On Teaching Useless Grammar.

Geoff Pullum at Lingua Franca describes an appalling situation:

A private English tutor in Japan, whom I’ll call Yuki, wrote to me recently to ask about the underlined relative clauses in sentences like these, which were used in actual examination questions and later published in high-school textbooks [I have replaced underlines by italics — LH]:

1. She said she didn’t like the film, which opinion surprised everyone.
2. The men wore kilts, which clothing I thought very interesting. […]

The examples feature a nonrestrictive relative clause introduced by which plus a head noun. This is extremely unusual — nonexistent in conversation, vanishingly rare in modern sources.

Yuki has to help students with such material but reports that the sentences are rejected by native English speakers, who say that as far as they can remember, they have never heard or seen such sentences before.

Yet Japanese students are not just drilled on such sentences, they are examined on them in crucial university admission tests.

I could understand it better if it involved some obscure language for which it is hard to get contemporary information, but English! Read the newspapers, talk to people, get a clue! I feel bad for all the students who have to put precious time and effort into memorizing this crap, and I shake my cane at the imbeciles who put them through it.

Comments

  1. David Eddyshaw says:

    Much as I would like to pile in and condemn these examples on grounds of general dislike of stupid non-evidence-based pseudogrammar, I have (reluctantly) to report that I find them perfectly OK, and can well imagine myself perpetrating them in writing, if not speech.

    My first guess would have been that this is one of those UK/US things, except that GP is, of course, UKanian.

    Also, kilts are interesting. I shall resist the temptation to say more.

  2. Stu Clayton says:

    “An opinion which surprised everyone.”

    “A kind of clothing which I thought very interesting.”

    Anything else is just weird English, which opinion will not surprise anyone. Tolerance here would be intolerable.

  3. J.W. Brewer says:

    Until 10 years ago this could perhaps have been justified as preparing the Japanese students to make small talk with David Foster Wallace, should they ever bump into him at a cocktail party. But not so since he died, which death may have materially reduced the percentage of living speakers of AmEng prone to use the construction.

  4. David Eddyshaw says:

    Come to think of it, the construction may be a Latinism (as JWB sorta-implies): Latin pretty consistently uses relative pronouns like this.

    In which case, the fact that I don’t find it peculiar is perhaps attributable to my having had Latin beaten into me at an early age in Glasgow. Again, I suppress all further reference to kilts.

  5. David Marjanović says:

    Read the newspapers, talk to people, get a clue!

    Language teaching routinely aims at the most literary style available, often overshooting that target and making students uselessly familiar with simply outdated constructions or words. You can’t learn the most literary style by reading newspapers, let alone talking to people, so that’s not what such textbook authors do.

    I wasn’t taught such sentences, though. I’ve encountered them, but very rarely; I might write them on rare occasions, but only if the noun after which is new information – which it’s not in the two examples.

  6. The herumphulent Squiffy-Marie of Vonbladetania says:

    I would adjust as “which such clauses I find totally unacceptable” and I am an ex-native speaker. Email me as which for rates.

  7. It’s a construction that reminds me of 19th century British writers. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it used in speech by someone like William F. Buckley.

    From time to time I have even encountered “the which”.

    I suspect it depends on the purpose for which English is being taught. Is it an arbitrarily complex useless topic the mastery of which is required to gain access to an elite education, like Latin and Greek at the height of the British Empire? (Like the boys in Kipling’s Stalky & Co. They were basically being trained to enter the military. They would have been better off learning Persian or Hindi than Latin.) Or requiring aspiring computer programmers to pass a class in chemistry, which I have seen at some American universities.

    It’s more of a sorting system than a practical skill.

    I spent three years studying Greek, and at one time I could read Herodotus in the original, but it was totally useless when I went down to Greektown. (Well, at least I could the signs.) I found it interesting, but maybe it would have been just as interesting to learn a language that I could use to speak to people.

  8. marie-lucie says:

    I agree with David Eddyshaw:

    Much as I would like to pile in and condemn these examples on grounds of general dislike of stupid non-evidence-based pseudogrammar, I have (reluctantly) to report that I find them perfectly OK, and can well imagine myself perpetrating them in writing, if not speech.

    I don’t remember being drilled in these constructions, but I encountered them in English literature (perhaps also criticism of such) and did not have problems with them – of course, this was all passive learning, but I may have actually used a few of them when writing essays in English-language literature(s).

    However, I agree that forcing Japanese students to practice actually using the construction is overkill.

  9. @maidhc: Anybody getting a bachelor of science degree in America needs a semester of college-level chemistry. They must also have two semesters of physics, two of calculus. Other general science requirements vary from school to school; nowadays, they might require biology, programing, or statistics.

  10. marie-lucie says:

    maidhc: I suspect it depends on the purpose for which English is being taught. Is it an arbitrarily complex useless topic the mastery of which is required to gain access to an elite education, like Latin and Greek at the height of the British Empire? (Like the boys in Kipling’s Stalky & Co. They were basically being trained to enter the military.

    I had instruction in Latin for 8 or 9 years but cannot read it fluently. Not too long ago it occurred to me that after the first year (in which we learned the major declensions and conjugations in simple sentences), we started to read texts which were almost entirely concerned with military and politico-judicial matters. In the second year we read chapters composed several centuries ago by a teacher-priest by the name of Lhomond, who wrote simplified versions of episodes from Latin history, De Viris Illustribus, usually referred to by generations of students as le De Viris. The next year we read from Cesar’s De Bello Gallico, obviously a must for French students. In order to understand what was going on in the various battles and sieges we had to reproduce little diagrams of the position of the armies before and after. Later we read bits and pieces of Cicero, Tacitus, Suetonius, etc and finally some poetry, mostly Virgil. The program had probably not changed in two or three centuries, as it was obviously designed for upper-class boys.

    When it was time to choose between Ancient Greek and German (at that time the only possibilities to be added after two years of Latin and English), my mother consulted the Latin teacher who told her something like “Your daughter is doing well in Latin because she has a very logical mind, but for Greek you need imagination and she does not have any”. If I had had a choice, I would gladly have studied both! but I was glad to be studying a language that was actually spoken. Unfortunately our German teacher, a native speaker of Alsatian, had no idea of the difficulties of German for French students, and I never had the opportunity to overcome this initial handicap. I think the Greek class would have been a better choice, in spite of my lack of imagination.

  11. marie-lucie says:

    Cesar’s De Bello Gallico

    … in which we learned how Cesar’s armies trounced the Gauls. Later, the history program would describe how the now Romanized Gauls were conquered for good by the Franks and other assorted Germans. No wonder that the “upper-class boys” ended up thinking that the Gauls’ descendants were the still lowly peasants while they, the nobility, were the proud descendants of the conquering Franks. No wonder either that when the state instituted free public education (up to a certain level), history classes emphasized Nos ancêtres les Gaulois.

  12. I encountered them in English literature

    And they should be taught in classes for the (relatively few) students who want/need an intensive grounding in all details of traditional literary English, though even there they are a marginal phenomenon that might be introduced in passing just so people will not be surprised to encounter them. To force them on anyone who studies English in general, especially when passing such tests is a necessity to get into a decent university, is criminal insanity. I’m sorry, I can’t look upon this with sang-froid.

  13. Allan from Iowa says:

    I’ve encountered these forms in written English, but only in much more complex sentences with a lot of meandering between the referent and “which”, so that the writer evidently thought it helpful to insert the noun to remind us which “which” they were referring to.

  14. As a lawyer, I run into this construction from time to time in legal memos and the like. I don’t use it myself and I have condescending feelings about it. But it’s perfectly intelligible and not being a hard-line prescriptivist I really have no grounds to oppose its use.

  15. There are two major criminal abuses of “English grammar” in our time.

    One is prescriptivism, which uses so-called grammar to bludgeon people into understanding that the way they speak English is “wrong”.

    The other is using English grammar as a means of examining foreign learners on their ability to memorise and apply pointless rules, often in “ungrammatical sentences” that native speakers find perfectly acceptable, or in “grammatical sentences” that native speakers find either wrong or incomprehensible.

    The UN charter of Human Rights should contain provision to protect innocent people from these abuses.

  16. I’ve encountered native Japanese speakers who believe that their English is better than the English of Americans, on the basis of the J-speakers’ having studied these types of constructions. As a particularly egregious example, a student preparing for a simultaneous interpreter qualification told me one of the operating principles of the school was”never trust a native speaker”.

  17. “They were basically being trained to enter the military. They would have been better off learning Persian or Hindi than Latin”

    And they would have learned those languages too, later. Promotion in the Army of India and the Indian Civil Service was impossible without a good grasp of at least Hindi, and (depending on circumstance) other languages as well. You could not promote as a Gurkha officer without speaking Gurkhali.

  18. David Marjanović says:

    Or requiring aspiring computer programmers to pass a class in chemistry, which I have seen at some American universities.

    Not having received a general higher education in school, Americans catch up with this after they enter university. This is why they generally “major” in a subject, “minor” in another subject, and take introductory courses in a lot more instead of just studying one subject and its immediate prerequisites, and why they still get doctorates in “philosophy” instead of “natural sciences” for example.

  19. Majority of English speakers today are not native speakers.

    I suggest we go with the majority and ignore natives

  20. They would have been better off learning Persian or Hindi than Latin

    But then Napier couldn’t have sent his superiors the punned message Peccavi for “I have Sindh”. Can anyone imagine a general being able to do that nowadays? Far better that they learnt Latin.

  21. But it’s perfectly intelligible

    It’s intelligible to you, because you’re a lawyer and run into the construction from time to time. Surely you see that your personal experience, which is not that of most people, is irrelevant here. It’s as if I were to think it was fine for people to have to pass a test in Old Irish to advance in the world because hey, I had to study it in grad school. I assure you that the average native speaker of English today is no more familiar with this construction than with Old Irish.

  22. Peccavi was Catherine Winkworth, better known for German translation.

  23. “Never ask a native speaker” is a bit radical, but it is true that many a native speaker are not very good in formal written register, ranging from complete unfamiliarity to nervous cluelessness.

  24. Actually, in 1934 the Australian government tried to use a dictation in Scots Gaelic to exclude Egon Kisch, a Jewish Communist and anti-war activist of Czech origin, from entering Australia. They did so under the Immigration Restriction Act (the foundation of the ‘White Australia Policy’) which provided that “any person who (…) when an officer dictates to him not less than fifty words in any prescribed language, fails to write them out in that language in the presence of the officer” would not be admitted.

    The law was originally designed to keep Asians out of Australia by giving them a dictation test in a European language. Kisch was fluent in a number of European languages but refused to participate when asked to write the Lord’s Prayer in Scottish Gaelic, thus failing the test.

    The dictation test was used again in 1936 to exclude Mabel Freer, a white British woman born in India, who was confronted with a test in Italian. The test was not abolished until 1958.

    See The attempted exclusion of Egon Kisch from Australia.

  25. I spent three years studying Greek, and at one time I could read Herodotus in the original, but it was totally useless when I went down to Greektown. (Well, at least I could the signs.) I found it interesting, but maybe it would have been just as interesting to learn a language that I could use to speak to people.

