such a difficult time reproducing convincingly, was an affectation.
    By the way, does anyone know how long North America has had its own English accents? Some time in the eighteenth century? What sort of accents did George Washington and Thos Jefferson have? I suppose there’s sure to have been a post on this before now, but I’m terrible at finding stuff like that, I’m the anti-matter version of MMcM.

  2. The word “wrong”, of course, ends with ŋ.
    This is heaven-sent.

  3. scarabaeus says:

    oh! ‘eavens above; de ‘untyn’, physhyn’, shootyn’ is up for grabs agin.
    so glad I beskoke with clarity??

  4. I’m sure this is a stupid question, but: if the ending was historically pronounced [ɪn], and the change to [ɪŋ] was due partly to the influence of spelling, then how on Earth had it come to be spelled <ing> to begin with? I understand that spelling can be affected by other factors besides pronunciation (e.g., I believe our current pronunciation of elephant came about after we re-borrowed Latin elephantus, replacing earlier English olifaunt, or something like that), but <ing> just seems inexplicable.

  5. Childreng. I’m goin’ to start usin’ that. And chickeng.

  6. dearieme says:

    Does anyone say “effing” for “effin”?

  7. Funny, I’ve gen’rally bin droppin th’gee for a lon, lon (?) time. I think I must’f read about its lontime ‘dialectal’ use some years back. An I’ve bin sayin ‘ain’t’ since before it got into th’dictionary (doubtless ye’ve blogged about that). Talkin ‘dialect’ is good cover for a varsity graduet. Otherwise they think ye’re too highfalutin. Which ye are (an that’s not pronounced ‘yee’).

  8. Does anyone say “effing” for “effin”?
    Nope. Or I should say ‘Only the archivist I worked under on my last job, when he told the joke about the farmer who said he’d rather be an effing bull in an effing field’.

  9. On the post-vocalic R; the earliest instance I’m aware of related confusion in English is in the borrowing of ‘juggernaut,’ with a citation in the OED from the early 17th century:
    1638 W. Bruton in Hakluyt Voy. (1812) V. 56­7 Vnto this Pagod..doe belong 9,000 Brammines or Priests, which doe dayly offer Sacrifice vnto their great God Iaggarnat… And when it [the chariot] is going along the City, there are many that will offer themselves a sacrifice to this Idoll.
    The first two vowels in the Hindu word are both /ʌ/, so there’s no good reason for a rhotic speaker to have written the <r>. As far as I can tell, there’s been dialectal variation within England when it comes to rhotacism since at least that time.

  10. Noetica says:

    … then how on Earth had it come to be spelled to begin with n?
    Not a stupid question, but it has an obvious answer. The spelling accurately reflects an early stage of the language, as far back as Anglo-Saxon. Later the most common pronunciation changed to /n/, and later again the spelling induced people to take /ŋ/ as standard, again. This must be a normal pattern. Consider more particular cases, like antarctic. For a long time the first c was not pronounced; then the “literate” pronunciation, based on spelling, was restored or imposed.

  11. Noetica says:

    Read: … then how on Earth had it come to be spelled ing to begin with? Got muddled as I tried to avoid those risky angle brackets, which were interpreted as markup.

  12. seriouslyy

  13. Does anyone say “effing” for “effin”?
    Yes. I do, and it is not that rare here. Not as common as the “effin” version, but not unheard of. “Fucking” is quite common alongside “fuckin”, especially when the word is being stressed.

  14. “The sound /ŋ/…has never been accepted in initial position.”
    Actually, there’s a school counselor in the TV program “South Park” who ends every sentence with the word “OK?”, but he pronounces it “ŋK?”

  15. marie-lucie says:

    -ing:
    These various discussions have made me reopen my books on Old and Middle English which I had not consulted in decades:
    In Old English the present participle of verbs had -ende (cf German -end), and there was also a noun-forming suffix -ing or -ung (cf German -ung). As time went on, there was confusion between these two suffixes, especially in Southern and Central England, where -ing won out for both meanings (eg participle in I am learning to drive but noun in Linguistics is a major field of learning).
    I wonder whether the -in pronunciation might not come from the -end rather than the -ing form. Dropping the d would leave a final [n], while dropping the g (pronounced in Middle English) would leave a final [ŋ] (since the original [n] would have adapted to the following [g]). One thing that could be in favour of -end as the origin of -in’ is that [ŋ] (spelled ng) does not normally become [n] except in the -ing suffix, eg singing can be pronounced singin’ but never sinning, and hangnail is never adapted as hannail.

