Make Grammar Cool Again Transcript

Megan Figueroa: Hi, and welcome to the Vocal Fries podcast. The podcast about linguistic discrimination

Carrie Gillon: I’m Carrie Gillon

Megan Figueroa: and I’m Megan Figueroa.

Carrie Gillon: People have wanted us to talk about this because obviously

Megan Figueroa: here’s the NPR headline: “Michigan prisons ban Spanish and Swahili dictionaries to prevent inmate disruptions.”

We have this problem of trying to stop any sort of conversations that we don’t understand. And when it’s something like this, it feels like just like a violation of, of human rights here. .

Carrie Gillon: I mean that prisons often will ban books because they think that they’re dangerous for their inmates. Right. This does seem unusual to me. I don’t know.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah.

Carrie Gillon: I’ve never heard of a prison system banning dictionaries before, and then the reason why they ban the dictionaries is:

Megan Figueroa: um, here’s what the spokesperson says. “If certain prisoners all decided to learn a very obscure language, they would be able to then speak freely in front of staff and others about introducing contraband or assaulting staff or assaulting another prisoner.”

Carrie Gillon: And then they’re also, there’s also the layer of like, they’re worried that, uh, prison uprisings, which do happen

Megan Figueroa: yes.

Carrie Gillon: For reasons for like good reasons. But anyway. Yeah. But yeah, what I, what I found the most hilarious part was that they dared to call these languages obscure.

Megan Figueroa: Right. And I think, does it not just play into the idea of just like this American monolingual like society. We have that we would think that-

Carrie Gillon: I guess

Megan Figueroa: -anything other than English is obscure

Carrie Gillon: I guess, but calling Spanish obscure, even under those circumstances, seems really strange to me. I- like them calling Swahili obscure, which is also vastly incorrect, makes some sense to me that they would think that, right. It just doesn’t make sense that they would make that claim for Spanish. It’s like the one language that I would be like, how could they-

Megan Figueroa: right.

Carrie Gillon: Even given the situation in the United States, call that obscure.

And then, uh, um, oh God, I can’t remember who it was. Someone on Twitter was like, “oh, it’s even worse than you think: it’s all languages.” And I’m like, well, no shit. If there’s, if they’re calling Spanish obscure, then literally all the other languages are also gonna be banned. Like you shouldn’t be shocked by this

Megan Figueroa: no, yeah. I thought that it entailed the other. I was like, I think, you know, yeah. Yeah. Calling Spanish obscure is particularly egregious because I can only assume that Spanish speaking people are overrepresented in the prison systems.

Carrie Gillon: Presumably.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah. I know that to be true in certain cities and in certain states, I don’t know about Michigan, particularly.

Carrie Gillon: Yeah.

Megan Figueroa: But yes, your inmates speak languages other than you. I just think for this to, to say that they’re trying to stomp out like uprisings or just, you know, like why do they think it’s important now to do it?

Carrie Gillon: Yeah, the timing is weird.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah. They’ve always been there. Um, there has to be like something else , uh, what’s precipitating it?

Carrie Gillon: Maybe more people were learning these languages so that, so it’s, it’s clearly not the people who are already speaking the languages that they’re worried about.

Megan Figueroa: Right.

Carrie Gillon: They’re worried about the people who want to learn it, I guess.

Megan Figueroa: Right.

Carrie Gillon: Who are taking out these dictionaries and trying to learn again Spanish?

Megan Figueroa: Right. Know. Okay. Some of the guard. You gotta believe a good handful-

Carrie Gillon: in Michigan?

Megan Figueroa: No, you don’t think so. I don’t know.

Carrie Gillon: I’m not gonna say none, right? I’m gonna say it’s less likely than it would be in Arizona.

Megan Figueroa: Sure. Yeah. I guess I’m I also have a very, uh, you know, my point of view is only so large.

Carrie Gillon: Yeah. And you might be right. Actually, it might be the case that a lot of them do. I just have a suspicion that it’ll be a smaller percentage in Michigan than in Arizona.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah.

Carrie Gillon: But regardless, I don’t know what they’re gonna do with these dictionaries. You can’t really learn a language through a dictionary.

Megan Figueroa: Right.

Carrie Gillon: But it can help you. Right. Obviously you need, you need to learn the vocabulary so it can be helpful. But presumably you’re also taking classes or something.

Megan Figueroa: Right.

Carrie Gillon: Maybe talking with another inmate, take away the dictionary. If you’re doing the talking thing, it’s not gonna change anything. You can still learn it.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah.

Carrie Gillon: You just don’t have that physical. I don’t know the, I assume they’re worried about codes.

Megan Figueroa: like cyphers?

Carrie Gillon: Yeah. I guess. Like. A dictionary can help with that, but it’s not necessary. And so I just I’m like, I don’t know, this seems very bizarre. Maybe I’m missing something like, I know what they’re, I feel like I know what they’re doing and why, but it also feels futile. So, but maybe I’m missing something.

Megan Figueroa: I don’t think you are. I just don’t think they realize how futile it is when it comes to learning a language or thinking about that deeply.

Carrie Gillon: Right. And, and also futility might not even be the, the point. It doesn’t matter. They just wanna punish people,

Megan Figueroa: right. Yes, absolutely. I it’s so bizarre and yeah, the whole Spanish is obscure thing is just ridiculous.

Oh, so, you know, like we were talking about whether or not Michigan, if the, um, prison guards are, you know, what amount of them might be Spanish speakers. Um, I’ve been thinking about this kind of thing a lot because Uvalde and what was happening with the press coverage and there have been a lot of Latinx journalists who are pointing out that these press conferences aren’t being delivered in Spanish and English

Carrie Gillon: or any other language,

Megan Figueroa: right.

Carrie Gillon: Not, ASL either. Nothing. And normally there’s ASL at least.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah. Especially, I mean, even if it’s not their normal practice, I feel like-

Carrie Gillon: for something this big-

Megan Figueroa: exactly. Yes. More and more now when there’s like national tension, they start, they, they do ASL, which again should always be doing. But, um, yeah. And like to the point where like, um, Spanish language television people have been asking for some answers in Spanish and it’s like this community, I, I forgot, I looked it up, but it’s like nearing 90% like Mexican-American or Mexican. And again, you don’t have to be a Spanish speaker to be Mexican-American or whatever, but many of like this community are fully bilingual.

Carrie Gillon: when the percentage is that high.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah. exactly. Yeah. Or just speak Spanish. It’s just like this, this disconnect between like who, the leaders of Uvalde are, cuz like the mayor is, is Anglo. But like all of the, the people that are being served are like these Spanish speaking, Mexican and Mexican Americans, and to have all of this, you know, this happening in their front yard or, you know, whatever, and to not have access to the media is just enraging.

Carrie Gillon: And then they stopped even talking to anybody like the police anyway, and just like, yeah, the communication breakdown is fascinating to watch. Yeah, it’s bad.