    I’m reminded of the (probably apocryphal) story of the professor who got to the ferry in time by asking a local something along the lines of “Pardon me, kind sir, could you direct me to the nearest trireme?”

  26. As others have described, I do recognise this construction. But I’ve no idea where from: I can’t think of any literature or professional material I’d have come across. (I did a few years of Latin at school, but I doubt I got advanced enough for such a construction.)

    Given I’ve never come across it in the wild (not recently), I can only agree that inflicting it on EFL learners must be out of some sort of malice. Couldn’t the same be said of English spelling — inflicted on all of us?

    I use the construction myself for a very specific purpose: using the noun following which to undermine the allegation/claim in the main clause: Japanese students of English are taught this construction, which nonsense goes to show never trust writers of textbooks.

  27. Warren Cowgill, who taught me Indo-European in the early ’70s, used to tell about how he visited Greece and tried to get octopus by asking for ὀκτώπους, which merely confused people; he eventually learned the modern word was χταπόδι and enjoyed figuring out the development of the form.

  28. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I’m with David Eddyshaw and Marie-Lucie on this. Both sentences sound quite ordinary to me.

  29. You can ask a native speaker whether a given sentence sounds right or wrong, or how they might phrase it better.

    You can’t ask a native speaker why it’s right or wrong unless they have some knowledge of linguistics. If you’re lucky, they’ll answer “I dunno” or “it just is”. Otherwise, if you’re unlucky, they’ll give you some well-intentioned amateur guess theory.

  30. Both sentences sound quite ordinary to me.

    Oh, tush: they are as Pullum quotes from CGEL “quite rare and formal, verging on the archaic”.

    What are you reading regularly in which they would be “ordinary”? I suggest the construction is a lot less common in contemporary English than “whom”. (I suppose the poor Japanese students have that inflicted on them, too.)

  31. Marja Erwin says:

    I don’t know where you’re writing from, but in the States, “imbecile” is a slur associated with forced sterilization. See its use in Buck v. Bell.

  32. Oh, tush

    I heartily concur.

    I don’t know where you’re writing from, but in the States, “imbecile” is a slur associated with forced sterilization. See its use in Buck v. Bell.

    Again, tush. I am a Statesian and while I am vaguely aware of that association, it is so far from being directly linked to the word that I would have had to think a long time before coming up with it. “Imbecile” is simply an insulting term for “a person who is considered foolish or stupid” (to quote the AHD). This is the kind of thing that gives political correctness a bad name.

  33. Stu Clayton says:

    PC demands voluntary mental sterilization. Imbecility is here a goal rather than a pretext.

  34. Marja Erwin says:

    I am neurologically disabled. I have a strobe sensitivity, so I would be a target for earlier forced sterilization campaigns, and I am considered acceptable collateral damage for today’s safety standards.

    So the underlying attitude exposes me to a lot of danger, vomiting, and getting hit by cars.

  35. Three comments about “imbeciles” are enough.

  36. I am neurologically disabled. I have a strobe sensitivity, so I would be a target for earlier forced sterilization campaigns, and I am considered acceptable collateral damage for today’s safety standards.

    I’m very sorry to hear that, but I’m not sure what it has to do with English usage. I’m not being snarky: I’m genuinely sorry to hear of your situation, and I genuinely don’t see what its relevance is to my use of a common word that I can’t see being applied to you.

  37. “Never trust a native speaker”

    Years ago I read that in London, Oscar Wilde was thought to speak French appallingly; in Paris, he was praised for his naturalness.

    In other words, he spoke French like a Frenchman, not like an English toff. I have read that in Japan, Japanese who live abroad (often on business postings) and “go native” are distrusted when they return to Japan, because they return with foreign attitudes. I suspect the same was true in imperial England.

  38. < in the States imbecile is a word associated with forced sterilization.

    In what States? None I've ever lived in.

    For that matter, I use the States as a shibboleth for recognizing someone who doesnt or no longer speaks a pure American dialect, since the States is a very rare usage here. In the US is the preferred usage anywhere I've lived.

    But then I’m a native speaker, so no one should trust me.

  39. I’ll add that when Giordano Bruno visited England, he was ridiculed for speaking Latin with an Italian accent.

  40. > You can ask a native speaker whether a given sentence sounds right or wrong

    Not even this, unless you’ve set up a good way for them to “reveal their preferences”. Otherwise many native speakers will remember some prescriptive rule and be unable to access their native skill consciously. I wonder how many times I’ve had conversations along the lines of: them: “I think this is wrong”, me: “Ok, but does it sound right? Does it feel right?”

  41. David Marjanović says:

    Three comments about “imbeciles” are enough.

    Ouch.

  42. Stu Clayton says:

    I suggest using “I-word” instead. This is a tried-and-true avoidance mechanism that defeats accusations as well as sympathy scams. Another one is scare quotes. Then there’s hardly enough left over to shake a stick at, much less a cane.

    But there are only 26 letters. What will happen when they’re all used up ? One wee worry is that the word “word” is a lexical fixpoint, so “the W-word” won’t work.

  43. I’m with David Eddyshaw, Marie-Lucie and Athel Cornish-Bowden on this. Both sentences sound ordinary.

    And whom? Surely you’re just poking the bears. Even my dogs use whom.

  44. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Oscar Wilde was thought to speak French appallingly; in Paris, he was praised for his naturalness.

    In other words, he spoke French like a Frenchman, not like an English toff.

    I was brought up to believe that the Queen spoke French like a Frenchwoman (it was one of my mother’s articles of faith). Now that I’ve heard her French, and lots of Frenchwomen’s French, I know that she speaks like an English toff. On the other hand Tony Blair’s French sounds very authentic to my English ears.

    As for “whom”, I say it after a preposition, not usually otherwise.

  45. Both sentences sound ordinary.

    To me, they sound a little stilted, but only because the referent nouns are so clearly implied from context. Which is to say, specifying opinion and clothing adds no new information and is borderline redundant. It’s not ungrammatical, but it’s stylistically questionable.

    However, LH’s “I assure you that the average native speaker of English today is no more familiar with this construction than with Old Irish” is either hyperbole or dialect bias. In a longer sentence, with intervening prepositional phrases or clauses muddying the waters, I doubt many native speakers would have a problem with a which + noun construction in written English: “I’d bought a new pair of sunglasses from a blind old man on a beach in Zanzibar, which sunglasses I’d managed to lose by the time I reached Dar es Salaam.” (I happen to be traveling in Tanzania.)

    This is not to say that I think studying such low-frequency constructions is at all useful for actually learning English. However, in my long and checkered career, I’ve spent a certain amount of time preparing ESL/EFL university students to maximize their scores on standardized English exams, so I understand the rationale for teaching them, though at that point one is mostly teaching test-taking skills, not language.

  46. I don’t like ‘in the States’ particularly except in Norwegian, which language somehow makes i Statene less of a mouthful than i USA would (there’s no saving of syllables).

  47. David Marjanović says:

    “I’d bought a new pair of sunglasses from a blind old man on a beach in Zanzibar, which sunglasses I’d managed to lose by the time I reached Dar es Salaam.”

    This, on the other hand, I’ve never encountered and find very strange.

  48. she speaks like an English toff

    Which she is. This has come up before; there’s nothing odder than a huge discrepancy in someone’s persona in different languages (a young Cockney lad I knew in London turned out to speak exquisite queen’s Danish, which language he’d acquired in quite different circs than his English).

  49. However, LH’s “I assure you that the average native speaker of English today is no more familiar with this construction than with Old Irish” is either hyperbole or dialect bias.

    I do love my hyperbole!

    In a longer sentence, with intervening prepositional phrases or clauses muddying the waters, I doubt many native speakers would have a problem with a which + noun construction in written English: “I’d bought a new pair of sunglasses from a blind old man on a beach in Zanzibar, which sunglasses I’d managed to lose by the time I reached Dar es Salaam.”

    Well, I’m not sure what you mean by “have a problem with.” If you mean they wouldn’t clutch their chest and shriek “What is that?? It isn’t the English I know and love! Get thee hence!” I imagine you’re right. If, on the other hand, you’re suggesting that most native speakers are capable of producing such a construction (which is what it means for something to be part of one’s dialect), then I’m quite sure you’re wrong.

  50. I mean, it’s something that used to be a part of standard English (a century ago? two?) but isn’t any more. A fair number of speakers will recognize it because they’ve run into it in their reading, but that does not in any sense mean that it is part of their dialect. And if they haven’t run into it in their reading, I’m pretty sure they’ll just think it’s wrong.

  51. I read straight through AJP Crown’s latest without at first noticing that he was using this disputed form, so I suspect that (a) I should perk up and pull myself together and (b) it’s perhaps not quite such a vanishingly rare form as some might suppose. Of course, however, the Japanese shouldn’t be beaten about the head with it.

  52. Well, he was using it with malice aforethought. I seriously doubt he uses it in his everyday speech; if he does, I’ll withdraw my imperious claims about terminal desuetude.

  53. Thanks, Picky, but Language (Witch Language?) is right. Put it this way, I’d be pretty surprised if my twenty-something daughter used it in a sentence. I like it for nostalgic (I’m guessing 19C up to 1950s?) reasons. Also it works well stylistically in comparisons: I take care of a setter and a miniature poodle, which lapdog etc…

    And I’ve no problem with Japanese students learning this construction thoroughly. Perhaps they’ll bring it back into contemporary use, say via those enormous Nikon and Canon camera instruction manuals.

  54. Yes, yes – *but I didn’t notice it* at first. So perhaps I’m suffering from terminal desuetude (not unlikely) and/or it is unremarkable to me as a form. Well, OK, as a written form, anyway. (Of course, I am indeed 19C to 1950s, or somewhere in that range, so that may account for it.)

  55. Yes, I agree. I probably wouldn’t notice it if you used it, Picks. (I’m easily swayed.)

  56. marie-lucie says:

    I had not noticed it either, before I read Picky’s comment! But then I find such constructions unremarkable, even if not exactly “ordinary”.

  57. marie-lucie says:

    Athel: I was brought up to believe that the Queen spoke French like a Frenchwoman (it was one of my mother’s articles of faith). Now that I’ve heard her French, and lots of Frenchwomen’s French, I know that she speaks like an English toff. On the other hand Tony Blair’s French sounds very authentic to my English ears.

    I think there are two factors here: class and age.

    The Queen is almost a hundred years old, and she never went to a school. She probably learned French in her childhood and youth from a French governess or tutor who spoke a 100-plus-year-old upper-class type of French. I can’t say more because I don’t think I have ever heard her speak French. (The Queen goes – or at least used to go – to France at least once a year, unofficially, to buy horses at a state stud-farm in Normandy – she probably speaks French on those occasions at least, as well as when she entertains French-speaking visitors).

    I have no idea how Blair speaks French, but he cannot have learned the language under the same circumstances, and in any case he is much younger. He probably learned it in school and also had a chance to go to France and actually communicate with ordinary speakers, especially of his own age. Exchanges between French and English school kids, singly or whole classes at a time, are very popular in both countries. (At least from parents’ point of view – young English teenagers arriving in large groups are not so popular in French coastal resorts – English people in general think French ones are “liberated”, so they think they can shed the restraint allegedly typical of the English).