  16. Marie-Lucie: Yes, exactly. Well, almost exactly: [ŋ] does become [n] outside the -ing suffix, as in somethin’ and mornin’: it can only happen to the unstressed final syllable -ing, but without regard for whether it’s the suffix or not.
    But! It’s not really without regard. -ing can become -in’ whether it’s the participle suffix (I was walkin’) or the gerund suffix (I like walkin’) or not a suffix at all, like somethin’. But it’s a lot more frequent in the participle suffix. And that, as you note, is because the participle suffix was originally -ende (but got contaminated with -ing), whereas the gerund suffix was originally -ing. So the history of these two suffixes, which seem to have merged, is still reflected in the pattern of variation.

  17. Noetica says:

    Wonderful, Marie-Lucie. Of course I failed to make such distinctions when I mentioned Anglo-Saxon. As for this:
    As time went on, there was confusion between these two suffixes, especially in Southern and Central England, where -ing won out for both meanings
    Was that “winning out” still in the Old English period, or the Early Middle (problematically assuming a clear demarcation)? Perhaps a definite answer is elusive. Don’t answer if it would take too much of your time!

  18. Who cares what they said back in medieval times.
    The only people who talk that way now are Li’l Abner and the other inhabitants of Dogpatch.

  19. Noetica says:

    Ah Nij. Where have you been, you iconoclast and a half? I was waiting for your advice about getting involved with dentists, in some other thread. Never mind: the moment has passed, as moments tend to.

  20. Where? check my blog, I’ve been out in the forests looking for open routers and fast food joints for recharging the new netbook. Even now I am blogging from the car. Definitely not in depth.
    Dentists? Can’t say. I would avoid morticians though.

  21. Oh, and watch out for root canals. When in doubt, go to a dental school.

  22. And the nitrous oxide. Wasn’t that the old date rape drug? Very dangerous stuff.

  23. rootlesscosmo says:

    The sound /ŋ/…has never been accepted in initial position.
    How is the given name of the novelist Ngaio Marsh pronounced?

  24. michael farris says:

    “I was waiting for your advice about getting involved with dentists, in some other thread”
    I think she’s probably too self-conscious about her accent in Welsh and would never expose herself to the keen diagnostic ears of a dentist: “My dear, you’re no more from Pwllheli than a Tasmanian devil.”

  25. michael farris says:

    According to Wikipedia (usual caveats) Ngaio is pronounced /ˈnaɪoʊ/.

  26. marie-lucie says:

    AJD: I am glad you agree about -end and -ing. Is there a scholarly source for this interpretation of the source of -in’? You are right about something and a few others, but it is always -ing (by contamination I suppose), not other vowels before -ng, as in “long”. If the switch to [n] had a purely phonetic source, one would expect it to have expanded its range in the course of time, but it hasn’t.
    … especially in Southern and Central England, … -ing won out for both meanings
    Noetica: Was that “winning out” still in the Old English period, or the Early Middle (problematically assuming a clear demarcation)?
    The book I have on Middle English has a map showing the South and Central suffix -inge, almost surrounded in the North and the East and West fringes by -ende. I don’t have a more specific reference as to the timing of this distribution. With the upheavals in the English language between Old and Middle English, a simplification of this sort is not entirely surprising, and the map suggests that the confusion leading to the loss of -ende started in the South and was gradually gaining ground in other areas.

  27. In Old English the present participle of verbs had -ende (cf German -end), and there was also a noun-forming suffix -ing or -ung (cf German -ung). As time went on, there was confusion between these two suffixes, especially in Southern and Central England, where -ing won out for both meanings (eg participle in I am learning to drive but noun in Linguistics is a major field of learning).
    Fantastic, thanks marie-lucie. This was not in Crystal’s Stories of English and it something I have wondered about. Much obliged.

  28. Noetica says:

    Thanks Marie-Lucie. I might see what I can find to fill in the odd detail using my own steadily growing Old and Middle English collection, when I have a chance. I’m away from it just now.