Megan Figueroa: It is really bad,

Carrie Gillon: but I’m not, I. I was actually kind of shocked when they weren’t doing anything in Spanish. Cuz I was like, well, I mean, this is like a, a population where you would expect that to be normal. Nope. Not happening, but then they just stopped talking all together and it’s like, yeah, this is not a functioning place.

Megan Figueroa: No, no it shouldn’t have had to take this to find out, but yeah.

Carrie Gillon: oh, oh well. Hmm. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Anyways, slightly less of dire, but still bad.

Megan Figueroa: Oh well

Carrie Gillon: Ryan Air. Do you know ryan Air?

Megan Figueroa: No. Is that an airline?

Carrie Gillon: It’s an airline. It’s an Irish. It’s an Irish airline that’s known for cheap flights within Europe.

Megan Figueroa: Okay.

Carrie Gillon: If you were to go to Europe and you wanted to fly from one place to another, you would probably fly Ryan Air because it’s really cheap.

Megan Figueroa: Okay.

Carrie Gillon: Which is a shame because they have great trains. But anyway,

Megan Figueroa: yeah. That’s what I thought was the thing to use the trains

Carrie Gillon: but anyway, so. Irish airline Ryan Air is now forcing South Africans to take a test in Afrikaans on UK flights.

Megan Figueroa: what!

Carrie Gillon: Yeah. So, okay. First of all, there’s a according to Ryan Air and I, I, I have zero information on whether this is true or not. According to Ryan Air, there’s a high prevalence of fraudulent South African passports. So now if you’re traveling to the UK, I guess within Europe, probably within Europe, because now the UK’s not part of the EU anymore, all the rules have changed. Right. Thanks Brexit.

Megan Figueroa: Right.

Carrie Gillon: But anyway, so if you don’t, so if you have a South African passport, it might be fraudulent. So if you’re gonna fly to the UK, we need to have. proof that you’re really South African. And so they’re forcing people to use Afrikaans, which is very closely related to Dutch. It’s a, you know, it’s a colonial language, just like English and not everybody in South Africa speaks it. English is also pretty common in South Africa. So if they are an English speaker, they still could be South African.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah.

Carrie Gillon: and on top of that, South Africa has 11 official languages. Afrikaans is only one of them.

Megan Figueroa: Oh my God. Okay. So this is not a situation even where Afrikaans is like the only official language.

Carrie Gillon: No!

Megan Figueroa: It’s like 11. And English is one of them.

Carrie Gillon: Yes. English is one of them. Mm-hmm.

Megan Figueroa: And so like, is it depending on where you or your family, like what situation you are raised in? You might not be speaking Afrikaans at all.

Carrie Gillon: It’s possible. I mean, if you’re traveling, I guess maybe there’s a slightly higher chance that you’re speaking, that you also speak Afrikaans.

Megan Figueroa: Sure. Yeah.

Carrie Gillon: But only 13% speak it as a first language in, in South Africa.

Megan Figueroa: Right. And how comfortable do you feel taking a quote unquote test, whatever that means in it? Like that’s a whole other ballgame

Carrie Gillon: yeah. The content has South African general knowledge. I, well, I was listening to someone, I think it was on BBC World service podcast talk about it. He’s South African speaks Afrikaans. And he said that he still missed two of the questions cuz you know like,

Megan Figueroa: oh, is it like who’s your first president or something like that? Like those kind of questions

Carrie Gillon: probably. Yes. Probably those kind of questions. I don’t remember which ones he missed, but you know like, yes, of course, not everyone’s gonna, even if you are from South Africa and you speak, you still might not get all of them right. And I don’t know what the cutoff is. And Afrikaans is the third most spoken mother tongue, whatever first language, after Zulu and IsiXhosa. So it’s like number three.

Megan Figueroa: So it’s not even number one. Okay. So

Carrie Gillon: not even number my God.

Megan Figueroa: Wow.

Carrie Gillon: During apartheid, the white Afrikaaners ruled the country. Yeah. So it’s like asking people to use a language that’s associated with apartheid

Megan Figueroa: yeah.

Carrie Gillon: Using content questions that, I mean, probably most South Africans could pass, but maybe not all of them. And it’s apparently also riddled with grammatical and spelling errors.

Megan Figueroa: So someone who like, was this written not by an, like an Afrikaans speaker,

Carrie Gillon: my guess is it was written in English first, someone translated into Afrikaans, who knows if they used Google translate or something. I don’t- probably not, but you know, they who knows, like who translated it. Probably not a first language speaker or maybe someone who’s just not a trans like a good translator, you know, that’s not their job.


Megan Figueroa: Which I feel like this would be like a situation where you’d want someone whose job is that, to make sure that this is a good translation.

Carrie Gillon: I mean, if you’re gonna do this, do it properly, but don’t do this.

Megan Figueroa: it is bad.

Carrie Gillon: No it’s bad.

Megan Figueroa: The US citizenship test in English asks questions like, you know, about George Washington or whatever, but it’s like, these people are expected to know these things when a lot of people that were born here just don’t remember learning them. And we don’t have that, this knowledge just at the ready all the time. It that’s what it reminds me of.

Carrie Gillon: Okay. So I’ll ask you the equivalent American questions.

Megan Figueroa: Okay.

Carrie Gillon: What’s the international dialing code for the us

Megan Figueroa: one?

Carrie Gillon: Yes.

Megan Figueroa: Okay.

Carrie Gillon: What’s the, what’s its capital city,

Megan Figueroa: Washington DC.

Carrie Gillon: And who’s the current president of the country.

Megan Figueroa: uh, Biden.

Carrie Gillon: Yeah. So at least you would pass those three questions.

Megan Figueroa: Okay. .

Carrie Gillon: Oh, okay. So now that I’m reading further down, I see the guy that I heard on the, on the podcast, or at least I would, would think it was, he says he would’ve, uh, failed this,

Megan Figueroa: oh,

Carrie Gillon: this test and only got five questions right.

Megan Figueroa: Wow.

Carrie Gillon: Now part of it is because the last time he ever spoke or wrote anything in Afrikaans was in high school, you know,

Megan Figueroa: Uhhuh, Uhhuh.

Carrie Gillon: It’s just, it feels like it, the second language obviously. And it just feels like something he wants to kind of push back. It’s not part of his current life. Right. He, he actually swore to never speak Afrikaans again after he left high school. Cuz all of the, you know, the horrible history of South Africa,

Megan Figueroa: a lot of baggage.

Carrie Gillon: There’s a lot of baggage. Right. He’s Black. So he’s just like, no, this is not

Megan Figueroa: that’s a really good point though. Like what if you were like, you’re older and you’re like, man, I haven’t dealt with Afrikaans since high school. like, what if it’s been decades? Yeah, I totally get that. It would be really hard. And this is kinda like a tiny high pressure situation here.

Carrie Gillon: Yeah. And on top of all of this, out of all the colonial languages, English is used the most in officially and in business.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah.

Carrie Gillon: That’s, that’s the language like if you’re gonna use a colonial language it’s English, it’s not Afrikaans.