  58. David Eddyshaw says:

    I used it too, admittedly lightly disguised. I am encouraged to feel that I may not after all be two hundred years old by the fact that nobody at all has remarked on this.

  59. Where was that? It must have been fairly heavily disguised; I can’t find it even with that prompting. Or was it in another thread?

  60. David Eddyshaw says:

    The Queen speaking good French in public would probably be regarded by the ever-more-insular islanders as interfering in politics, something which she has always commendably eschewed.

    Tony Blair went to Fettes. Although this establishment is commonly known as “Fetish” by the more plebeian inhabitants of Edinburgh (again, nothing to do with kilts), it is likely that he was taught French at school more effectively than usual for the UK. His abilities in this regard are, however, doubtless regarded by the English as simply further evidence of his essential untrustworthiness.

  61. David Eddyshaw says:

    Where was that?

    In my second comment: “In which case …”

  62. they think they can shed the restraint allegedly typical of the English

    Lord Peter Wimsey, like his creator and the Queen, was fluent in French as a result of French governesses. From Dorothy Sayers’s first novel, Whose Body? (1923) (emphasis added):

    On the sofa was an elderly woman of modest appearance, with a young girl. The girl seemed listless and wretched; the woman’s look showed deep affection, and anxiety tempered with a timid hope. Close beside Lord Peter was another younger woman, with a little girl, and Lord Peter noticed in both of them the broad cheekbones and beautiful grey, slanting eyes of the Slav. The child, moving restlessly about, trod on Lord Peter’s patent-leather toe, and the mother admonished her in French before turning to apologise to Lord Peter.

    “Mais je vous en prie, madame,” said the young man, “it is nothing.”

    “She is nervous, pauvre petite,” said the young woman.

    “You are seeking advice for her?”

    “Yes. He is wonderful, the doctor. Figure to yourself, monsieur, she cannot forget, poor child, the things she has seen.” She leaned nearer, so that the child might not hear. “We have escaped—from starving Russia—six months ago. I dare not tell you—she has such quick ears, and then, the cries, the tremblings, the convulsions—they all begin again. We were skeletons when we arrived—mon Dieu!—but that is better now. See, she is thin, but she is not starved. She would be fatter but for the nerves that keep her from eating. We who are older, we forget—enfin, on apprend à ne pas y penser—but these children! When one is young, monsieur, tout ça impressionne trop.”

    Lord Peter, escaping from the thraldom of British good form, expressed himself in that language in which sympathy is not condemned to mutism.

    “But she is much better, much better,” said the mother proudly, “the great doctor, he does marvels.”

    “C’est un homme précieux,” said Lord Peter.

    “Ah, monsieur, c’est un saint qui opère des miracles! Nous prions pour lui, Natasha et moi, tous les jours. N’est-ce pas, chérie? And consider, monsieur, that he does it all, ce grand homme, cet homme illustre, for nothing at all. When we come here, we have not even the clothes upon our backs—we are ruined, famished. Et avec ça que nous sommes de bonne famille—mais hélas! monsieur, en Russie, comme vous savez, ça ne vous vaut que des insultes—des atrocités. Enfin! the great Sir Julian sees us, he says—’Madame, your little girl is very interesting to me. Say no more. I cure her for nothing—pour ses beaux yeux,’ a-t-il ajouté en riant. Ah, monsieur, c’est un saint, un véritable saint! and Natasha is much, much better.”

    “Madame, je vous en félicite.”

    “And you, monsieur? You are young, well, strong—you also suffer? Is it still the war, perhaps?”

    “A little remains of shell-shock,” said Lord Peter.

    Needless to say the “véritable saint” is nothing of the sort: he means exactly what he says.

  63. Following up on Bloix: In the US, lawyers use this constructiuon all the time, and to my knowledge, nobody else does. I can’t resist reprinting the following discussion from D. Robert White, The Official Lawyer’s Handbook (1983). (Full disclosure: I’m a law professor, and I use this construction.)

    Take the following sentence that might appear in a brief relating to a “morals” prosecution:

    “Instead of building an ordinary hotel, the Board of Trustees decided to set up a brothel, which is the subject of the present action.”

    This sentence would distress most lawyers, not because a sober person couldn’t follow it, but because of the pronoun “which” (in the fifth line).

    The average lawyer would fear that a reader might be confused: does “which” refer to the brothel? To the Board of Trustees? To the decision to go for the brothel over the hotel? To the morality of it all?

    This mere hint of a possibility of confusion would torture the lawyer’s conscience. The same craving for order that led him to color-code his notes in law school would lead him to re-write the above sentence as follows:

    “Instead of building an ordinary hotel, the Board of Trustees decided to set up a brothel, which brothel is the subject of the present action.”

    The additional word adds nothing but length to the sentence. It distracts the reader by its unnatural placement.

    But a lawyer would always say which brothel, just as he would always say which contract, which court, or which anything else he could think of. The extra word satisfies his infancy based urge to keep things tidy. With it he’ll sleep easier tonight, gurgling and cooing, at peace with the world.

  64. In my second comment: “In which case …”

    But that’s not the same construction at all!

    In the US, lawyers use this construction all the time, and to my knowledge, nobody else does.

    Ah, very interesting! In that case, I amend my cane-waving manifesto to say that it is thoroughly obsolete except in the peculiar dialect of lawyers.

  65. David Marjanović says:

    I’ve heard the Queen speak French on TV – not for long enough (by far) to tell if it sounds old-fashioned or stilted, but for long enough that I can say she doesn’t have an English accent.

    “Instead of building an ordinary hotel, the Board of Trustees decided to set up a brothel, which brothel is the subject of the present action.”

    So why not simply:

    a brothel, and this brothel is the subject of the present action.
    a brothel; this brothel is the subject of the present action.
    a brothel. This brothel is the subject of the present action.

  66. @David Eddyshaw: Using which as a relative pronoun after a preposition and using it to introduce a nonrestrictive clause are different constructions. It is only after the latter which that repetition of the antecedent is archaic.

    I personally tend to use certainly archaic constructions in my writing, and sometimes even in speech. However, the construction at issue here is not one that I think I would ever use. While I would not label any if the examples that have been quoted as wrong, exactly, they all seem like extremely bad style. I can see a place for using the construction in legal writing, where absolute clarity is more important than style, but that’s probably about it.

  67. J.W. Brewer says:

    It is often good practice even in the lawyers’ variety of AmEng to split overly long sentences into multiple shorter sentences, to make ones prose more user-friendly for its intended readership. I am (usually …) grateful when my colleagues do this to my drafts when I have failed to sufficiently clean them up in that regard myself. If you have produced in first draft a sentence reading “blah blah blah NOUN, which NOUN blah blah blah,” that may be a good signal that you want to break that into smaller sentences to eliminate the need for the “comma which NOUN” construction. That doesn’t mean the construction is ungrammatical, of course, although it’s consistent with the notion that priorities are probably skewed if Japanese students of ESL are being drilled on it. Unless of course (as noted above) the teachers are rationally “teaching to the test,” since getting a high score on some test of ESL capability is often a greater desieratum than actual fluency, in which case GKP’s ire ought to be redirected to the test-designers and away from the teachers.

  68. David Eddyshaw says:

    Using which as a relative pronoun after a preposition and using it to introduce a nonrestrictive clause are different constructions. It is only after the latter which that repetition of the antecedent is archaic.

    Well, yes; but that’s pretty much my point: in both cases the relative is being used anaphorically, perhaps in imitation of the standard Latin use of qui instead of et is. In both cases, the construction is not really subordinate in terms of discourse structure, despite its formal appearance. As you point out, the construction remains perfectly cromulent, but only with particular restrictions. Trond’s remark about the first law of science seems relevant.

    I’d look up what CGEL says, but am currently in the pitiful position of being stranded in the Côte d’Azur without my books. Life can be hard.

    No dispute about it being questionable stylistically. I think GP’s characterisation of it as hardly grammatical at all is well over the top, though. Anybody might think he was given to rhetorical overstatement …

  69. David Eddyshaw says:

    Also: are you calling my idiolect archaic? Them’s fighting words. And I would remind you that I went to school in Glasgow, where the consensus is that Begbie is a bit soft.

    (I believe this is the rhetorical strategy of Argument by Intimidation.)

  70. It’s highly appropriate that the Queen would speak old-fashioned French, as that’s the language in which her wishes are communicated to her parliamentary subjects: “La Reyne le veult”, etc.

  71. Stephen Carlson says:

    As an ex-lawyer, I can recall and attest seeing that in their (and probably my) prose. Lawyers are trained to be allergic to referential ambiguity. And all of the prose models they have are old opinions, written by long-dead jurists well-grounded in Latin style, and that construction is well-attested there.

  72. ” I use the States as a shibboleth for recognizing someone who doesnt or no longer speaks a pure American dialect”

    I guess the Beach Boys must have spent too long going all round this great big world and seeing all kinds of girls.

  73. J.W. Brewer – you’re right. Instead of “,which brothel is the subject etc.,” much better to write: “The said brothel is the subject etc.” [Joke!]

    But usage has evolved to address the problem of referential ambiguity that Stephen Carlson has identified. Nowadays, we are more likely to write,

    “Instead of building an ordinary hotel, the Board of Trustees (hereafter “Board”) decided to set up a brothel (hereafter “Brothel”). The Brothel is the subject of the present action.” [Also joke! but true!]

  74. @Brett
    > Using which as a relative pronoun after a preposition and using it to introduce a nonrestrictive clause are different constructions. It is only after the latter which that repetition of the antecedent is archaic.

    I think there’s some confusion about the syntax here. Unless I’m mistaken, what’s archaic is the adjectival (e.g. followed by a noun) use of relative “which”, and has nothing to do with whether it’s used after a preposition. I.e.
    * … Norwegian, which language …
    * … Norwegian, in which language …
    are both archaic, whereas the substantival uses
    * … Norwegian, which is a language I speak
    * … Norwegian, in which I have expressed many sentences
    are not.

    “In which case” is a special fossilized case which isn’t archaic despite it’s archaic syntax.

  75. Oops, the asterisks were my attempt to listify, not indicators of grammaticality.

  76. PS- it’s amusing, true, but what non-lawyers often don’t grasp is that lawyers frequently write, not to be understood, but to foreclose the possibility of being mis-understood. We assume that at some point – perhaps next week, perhaps a decade from now – some other lawyer will scrutinize every word we wrote in order to find a way to misread it. We are willing to surrender a great deal of intelligibility in pursuit of the goal of blocking this kind of mis-intelligibility.

  77. Sorry for multiple comments… and this one is off topic.

    @mollymooly:
    >I guess the Beach Boys must have spent too long going all round this great big world and seeing all kinds of girls.

    When I first heard the line “but I couldn’t wait to get back in the States”, I was baffled by the “in”, since I would have thought “to” was the natural choice. I’m wondering what you native speakers think.

  78. @mollymooly: I agree with Ryan that using “the States” to refer to the United States of America seems to suggest that the user is not a native speaker of American English. According to this Google Ngram plot, the phrase “in the States” (with capitalization) is about equally common in British and American English. However, we should expect references to America to be more common in American works, so this does seem to indicate that the using “the States” is relatively more prevalent in Britain (although the difference is probably not sufficient to make for a useful shibboleth). For comparison, “in the U.S.” and “in America” are typically about twice as common in American works as in British ones during the twentieth century.