  29. hsgudnason says:

    @zhoen: In Dickens’s Little Dorrit there’s a character named Maggie, an adult woman whose mental development was retarded by an illness in her childhood. Maggie often dreams of the one bit of happiness she can remember, her stay in hospital (or perhaps “‘ospital,” I can’t remember), where they fed her “chicking.”

  30. This came up on Language Log a few years ago (here).
    As some earlier commenters have observed, I think it’s not accurate to say (without qualification) that the “extension [of ŋ] to unstressed syllables is quite recent”. As I understand the history, the derivational ending -ung (for making nouns out of verbs, as in “building”) was conflated with the perticipial suffix -inde or -ende; the derivational ending would have had ŋ in unstressed syllable from Old English forwards.
    Many speakers in the U.S. South maintain the distinction, so that e.g. “building” would be pronounced with final [n] in “she’s building a shed” but with a final [ŋ] in “the Empire State building”.

  31. Bill Walderman says:

    I suspect that almost everyone in the US (at least), regardless of education level, uses the -in form from time to time in informal speech, whether they’re aware they’re doing it or not. Anyone aware of research on this? It’s like the omission of ne in French negations, which I believe everyone does, at least in some contexts, but until comparatively recently not everyone was prepared to admit to this sin. Marie-Lucie, care to comment?
    Evidence for “-ing” pronounced as “-in” in non-participles: around 1962 my family rented a house in western Connecticut for the summer. There was (and still is) a town in the vicinity named “Sterling” that people in the area routinely pronounced as “Sterlin.”

  32. I think it’s not accurate to say (without qualification) that the “extension [of ŋ] to unstressed syllables is quite recent”.
    I’m not sure I see the difference between that and this quote from your post:
    The velar pronunciation, a middle-class innovation a couple of hundred years ago, has since become the norm for most educated speakers.
    I add my appreciation to marie-lucie for her explication of the history involved.

  33. I suspect that almost everyone in the US (at least), regardless of education level, uses the -in form from time to time in informal speech, whether they’re aware they’re doing it or not.
    Not in the North-east. Dropping your “g” is a very strong marker of education and social class. I find it very noticeable when talking to people who drop their “g”s.

  34. Bill Walderman says:

    ‘Not in the North-east. Dropping your “g” is a very strong marker of education and social class.’
    In most contexts, yes. But in very informal speech–in casually uttered phrases such as “What are you doin?” “Where are you goin?” I think almost everyone uses the “-in” form even though they may not be conscious of it.

  35. marie-lucie says:

    I think it’s not accurate to say (without qualification) that the “extension [of ŋ] to unstressed syllables is quite recent”.
    The velar pronunciation, a middle-class innovation a couple of hundred years ago
    For this topic I would take the word of Barbara Strang, a well-known historian of English, against that of Mark Liberman, a phonetics specialist and computational expert.
    Perhaps the difficulty lies in the definition of “quite recent”, which Strang makes clear means “a couple of hundred years ago” – quite recent in historical terms, though probably not considered recent by a person interested in tracking down contemporary variations in usage.

  36. Van: in the North-east. Dropping your “g” is a very strong marker of education and social class.
    Lou Reed is from Freeport, Lon’ Giland. I never thought (lack of) education or (coming from the lower) class were evident when he dropped his Gs.

  37. michael farris says:

    There are two separate issues, vowel quality vs final consonant quality.
    The unstressed ending -ing has three pronunciations.
    1. [in]
    2. [iŋ]
    for most speakers most of the time these are in free variation (but see below) and most speakers most of the time don’t notice which final is used by other people (or themselves)
    3. [@n] or [N] where N represents a nasal syllabic, usually [n] (sometimes [m] or [ŋ])
    Most of the time when people speak of people “dropping their g’s” they’re referring to people using the third pronunciation (popularly written -in’, hence the term dropping one’s g’s). But despite the popular name this concerns vowel quality more than final consonant quality.
    But this seems to be about [in] vs [iŋ] a very different question entirely. I did see one report for some segment of British speakers where more participle-ish cases of -ing where more likely to be pronounced [in] vs more gerundish or nominal cases which were more likely to be [iŋ] (or vice versa but there were clear tendencies toward one or the other pronunciation depending on function).

