How Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin “do gender.”
December 16, 2008, 5:49 am
Filed under: Sociolinguistics | Tags: , , ,

A concept from sociolinguistics is that of “doing gender;” namely, that gender is an action someone carries out rather than a property someone has. In this sense, everyone is doing gender all the time, regardless of their biological sex, by their physical actions, their metalinguistic functions (intonation, etc), their body language, and finally their use of linguistic resources.

I wrote a paper on this topic concerning Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, which describes how each of these women seem to do gender in a completely different way.

According to my findings, Clinton acts as current research suggests is common for a female politician by trying to make herself appear more masculine with semi-aggressive language and little comment mitigation. Palin does the opposite and tries to make herself appear wholly feminine – contrary to said research.

A PDF of “Dramatis Personae: How Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin Do Gender” is available here.


From whence comes “America?”
October 10, 2008, 1:54 am
Filed under: Historical Linguistics

Here’s an interesting topic in Historical Linguistics: from whence comes the word America? In modern American English, the term is essentially a synonym with United States, even though America can also denote the whole of North America or South America. When used without a modifier, however, America does not seem very ambiguous, as almost every reader certainly understood that I was referring to the English spoken in the United States when I wrote American English in the previous sentence, and not the English spoken in Brazil, for example.

A look at the Oxford English Dictionary’s etymology of America attributes it to a work written in 1507 by M. Waldseemüller entitled Cosmographiae Introductio, in which the term Americus was used as the Latinized form of the name Amerigo Vespucci. Vespucci was an Italian who sailed off the South American coast around 1500, and apparently the word America is derived from a translation of his first name. The word’s use in its current form is recorded in OED in a work by J. Shirley, written in 1659.

While the allusion to Amerigo Vespucci is the most commonly accepted etymology of America, there do exist some thought-provoking alternatives. For example, a work by Jules Marcou, in 1886, reported that Vespucci had actually changed his name to Amerigo from Alberigo (which would have been Latinized Albericus). According to Marcou, it was Vespucci’s dealings with natives around the Ameriqque mountains of South America that prompted him to change his name. This wouldn’t technically change the etymology of the term, of course, as Vespucci was reported as Americus in 1507, but it is interesting nonetheless to consider that the word itself is derived from a native term and not a Latinized name.

Still another theory exists: in 1497, Briton John Cabot embarked for the New World, and is commonly considered to be the first western European to set foot on North America. The financier of his expedition was a fellow Englishman, one mister Richard Amerike. The jump from Amerike to America (if it actually occurred) is a small and believable one, and so America could be named after an expedition financier of years long passed.

There are doubtlessly other examples of theoretical etymologies of America floating around out there; if any readers know of some I haven’t mentioned, please, comment.

Morphological Blocking in a Computational Context

I wrote a term paper for a Morphology class at Davis recently, and decided to post it here in its entirety. To anyone interested in the topic of blocking: enjoy!

Click here for PDF: Morphological Blocking in a Computational Context.

Native Languages of California: Remission and Revival

This is an electronic copy of a paper I’ve just completed for a class in Multilingualism at the University of California, Davis, April 28, 2008.

“We’re all getting old and when we go our language goes with us.”
— Margaret Valdez, native Yokuts speaker (qtd. in Larsen, 2004)

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WALS goes online.

Many of you language geeks may have heard of the (relatively new) World Atlas of Language Structures, a project carried out primarily by researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.

The volume, which has maps of linguistic features (a relative first) including word order, morphological features and more, has proven a bit pricy. Not anymore, however: the entire work is now available online for FREE! It’s even better than pie and chips.

Give it a look at

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Native American words in English.

For a recent paper I completed (which should be up here soon), I researched Native American languages in California, and the relative maintenance and/or decline thereof. On my path to resources, I stumbled across a nice little work entitled American Words: An introduction to those native words used in english in the US and Canada. The book actually turned out to be incredibly interesting, enough so to write a short piece about it. (Not only that, but it was written by Jack Forbes at UC Davis in 1979, and I feel a need to promote other Aggies when the chance arises.)

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Historical Number Systems.
April 25, 2008, 12:37 am
Filed under: Historical Linguistics, Language-specific, Uncategorized

Math majors out there will show some interest in this one: English vocabulary gives us some hints on it’s historical number system. And, interestingly, this whole business of dividing things in terms of ten may not have been an original feature.

Number systems like the one in English are regarded as “Base-10,” where 10 is an especially meaningful unit. For example, the addition of ten turns “twenty-two” into “thirty-two,” and number prefixes (“twenty,” “thirty,” “forty”) are always increments of ten. Historically, however, it would appear that English was different.

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