    The Beach Boy’s 1965 lyric (probably due to Mike Love, who wrote most of the words to Brian Wilson’s music) actually occurred at a low point in the America usage of “the States.” It’s not so surprising that the American “in the States” plot shows a distinct peak marking the Second World War, nor that using “back in the States” gives a much stronger World War II peak, as well as a clearly visible World War I peak. However, the biggest peak in the American “in the States” plot happens during the Civil War, which is something of a surprise. I wonder what phraseology that peak represents?

  79. When I first heard the line “but I couldn’t wait to get back in the States”, I was baffled by the “in”, since I would have thought “to” was the natural choice. I’m wondering what you native speakers think.

    I agree, for me “to” is more natural here.

  80. David Eddyshaw says:

    @dainichi:

    I agree: this is a “God save the king” sort of phenomenon. The syntax is not fundamentally different, but this is a little island of cases which have made it into everyday usage, even though it’s not really a productive construction, at least for these young whippersnapper avocado-eaters born after 1850 who never had a proper classical education and don’t think in Latin like us old folk.

    I don’t think “in which case” is the only example.

  81. David Eddyshaw says:

    I actually still recall the double-take of an American to whom I used the expression “the States” some time in the 1970’s. I was sufficiently surprised by it that I asked him about it; as is the Way of the Native Speaker, he wasn’t able to explain just what was jarring about it.

    I pretty certainly picked up the locution myself from the very same Beach Boys hit in question.

  82. I haven’t spent a whole lot of time with expat Americans and perhaps someone who has will correct me, but in my limited experience expats do say “the States” when they are overseas. I’ll be going back to the States at the end of this tour. Our kids are in school in the States but we’ll bring them out for the summer. You can’t get pho like this in the States. We need to have the part shipped from the States. Is the Assistant Secretary still in Nairobi? No, she left for Geneva last night and she’ll be back in the States on Thursday. Like that.

  83. We certainly used it that way in our Foreign Service family, but that was half a century ago.

    at least for these young whippersnapper avocado-eaters born after 1850 who never had a proper classical education and don’t think in Latin like us old folk.

    vide, domine deus meus, et patienter, ut vides, vide, quomodo diligenter observent filii hominum pacta litterarum et syllabarum accepta a prioribus locutoribus, et a te accepta aeterna pacta perpetuae salutis neglegant: ut qui illa sonorum vetera placita teneat aut doceat, si contra disciplinam grammaticam sine adspiratione primae syllabae hominem dixerit, magis displiceat hominibus, quam si contra tua praecepta hominem oderit, cum sit homo.

  84. In my view, saying the States is the mark of an American abroad, whether tourist, expat, or emigrant. When they return to the U.S., they stop saying it at once. I found myself saying it when I was in Ireland for a month and the Netherlands for six weeks, and at no other times in my life.

  85. @danichi: I disagree with your assessment. In particular, “… Norwegian, which language makes this distinction easy to express,” seems archaic and is not part of my personal idiolect. On the other hand, I could produce something like “… Norwegian, in which language it is easy to express this distinction.” The second one is elevated but seems otherwise unremarkable. Both versions would be improved stylistically by excising the unnecessary “language” though.

  86. @Brett, OK, so it’s not quite as simple as I laid it out. Still, I think it was completely reasonably for @David Eddyshaw to treat “in which case” as being an example of the construction in question. After all, one of the examples in the original article is

    > 6.She favors equal pay, which idea I’m quite opposed to.

    in which sentence “which” is governed by a preposition, although it’s at the end.

  87. J.W. Brewer says:

    “Meanwhile, back in the States.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t69u9J9pQuk

    But it’s consistent with various comments above to note that the POV of that song’s narrator is that of the Expat-American. And indeed “the States” was in active use in my idiolect primarily in that point in my childhood when I was a gaijin in Tokyo. I must have picked up from other gaijin kids who perhaps also discarded it if as and when they returned to the States.

  88. marie-lucie says:

    the States

    This seems to be the usual spoken phrase in English Canada (and les Etats in French Canada).

    …, which noun …

    Many commenters at least mention Latin influence for this obsolescent phrase, but I wonder if the influence is rather from French (still a strong influence on old-fashioned legal English), but the opposite may also be true. Examples:

    a) … un bordel, lequel fait l’objet de …

    In this case lequel is used instead of less formal qui ‘who, which’, because lequel is part of a set of forms which agree in gender and number with its noun, here the masculine singular noun bordel. It would take the other forms laquelle “fem.sg’ and lesquels, lesquelles ‘mass.pl, fem.pl’ with the appropriate nouns, thus avoiding the possible confusion of which noun in a complex sentence the relative pronoun refers to. In less formal writing, or in speech, the all-purpose qui would be used, but its referent could be ambiguous in a more complex sentence, as with English who or which. It seems to me that in French Canada (at least in written documents) the forms in quel are much more common than in France.

    b) … un bordel, lequel bordel ……

    I think I have encountered this type of construction, parallel to the English one, again in written texts. This one of course is even less ambiguous than the noun-less one in a), especially in a long and complex sentence, but in a Canadian text it could be influenced by the English one under discussion.

    Someone suggested ledit (= English ‘said’ in this context) (also with agreement forms ladite, lesdits, lesdites) but a member of the ledit set must be followed by a noun. Also, it would not be directly after the noun+comma sequence, it would be more likely to occur in another sentence, as in

    c) ... un bordel. (…..) ledit bordel ….

    It is possible that lequel + noun occurred as a result of a structural confusion with ledit + noun.

    As usual, Etienne might have more to say about this!

  89. I picked up statene from an American lawyer living in Norway who took to the language like a duck to water, so she probably invented the construction for herself in conversation. But I noticed she does use the original, ‘the States’, too, which I don’t.

    Given a choice, I steer clear of administrative descriptions as names for countries. United Kingdom? I’ll be the judge of that, thank you. I prefer England, Scotland, America… Great Britain? I object to the (I’m sure, intended) double meaning; I prefer non-threatening puns, like Whales. And look what happened to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. ‘Russia’ ‘Ukraine’ etc. aren’t mere boundary lines; they carry additional links (language, geography etc.)

  90. @AJP Crown: Referring to the United States of America primarily as “the United States” rather than “America” has always been a minor peeve of mine. It is certainly established in official usage, but I nonetheless find it annoying. (I have more or less the same reaction to the “United Kingdom” for Britain.) Some people claim that “America” is not an appropriate name, since the United States of America is not coterminous with the geographical region known as America; the nation-state only occupies a relatively small fraction of North America. My retort is that that argument could be used against all sorts of states: Ireland, the state, does not cover all of Ireland, the island; the state of Mongolia is really only Outer Mongolia; Colombia covers even less of the New World than does America; India does not include the Indus River valley, for which the country is named; the Netherlands lost the southern Low Countries in 1830; and Moldova does not contain any of the historical land of Moldavia.

    The best actual argument against “America,” in my view, is that the name can be traced to Amerigo Vespucci’s fraudulent claim to have discovered the American land mass before Columbus.

  91. @ Brett

    That is a very interesting N-gram. It doesn’t accord with my own impressions, for whatever reason. Probably because my impressions are wrong…

    I have also come across Americans who say “(back) in the States” and I thought that was what all Americans said, not realising it was an expat thing!

    Another one is “Stateside”, which hasn’t been mentioned here yet.

  92. I looked at the books that support Brett’s ngram and did not find any references to “the States” as a synonym for the United States. The uses are, e.g., “in the states north of Maryland,” in the States bordering the Mississippi,” “in the States of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia,” etc. Or, alternatively, they are “the powers not assigned to the federal government remain in the States, or in the People,” and other examples like that.

    I did my own ngram and found very, very few 19th C examples and none meaning “the United States,” and many more recent examples like, “Gubernatorial Transition in the States,” “Budgeting in the States.” (The capital S’s are a reflection of the fact that the word is used in a title.) Also many false positives.

    The supposed “British English” sources in Brett’s ngram are all American, e.g., from “Flax for Seed and Fiber in the United States,” 1895:

    The humidity for the foreign stations given is slightly higher than for those of this country, though stations indicating greater humidity in the States named and near which fine flax can undoubtedly be produced could have been used.

  93. Stu Clayton says:

    … ut qui illa sonorum vetera placita teneat aut doceat, si contra disciplinam grammaticam sine adspiratione primae syllabae hominem dixerit, magis displiceat hominibus, quam si contra tua praecepta hominem oderit, cum sit homo.

    The GT translation, garbled as it is, is nevertheless ‘cute as a bug: it leaves off the aspiration-indicating “h” in “human”. Some human editor has stuck a finger in the pie here. There’s no way a machine could have come up with that, because it’s not in the Latin original.

    # .. insomuch that he who of pronunciation is acceptable: a teacher or learner, you have fought with grammar uman being a uman, will offend people, which is against the rules, if a person, he was a man. #

    What occurred here, I speculate, is that GT found that the text I entered is (under a spelling-discrepancy metric) very close to another version in its corporal database, in which “ominem” and “ominibus” appear and have been tagged by a human editor as translating to “uman”. GT then took this other version as a base for its typically garbled rendition into English.

  94. This long-term American expat uses the expression “the States” all the time, as do all my American colleagues. If it’s seldom used in the US itself, I suspect it’s only because there’s little occasion to refer to all fifty states collectively as a noun when you’re in the country. You’d be more like to refer individual states or to regions (New England, the South, etc.).

  95. @ Brett, I agree it’s a minor peeve, tough to get outraged about. Pakistan is as good a country-name invention as one could wish for, although the PAK- acronym origin seems to be less certain than I’d realised (see here). If we don’t like Vespucci, and we don’t, I’d have no problem with Statesistan (“Land of States”?) as an alternative for ‘America’.

    Laowai: there’s little occasion to refer to all fifty states collectively as a noun when you’re in the country

    God Bless America! Land that I… “The federal government” also works sometimes.*

    *[Trump-based pun intended]

  96. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Ireland, the state, does not cover all of Ireland, the island

    Yes, but plenty of the people who live in the state consider that it should, and I think the Irish Constitution thinks that as well.

    I’ve only ever met one Moldovan, so I can’t tell you how they think, but I suspect many would want to claim the whole of the historical region. The one Moldovan I met had come to a meeting in Bucharest, and he gave the impression of thinking the streets were paved with gold. It gave me an idea of what Kishinev must be like.

    Wandering even further from the point, I’m reminded of a meeting I went to in Debrecen in 1985. There were quite a few Russians, who could get permission to go to Hungary a lot more easily than to places further west. They were constantly leaving the meeting to go to downtown Debrecen to buy shoes and suchlike. Someone pointed out that downtown Debrecen wasn’t all that exciting, and asked why they liked it so much. One of them replied “Debrecen may not seem much to you, but for us it’s Paris”.

  97. This comes out of my memory, so is probably false.

    When I was a teenager in 1950s Britain, we (teenagers) thought America a sexy, exciting place (yes, really). I’m under the firm impression that we started calling America “the States” because we thought that was what sexy, exciting Americans called it. If it’s true that “the States” is an ex-pat expression, that would make sense since Britain at that time was awash with sexy, exciting ex-pat Americans in uniform.