  38. David Marjanović says:

    Just to confirm the claims about German (present participle in -end-, nouns in -ung). Also, German lacks a gerund; perhaps the existence of the gerund was the source of the confusion in English? (…Well, there are obvious ways to test this by the history of the German language, and that’s not a subject I know enough about.)

  39. “My dear, you’re no more from Pwllheli than a Tasmanian devil.”
    Can a non-native speaker pronounce the name of this town without the listener requiring the use of an umbrella? Such nice people the Welsh, and they make such nice tea. Nice pubs too. Better to speak English to them and not try to spit their language.
    BWT, how do you pronounce the capitol of South Dakota?

  40. marie-lucie says:

    Can a non-native speaker pronounce the name of this town [Pwllheli] without the listener requiring the use of an umbrella?
    It is not as hard to do as you think, it is only an exaggerated pronunciation that might cause “spitting”. The sound written ll is not as widespread in the world as some others but it occurs in a number of languages, one of them being Tibetan: I recently learned that the name of the capital Lhasa begins with this sound, written lh (not the same lh as in Occitan and Portuguese).

  41. I grew up pronouncing unstressed final -ing only in the presence of my parents (who insisted on it). Among my peers, in rural Oregon, saying “saying” instead of “sayin” was tantamount to sayin “hey, beat me up, I’m a sissy!”
    I tend to fall back into dropping it amongst intimates. Easier.

  42. There are dialects of Portuguese in which lh is the voiced version [ɮ] of Welsh ll [ɬ]. Zulu has three-way contrast: lala ‘sleep’, hlala ‘stay’, dlala ‘play’.

  43. The sound written ll is not as widespread in the world as some others but it occurs in a number of languages, one of them being Tibetan: I recently learned that the name of the capital Lhasa begins with this sound,
    Is this the same as the sound of л in Khalkha Mongolian?

  44. michael farris says:

    “Such nice people the Welsh … Better to speak English to them and not try to spit their language”
    You’ll never find yourself a dentist with that attitude.
    “BWT, how do you pronounce the capitol of South Dakota?”
    very roughy
    [D@ 'kApIdl @v sauT d@'koud@]
    why do you ask?

  45. [D@ 'kApIdl @v sauT d@'koud@]
    You gave me my first good laugh of the day. Thanks!

  46. the sound of л in Khalkha Mongolian’
    if you pronounce it khal-kha (in Mongolian it’s khal-kh, without the last a, means guard, shield)
    then it’s just regular English l as in ‘long’

  47. But in very informal speech–in casually uttered phrases such as “What are you doin?” “Where are you goin?” I think almost everyone uses the “-in” form even though they may not be conscious of it.
    Not in my idiolect, Bill, and I’ve been listening to my children – they also consistently produce “-ing” without having ever been prodded to do so that I recall. “Gonna” for “going to” is common – but that’s not the same thing. I think “doin” for “doing” probably does slip by without people noticing but no one in my family produces “workin”, “eatin”,”paraphrasin” or even “fuckin” without a self-conscious effort to sound folksy.

  48. What I meant was, is it the same ‘l’ sound as the ‘l’ found in the Mongolian of Mongolia. (I wanted to refer specifically to this variety of Mongolian because in Inner Mongolia the ‘l’ appears to have a different pronunciation).

  49. Is this the same as the sound of л in Khalkha Mongolian?
    Wikipedia says ɮ, but this review of the Oxford Phonology book and this pargraph from a survey of the family discuss some tendencies to devoice. read would, of course, know about contemporary speech.
    I think “doin” for “doing” probably does slip by
    “How y’ doin’?” seems a perfectly acceptable non-ironic greeting among all classes these days.

  50. Marie-Lucie:
    I think the landmark work on present-day -ing/-in’ variation as derived from Old English -ing/-ende contrast is probably Ann Houston’s 1985 dissertation Continuity and Change in English Morphology and Labov’s 1989 paper “The Child as Linguistic Historian”.

  51. Thanks, AJD. That’s a good reference to have.

  52. Lateral voicing is contrastive in some Northern Athabaskan languages, too, which is why Łutselk’e is needs two, right? (PWNHC offers transcription extremes Łútsę̀lk’é and hloot-sul-k-ay).