Megan Figueroa: Wow. That that’s fucked. That’s

Carrie Gillon: I guess I can sort of understand the concern about, you know, fraudulent passports, I guess, but if that’s your concern, surely there’s another way,

Megan Figueroa: right.

Carrie Gillon: I don’t even know if it’s like the airline’s business, frankly. It’s the the border guards’ business 100%. Right. So I guess it makes it difficult because if you fly someone into the UK and then they’re not allowed in the country, you have to fly them back. So I guess that’s why they wanna do it, but still this is, mm, not a great way to handle it.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah.

Carrie Gillon: And I don’t have a better solution. I’m not saying I do, but. Not this,

Megan Figueroa: after all this terrible stuff we talked about, here’s a conversation I really enjoyed having.

Carrie Gillon: Yeah. Here’s a more uplifting conversation for sure.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah.

Carrie Gillon: Today we’re very excited. We have two guests, Dr. Andreea Calude, who’s a senior lecturer in linguistics at the University of Waikato New Zealand. She has a background in mathematics and linguistics and researches spoken grammar, language, evolution, loan words and just about any quantitative language related question she can get data on. She’s the Editor in Chief of Te Reo The Journal of the Linguistic Society of New Zealand.

And Dr. Laurie Bauer is Emeritus Professor of Linguistics in the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies at the University of Wellington. He is a descriptive linguist whose main interest is in morphology and in particular word formation. In 2017, he won the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Humanities/Aranui Medal “for research or innovative work of outstanding merit in the humanities”.

And together, they wrote the Mysteries of English Language, A Guide to Complexities of the English Language, and also edited Questions about Language, What Everybody Should Know about Language in the 21st Century.

So welcome.

Megan Figueroa: Thank you. Yeah. We’re so excited to have you. Laurie, I love morphology and word formation. I just have to say that it is one of my favorite bits about linguistics.

Carrie Gillon: Yeah. It’s really fun. I think that was the first thing that I was like, oh wow, language is so cool, when I got to the morphology section of the first linguistics class I was ever in.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah. And it makes, uh, undergrads excited. I think it’s really easy to get them excited about words and word bits and stuff.

Laurie Bauer: Yeah. And it starts off easy and then it rapidly gets harder as well.

Megan Figueroa: it does

Carrie Gillon: well. Yes.

Megan Figueroa: True.

Carrie Gillon: Oh boy. the last thing I ever taught was a morphology class and, oh boy, there were some things in there that I’d never encountered before. And I was like, oh, okay. Yeah, this is a field that I don’t know.

Laurie Bauer: Yeah.

Megan Figueroa: And Andreea, I was just gonna say that a lot of people would be like “mathematics and linguistics?” They don’t- a lot of people don’t realize how mathematical certain subfields of linguistics really is. Would you say that’s true?

Andreea Calude: Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s true. In fact, when I graduated from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, I was one of two people who had just about in the history of the university had graduated with a BA in linguistics and a BSC a science degree in maths. The two of us kind of clung together for dear life, for a little while. I, I think there’s a lot of over overlap. Patterns. You know, linguist look for patterns and mass is all about patterns.

Carrie Gillon: Exactly.

Andreea Calude: So sometimes I describe grammar as being kind of mass with words. So.

Carrie Gillon: Yeah, 100%.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah, absolutely.

Carrie Gillon: Why did you wanna write this textbook Mysteries of English Language?

Laurie Bauer: There’s several things going on. First of all, when we started it, we didn’t know it was a textbook.

Carrie Gillon: Oh!

Laurie Bauer: We just thought it was a book

Megan Figueroa: mm-hmm

Laurie Bauer: and um, then the publicity people from the press got hold of us and said, “well, who’s going to read this book?” And we had to think about who, who the audience was in more detail than we had had previously done. And we said, “well, actually, this could be useful for all sorts of students of linguistics or English as a foreign language, as well as for the people we’d originally thought about, which is all those people out there who are really, really interested in language and haven’t the faintest idea what to ask why things are, uh, the way they are and who don’t realize that when linguists say, ‘oh, well, there, isn’t just a simple answer to that question,’ that the linguists are not just being stupid.”

Megan Figueroa: Yeah. Or equivocating or not wanting to answer kind of thing. Yeah. Yeah.

Andreea Calude: Yeah.

Laurie Bauer: I think we were trying to, to answer a whole lot of misconception. I’m not sure that we had this overtly in our heads when we started, but one of those misconceptions is that English grammar is like asking which side of the road you drive on in New Zealand. You drive on the left in New Zealand. There’s one answer. So what’s the one answer for should I say he or him? Well, there’s not one answer. Why not? There’s an answer to the question I first asked, why isn’t there an answer to this one?

And my favorite way of looking at this is to say it, the question about questions about language in general are much more like, should I wear jeans to this party or not? And whether you wear jeans to the party, first of all, depends on what else you’ve got to wear. It depends on whether the party is being run by your younger sister or your potential mother-in-law. It depends on what overt information you’ve been given about dress code. It depends on, it depends on a whole lot of things. It depends on you. Are you the kind of person that likes to dress down or dress up?

Megan Figueroa: Yeah. Are you gonna flout the rules that you were given?

Laurie Bauer: Yeah. So there’s a, a whole bunch of answers depending on a whole bunch of things and language’s like that. Not like which side of the road do you drive on in new Zealand.

Megan Figueroa: I like that a lot.

Carrie Gillon: Me too.

Megan Figueroa: I like that.

Andreea Calude: That’s so interesting. Cuz Laurie and I have never kind of talked about it too much. We, we both wanted to write this book, but we didn’t- it’s the first time I hear him say that, you know, so it’s, it’s kinda cool.

I always feel like I come from it in some ways, almost opposite way and that when I was doing my PhD, I heard a lot of, you know, my friends- as you probably have experienced yourselves- you know, people ask why, “what are you doing your PhD on? And what are you trying to find out? And what’s the point of that?” And all that sort of thing. A lot of the time people kind of were like “English grammar? Does English have any grammar?” It’s kind of like, “what are you even doing? What are you even studying?” So there was some extremes, there were people who thought there was nothing to study. I was just kind of sitting around, you know, watching the equivalent Netflix all day. And then the, then there was the other people who thought “grammar. Oh yeah. That’s just about rules. It’s really dull isn’t. It’s like, you’re gonna tell me how bad my language is. That’s, that’s basically what you’re doing. You, you’re just kind of out there trying to get us all. You’re analyzing what I’m saying right now.” And you had these extreme opposing kind of views in my head.

And, and then when I came to teach grammar to undergraduate students, I found that, you know, they get you to write these little descriptions about what the courses are. And a lot of the time students after they do the course would say, “oh, you know, I, I actually never realized we, we are gonna learn this kind of stuff in the course. It’s really cool, but it’s very different to what I actually expected.” They would come and say “it’s actually really interesting.” And it made me think about language in a different way. And so I kind of wanted to write something that would make grammar interesting for people, rather than just prescriptive.