  98. Er, Picky, so what changed?

  99. Good question. Quick answer: Vietnam? John Lennon?

  100. David Marjanović says:

    You can’t get pho like this in the States.

    Bullshit.

    # .. insomuch that he who of pronunciation is acceptable: a teacher or learner, you have fought with grammar uman being a uman, will offend people, which is against the rules, if a person, he was a man. #

    Oh dear. I’ll try it myself…

    See, o Lord, my God, and see patiently so that you’ll see how diligently the sons of men observe the contracts of letters and syllables that have been accepted by earlier speakers, while they neglect the eternal contracts of eternal salvation accepted by you: ?so that someone may keep or teach these old ?tastes in sounds, he will displease people more if he pronounces homo, contrary to the grammatical rules, without aspiration of the first syllable, than if he, against your commandments, hates people for being people.

    Or hates people while being a person himself. Who the 3sg of sit is is not at all clear to me.

  101. there’s little occasion to refer to all fifty states collectively as a noun when you’re in the country.

    Pish. We talk about America, the U.S., the United States, the U.S.A. etc. all the time while here. And the States is a synonym of these: it does not refer to ‘all fifty states collectively’ as distinct from the nation.

    Someone suggested ledit (= English ‘said’ in this context)

    Law-English use s the said <noun> in imitation of this construction in Law-French.

    Great Britain? I object to the (I’m sure, intended) double meaning

    What double meaning? Britain has been the name of the island since before any Angle, Saxon, Jute, or Gael set foot on it, and it’s called Great in opposition to Little Britain, Brittany, Petit-Bretagne.

    I think the Irish Constitution thinks that as well

    The 19th Amendment (1999) removed the territorial claim, while maintaining the previous position about citizenship, namely that everyone born on the island of Ireland is a citizen of Ireland. This is not itself a claim of extraterritoriality. U.S. citizenship for everyone born in any of the fifty states is constitutionally entrenched, but it took acts of Congress to grant citizenship to people born in Puerto Rico, Guam, or the Northern Marianas (no such act has been passed in favor of American Samoa). In principle these acts could be revoked, though not retroactively, and Congress could in principle add the island of Malta (or any other) to the list, although the government of Malta might take offense.

  102. If it’s seldom used in the US itself, I suspect it’s only because there’s little occasion to refer to all fifty states collectively as a noun when you’re in the country. You’d be more like to refer individual states or to regions (New England, the South, etc.).

    No, that’s not true. We talk about America/the USA a lot. It really is strictly an expat expression; like John Cowan, I said it when I was living abroad, and not at any other time.

  103. What double meaning? […] it’s called Great in opposition to Little Britain, Brittany, Petit-Bretagne.

    Oh, come off it. You know perfectly well what double meaning, and etymology is (as always) irrelevant. The vast majority of current UKanians will have no idea of the origin you cite, but will definitely feel that it’s great to be Great.

  104. Amerigo Vespucci’s fraudulent claim to have discovered the American land mass before Columbus

    My understanding is that Amerigo was the first to recognize and publicize that he’d been to a new continent, whereas Columbus went to his grave asserting, against mounting evidence, that he’d been to Asia.

    By the way, have you ever lived in Latin America? They get very sore there when you use “America” to mean the Colossus of the North.

  105. Stu Clayton says:

    … magis .. quam si … hominem oderit, cum sit homo.

    .. more .. than if … he were to hate a man for being a man.

  106. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    The vast majority of current UKanians will have no idea of the origin you cite, but will definitely feel that it’s great to be Great.

    I have always been a bit embarrassed by the implied claim to greatness! It’s OK in French as the French have no problem with Grande-Bretagne, but in English I try to avoid ever saying it.

  107. David Eddyshaw says:

    My impression is that knowledge of the real origin of the term “Great Britain” is actually quite common here, though that may be skewed by the rootless cosmopolitan circles I generally move in.

    There is the factor that Brits are commonly under the misapprehension that they invented self-deprecating humour, so if they really thought the country was “great”, they wouldn’t go about immodestly saying so, much less incorporate it into the very name of the place. I think the use of “Great Britain” in that way is basically a sort of pun for most of us.

  108. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    By the way, have you ever lived in Latin America? They get very sore there when you use “America” to mean the Colossus of the North.

    Some do, but on the whole in Chile they tolerate it from English speakers. (They don’t hear it from me, as I always say the USA in English or Norteamérica or los Estados Unidos in Spanish.) I have the impression that Argentinians are more fussy about it than Chileans. Brazil, of course, sees itself as the Colossus of the South, and Argentina would like to be thought of as that. Chile doesn’t on the whole have the same delusions of grandeur, though now that it has joined the first world as the most prosperous country in Latin America it may start to have them.

    However, the first time I was in Chile I went into a post office with a very senior person — later President of CONICYT, now just late — and I asked him why he wrote an address in the USA on his envelope as EE. UU. de N.A. He said it was to distinguish it from Brazil and Mexico.

  109. David Marjanović says:

    Nick Clegg, 21 Apr 2014: ” Where would you rather live – Great Britain or little England?”

    .. more .. than if … he were to hate a man for being a man.

    “Were to” is a good idea for the perfect subjunctive.

  110. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    a young Cockney lad I knew in London turned out to speak exquisite queen’s Danish, which language he’d acquired in quite different circs than his English (AJP Crown).

    Not a cockney lad, but Ellen MacArthur (the yachtswoman), speaks fluent French like a Frenchwoman (to my ears), and I was quite surprised to hear her talk in English once, and to find that she talks English like a lass from Whatstandwell near Matlock in Derbyshire. (I don’t suppose they do a lot of yachting around Matlock, so she must indeed have learned her French in different circles.)

  111. “double meaning”
    There is a deliberate ambiguity in e.g.The Great British Bake Off between Great [British Bakeoff] and [Great British] Bakeoff.

    “plenty of the people who live in the state consider that it should, and I think the Irish Constitution thinks that as well.”
    It does indeed; Article 3.1

    It is the firm will of the Irish Nation, in harmony and friendship, to unite all the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland, in all the diversity of their identities and traditions, recognising that a united Ireland shall be brought about only by peaceful means with the consent of a majority of the people, democratically expressed, in both jurisdictions in the island.

    Although one might infer that its definition of “Irish Nation” excludes unionists, that would be a grave mistake.

  112. though that may be skewed by the rootless cosmopolitan circles I generally move in.

    I would bet money that that is the case.

    By the way, have you ever lived in Latin America? They get very sore there when you use “America” to mean the Colossus of the North.

    Some do, some don’t. (I lived in Argentina.) I don’t give a damn. I let them call their country whatever they like, and they can afford me the same respect.

  113. Stu Clayton says:

    “Were to” is a good idea for the perfect subjunctive.

    Not being perfect in these matters, I usually see an Indikativ Futur II in “-erit”. Then I remember that it’s (sometimes? always?) also a sign of one of those past subjunctive thingies. Then I let myself be guided by the context. Educated guessing by the seat of the pants.

  114. I mean, I understand that it’s basically just a way of venting spleen at the Colossus of the North (so far from God, so near to), and I’m fine with that spleen; the US has been a terrible neighbor. But I still feel no need to take this particular issue seriously.

  115. I don’t often get to wear a greatcoat but I’m sure it’s better than wearing a petticoat.

  116. I never thought that Velikorossija implies any claim of greatness. Does “grand larceny” mean that it should be spectacular?

  117. And, by the way, most imperialistic British song doesn’t even use “Great”.

  118. No, that’s not true. We talk about America/the USA a lot.

    Well, of course. I phrased that poorly. What I was thinking of is that saying “the States” in America would be nonsensical in many of the contexts in which the expression is most frequently used.

    “Where’s Bill from?”
    “The States.” (I don’t know the specific state.)
    “What are you doing this summer?”
    “Spending it in the States” (Probably more than one, but deliberately vague).
    “Where did you buy that shirt?”
    “The States.” (i.e. You’re unlikely to find one like it hereabouts.)

    If you were having any of these conversations in the US, your interlocutor would think you were bonkers. I think the point is that “the States” is a deliberately vague, distancing expression, so it would sound out of place to use it on your home turf.

  119. I don’t understand. Why would “America” be any better (less bonkers or whatever) than “the States”?

  120. the government of Malta might take offense

    Indeed, the elected government of American Samoa has lobbied against the introduction of U.S. citizenship for American Samoans, on the ground that Samoan customary law (as instantiated in both Samoa and American Samoa) forbids the sale of land to all but Samoans and that this situation would be threatened if American Samoans were U.S. citizens. (I think this is specious.)

    The result is that the American Samoan diaspora are foreigners in their own country, lacking all political rights unless they naturalize, and there is not even a fast path for naturalization. A current lawsuit seeks to change thus, on the grounds that American Samoans owe allegiance to the U.S.

    strictly an expat expression

    Well, strictly an out-of-the-country expression. I was a tourist, not an expat, nor did I hang out with other Americans (except my wife), and I still used it almost involuntarily.

    will definitely feel that it’s great to be Great

    I wrote that about half an hour after the alarm woke me, at which point my sensahuma was evidently not yet switched on.

    unite all the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland

    Unite need not mean ‘unite politically’, though certainly the context suggests it. If who belongs to the “Irish Nation” is a vexed question, who gets to speak for the “Irish Nation” is an even more vexed question.

  121. You’ve missed the point entirely. Who said anything about “America” being a better or worse term? But I can’t imagine being in America and under any circumstances saying “Bill is from America / the States; I bought it in America / the States; I’m going to America / the States for my holiday.” The implication of “the States” is very much that it’s someplace where one doesn’t happen to be at the moment.

    Who talks of going to or doing something in America when one is already there? It’d be bizarre. (Unless, perhaps, one is a Cheetoh Mussolini cultist.)

  122. OK, but we do talk about “America” and “the US” a lot, and I’m damned if I can see any reason why we couldn’t talk about “the States” in the same contexts except that we don’t.

  123. I see some people’s experience in Argentina differs from mine in Panama, for reasons that are apparent with a moment’s thought on my part.

  124. marie-lucie says:

    Athel: (Great Britain): the French have no problem with Grande-Bretagne, but in English I try to avoid ever saying it.

    Using la Bretagne to mean “Britain” would create confusion with the French province facing Britain. Our Bretagne can also be referred to as la Petite-Bretagne but only to emphasize the difference, and many people are not familiar with this alternate (unofficial) name. So for the big island, la Grande-Bretagne is the obvious choice in a reasonably formal context (most people would just say l’Angleterre, which is literally ‘Engle-land’). Of course the British rarely need to refer to the French province rather than to their own country, and they call it “Brittany” not “Britain” so there is no confusion, and adding ‘Great’ to ‘Britain’ sounds boastful if not redundant.

    laowai: Your examples of sentences with the States sound perfectly ordinary to me, but I live in English Canada.