  53. [D@ 'kApIdl @v sauT d@'koud@]
    I believe this is how it’s pronounced with a “Fargo” (Scandinavian) accent.
    Why? It’s a shibboleth for weeding out South Dakotans.

  54. “What are you doin?”
    No one says that here. Depending on register, it’s either “Whatcha doin’?” or “What are you doing?”, all or nothing. This can be varied as “What ARE you doing?” or “What do you THINK you are doing?”, depending on the perceived stupidity of whatever on god’s green earth it looks like they are doing.
    And not “Where are you goin?”…it’s either “Where ya goin’?” (or better yet, “Where ya goin’ to?”) or “Where are you going?”. If you start dropping g’s you lose the disapproval/questioning/inquiring-minds-want-to-know part of the meaning.

  55. Wait, wait, Noetica.
    Iconoclast?
    I have plenty of icons. What’s with the iconoclast thing?

  56. John Emerson says:

    We really have little choice other than to beat up Vanya and his kids.

  57. John Emerson says:

    We really have little choice other than to beat up Vanya and his kids.

  58. David Marjanović says:

    The sound written ll is not as widespread in the world as some others but it occurs in a number of languages, one of them being Tibetan: I recently learned that the name of the capital Lhasa begins with this sound

    According to what I’ve read, Tibetan has the voiceless approximant, not the voiceless fricative of Welsh and lots of other languages.

  59. michael farris says:

    “Tibetan has the voiceless approximant, not the voiceless fricative of Welsh ”
    That settles it, after we’ve beaten up vanya and his kids, we’re going after David.

  60. marie-lucie says:

    AJD: I think the landmark work on present-day -ing/-in’ variation as derived from Old English -ing/-ende contrast is probably Ann Houston’s 1985 dissertation Continuity and Change in English Morphology
    Thanks, AJD, but what does she say in a nutshell? Would she agree with my suggestion, or not?

  61. marie-lucie says:

    MMcM: thank you for those titbits about laterals. There is a three-way contrast in some other languages of Western North America too. Where can I learn more about the Portuguese variation?
    David: I am not sure what you mean by “the voiceless approximant”: I know what the terms mean, but not what the sound itself is: a less forceful, barely consonantal approximation of the Welsh, etc sound? Is there an IPA symbol for it?

  62. John,
    To make things worse I also pronounce “aunt” to rhyme with “haunt.”

  63. What sort of northeastern accent do you have that pronounces “haunt” to rhyme with “aunt”? I have a slippery, variable English accent, but I pronounce “haunt” to rhyme with gaunt, taunt and flaunt, and “aunt” to rhyme with chant, plant and slant (but not ‘ant’). The only words that rhyme with both groups for me are words like “Nantes” or (Cyrus) “Vance” that I’d pronounce in different ways, according to the context.

  64. Andrej Bjelakovic says:

    Just to add – the Southern form of the participle was -inde, as opposed to the Middlands -ende and Northern -ande. So in the South -inde and -inge started merging, and then taking over the rest of the country.
    The book I have says that there was still variation in the 14th c. and that the -nd- forms disappeared during the 15th c.

  65. “Whatcha doin’?”
    More like “Cha doin?” for me.

  66. Andrej Bjelakovic says:

    Drat, I should really learn how to type.

  67. Fairly standard mid-Atlantic with elements of New England I’d guess. Rhyming “aunt” with “gaunt” is pretty common in New England (we tend to be a thin people), although I notice Webster’s says it should rhyme with “mop”, which apparently is supposed to be a slightly more open vowel sound than “gaunt”. In most of America “Aunt” is pronounced exactly the same as “ant”, but then again so are “chant” and “plant”.

  68. marie-lucie says:

    I should really learn how to type.
    You should learn to hit “Preview”, mistakes stand out more when you see exactly how your text will look after posting.

  69. Fixed that for you.

  70. In most of America “Aunt” is pronounced exactly the same as “ant”, but then again so are “chant” and “plant”.
    With the exception of Minnesota. In Chicago I am an “ant”, in Minnesota I have an “awwwwnt”, but moving further west, in South Dakota it’s “ant” again.
    Mr. Emerson needs to find a new pub where he can talk right.