And, and also like, like the way Laurie talked about analogies with other things, you know, language is like other things in our lives. And so we do language in the way that we do lots of other things, um, make decisions about various aspects. And so grammar is, is also sometimes choosing and making decisions. And they’re not clear cut, just like he said. And so hopefully, hopefully it’s gonna kind of peak the interest of potentially readers that didn’t even know linguistics was a thing to actually look more at language following this book. That’s our hope.

Megan Figueroa: What stage of your life were you when you realized linguistics was a thing? Speaking of, because I was about 22, when I realized that linguistics was a thing and I, I now know teenagers that have linguistics elective courses in their high schools.

Andreea Calude: You do?

Megan Figueroa: So, yeah. Well, it’s, it’s a charter school, so that’s different in the states. I don’t know how, how your schools work there, but so like it’s a little bit different, but yeah, there’s a, there’s a school nearby that has a linguistics course for high schoolers.

Andreea Calude: I love that.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah, I do too. Were you, were you older into your career already?

Laurie Bauer: I started off as a linguistic student as an undergraduate. And that was because I was a modern languages student and I wanted to do something with the language, as opposed to with the literature. So that was a very bad reason for getting into linguistics. But I turned, I sort of found this course and the course was called French Language with Linguistics and Phonetics.

Carrie Gillon: Ooh.

Laurie Bauer: And I didn’t actually know what linguistics meant and I didn’t know what phonetics meant, but when I got there and my sort of first week of term in the, in this new environment, we, we had this wonderful phonetics stuff and I was, I was sold and I just continued from there.

Andreea Calude: That’s really cool. I was very privileged. I actually learned about linguistics when I was about 17. And if Mr. Greenwood, my literature high school teacher, is listening. He probably isn’t. But if he is, it’s because of you. And he basically was married to an applied linguist, Jackie Greenwood, who became my colleague as a PhD student. He kind of knew that I was good at maths. So I was, I was the kid, the foreign kid in the high school that, that was good at maths. And that was me. And, and he said, “yeah, you’re good at maths, so you should do linguistics.” And I was like, “what, what are you even talking about?” And I always wanted to be a math high school teacher, like my mom. And so I knew I was gonna do maths, but then, but then I didn’t, I wasn’t very sold on that many other sciences. And so I enrolled in linguistics because of Mr. Greenwood and ended up with this conjoined degree, which was always a bit awkward cause nothing fit quite right in terms of course schedules.

And then when I finished my undergraduate degree and I, it came to doing kind of the teaching diploma, I realized that even though my grades and maths were always consistently much better, I never got an A+ linguistics ever in my undergrad. I was kind of interested to do a bit more and I thought, wow, I could do maths. I’m good at maths. Clearly much better. But then I thought, but linguistics are sort of my hobby. And they say you should do the thing that you like. So I kind of continued with linguistics. Kind of still haven’t got around to teaching maths, but maybe one day and you never know.

Carrie Gillon: Yeah, I was 18. I was in my first year of university and I was in engineering. Cause I was also pretty good at math and I hated it. I hated engineering so much. I was like, this is not for me. So I was like, when am I gonna do physics? I don’t know. And I was looking and I found this thing called linguistics, which I’d never heard of and it seemed to be science and language. And I loved both those things and I was just like, ah!

Megan Figueroa: Yeah, no. So many people don’t realize that. Yes, it’s this, the science of language. There’s so many different ways to approach it.

But it’s so exciting for you because this book could be like that moment for people.

Carrie Gillon: Yeah. It definitely could be that entre.

Megan Figueroa: where they discover linguistics.

Laurie Bauer: Well, we’d like to think so. I mean that would great.

Andreea Calude: You like to think so. Yeah. It’s not Christmas, but Christmas presents for your favorite people

Megan Figueroa: yes, yes, absolutely.

Andreea Calude: It comes in paperback!

Megan Figueroa: And it’s a good length. That’s a good length, right? It’s not like one of those huge textbooks that you imagine for like a psychology course or something.

Andreea Calude: Yeah. Well, we wanted it to be, so it’s 161 pages and we wanted it to be the kind of thing you can sit and flick through, and not read the chapters sort of from start to finish. And if you haven’t read Chapter two, then Chapter four isn’t gonna make much sense. We, we wanted it to be the kind of thing that you could quickly sort of pick up and then read for a bit and read one chapter and then maybe put it down and do something else and read another.

Carrie Gillon: Yeah it’s definitely, it is definitely readable in that sense that you definitely can just dip in and out

Megan Figueroa: mm-hmm .

Carrie Gillon: Yeah.

Andreea Calude: And we want it to be fun writing. I I’m really, really keen on writing. You know, I have this thing that Laurie’s heard me say before where I, I walk into a bookshop and then there’s like rows and rows of books on popular science, you know, black holes and, you know, no, no disrespect to those kinds of really interesting subjects. But I think nobody’s seen black holes, you know, really how relevant is this to your life? But language you’re using it every day. You should, you, why are there not rows and rows of books of linguistics, you know, oriented kind of reading for lay audience? You know, I think everybody would be interested in linguistics and they don’t need to do a whole degree in the subject and they could still glean a lot of really interesting facts and information just from that.

And so, yeah, I kind of, I kind of think that linguists have missed a few tricks by not kind of focusing attention on, on, like you say, yourselves, not many people know about the subject.

Laurie’s written many books that are for a very wide audience and his, as an undergraduate graduate student, I let I read his Language Myths book that he did with Peter Trudgill and thought it was just wonderful.

And so this book actually grew out me saying, “remember that book you did. It was so great. I loved it.”

Megan Figueroa: oh, wow. I love that. So did you know each other, did some, did you reach out, like how did you come to be the two people writing this book?

Laurie Bauer: Well,

Andreea Calude: well, Janet, Janet’s fault

Laurie Bauer: the tale, interestingly enough, but Andreea and I had the same supervisor for our PhDs.

Megan Figueroa: Oh.

Laurie Bauer: I was the first student who was supervised by Jim, who, when I came across him was at the University of Edinburgh and Andreea was the last of his supervisees

Andreea Calude: but did nothing wrong. He, he just wanted to retire. I just wanna say that

Carrie Gillon: you ruined him forever

Laurie Bauer: we, we knew each other partly because of that connection partly because, um, the number of linguists in New Zealand is fairly small, the best of times and you know, everybody.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah, I bet

Laurie Bauer: Then the topic of this came up when we sort of talked about, is that it, we, it just sort of kept going didn’t it, Andreea?

Andreea Calude: What Laurie has kind of humbly missed out is that I wanted to do a book on lone words, and I wanted to do a popular linguistics book. And I, I had a bunch of Laurie’s books, not just the Language Myths book. And in fact, I wanted to write like that myself and I’d never written a book at all. And so I was told, you know, if you want to do, like, one of those, you should contact Laurie. So Janet Holmes told me, you, you get in touch with Laurie.