    LH: America vs. the States :

    America is a name, like Russia, France, Spain, etc, and as the name of a country it refers to an entity with a personality, to which its citizens have an emotional relationship, whether positive or negative. Some women are even called by that name! On the other hand, The United States, shortened as the US, is a title rather than a name, associated with the governmental and international contexts. Nobody would compose a song to The beautiful United States. The states is neither a name nor a title, and it is rare to encounter this short phrase alone, without an indication of its semantic limitation such as an adjective (“the Western states”) or an extension (“the states North of the Mason-Dixon line”). The beautiful States could not refer to the entire country. So the inhabitants of the country will not say to each other “I was born/I live in the States” unless at least one of them is out of the country, but it is the obvious choice for outsiders or expats.

  125. But there’s nothing wrong with these in-country dialogues:

    1a) Was Roberto born in the Dominican Republic?

    1b) No, he was born (here) in the U.S.

    2a) Did you buy that dress in Paris?

    2b) No, I bought it here in the U.S.

    1b sounds fine with or without here; 2b seems to need here, and would be particularly felicitous if you bought it by mail, phone, or Internet, where mentioning a particular place would make little sense, but where there is still a sharp distinction (at least for Americans) between ordering in-country and ordering from abroad.

    Gale asked me the other day where something I had ordered from Amazon came from; I was helpless to answer until we worked out that she meant “Who is the retailer that Amazon partnered with to offer this item?”. It was a well-known mail-order catalogue.

  126. But I can’t imagine being in America and under any circumstances saying “Bill is from America / the States[…]”

    For me it would be perfectly normal (maybe a bit silted) if implication is that it is far from obvious. Say, in international company “Jack is from Ireland, Hans is Czech, and Bill is from America” or “I was in Cameroon for the summer, you? — I stayed in America”

    Edit: JC beat me to it. But I am vain and won’t remove it

  127. J.W. Brewer says:

    Re toponymic self-proclaimed Greatness: About 50 miles west of Hat and a bit over 100 miles north of me lies the town of Great Barrington, Massachusetts. It is apparently named for a village in Gloucestershire. Over there, sez the internet, Great Barrington and Little Barrington are neighbors across the river from each other, but for some reason no one felt motivated to add a Little Barrington to the map in the Berkshires.

    Elsewhere in England, Great Yarmouth was apparently once neighbor to Little Yarmouth but at some point in the 17th century Little Y. was annexed by Great Y., which kept that adjective even though it no longer disambiguated.

  128. Great Britain, but Greater London.

    No wonder they hate us up north.

  129. J.W. Brewer says:

    Separately, I saw over the weekend an in-the-wild instance of that allegedly super-formal-and-archaic “comma which NOUN” style in the not-so-super-formal-or-archaic context of a facebook comment thread. Maybe it was a a bit different because the NOUN hadn’t immediately preceded the comma and in fact the “NOUN” referred back to multiple slightly differently worded antecedents. The overall structure of the sentence was something like “different people may take different approaches to blah blah blah, which differences may result in blah blah blah.”

    FWIW I googled the friend-of-a-friend who made the comment on a hunch, and he does appear to be a lawyer by occupation. Make of that what you will.

  130. I vote to rename America Little Britain

  131. J.W. Brewer says:

    I have a vague sense that BrEng “Blighty” as a slangish synonym for Great Britain (or perhaps only Little England?) tends (or tended, if it is now out-of-date) to be used primarily-if-not-exclusively by expats or at least by Britons who are temporarily off the island at the time of utterance. If that’s true (I welcome correction by actual BrEng speakers), that would be parallel to the AmEng use of “the States.” Are there other instances of this pattern? Do Australians typically only say “Down Under” when temporarily north of the Equator? Is there some French synonym for “France” used by Francophones only in an expat context?

  132. Yes, Blighty is essentially for ex-pats. But then it’s Hindi, I think.

  133. “Blighty” coming, of course, like all the best slang, from Hindi “vilayati”, foreign. There are plenty of demonyms that mean something like “The People” in the local language, and a fair few place names that just mean “the mountain”, “the river” and so on, but are there any other examples of a nationality coming up with a slang term for their own country that means “the foreign place”?

  134. I’ve never heard it used seriously by any BrEng speakers; it’s always a deliberate archaism.

  135. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Is there some French synonym for “France” used by Francophones only in an expat context?

    I can’t think of one, but Marie-Lucie will know better. If French people want to refer specifically to the bit of France that is in Europe (i.e. not counting Martinique, la Réunion, etc., that are part of France officially, but not in most people’s minds) they talk about l’Hexagone. Logically that wouldn’t include Corsica, but generally speaking it does unless you’re in Corsica when you say it or you’re making a contrast between Corsica and the rest.

  136. Nobody would compose a song to The beautiful United States. The states is neither a name nor a title, and it is rare to encounter this short phrase alone, without an indication of its semantic limitation such as an adjective (“the Western states”) or an extension (“the states North of the Mason-Dixon line”). The beautiful States could not refer to the entire country. So the inhabitants of the country will not say to each other “I was born/I live in the States” unless at least one of them is out of the country, but it is the obvious choice for outsiders or expats.

    You’re talking as if language were logical, which it is the farthest thing from being. I repeat, the only reason we don’t talk about “the States” is that we don’t. If we did, it wouldn’t even occur to you to make such an argument.

  137. OK, but we do talk about “America” and “the US” a lot, and I’m damned if I can see any reason why we couldn’t talk about “the States” in the same contexts except that we don’t.

    Substantively, we don’t actually appear to be disagreeing about anything. We agree that “the States” is an expat-ism, we’re only quibbling about why this might be so. There’s no solid reason “why.” Why can’t we all call England / GB / the UK “Fair Albion”? Much better name, imho.

  138. Right, there’s no solid reason. We say things the way we do because that’s the way we say them. And “Fair Albion” is quite nice (much better than the perfidious variant!).

  139. David Eddyshaw says:

    The Scots Gaelic word for “Scotland”, Alba, is etymologically “Albion.”

    Historically, Albion is the big island, i.e. Great Britain.

  140. marie-lucie says:

    Is there some French synonym for “France” used by Francophones only in an expat context? — l’Hexagone …

    It is true that l’Hexagone refers to the country located in Europe, because of its approximate shape, but I don’t think the nickname is limited to the expat context. I often see the phrase in the French press (which I read online occasionally) but in Canada I have very little contact with people from France.

    LH: We say things the way we do because that’s the way we say them.

    I won’t try to argue, but as a still-practicing linguist I am inclined to seek reasons why languages work the way they do.

  141. I won’t try to argue, but as a still-practicing linguist I am inclined to seek reasons why languages work the way they do.

    Sure, but it’s essential to separate the historical question (how did this form arise?) from the question of why people use the forms they do. As I am constantly repeating, etymology is irrelevant to usage, and the fact that a given form arose because of such-and-such a linguistic or historical quirk does not mean that you can turn it around and say such a quirk determined the usage (and thus it is inconceivable that people could say it any other way). We could perfectly well say “the States” for short instead of “America,” and your analyses have nothing to do with the fact that we don’t. We don’t because we don’t.

    Perhaps a shorter and better way of putting it is that we can explain the origins of a usage, but not of a non-usage.

  142. @David Eddyshaw: Whereas “the Big Island” is the island of Hawaii (so called to distinguish it from the state of Hawaii, which includes more of the archipelago).

  143. I think Marie-Lucie is onto something, but it is definitely more complicated (as always). For example, “American president” is unremarkable, but “president of America” is impossible. And “USA” is in many songs like “Party in the USA”, “Made in the USA” , and even ““God Bless the USA”.

  144. David Marjanović says:

    L’Hexagone is used in France – probably mostly by journalists when they feel they need a synonym.

    The colloquial adjective for (real or imagined, mostly lamented) peculiarities of France is francofrançais (possibly with a hyphen – I’ve never seen it written).

  145. “we can explain the origins of a usage, but not of a non-usage”

    You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”

  146. David Eddyshaw says:

    Reminds me of Sidney Morgenbesser on Jewish logic: “If P, so why not Q?”

  147. marie-lucie says:

    D.E. : “If P, so why not Q?”

    Indeed, why not? Q is the next potential step after P. So this question is not crazy: it does not ask “If P, why not W?”

  148. marie-lucie says:

    D.O. :: “American president” is unremarkable, but “president of America” is impossible.

    “American” was created as an adjective (and noun), from the noun “America” which is the name rather than the title of the country. I The head noun phrase in the official title, “The United States”, does not easily lend itself to deriving an adjective or noun to refer to the citizens, so the already existing “American” (first applied to the indigenous people) was adopted by the new settlers to refer to themselves. But “president of America” would mix an official political title for the head of the government with a name used for the land itself, in the context of both geography and emotional attachment.

  149. David Eddyshaw says:

    this is not crazy

    Exactly!

  150. We say things the way we do because that’s the way we say them.

    I can’t agree with this. It’s important to understand why we say things the way we do. There is usually a historical background, possibly a history of accidents, that led to the present situation.

    It’s like saying “Don’t ask why we celebrate Christmas the way we do. We just do.”

    This is nonsense. There is a long historical background to the way we celebrate Christmas, from the reason we celebrate, the date that we celebrate it on, and the customs associated with it (Santa Claus, Christmas trees, Christmas cards, etc.).

    What Hat is arguing against is the naive assumption that things are as they are for fatuous, unsupported, naive reasons.

    To use another analogy: “Why do we use the word ‘green’ to describe that particular colour? Well, just listen to it, ‘green’ is the perfect word to describe the colour green because it sounds so green!” Duh!

    I hate to be unkind, but this is pretty much what the reasons advanced for not using “the States” sound like.

  151. I can’t agree with this. It’s important to understand why we say things the way we do.

    No, you’re missing my point, which is exactly what you say in your final two paragraphs.

  152. I think I’ve got your point exactly. You rightly dismissed the fatuous reasons given for why people don’t say “the States”, but you phrased your objection incorrectly (too simplistically), which is why people have trouble agreeing with it.

  153. Why do we use the word ‘green’ to describe that particular colour?

    Because they didn’t change to blue in the year 2000.

  154. Marie-Lucie, you convinced me, partially. Indeed, English language seems to be reluctant to form adjectives from official country names (USian is cute, but nonstandard by a mile) . On the other hand “US president” is an OK form, which would have displaced “American president” if the need to use country’s title in this setting was felt more strongly.

    I also think that the whole argument with his Hatness is more about the meaning of causality than anything else. Mr. Hat seems to think that Marie-Lucie and others claim that it is something solid — you shoot a pistol, the guy drops dead, while in this case it’s more like whether the random motion of linguistic choice was influenced in some direction by discernible forces.

  155. Queen Elizabeth speaking French (well, reading it, so it doesn’t tell as much about her French as it might have).

  156. That is a very anglicised pronunciation!

  157. marie-lucie says:

    Her pronunciation is very clear, she does not really sound British, but what gives her away as a non-native French speaker is her intonation, rhythm, and other little details.

  158. marie-lucie says:

    D.O. Thank you. I like your description of my attempt find out whether the random motion of linguistic choice was influenced in some direction by discernible forces.. This is pretty much the goal of historical linguistics in general, which can be applied to current language tendencies as well as to phenomena that affected a language in ancient times.

  159. The aspiration in ‘vingtième’ seemed very English to me.

  160. >I can’t imagine being in America and under any circumstances saying “Bill is from America / the States;

    Me neither. They both sound idiotic to me. I’m surprised that others would accept “from America,” which sounds almost grammatically incorrect to me, like the mistake of a foreigner.