  71. Andrej Bjelakovic says:

    @languagehat – thanks!
    @marie-lucie – yeah, that sound like a good idea. :)
    @Njima – a teacher of mine from Wisconsin also had a back vowel in aunt. I remember being surprised, as I’d believed it was only a feature of some New England speech.

  72. marie-lucie says:

    Years ago I heard a lecture on the dialects of Prince Edward Island (the smallest Canadian province by far, off the Atlantic coast). Even in this tiny area, there were three dialects, East-Central-West. The researcher had constructed sentences containing key words for people to read aloud. I remember that one of them concerned “Aunt Martha”, and there was a distinct difference between “Aunt Maartha” (with fronted a) and “Ant Maurtha” (and also a third pronunciation) depending on the region.

  73. John Emerson says:

    I grew up saying both, but thinking that “awnt” was the more correct / elite pronunciation. A friend from Maine says “ant”.

  74. US aunt dialect map
    It’s also worth noting that it’s usually “awnt” in AAVE, since that’s cross-geographical.

  75. joseph palmer says:

    Since you couldn’t resist the final comment, Lhat, I will also write this sort of thing once more for the eternally cloth-eared.
    It does not matter whether your neighbour has solid historical grounds for an adverse reaction to what you say. We spend all our lives trying to fit in with our neighbours, of some sort at least, in many ways including and linguistic norms. We copy, from the moment we are born, the norms of whatever linguistic group we aspire to belong to, or those people laugh at us, criticize us, think less of us, fail to understand us. We do the same to others, if we see them as part of our own “tribe”. We copy, we seek to fit in, we change all the time, we carp about others speech, and it is inevitable. Languages could not even exist without a basic prescriptive urge within a particular community. When are we going to stop hugging the linguistic trees and accept this obvious thing? Please take the stereotype of the “prescriptivist” out of your minds and give it some genuine thought.

  76. The prescriptivism that Language Hat is talking about is a particular set of that prescriptivism that Joseph Palmer is talking about.
    Joseph Palmer’s prescriptivism includes many other things, including the refusal to use officially prescribed forms — for instance, by young men who will deliberately use non-standard forms in order to fit in with their mates. The spread of Ebonic style speech among the young is a part of the same kind of “prescriptivism”.
    LH’s bugbear is the kind of prescriptivism that rests on the use of false or faulty knowledge of so-called “grammar” in order to browbeat people to abandon logical or respectable usages. The problem is that many of the rules set up by people who think they know “grammar” are the results of ignorance, not knowledge. Their arrogant, rock-solid notions of “correctness” are built on sand.
    That is not quite the same as (although it is no doubt similar to) the “prescriptivism” of peer-group pressure or pressure to follow the rules of the tribe. From what I can see, LH is open to language change — but not to pettifogging pedantry.

  77. Joseph Palmer was ‘persecuted for wearing a beard’, according to his gravestone; and rightly so, it was enormous.

  78. Thank you, bathrobe, for the eloquent explanation of my attitude, and you, Sub-Crown, for the hint as to my esteemed antagonist’s motivation. (My wife has warned me more than once against trying to compete with some of the more florid examples of facial hair one sees in photographs.)

  79. marie-lucie says:

    I think that JP confuses “urge to conform” (we naturally adapt our speech as necessary for smooth interaction with others) with “trying to force people to conform to rules imposed from without”, which is prescriptivism (an acquired attitude, not a natural tendency).

  80. Don’t be provoked, Language. Wear a chin wig if you want to get competitive, it’s easily removed at dinner time.

  81. marie-lucie says:

    I knew someone who used to be an Anglican priest (although working outside the Church) and who converted to the Greek Orthodox faith (and was ordained there) when it looked like the Anglican Church was going to ordain women. He already had a beard but it was not very remarkable. A younger man who was a sort of disciple of his also converted and was ordained. He used to be clean-shaven, but he grew a truly enormous beard. He could have posed for Edward Lear’s “There was an old man with a beard”.

  82. I think the Orthodox priests have to have a beard. They have to be married too, according to my Russian Orthodox informant.

  83. Nope. From here: “Married men may become priests in Eastern Orthodoxy and the Eastern Catholic Churches but in neither case may they marry after ordination, even if they become widowed. It is also important to note that candidates for the episcopacy are only chosen from among the celibate.”