And, and so I did, and I reached out and said, “Laurie, would you, would you help me put a book proposal together? Well, like give me a bit of advice and guidance and things like that.” And then I explained how much I like the language miss book and, and he sort of. I think you kind of casually ignored the, give me advice about the loan words book. And I think you went straight into “I really like the Language Myths book, you know, I’m glad you bring that up cuz we need to do another one of those.” And, and I said, “yes, yes, you totally should.” And he said, “what are you doing?” And I’m like, “nothing. I’m doing whatever is required.” And so he actually kind of took this massive risk, you know, writing a book with someone is, yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s pretty involved. So, and we’d never worked together and I was clearly a newbie on, in this thing. And so I’m very grateful that Laurie kind of said, “yeah, well, why don’t we do a book together?” And so that’s how the Language Questions book came about, which we both enjoyed doing.

And so then after that, while we were finishing that off, I think we were talking and, and I was saying how grammar, you know, somebody needs to make grammar cool again. And we need to, you know, have more books about popular kind of ideas circulating in grammar that people outside of academia need to know about. And he said, “well, we should do a book!”

Laurie Bauer: Well, I think that having done the first one and having enjoyed doing it so much, the second one was much easier. And it’s also easier when you know, your collaborator and you’re working with them, rather than trying to herd the cats of putting a book of readings together

Carrie Gillon: Oh, I know it’s so much harder have a bunch of other authors involved.

Laurie Bauer: Having worked with Andreea and having seen, um, the levels of energy and enthusiasm that she puts into those things.

Andreea Calude: thanks.

Laurie Bauer: One. It was, it was a lot easier to, to go forward to that second one and it was great for, we really enjoyed it.

Andreea Calude: It was really great. I mean, it helps that we work in the same way we work quite similarly in terms of we write differently, but we work, we have the same ideas about steady writing. We kind of had a chapter a month maybe or something. Well, I don’t know what, what we had a bit of a rhythm going and, and within about six months we, we kind of nailed it and we would send each other drafts and read and have like a weekly Zoom and cuz we are in different cities. So I don’t know if you’ll, you know much about New Zealand, but we’re about an hour flight away from each other. So 800 kilometers?

Laurie Bauer: No, about 400 hundred.

Andreea Calude: Okay. There you go. I’ve embarrassment myself. It’s a seven hour drive.

Megan Figueroa: Okay.

Andreea Calude: Yes. And one hour flight.

Megan Figueroa: Oh, okay. Okay. Got it. Got it.

Carrie Gillon: I mean that doesn’t help because the United States you can drive so much faster than anywhere else, so.

Megan Figueroa: Oh

Andreea Calude: well, but the point is we wouldn’t just jump in the car and say, “I’ll see you for lunch,” which is terrible, terrible fact that I’ve winged about a lot. because it would be so nice to be able to kind of just meet in person. But we kind of had some very similar ideas about working style and about kind of keeping the book going and, and sort of meeting the kind of deadlines that we set out. And I think that really help helps. Right. When you know that the other person you don’t have to worry about, obviously, I mean, Laurie’s got an amazing track record record, but again with me.

Laurie Bauer: But I, I was always sort of sitting there thinking, oh gosh, I should do this. We need to do this. And oh, I don’t know. I’ll get around to it. And then Andreea would send me any email and say, “I’ve done it.” And you’d say, “oh, oh right.”

Carrie Gillon: that’s great.

Laurie Bauer: So, so yes, it worked well, it worked well. And as, as I said, it was, it was fun. Yep. We, we had these meetings over the internet, but we spent the whole time laughing basically.

Andreea Calude: I think at one point I just had this, I just have this image. There was some pieces of paper that we’d read over, you know, and over and over and, and over, and you get to a point where you can’t see things in your draft anymore. And I had these loose bits of paper. I just threw them up over in the air. I said, okay, “we’re done.” I remember Laurie, just looking at me like, “oh my God. She’s lost the plot.”

Megan Figueroa: I love it.

Carrie Gillon: What did you mean by complexities?

Andreea Calude: Laurie?

Laurie Bauer: I think that linguists have overcomplicated grammar.

Megan Figueroa: Mm.

Laurie Bauer: I think that we have made grammar too complicated for your average student. I think that for the brain to operate with grammar, it must be a lot simpler than we linguists think it is. And that’s because we know too much, but that doesn’t mean it’s simple. And as I said back at the beginning, people think that there should be simple answers and there aren’t simple answers. And so, the complexities, reasons why there are no simple answers, and that’s all sorts of reasons. Like, um, the languages in the process of change is one of the ones that comes across I think in the book more frequently, perhaps than any other. The fact that we don’t speak, the way we write is, is another one which comes back. And so the fact that we hear and these days think we understand English from different places around the world in a way that even 70, 80 years ago, people didn’t. In the Second World War American servicemen in Europe and in the Pacific weren’t understood by the English speakers around them. They had to have little books telling translating

Carrie Gillon: how have I never heard this before?

Laurie Bauer: Well, I mean, You know, Hollywood has a lot to answer for.

Andreea Calude: Yes.

Laurie Bauer: Occasionally some of it might be good. And nowadays, if I hear an American speaking, I’m not going, “oh my can’t understand this person.” I mean, yes, there are Americans who I can’t understand. There are Britains I can’t understand

Andreea Calude: I was just about to say, have you, whenever I go to Scotland, you know, whoa.

Carrie Gillon: My family’s Scottish and oh man. Some of the, some of my relatives, I do not understand.

Laurie Bauer: But if you hear America in one ear and British in the other ear, regularly, you’re hearing two different things and you’re not really aware of how different they are. And then somebody says, “should it be the American version or the British version?” you say “they both sound right.” And. Then you get confused and you, and you start saying, “but there must be a right answer.” No, no, no, no, no, no. It’s not that there must be a right answer. It’s that things are more complicated than you think they are. There’s your complexities.

Megan Figueroa: One that’s coming to mind right now for me is how some people will use the past tense form. Some people use the past participle for past tense. So “I saw him” or “I seen him.”

Laurie Bauer: Yep.

Megan Figueroa: And I remember thinking before I knew what linguistics was, how very wrong the people that said “I seen him” were. And, and these people are including my mother who uses the past participle cuz I think it’s like, at least in the US, certainly a Southern influenced thing. I’m not, I’m not quite sure, but it really sucks growing up thinking that your parents don’t do language right. This is what we’re learning in school when we learn quote unquote grammar.

And so I think that it’s great to have a book like this because you are introducing the type of grammar that linguists love, not the type of grammar that makes little kids be like, “but my mom says it that way. Okay. I guess she’s wrong.” You know?

Andreea Calude: Yeah. I that’s, that’s really interesting story. And I think we, we, we really sympathize with that. Don’t we Laurie, in New Zealand, because Maori English is one of the varieties that New Zealanders are speaking.

I’m not sure it’s hard to know exactly because we don’t have sufficient data to really kind of nail this down. But, but there’s a, there’s been indications that Maori English, um, speakers also use that form. And, and when, yeah, when children at school use it and it’s been part of their repertoire all their lives, and it’s part of their extended family, their friends, their family, that, and then they’re told “that’s bad, that’s bad English.” Then that translates to some really bad things down the line in terms of achievement and, and feeling of kind of intelligence and self worth, we associate language with intelligence, right? And so it’s a bit like being bad at maths. If you’re bad at maths, sometimes people think, well, you’re not very clever then, or something like that.