    However, there is a normal phrase for this — “Bill is from the U.S.”

    I’ve played soccer with immigrants from various places much of my life. That sort of question would come up all the time, right here in the U.S. “Damn, he’s good. Where did he learn to play? Is he from Germany?” “Nah, his dad was. He grew up in the U.S. He learned to play here.”

    For that matter, does no one have a conversation like this here in the US?:

    “Where was your Toyota truck manufactured?” “It was made in America.”

    It’s just flat wrong to say there’s no in-country context for a word with the exact meaning of “the States.” There is. And the context is filled by the various locutions we’ve mentioned, not by “the States.”

  161. You can compare to 50 years earlier. And to Tony Blair.

  162. Argh, I made the mistake of including two video links in my last comment. I hope our host can rescue it before the conversation has moved too far past it.

  163. > You’re talking as if language were logical, which it is the farthest thing from being.

    Yeah, why don’t we just abolish linguistics as a science!

    Assuming “the States” is in fact an ex-pat expression, do Americans find it strange at first when they go abroad, or do they somehow find it natural under the circumstances?

    Judging from this Google Ngrams graph, “the US” has become popular relatively recently in the US, so I guess it’s possible that ex-pats are influenced by non-US English speakers, who would be less likely to use it. A retention of sorts. Separate ex-pat communities don’t just say the same thing “because that’s what they say” without some common reason. (Sure, different ex-pat communities might have ties between them, but not sure they’re tighter than the ties to the motherland.)

    Regardless, “back to the States” still trumps “back to the U.S.”, so not sure what to make of that.

  164. > she does not really sound British

    I’m in no way an expert on French, but as has been mentioned, the aspiration on her unvoiced stops seemed typical for English speakers. Also, her /ɔ̃/ (e.g. in “occasion”) seemed too open to me, almost indistinguishable from her /ɑ̃/, which is something I seem to remember having noticed in other English speakers’ French too. But maybe her /ɔ̃/ is cromulent in a more conservative version of French? AFAIK, the nasal vowels are moving counter-clockwise in Paris.

  165. m-l: what gives her away as a non-native French speaker is her intonation, rhythm, and other little details.

    I feel the same way about her English. Non-native. It’s more natural when she’s not reading from a script.

  166. Kong Harald is MUCH better at reading English, though he can get a bit droney reading speeches in Norwegian.

  167. ‘…are there any other examples of a nationality coming up with a slang term for their own country that means “the foreign place”?’

    Not slang, but I believe the Welsh do call their country ‘Wales’.

  168. Picky: ah, yes. Nice one.

  169. @SFReader
    I vote to rename America Little Britain

    The sizes don’t fit. I say we rename Britain “Little America.” And while we’re at it, Portugal should be Little Brazil, and France should be Little Québec. The possibilities are endless.

  170. The sizes don’t fit. I say we rename Britain “Little America.”

    Little Canada, surely. It’s bigger.

  171. In the play A Walk in the Woods (1988), which is a private conversation between a U.S. and a Soviet arms negotiator in the woods outside Geneva, the Russian says “Without nuclear weapons, we will be nothing more than a rich, powerful Canada and an enormous Poland.”

  172. Scotland was referred to as North Britain during the 17C & 18C. Something to do with James I.

    For the mechanical part, he employed, as he told me, ſix amanuenſes; and let it be remembered by the natives of North-Britain, to whom he is ſuppoſed to have been ſo hoſtile, that five of them were of that country. There were two Meſſieurs Macbean; Mr. Shiels, the writer of the Lives of the Poets to which the name of Cibber is affixed; Mr. Stewart, ſon of Mr. George Stewart, bookſeller at Edinburgh; and, a Mr. Maitland. The ſixth of theſe humble aſſiſtants was Mr. Peyton, who, I believe, taught French, and publiſhed ſome elementary tracts. Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson 1.24. 1748.

    And then there was Wilkes’s No. 45 of The North Briton which turned 45 into an early graffito in the name of free speech.

  173. David Eddyshaw says:

    Or Upper Volta with missiles, as Helmut Schmidt had it.

    I’m a lot more familiar with Upper Volta (as was) than Russia, which I have visited precisely once (in Brezhnev’s day), but I think I can say fairly definitively that any resemblance has been a touch exaggerated.

  174. @Picky:. “Ukraine” is similar.

  175. The Scots Gaelic word for “Scotland”, Alba, is etymologically “Albion.”

    That’s because in Irish it originally meant the whole island, then only the part where People Talk Right.

  176. > You’re talking as if language were logical, which it is the farthest thing from being.

    Yeah, why don’t we just abolish linguistics as a science!

    That makes no sense. If linguistics had tried to treat language as a branch of logic, it would never have gotten off the ground. Language is not logical because people are not logical, end of story.

  177. Almost two hundred comments in a little over three days — talk about a wild and crazy thread!

  178. David Marjanović says:

    That is a very anglicised pronunciation!

    The vowels don’t sound English at all. The whole delivery is slow and careful and clearly fits a non-native speaker without a lot of recent practice, but the closest thing to a specifically English accent is the aspiration.

    50 years earlier she sounded a lot more fluent and natural – not native either, but closer. It seems to me she even aspirated less (though it’s still there).

    Blair has a few distinctively English vowels.

    Yeah, why don’t we just abolish linguistics as a science!

    Quantum physics. Your argument is invalid.

    But maybe her /ɔ̃/ is cromulent in a more conservative version of French?

    The very fact that it’s traditionally transcribed “/ɔ̃/” instead of “/õ/” certainly suggests that it once was. [ɔ̃] is also used in French-derived street names in Berlin, for no reason internal to German that I can see.

    In France today, and I think in Canada as well, beau and bon are a minimal pair for nasality: [o], [õ].

    “/ɑ̃/” is still [ɑ̃] in Canada, but always rounded in most of France these days, almost reaching [õ] for some speakers.

  179. marie-lucie says:

    dainichi: AFAIK, the nasal vowels are moving counter-clockwise in Paris.

    Yes, and they are moving (or have already moved) clockwise in Canada.

    David M:

    The very fact that it’s traditionally transcribed “/ɔ̃/” instead of “/õ/” certainly suggests that it once was

    Yes..

    In France today, and I think in Canada as well, beau and bon are a minimal pair for nasality: [o], [õ].

    True in France, not so much in Canada.

    “/ɑ̃/” is still [ɑ̃] in Canada,

    In Québec or farther West, most people have it a lot more forward.

    but always rounded in most of France these days, almost reaching [õ] for some speakers.

    Yes.

  180. When I was at high school I did a French dictation test which went “France est un beau pays”. I put it down as “France est un bon pays”. My teacher couldn’t understand how I could have made such a mistake. Well, there is the semantics, but I was only about 14 or 15 at the time.

  181. @Hat: That makes no sense. If linguistics had tried to treat language as a branch of logic, it would never have gotten off the ground.

    Just because it’s not a branch of logic doesn’t mean it can’t be logical (in some places). I don’t see how @ml’s comment assumed that language is a branch of logic.

    @David Marjanović: The very fact that it’s traditionally transcribed “/ɔ̃/” instead of “/õ/” certainly suggests that it once was.

    Yeah, I kind of knew that, I mostly wrote that in jest. I think with that value of /ɔ̃/, her /ɑ̃/ would have to be more unrounded. Anyway, my point was that I thought she merged /ɔ̃/ and /ɑ̃/ because English speakers tend to do so in recent French loans (e.g. vowels in the first syllables of “en route” and “bon voyage”), but I’m not so sure about this last assumption… I guess it might depend on whether they’re cot-caught merged, how close to actual French they try to pronounce it, and other subtleties.

  182. Christian Weisgerber says:

    “/ɑ̃/” is still [ɑ̃] in Canada

    Wait, what? About the first thing you notice about Quebecois is that their realization of /ɑ̃/ [ã] sounds more like Metropolitan /ɛ̃/ [æ̃].

  183. Responding to an earlier question about Australia: “down under” is almost never used within our Commonwealth in a sentence like “i live in …”. “Oz” is also something that might be more used by expats than residents. On the other hand “Straya” is defintely used within Australia, but in speech not so much in writing.

    Our neighbours across the Tasman use “Enzed” for their country. However, they pronounce it as “Inzid”.

    I’ve never heard of South Africans use any other name than “South Africa”. But Zimbabweans do refer to their homeland as “Zim”.

    When it comes to Wogs, Croatians in Australia on occasions refer to their country as “Cro”, and Macedonians say “Maco” (pronounced: mæsou).

  184. Israel is just haaretz, ‘the country’.

  185. Australians also say Singers for Singapore, Honkers for Hong Kong, Dubbers for Dubai. Not sure if expats from those places use the same names.

  186. The Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank was once known as the Honkers and Shankers (non-rhotically, of course); now it’s just HSBC (where the last two stand for “Banking Corporation”).

  187. Well, the Chinese still call their country Middle States…

  188. >the Chinese still call their country Middle States.

    That’s too long. They should just use ‘the States’.

  189. David Marjanović says:

    [ã]

    …I can’t contradict that. The one loud & clear conséquences I’ve heard was probably central or so, but probably not actually back.

    Yes to clockwise rotation – “/ɛ̃/” is [ẽ].

    Our neighbours across the Tasman use “Enzed” for their country. However, they pronounce it as “Inzid”.

    I keep reading this, but the one New Zealander I’ve heard talk at length uses [e]… it’s short, so maybe that’s why it maps best to the /ɪ/ of other Englishes? But to me it sounds no different from a South African’s /ɛ/.

    I’ve never heard of South Africans use any other name than “South Africa”.

    However, for them it’s a single phonological word and therefore has [ð] instead of [θ].

  190. The /i/ and /e/ in both NZ and South African & (white) Zimbabwean English seem to have undergone a similar shift: /e/ has moved up, becoming something like i, while /i/ has become a more central sound, resulting in pronunciations like “fush & chups” for fish & chips. Stereotypically, “six” and “sex” are pronounced the wrong way around in NZ.

    There is an old joke that when seat belts were introduced in NZ, they adapted the Australian advertising campaign. The Australian ad said “click clack front and back”. The NZ adaptation was “clack click front and bick”.

    Apologies to anyone from NZ, SA & zim. I’m not making fun of the accent. Only trying to describe the vowel shift.

  191. However, for them it’s a single phonological word and therefore has [ð] instead of [θ].

    Er, I say /saʊð’æfrɪkə/ and I’m not from there.

    (Can’t find the symbol for indicating stress)

  192. Not to un-derail, but I’m actually most puzzled by Pullum’s remarks in the linked article about the pronunciation of “graph” by “a brilliant young psychology lecturer visiting from Japan.”:

    For the word graph (IPA [gɹæf]) he produced what unfortunately sounded almost exactly like grape. I knew enough about Japanese phonology to guess what he probably intended by his pronunciation (IPA [gɻeːɸ]), but many audience members were baffled.