  84. David Marjanović says:

    David: I am not sure what you mean by “the voiceless approximant”: I know what the terms mean, but not what the sound itself is: a less forceful, barely consonantal approximation of the Welsh, etc sound? Is there an IPA symbol for it?

    The sound, I suppose, is just a whispered [l], with the voice onset coming after it. There is no separate IPA symbol, instead you have to combine l with the “voiceless” diacritic (the under-ring) and arrive at l̥ (…which your browser most likely won’t display).

  85. and arrive at l̥ (…which your browser most likely won’t display).
    Score one for Firefox 3 then – it did display it, even if my presbyopic eyes forced me to magnify the screen several times to see it.

  86. joseph palmer says:

    But it is Language Hat who is browbeating others with irrelevant history. To most people, now, dropping final g’s is informal, slangy style, and they object to it in as far as they object to informal style in a particular context. And just when and where are we allowed to do that? It isn’t clear, but it isn’t never, and lily-white linguists tend to do it a good deal when it counts for most, in the classroom, in debate, at interview etc

  87. Joseph Palmer was also an Abolitionist and a Temperance freak. And he snubbed the “dart” design of paper airplane in favor of those that would have “lift”. I ask you what kind of person would do a thing like that.

  88. marie-lucie says:

    JP: it is Language Hat who is browbeating others with irrelevant history
    LH is not browbeating me or anyone else that I can think of. History may be irrelevant but that doesn’t mean that it is uninteresting. Everyone to their tastes and interests.
    lily-white linguists tend to do it
    Just what do you mean?

  89. Joseph Palmer is right in one sense.
    Diachronically (if I may use that term here), LH is right to point out that -in’ is a form with a respectable historical background that has unfairly been stigmatised as “incorrect” or (at best) “informal”.
    Synchronically speaking, Joseph Palmer is correct. No matter what the historical background, the current situation is that -ing is standard in written and careful spoken English; -in’ is informal in speech and only used in written English specifically in order to represent that speech style.

  90. Joseph Palmer was a transcendentalist and a butcher. As far as I can see, he is only significant for the enormous, provocative beard that caused four men to set about him and try and shave it off. He was imprisoned for assault (not for “defending his right to have a beard”, as I read at alcott.net). He lived at Bronson Alcott’s Fruitlands commune. Bronson, father of Louisa May, was the one mentioned in Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club (p. 84) as having referred to Henry James Sr., to his face, as “damaged goods”:

    He intended the metaphore spiritually, but it was a sharp thing to say to a man with a wooden leg.

    As you might expect, in his later years Joseph Palmer was sometimes visited by Emerson.
    (Sorry for the lack of links etc.)

  91. As you might expect, in his later years Joseph Palmer was sometimes visited by Emerson.
    Would that be an ancestor of our John?

  92. And he snubbed the “dart” design of paper airplane in favor of those that would have “lift”.
    Are we talking about the same fiend here?
    One word in favour of Joseph Palmer in his modern paper-plane designer incarnation: I used to make planes almost exactly as he described (PL-). They did fly better like that, too.

  93. All Joseph Palmers are the same. There is but one Joseph Palmer, and he abideth forever.
    Synchronically speaking, Joseph Palmer is correct. No matter what the historical background, the current situation is that -ing is standard in written and careful spoken English; -in’ is informal in speech and only used in written English specifically in order to represent that speech style.
    Yes and no. The g-less form is an alternate form, like EE-conomics versus EH-conomics, and the only reason it is avoided in “written and careful spoken English” is the sneers of the Joseph Palmers of this world. And the historical background is very relevant, because the Joseph Palmers of this world allege that the g-less form is bad because it is a degenerate form, that the historically correct one has “the g.” (Let us ignore the phonetic facts for the moment, because it’s easier to discuss in the usual incorrect terms.) Once we accept that it is “pronouncing the g” that is the innovation, on what does the condemnation rest? To say that “dropping the g” is inferior because inferior people do it, and the reason they are inferior is that they “drop the g,” is so stupid a piece of circular reasoning one would have to be a very brazen Joseph Palmer indeed to espouse it.