I used to tutor math privately a lot. And this is how I knew I wanted to be a maths teacher. And a lot of the time, the biggest problem, both parents actually and children is that yeah, that kids would go home and sort of think that if they can’t do maths at school, then there’s something wrong with their brain somehow. And I think language is similar, that kind of attitude. And, and I think it’s really difficult for teachers because teachers kind of should obviously be doing linguistic things.

Carrie Gillon: oh, yes.

Andreea Calude: We would say that.

Carrie Gillon: We would say that, but I do think that would help a lot. I think, you know, you can learn mathematical thinking even, through language and not get as scared by the symbols. So, I don’t know. I just think it would unlock a lot of things for kids. If we taught it as a, as part of curriculum,

Andreea Calude: maybe they could have linguists come in and give seminars and talks. And I mean, yeah, we, yeah. ,

Carrie Gillon: I think that is happening in the United States a little bit. Like, I do know some friends down there who have gone to high high schools and middle schools to like, do like little projects with them.

Andreea Calude: Oh, lovely. That’s really cool.

Carrie Gillon: I, yeah, don’t think it’s as much of a thing here in Canada. Sadly.

Andreea Calude: I don’t think it’s a thing in New Zealand, but maybe Laurie knows otherwise?

Laurie Bauer: I don’t. I was gonna say, if you think about it, you know, we had Labov in the 1960s telling us how wrong this was and Trudgill following on from him in England.

Andreea Calude: Yeah.

Laurie Bauer: And you would think that by now it would’ve trickled through to teacher training programs that saying “seen” instead of “saw” is not a matter of intelligence and not a matter of right or wrong. It’s a matter of choices that people make to indicate social coherence in some way or another. And it’s not that difficult to message, but it is one that people are very resistant to. And perhaps perhaps the book will help, but I suspect that’s a very large brick wall that linguists are banging their heads against.

Carrie Gillon: It is. And it’s, it is frustrating to me. Yeah. Cuz I feel like this is the conversation we have every day, all the time. Why aren’t, why is that anyone listening to us? When I was at the LSA a few years ago, I was at Lisa Green. I think it was Lisa Green said, “look, advertisers know, you have to say the same thing over and over and over again. So we shouldn’t get frustrated.”

Megan Figueroa: Mm-hmm

Carrie Gillon: “we just need to keep saying this.” And part of it is we don’t really have a good PR team behind us, you know, like. There would be a way I think to help, but we haven’t done all that work yet, but anyway, it’s still frustrating

Andreea Calude: Actually, I don’t know if, if you’ve seen the Language Log there’s, there’s this lovely one of the, oh God, what is, I think it’s Mark Johnson. I wanna say Mark Johnson in one of the LSA addresses many years ago, did this really lovely talk about how linguists need to talk to the people, you know, out there, what I like to call it, the people and, and how he had this lovely little cover of, uh, Cosmopolitan Magazine done up with “Linguistics is Sexy” and all of this kind of, sort of stuff where we should sell linguistics stuff to the, to, to people in a digestible way, like you’re saying, it really reminded me of that. Such a lovely idea and lovely, I, that image really spoke to me cuz I thought, yeah, you know, we don’t have the big PR teams and a lot of the time we talk amongst ourselves. And we are reaching to the converted, but really, I mean,

Megan Figueroa: yeah,

Andreea Calude: it’s nice to actually get some of these ideas out of academia. And, and this is one of the reasons why, I, I mean, I’m personally very passionate about writing pieces, sometimes little pieces, and again, Laurie and I are part of a team that he set up that has a regular language column in New Zealand newspapers and, and online as well, called Language Matters. And every fortnight, one of the four of us write something very small, 600 words, sort of, you know, a couple of paragraph, like three paragraphs in terms of abstract stuff. And, and they’re just little snippets and they’re so little, but I like to think that it’s just another avenue to reach maybe an audience that wouldn’t otherwise kind of have these ideas.

Although some of the feedback we get clearly shows the brick wall, Laurie, doesn’t it? The brick wall every now and then just comes up. “Yes. But, but isn’t it bad?”

Laurie Bauer: I, I had one, one correspondent who said, “oh, thank you for explaining all that to me, but I’m just going to believe what I’ve always believed anyway.”

Carrie Gillon: Yeah. We, we get similar feedback too.

Megan Figueroa: Wow. Yeah,

Andreea Calude: really?

Carrie Gillon: You know, like our whole, yeah. So like the very first episode we did was on vocal fry and like, you know, stop judging people for having vocal fry. It’s sexist. It doesn’t, it’s not a real thing to be worried about. And uh, every once in a while we still get like someone who will be just like, “no, you’re wrong.” It’s like, “okay.”

Andreea Calude: Actually the thing that I’ve I once got at least was I thought was a good dialogue to engage in with was someone saying, “yeah, this is all very well. It sounds all very PC and you know? Yeah. Yeah. But isn’t it, you are a mom, you know, isn’t it, isn’t it true that you are, you are gonna rob your children of a very good job if you teach them this nonsense about bad grammar, I mean, don’t, you want your kid to get a job when, when they grow up?”

I think that’s one of the things that we do need to address and talk about how, you know, it’s really, really important that children and individuals in general actually have access to different repertoires and, and talk about the benefits of the covert prestige, that you, you know, forms that the fact that you can walk into the community and actually be able to speak the local regional variants and your, your home language to your community. So you can be part of the community, to be having all of those social ties that are really, really important. And at the same time, you can maintain this other repertoire that you know, that yes, in a formal interview.

And when you write to your lecturer, if you’re my student and you’re listening to this. Don’t just go, “Hey, smiley face.” I have a name and I’d like a, a greeting and a clothing and formal English grammar, you know, that’s fine. That’s how you should be doing that. But then if, if you’re talking with your, your, in a group of circle friends, then you’re gonna use the appropriate forms there to maintain those social ties.

So, yeah, it’s really complicated. If you go on social media, again, there’ll be different norms and conventions, and it’s part of the job that you have to kind of take on as an active member within a society and, and actually manage all the different repertoires. And they’re all important in their right place.

I was told if you go into the wrong pub in, in England and you use really posh standard English, you could get stabbed.

Megan Figueroa: Well. Here’s where PR would be good though. Cuz the problem we run into is that I think right now we’re at this kind of like middle ground. Maybe it’s kinda like purgatory. Where people are like, “okay, well fine. The language you have that you grew up with is fine. But you, you need to learn what we teach in school, cuz that’s the right one.” So I think that like they’re stuck, we’re like, “it’s cool that you have that one. You can use that with your family and we appreciate that you have it, but there’s still a right way.” like it’s like people are kind of stuck.

Laurie Bauer: We we’ve gotta get rid of the right or wrong rather than, I mean, you know, there’s, there’s right for the pub that Andreea doesn’t want to go into and there’s there’s right for teaching in the university.