    Am I alone in feeling that this sounds much more like the accent of a (Mandarin) Chinese speaker? Setting aside the fact that グラフ gurafu [gɯraɸɯ̥] is a familiar loan-word–certainly at least to someone of the younger generation (and in the social sciences!)–the default spelling-pronunciation should still be something like [a] here, not [e(ː)]. *Were* it an unknown word I could just barely imagine a species of hypercorrection, with some recollection of pronunciations like “a” in “date”, etc., and by a speaker with a much weaker grasp of English spelling than one would expect from an academic. But again, this doesn’t quite seem to fit the context. On the other hand, unless he simply missed it (or wandered in halfway through), I do feel pretty certain Pullum would be able to tell Chinese and Japanese names apart. Any ideas?

    On the quoted grammar question, I’m afraid it’s the sort of thing all too familiar to veterans of the English teaching front in dear old Nippon. To make what may be an obvious if uncharitable point, I’ve always felt that the survival of such weird archaisms into modern ESL teaching materials is not really (primarily) about misguided prescriptivism at all. It’s more about the bottomless need for easily “scoreable” test-questions on the part of the large number of English teachers who are not, well, very competent at English. Pace Bathrobe, though my heart is with him here, I don’t think there’s a motivating goal to use “English grammar as a means of examining foreign learners on their ability to memorise and apply pointless rules,” it’s just that those pointless rules turn out to be easier to test. Never explain by malice, etc.

    And to be fair, writing multiple-choice or simple-answer grammar questions with single, indisputably correct answers (that also stay within the designated previously-taught grammar and vocabulary range) can actually be pretty difficult even for native speakers. Add to this that the patterns tested have to get more difficult over the course of schooling, and weird grammar points that allow you to write unambiguous single-answer questions are exactly the kind of nail that the hammer is looking to itch, hitting the sweet spot of challenging-yet-easily-markable dead-on.

    Which is not to deny that a generally low immunity to prescriptivism certainly functions as an infection vector of sorts, but as hinted-at by those nails-on-chalkboard-awful mixes of colloquial and hyper-formal that Pullum points out (e.g. “The suspect didn’t drive his car on the day, which fact is important”), something else is going on here. Probably the best way to think of these is as living fossils: as long as they fill out some obscure niche, without the negative selection pressure from native recoil, they could last as long as the coelacanth.

  193. David Marjanović says:

    U+02C8 MODIFICATION SIGN VERTICAL LINE. Or perhaps LETTER instead of SIGN. It’s in the diacritics between the IPA letters and the IPA tone letters.

  194. The Australian ad said “click clack front and back”. The NZ adaptation was “clack click front and bick”.

    I may have mentioned before the confusion of a friend of mine who was told on landing in Auckland that, if he wanted to continue his journey on to Wellington, he would need to find the Mystic Chicken. “What?” “The Mystic Chicken. If you want to fly to Wellington, you need the Mystic Chicken.”
    And, probably due to jetlag, it took him a few goes to work out that he was being advised to seek out Domestic Check-In.

  195. use any other name than “South Africa”

    I did hear a South African say “born in the R.S.A.” once, but obviously that was a Boss reference.

    Clickable IPA keyboard as a web page.

    AUSTRALIA SUCKS
    NEW ZEALAND NIL

  196. A scene in “Flight of the Conchords” features confusion about /ɪ/ versus /ɛ/ in NZ English as heard by an American.

  197. I’m actually most puzzled by Pullum’s remarks in the linked article about the pronunciation of “graph” by “a brilliant young psychology lecturer visiting from Japan.”

    I was puzzled by that too, and I’m glad you brought it up! Thanks also for your sensible and well-informed remarks about ESL teaching.

  198. Well, it could be a trendy young Japanese speaker saying, “I’m not going to pronounce it [gɯraɸɯ̥], that’s our Japanese way of saying it. I’m going to be up-to-date and American and pronounce it /græf/”, unfortunately lacking the ability to pronounce /æ/. The /p/ is a bit puzzling, unless our speaker found his ability to pronounce /ɸ/ hampered by his valiant efforts to pronounce /æ/.

    Just guessing.

  199. Christian Weisgerber says:

    A scene in “Flight of the Conchords” features confusion about /ɪ/ versus /ɛ/ in NZ English as heard by an American.

    And this one.

  200. David Marjanović says:

    they could last as long as the coelacanth.

    Two coelacanths: Latimeria chalumnae from the African end, L. menadoensis (aka raja laut) from the Indonesian end of the Indian Ocean.

    Just guessing.

    Looks plausible to me.

  201. I’m going to be up-to-date and American and pronounce it /græf/”, unfortunately lacking the ability to pronounce /æ/.

    Maybe. If it really was a Japanese speaker, I agree there has to be something weird like that going on. The /æ/ sound is almost always rounded to /a/ by Japanese speakers, after all. Still can’t quite quiet my suspicions that it was really a Chinese speaker…

    Two coelacanths

    I stand corrected!

    Another thought about the “which opinion…” construction: I find myself wishing for a word to describe bits of grammar that are both clearly on their way into desuetude but also clearly retrievably parseable–and recognizable as grammatical–by almost any native speaker. A form of inverted descriptivism, if you will, where we accept as grammatical not only what speakers are observed to use (never mind the rulebooks), but also what they are reliably observed to understand (never mind the fact that they never use it). At least my gut feeling is that even natives who categorically rejected the linked grammar would still feel it “wrong” in quite a different way than they would even a very understandable solecism.

  202. At least my gut feeling is that even natives who categorically rejected the linked grammar would still feel it “wrong” in quite a different way than they would even a very understandable solecism.

    You’re probably right; it would be interesting to test.

  203. @Bathrobe: The /p/ is a bit puzzling, unless our speaker found his ability to pronounce /ɸ/ hampered by his valiant efforts to pronounce /æ/.

    Which /p/?. He pronounced the /f/ in “graph” as [ɸ], right? (“IPA [gɻeːɸ]”).

    By /p/ you probably mean the /p/ in “grape”, which is what Pollum thinks [gɻeːɸ] “almost exactly sounded like”. This is what puzzles me the most. I guess he means “grape” in a dialect with a monophthongal FACE vowel?

    Nonetheless, I agree with you that if this indeed was a Japanese native speaker, and Pollum’s description is accurate, it probably was an hypercorrection of the too low/centered typical rendering of /æ/ by Japanese speakers. And to be fair, at least the AmE /æ/ has allophones all over the place, some of them getting somewhat close to [e], although not the one in “graph”.

    > Am I alone in feeling that this sounds much more like the accent of a (Mandarin) Chinese speaker?

    I was thinking Korean speaker. Korean maps /æ/ to ㅐ, /ɛ/, but many Koreans merge /ɛ/ and /e/. And mapping English /f/ to /p/ is standard in Korean. Maybe Pollum actually did hear [p], but thought he heard [ɸ] based on his knowledge of Japanese phonology.

  204. My apologies, Pullum did write [gɻeːɸ], not ‘grape’ (which is what it ‘sounded like’).

    I do think the Japanese speaker (if that is what he was) was aiming for /græf/ rather than /gra:f/, though, which would account for the departure from [gɯraɸɯ̥].

  205. > The /æ/ sound is almost always rounded to /a/ by Japanese speakers, after all.

    There’s a subtle difference between standard loanword conversion, and as-close-as-possible conversion. I don’t know if the standard way of appropriating English loans has ever been the closest one available in Japanese phonology, but currently, it definitely isn’t, and (at least young) Japanese people know that.

    This gives rise to slangy/jocular versions of loans like アポー /apo:/ for “apple”, based on the understanding that this is much closer to what English speakers actually say than the standard アップル /ap:uru/

    Likewise, mapping English /æ/ to Japanese /e/ is not unheard of in non-standard settings, for example in the slang word マイメン /maimen/ “my man”. This usage is surely trying to mimic an American value of the vowel, which in this allophone definitely is much closer to /e/ than /a/ due to a-tensing.

  206. I was thinking Korean speaker.

    Hmm, that could well be! Maybe I was putting too much weight on the vowel actually sounding like that in “grape.” Pullum’s [gɻeːɸ] isn’t too far from 그래프 [kɯɾɛpʰɯ] (or indeed [kɯɾepʰɯ]), and the Korean handling here of English phonotactics could very plausibly sound Japanese to someone more familiar with the latter (as is likely enough the case). We’d still have to assume Pullum missed the speaker’s name, Korean names being almost as distinctively different from Japanese names as Chinese ones are, but I think yours is a better guess overall.

    There’s a subtle difference between standard loanword conversion, and as-close-as-possible conversion. I don’t know if the standard way of appropriating English loans has ever been the closest one available in Japanese phonology, but currently, it definitely isn’t, and (at least young) Japanese people know that.

    Well aware of this, though the case of アポー /apo:/ shows the same rounding to [a] I was thinking of. Indeed, as a deliberate (if rough) phonetic representation without (much of) a life in the actual vocabulary of the language, I’d say it’s a data point in favor of the trend.

    What you say about “man” in マイメン /maimen/ is true, of course, and though the parallel preexistence of メンズ [meɴzɯ] “men’s” (as in shoes, etc.) from the plural somewhat complicates this particular example, there are clearly other similar cases like ノーセンキュー [no:seŋkyu:] for “No, thank you.” I’m a little hesitant to think of these as representations of (even allophones of) [æ] though, since at least in my own speech (in such closed+pre-nasal environments) they’re not allophones any more, but clearly *phonemically distinct. Now, this is hardly dispositive of the possibility that the model for mimicry here lies in dialects where you might still call it an allophone, but while open to the idea I remain skeptical. Either way, the environment for “graph” is different, which is why it’s at least easier for me to imagine /e/ here as a weird spelling-influenced hypercorrection than as an attempt to render /æ/ ending up as /e/ (if, of course, we assume the speaker really was Japanese).

    *n=1, but for me, e.g. bat, ban, bank sound something like [bæt], [bɛ(ə)n], and [beŋk].

  207. I found an interesting use of “the States” last night, in a (non-Holmesian) story by Arthur Conan Doyle. The story contains a letter with the line “My people came from Bucks, England, and emigrated to the States in the early fifties.” Here we have an American writing from America to an unnamed Englishman[*] in the UK and using “the States”. Is that because:

    1) he doesn’t actually think of himself as an American, and so is not bound by the American implicit rules (see earlier comments) for using that term?

    2) he is writing to a Englishman, and he uses the term which the recipient would expect to hear?

    3) just because it’s 1892 and the rules aren’t in effect yet?

    4) Doyle himself doesn’t understand the rules?

    [*] The Englishman is described as “a well-known criminal investigator”, and some people think he is Holmes.

  208. J.W. Brewer says:

    Another possibility for the Holmes quote is that the sentence is taking the POV of the subject of the sentence at the time of the action. I myself might well say “my family moved back to the States the year I turned eleven” although I am uttering the sentence decades after returning and am thus no longer using the expat-specific toponym when describing current rather than historical events.

  209. J.W. Brewer says:

    Doyle quote, I suppose I should have said.

  210. Crawdad Tom says:

    For the record, I know an American editor who produces sentences like the two that Pullum objects to, and I (also American) rewrite them. To me they are grammatical, but archaic. Also for the record, I have lived outside the U.S. for 39 years (continuously since 1983), and I never refer to America as “the States.” I have heard others use that expression, as well as “Stateside” (primarily by military personnel and their dependents).

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