  94. One would have to be a little bit brazen to wear a beard like that full-time.

  95. Joseph Palmer was a transcendentalist and a butcher.
    Well, former-butcher. The Fruitlanders were vegetarians. Palmer bought the place after the community failed; it’s a museum now, with a reconstructed farmhouse.
    have to be a little bit brazen
    You also need the right genes. Several decades (at the SO’s request) haven’t produced anything this full. (Also note Elihu Burritt from the same blurb.)

  96. Sequence Ontology? I agree, you can draw anything you like on a gravestone, I don’t believe that beard.
    According to Wiki, Elihu Burritt ‘published over 37 books’ , but he sounds interesting and deserves a better article. I hadn’t heard of him before.

  97. They did fly better like that, too.
    What is “better”? Doesn’t speed count? And what about extremely short flight paths, like from my computer to the window? And what if it’s a substitute for cursing, if you’re in a place where ladylike behaviour is necessary? You want a paper airplane you can fire right in there.

  98. Some here at LH may relate to this; well, except for the blacksmithing part.
    Dravidian connection.

  99. Good lord, that Elihu Burritt was quite a fellow. Check out those links, people. They will make you feel like a slacker.

  100. Well, I am a slacker; but on the other hand he was only 35. I don’t really understand why he was so preoccupied with the post office. If I were a historian I would be writing about these people, because I think their aspirations are quite similar to people’s today.

  101. Andrej Bjelakovic says:

    I know this is totally off-topic, and who knows if anyone will see it considering that this thread is already oldish, but I’ve got to ask – what’s the deal with the ‘I can’t help but’+ bare infinitive? Is it frowned upon only by some fuddy-duddy prescriptivist or is it generally considered non-standard?

  102. bathrobe says:

    I can’t help but wonder why you are asking this question, because it seems fine by me!

  103. marie-lucie says:

    I never heard that this construction was frowned upon either. Perhaps what is frowned upon is a garbled or misinterpreted version of it, found in a specific context?

  104. It’s complicated. I’ll do a post on it.

  105. joseph palmer says:

    I don’t know about all these Joseph Palmers (I wish I had a more exotic name and could be a real academic, sigh) but for myself I don’t sneer to much at people who drop “g” sounds. I do think, however, that we should sneer at self-righteous people who object to history being used in defence of prescriptivism, and yet will use the same kind of history as a proof that a prescriptive instinct is “wrong”.
    Language Hat’s comment about writing shows that he is utterly unable to think clearly about these issues. Most linguists are educators, and are involved in slapping down the usage of non-standard forms in written work. They would also reject non-standard forms from apllicants looking for jobs in the linguistics department. They punish non-standard where it counts most. And when I suggested to the great G.Pullum recently that slapping down a mix of US and British styles in written work, for example, was really a very extreme and misguided kind of prescriptivism, avid readers of Language Log may recall that he said that he thought it was just fine and dandy.
    I suppose he would be just fine with a “thinkin” or two in an academic essay though, right?

  106. jamessal says:

    I do think, however, that we should sneer at self-righteous people who object to history being used in defence of prescriptivism, and yet will use the same kind of history as a proof that a prescriptive instinct is “wrong”.
    It shouldn’t even need saying that many prescripivist arguments assume a pristine linguistic past, and that this delusion is punctured with much sweet irony by the sort of history Hat discussed in his post. That’s the problem with the internet, though: this compulsion often overcomes our better instincts to ignore, ignore, ignore.

  107. Noetica says:

    On locating the shift from -ende to -ing in late OE or early ME (now that I am returned to where my books are), I find no reference to it in any of my OE resources. But I find this for ME, in the very handy Origins and development of the English language (Pyles and Algeo, 3rd edition 1982, p. 163):

    The ending of the present participle varied from dialect to dialect, with -and(e) in the North, -ende, -ing(e) in the Midlands, and -inde, -ing(e) in the South. The -ing ending, which has prevailed in Modern English, is from the old verbal noun ending -ung, …

    Confirming much that has been said above, especially by Andrej Bjelakovic.
    Recently I listened to a long interview (on Australian ABC, Radio National) with a British musician whose English sounded like cultivated mid-Atlantic except for absolutely uniform use of /in/ instead of /iŋ/, for participial -ing. I can’t immediately point to the mp3 of the interview, but I might when I remember which program it was on.

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