Geoffrey K. Pullum: Australian radio talks

  1. "Preposition hunting in the Brisbane suburbs." Lingua Franca, ABC Radio National; broadcast on Saturday, October 3, and Tuesday, October 6, 1998. (This talk is about why the Australian abbreviation for pickup truck is ute; the sexual promiscuity of the female scrub turkey; and the surprising discovery I made from an informational sign in a beautiful Brisbane arboretum that the word bush has become an intransitive directional preposition in Australian English, just as the word home has in every dialect of English. This tiny but to me delightful discovery did make it into The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language; it's on page 615.)
  2. "Giving up on double negation." Lingua Franca, ABC Radio National; broadcast on Saturday, October 10, and Tuesday, October 13, 1998. (Proposes the abandonment of the term "double negation" on the not unreasonable grounds that no one can agree about what it is meant to refer to. Or what it is not meant not to refer to; perhaps that isn't entirely not a worse way to put it. Anyway, this is the talk that calls George Orwell a fool and quotes from the movie Sliding Doors. The quote was inaccurate, by the way. I had gotten the gist of what was interesting about it, but I had been forced to recall the line from memory after seeing the film in the dark in an Australian cinema. But by the time this talk was broadcast, the movie had come out on video, and my collaborator Rodney Huddleston went out and rented it and sat through it with a pencil and paper nearby so that he could transcribe the relevant bit. As a result, the chapter on negation in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language quotes the piece of dialog correctly: see footnote 8 on page 805.)
  3. "Why Ebonics is no joke." Lingua Franca, ABC Radio National; broadcast on Saturday, October 17, and Tuesday, October 20, 1998. (Reviews the assault on the hapless Oakland Unified School District board after it had the temerity to propose that the native language of many of its students might be accorded the ordinary courtesy of being acknowledged to exist. There is a brief discussion of this topic in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language: see pages 846-847. I discussed the topic more fully in my Nature commentary "Language that dare not speak its name" in 1997 (see ), and at greater length in "African American Vernacular English is not Standard English with mistakes" in 1999 (see ).
  4. "The nature of prepositions." Lingua Franca, ABC Radio National; broadcast on Saturday, December 12, and Tuesday, December 15, 1998. (Presents the syntactic arguments Emonds and Jackendoff have given that refute the people who wrote in after hearing "Preposition hunting in the Brisbane suburbs" and said "Oh, that's not a preposition, that's an adverb." Good point. All traditional grammars say that prepositions are only prepositions when they are followed by a noun phrase. When there is no following noun phrase these words are claimed to enter a parallel universe where they mysteriously live alternate lives as adverbs. But all those traditional accounts are wrong. The full story is told in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Chapter 7.)
  5. "Grammar has dialects, spelling does not." Lingua Franca, ABC Radio National; broadcast on Saturday, July 24, and Tuesday, July 27, 1999. (Tells where you could once see a sign saying "Boomarang Road", and proposes that while you are not a bad person for speaking a non-standard dialect, since dialect difference is a natural feature of large speech communities, you are a bad person if you take a job as a signwriter without having any interest in learning to spell, and you should shape up: linguists' tolerance for diversity does not extend to waiving the strict rules of spelling. People hate being told this; and they have a right to complain about the horrible spelling system of English. But facts are facts: you should not be expected to change the syntax of your native dialect of English, but learning your spellings is something every educated person has to do.)
  6. "Why you can't unhear this talk." Lingua Franca, ABC Radio National; broadcast on Saturday, September 11, and Tuesday, September 14, 1999. (Recalls Benjamin Lee Whorf's beautiful observation about the verbs that take the reversing un- prefix of untangle and uncover, and explains why Diane Warren, who wrote "Unbreak my heart" for singer Toni Braxton, was using poetic license, while the writers of Ray Charles' "Unchain my heart" were not.)
  7. " Anyone who had a heart (would know their own language)." Lingua Franca, ABC Radio National; broadcast on Saturday, April 6, 2002 and Tuesday, April 9, 2002. (Discusses the strange antipathy of grammar purists to the use of they with singular antecedent, as in No one should have to climb all those stairs that age, should they?, or Everybody seems to just assume the sign doesn't apply to them. This construction is found in the finest literature over several hundred years, and is grammatically justifiable in every possible way. Yet even songwriters seem to feel they have to avoid it: Bacharach and David would have written "Anyone who had a heart would take me in their arms and love me too", so the song would really be about anyone who had a heart. What they actually wrote is unsuitable to be sung by a male singer who isn't gay -- or a female singer who is.)

  8. "Grammar and guns: when words fail." This talk, broadcast on December 14, 2002, is about the language of the Second Amendment to the American Constitution. I wrote it when Michael Moore's documentary Bowling for Columbine had just come out, exploring the ghastly nexus between gun ownership, deaths by shooting, and the right to bear arms. I'm not a constitutional law scholar, of course; but I thought it was worth laying out the linguistic case that when closely examined, the Second Amendment yields a meaning and intent rather different from what the NRA claims to find in it.

  9. "When languages borrow words from other languages." Mainly about how "Taliban" came to be used as a singular noun in English, despite being a plural in Pashto.

  10. "Universal grammar." A few remarks for a non-linguist audience, broadcast on December 28, 2002, on what it might be that all languages have in common.


File last revised: Tue Sep 24 08:11:49 PDT 2002