And let me tell you a little personal story. If I may, I, I told you that when I first got to university, we, I met phonetics for the first time. One of the things we did in the very first week, we were sent down to make a recording of our own voice in the, down into the depths of the basement. And this was real serious stuff. We, we read this little story onto tape and um, then the very last week of the academic year come October. We were sent back down and we were issued with our tape and we were told to transcribe the first sentence of that tape now that we’ve learned all how, how to do transcription. And so on. So yes, I can do this. And I put on the, put on my headphones and started listening in there. I heard a character saying “there was once a young rat named Arthur who could never take the trouble to make up his mind.” And I thought, I don’t talk like that anymore. Who’s this stranger?

Carrie Gillon: Interesting.

Laurie Bauer: I had adopted a, for want of a better term, a university voice in the course of that first year of undergraduate study that just moved me away from the local place that I’d grown up. It was easier for me to do than it would’ve been for some people, because both my parents were speakers- my, my father grown up in London and it’s a speaker of London English, middle class, London English, anyway. And my mother had traveled all over the place and got a fairly neutral accent, unless she was talking to her sisters. Her brothers and sisters, in which case, she went in the local direction, but I had made that transition.

And I think that looking back, I’m very interested that I had, cuz I, I, the, the social pressures were really weird. I was in Edinburgh. I could have said, um, “oh, aye, that’s the way it is now.” well, I didn’t, I had this, I had this, this English version.

Megan Figueroa: That’s so illustrative of what is happening. It’s thank you for sharing that. I, I think about how I, I tend to reduce my vowel space when I’m around my, my Mexican family, the Spanish speaking side. So I get like less vowels, more like Spanish or Chicano English or whatever, but it’s amazing how many different voices we have, depending on, on where we are, uh, and what we’re trying to accomplish, even if it’s subconsciously

Andreea Calude: and just how flexible we are.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah.

Carrie Gillon: Yeah. Now I feel left out cuz I only have this boring ass Canadian accent.

Laurie Bauer: I don’t believe that at all.

Megan Figueroa: I know

Carrie Gillon: I did. It did get a little Americanized when I was down in the states for 12 years, but I think it’s, it’s coming back to my former Vancouver self .

Megan Figueroa: Yeah. Your sorry’s kind of got more American.

Carrie Gillon: Yeah, I switched from [sori] to [sari] but I think I’m back to [sori].

This is one of the questions I’ve, you know, I think about a lot because I wrote my whole dissertation on the equivalent of “the” in Squamish. So you have a, you have a chapter on “the” called “All the Way from the Ukraine, the Definite Article.” So first of all, can you explain what the issue is with “the Ukraine”? And then maybe we could talk about what’s going on there.

Andreea Calude: The thing with “the” is that it varies, right? And as soon as things vary, then linguists kind of wanna know about it. Why does it vary? How does it vary? You know, what does it mean? And though “Ukraine” is a particular case that, that I might come back to in a minute, cuz it has its own kind of history. But there’s other place names where you can say, I think we have once in New Zealand, the Waikato. Waikato. So you can say “I’m from the Waikato”, or you can say “from Waikato” and you can say either form and sometimes people say one or the other and it varies.

And so we now wanna know why, why does it vary and how do you decide which form to use? And people like me who are not native speakers, you know, it’s a mess for us because we are all always feeling that we’re giving it wrong. And we want that nice rule that Laurie talks about. We wanted to be told “this is the right way. Now you shall always do like this” and then everyone’s happy.

But of course, English grammar has other plans.

Megan Figueroa: is this like “the hospital”? Is this like a similar thing? Because we don’t say ” we’re going to hospital”

Andreea Calude: versus we are going “to the hospital” or “to hospital”.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah. So we have “the”, like, we would never say “go to hospital” in the US.

Andreea Calude: We would say that in Zealand. I think don’t we, Laurie, do we say that? I feel like we say that

Laurie Bauer: if “I’m going to the hospital,” I’m probably going to visit somebody. If “I’m going to hospital” I’m ill.

Andreea Calude: Yeah, true. That is right.

Megan Figueroa: Oh!

Andreea Calude: Yeah. You’re not coming out. Well, you are hopefully, but , but

Carrie Gillon: you’re staying at least overnight. Probably

Andreea Calude: This is a Romanian way of thinking about how the hospitals, but those things pose problems for people.

Then there’s also that fact that sometimes you get other meanings that are attached to- a little bit like, like Laurie demonstrate with hospital. There’s, there’s more to it than just the “the” that seems to come with the “the”, but we can’t explain that it’s necessarily tied in with that. We don’t, we don’t know that it’s tied in with that. So for example, if I said to you “here come the Americans”, then there’s kind of a distancing thing. And presumably I’m not American. I, I wouldn’t say that, you know, I wouldn’t say to you “here come the Romanians.” I mean, I might, if I’m trying to say I’m not one of those kinds of Romanians and that makes a statement in, in itself or what, what I think about in that group of Romanians and it just gets really complicated. There’s, it’s very subtle and quite, you know, some people might think, you know, overthinking , but there’s, there’s quite a bit of baggage that comes along in terms of what “the”, well, the presence or the absence of “the” seems to, to correlate with. Although we can’t explain it in terms of just the article alone, right. It’s it’s kind of impossible to tie it with that, but yet the two different forms seem to have slightly different. “Here comes the wife!” “Is that the wife ringing.” you know.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah, yeah.

Andreea Calude: She, she’s not someone who’s very nice, potentially. So again, “the” points out the wife, but in this case, points out a not very nice wife, presumably there’s no other wives involved, but I’m not sure.

Laurie Bauer: Yeah.

Andreea Calude: Sometimes it also depends on whether you’re including yourself in that group or what kind of judgment value you’re trying to- like it comes with some kind of judgment. It, it varies a bit on the group in the context and who’s saying it, but it comes with the judgment and you think, well, well wait, that’s just a little tiny little definite article. It’s not supposed to have this great big job. That’s not an adjective.

Megan Figueroa: But it’s one of our most frequent words in English. It’s it’s,

Carrie Gillon: it’s the,

Megan Figueroa: it’s a powerhouse

Carrie Gillon: it’s the most.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Mm-hmm

Laurie Bauer: And then we’ve got the problem in New Zealand, which I don’t know whether you’ve got it in the US at all. I doubt, I think it’s a local thing. That the usage of “the” is changing with place names. So that Wellington is on what I would call Cook Strait. The, uh, you can think of some other strait that separates America from some other large country if you prefer, I’d just say Cook Strait. People on weather forecasts have started saying “the Cook Strait.”

Andreea Calude: That seems very natural to me, the Cook Strait.

Laurie Bauer: We’ve got, we’ve got a bunch of islands off to the east of New Zealand called the Chatham Islands. But weather forecast have started to say Chatham Islands with no “the”. Um, in, we’ve got two major islands in New Zealand, which the New Zealanders traditionally called the North Island and the South Island. Britons coming to New Zealand typically call them North Island and South Island, with no “the”. And now that no “the” form North Island and south island is even spreading to New Zealanders. So we’ve got a whole lot- quite apart from all the things that Andreea was talking about- we’ve got ongoing change just in a little corner of the universe of “the”, but it’s confusing. and we, and we dunno what we dunno why we dunno what’s going on.

