3 Interesting Linguistic Phenomenon
Linguistics is full of interesting nooks and captivating crannies. There’s eggcorns, Bushisms, Freudian slips, and green ideas which sleep furiously at night.
It is no wonder that we chose the industry we did. Language is a treasure trove of fascinating phenomenon and here are three of our favourites.
Barbarism & Bastardization
There are two types of grammarians in the world: descriptivists and prescriptivists. The former tells you how we do use grammar; the latter how you should.
The descriptivist revels in discovering what people are doing with language. Scotland’s love affair with the past participle, Yorkshire’s distaste for the the and Newcastle’s penchant for is. Any and every deviation from standard English make the descriptivist’s ears prick up and start frantically parsing speech.
Meanwhile, the prescriptivist tuts dismissively at every ‘incorrect’ usage of grammar. The prescriptivist is the person who corrects Captain Kirk’s famous opening to: “To go boldly where no man has gone before.”
Barbarism and bastardisation both lie in the domain of the prescriptivist. Barbarism describes the very existence of any nonstandard word, phrase or pronunciation of a word. Ain’t, y’all, alot and yous are all non-standard contraction. All are (apparently) barbaric.
Bastardization (or corruption) is the change in words via improper pronunciation. This often happens when a word is ‘borrowed’ from another language. Or when sound clusters are difficult to pronounce or distinguish.
While many will undoubtedly continue to sniff at these linguistic features, it is worth remembering that the language you speak now is a ‘corrupted’ version of a previous language. It is linguistic features like barbarism and bastardization that drive the continual evolution of languages.
A hypercorrection is when someone tries to talk “correctly” but goes too far and ends up making a completely different mistake.
Think of hypercorrection as the descriptivist’s revenge. It is the result of years of continual nagging and correction. It is why people insist on asking “For what reason did you do that?” and “Whom is calling?”
Growing up many are told not to end a sentence with a preposition. This is an iron-clad rule and must not be broken. Instead speakers insist on incredibly cumbersome sentence constructions and sacrifice both clarity and conciseness.
For what reason did you do that?
What did you do that for?
Likewise, we are often told that whom is to be used when we refer to the object of a verb and whom when what we refer to is the subject. However, people are often unable to distinguish between object and subject and so use whom incorrectly.
Tip of the Tongue
Tip of the tongue is a bizarre phenomenon in linguistics. It’s that moment when a word suddenly disappears from your mind. You know what it means, what it describes, how it feels and you would know the word if it were spoken to you.
But you can’t remember what the word is.
William James describes tip of the tongue phenomenon saying: “It is a gap that is intensely active. A sort of wraith of the name is in it, beckoning us in a given direction, making us at moments tingle with the sense of our closeness and then letting us sink back without the longed-for term.”
We’re still not entirely sure what happens during tip of the tongue. Your requests a word and somewhere along the retrieval process it hops off and infuriatingly disappears. It does come back, albeit several seconds, minutes or hours later.