Carrie Gillon: Right.

Megan Figueroa: What does, what does language being in flux like this tell us in a big picture kind of way? And why, why were you, would you in this book, focus on bits that are in flux?

Andreea Calude: Language is a living thing. It’s for the people, by the people. It’s, you know, you can’t constrain it, you can’t tie it down. You can’t force it down alleyways it doesn’t wanna go down and it’s yeah, it’s sort of about us and for us. So it’s constantly gonna be living.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah. It feels very democratic in like the most, I ideal sense of it. it’s formed by the people that use it.

Andreea Calude: Well, democratic in some ways I, I like the idea of democratic, but I also think it’s problematic as a word cuz, cuz I think, yeah, it’s- it kind of suggests that there is sort of universal agreement and the majority rules and unfortunately I don’t think it’s a majority rules thing here.

Megan Figueroa: True.

Andreea Calude: I think there’s still a lot of the, the, the few people in power dictate certain things at certain levels.

Megan Figueroa: Oh definitely.

Andreea Calude: But they can’t constrain it. And so there’s that aspect to it, but, but certainly I think, regardless of that brick wall, you know, the double negative, it’s still going!

Carrie Gillon: Oh yeah,

Megan Figueroa: yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And I completely agree. It. It’s the reason why we have some sort of standardized form that is taught in school, right? The there’s a, actually the people that maybe speak that way, it’s hard to say that people speak that way cuz it’s really based on writing, but they certainly must be the minority. So if majority was ruling, it would be let’s accept that this is, you know, much more complicated than trying to teach a standard in school.

Laurie Bauer: Yeah,

Andreea Calude: absolutely.

Carrie Gillon: At the very least double negative would win out.

Laurie Bauer: Yes.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah.

Andreea Calude: Do you think the double negative is partly not winning ,out because of the disdain, you know of the English against the French?

Carrie Gillon: Maybe, but I, is that the original reason that it was introduced?

Andreea Calude: No, it’s probably not. I, I don’t know the history, Laurie, Laurie. He probably knows he’s not he’s shaking his head. Oh my God. No no, I,

Laurie Bauer: I think it, I think Jespersen had it right. Negation is important. So, if you want to negate, you’ve got to say negation clearly. And after a while, just having one bit of negation sort of wears thin, because people don’t pay attention to them. They might have looked away at that moment or something. So to make sure you put in two bits of negation and, and then it’s much more, and then. Somebody says, “hang on, we don’t need two bits of negation we can get rid of one of these and go back to having one bit of negation.” And somebody said, “this isn’t strong enough! We must have two bits of negation!” And-

Carrie Gillon: or three or four

Megan Figueroa: yeah,

Laurie Bauer: three or five. You get the sort of “can’t get into no coop.”

Megan Figueroa: Exactly.

Carrie Gillon: Yeah.

Megan Figueroa: Yep.

Carrie Gillon: Is there a favorite bit of English that you think like the favorite weird bit of English?

Laurie Bauer: Yeah. Okay. Since we’re talking about double negatives. One of my favorite bits of English and it proves that the logic that we use when we’re speaking is not a mathematical logic, it’s a different kind of logic. It’s still logical, but it’s not the same as mathematical. Is if you say “he’s really clever” and you answer. “Yeah. Right.” That’s a double positive making a negative.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah.

Carrie Gillon: Yep.

Laurie Bauer: Or some people say, “yeah, yeah.” See, double positive making a negative.

Is that weird or is that weird?

Carrie Gillon: you’re right. It’s weird from mathematical perspective, but not maybe from a different view. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s great.

Megan Figueroa: I love that. What about you, Andreea?

Andreea Calude: Wow. Oh, I was kind of flicking through the book to try and remember things, but you know what I, I mean, a lot of the time, the things that I’ve been kind of grappling with are kind of larger chunks of, of kind of weird syntax if you want. Personally, I think adjectives are really fascinating and I really enjoyed Laurie’s chapter on adjectives and the discussion on just the weird things. I mean, as a non-native speaker, I still remember learning English, actually in Canada, when I was a teenager and thinking, this is just nuts, like how does this even work? And this idea that you can have a “more interestinger” uh, thing. And I hear my kids playing around with adjectives. “This is more gooder than that, Mummy, this is more gooder. I just want this.” And sometimes, you know, they, because they’re a bit older now they know that’s not the right thing. And so they do it for effect. They’re already pretty good linguists, you know, they, they totally use language for language play. I think all the different adjective forms and the way we play around with them for emphasis and for style, it’s just really fun and quite interesting and really difficult to know. Sometimes I really don’t know when I’m writing, I think, is this “more tricky” or “”trickier? Can I say either? And then I have to look and then I think, oh my God, I should know this. When I’m gonna start writing about this kinda stuff, um, gets so much fun, writing a book like this.

And it’s also quite hard because sometimes people think, well, you are a linguist and you should. I don’t know, have it all down as well and, and no, no typos. And if you have any awful grammar in your language, then what kind of grammarian are you? And then I often say, “well, you know, your mechanic probably drives really rubbish cars and your doctor probably doesn’t have the best of health. So there you go.” That’s my cop-out answer to that.

Carrie Gillon: Also, typos have nothing to do with understanding language like nothing. It’s just a brain fart.

Andreea Calude: I often tell people that I’ve worked a lot on kind of problems of New Zealand English. Because, as a foreigner, this is, this is the thing I’ve been trying for years to get, you know, to grips with. I mean, this is new to me. I’m, I’m still trying to learn it to the point where I made a career of it. Try and figure out how this works, how this English thing works.

Megan Figueroa: and you’ll never pin it down because it’s changing all the time.

Laurie Bauer: Just bring us back to earth and stop these flights of fancy .

Megan Figueroa: Yes. Amazing.

Carrie Gillon: Well, thank you.

Megan Figueroa: It’s been so much fun.

Carrie Gillon: Yeah. Thank you so much for doing this. This, yeah, this was really a lot of fun.

We always leave our listeners with one final message. Don’t be an asshole.

Okay. So this month we would like to thank Diane Lillo-Martin for becoming a patron.

Megan Figueroa: Yay. Thank you so much. We appreciate it. Appreciate us. I kind of had a. Thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Carrie Gillon: you got all, I don’t know. British ish.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah. Yes, yes. .

Carrie Gillon: If you would like to become a patron, you can do so at We’ve got stickers. We’ve got bonus episodes and we’ve got mugs!

Megan Figueroa: We do. And tons of bonuses at this point.

Carrie Gillon: Yes. In the fifties.

Megan Figueroa: Yes.

Carrie Gillon: 50 something bonuses and another one to come out this month.

Megan Figueroa: Yes.

Carrie Gillon: The Vocal Fries Podcast is produced by me, Carrie Gillon, for Halftone Audio. Theme music by Nick Granum. You can find us on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @vocalfriespod. You can email us at vocalfriespod AT

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