Saturday, April 16, 2011

Language and Expertise

My in-class strategy was to note all the concepts I didn't understand and then go to the library and read up on what everyone else has been learning all term in class. Libraries are so awesome. You don't have to be a student to use the university library. You can go in, use the catalogue, find books and sit there all day reading them, already prepaid with my taxes.

I start with a book on language history, I won't name it because I'm about to mock the author, who is undoubtedly pompous enough to be a regular egosurfer. Or what do you think? The following is from the acknowledgements:

As I buckled down to work on this book, I consulted profitably with my colleague Valdis Zeps on a numberless variety of matters of both form and content. I looked forward with relish to his inspection of the completed text-- for the pleasure it probably would have given him; for the praise I smugly anticipated; and, most of all, for the valuable criticism he would have certainly offered. I am cheated of his pleasure; the reader is cheated of his wisdom and knowledge.

Okay, it's true that in the last year I have watched many more episodes of Law & Order than I have read scholarly books, but does that paragraph not make him look like the prime suspect in the death of Doctor Zeps? The course of the corresponding Law & Order episode would determine if it was a professional disagreement, a financial matter, or a sex thing. He comes off as pompous and opinionated, but so long as he knows his stuff, it should be interesting.

It starts, as I've discovered do most textbooks on linguistics, with some concrete examples demonstrating change in English. He reproduces an excerpt from a 1927 dictionary. It's the second edition of a dictionary first published in 1909, and the excerpt is from a section listing words new to this edition. Professor Pompous mentions that "The items are shown exactly as they stand in the source (including the baffling language under drag)." I scan the facing page for its entry on drag.

drag n. Aeronautics. The component parallel to the relative wind of the total force on an airfoil or aircraft due to the air through which it moves. It the case of an airplane, that part of the drag which is due to the wings is called wing resistance; that due to the rest of the airplane is called structural or parasite, resistance.

The only thing wrong with that definition of drag is the word It starting the second sentence. It should be In but I don't know if the error is in the original dictionary or the transcription in the linguistics textbook. It certainly doesn't count as "baffling language." The relative wind is the airflow resulting from the aircraft's motion, and seeing as Professor Pompous had a dictionary in hand at the time he disdained to understand the definition, he could have looked it up.

Parasite drag is still the usual term for resistance that increases with airspeed. It is itself composed of form drag, skin friction and interference drag. The specific terms for various components of drag wiggle around a bit from textbook to textbook, as no one wants to admit that lift and drag aren't actually separate things, just two components of the same force defined along perpendicular axes. The term wing resistance is unfamiliar to me, possibly it is synonymous to what I call induced drag, or perhaps it includes some of the parasite drag of the wing structure itself.

Below I quote from a 1918 aeronautics paper by Alexander Klemin (isn't the Internet amazing?) He gives plane resistance as a synonym and states that it decreases to a minimum at 65 mph for a certain wing and then increases with speed, suggesting that yes, wing resistance is the sum of induced drag and parasite drag attributable to the wing alone. Induced drag as it is defined today is inversely proportional to the square of the airspeed, so it continues to decrease with airspeed. Note that Klemin specifies that parasite drag "includes the resistance of the wing bracing, chassis, etc." but unless there's a missing comma before bracing, doesn't list the wing there. There's nothing wrong from a physics point of view with partitioning the drag differently. It still all adds up to the total drag. Presumably modern engineers find it more useful to use the partition that I am familiar with.

The body or parasite resistance which includes the resis- tance of the wing bracing, chassis, etc.. as well as the resistance of the body proper, is taken as varying as T'" 2 and allowance has been made for propeller slip stream velocity. The body resistance is seen to play an unimportant part at low speeds. But at about 53 miles per hour it becomes greater than the plane or wing resistance, and at high speeds it. is almost twice as great as the wing resistance. This emphasizes the impor- tance of minimizing the resistance for a high-speed machine. However good a wing section itself may be, high structural resistance will make high speeds impossible.

The plane resistance curve has a minimum value at about 65 miles per hour and increases on either side of this speed. It is interesting to follow out how this increase in resist- ance on either side occurs. At high speeds, the angles of incidence and the drift coefficients are small but the speeds are very great, and the increase in wing resistance is obvious. At small speeds on the other hand the airplane is flying at large angles of incidence to give the necessary sustentation and the drift coefficients are large. The shape of the total re- sistance curve follows from the summation of the two.

The Cambridge Aerospace Dictionary (nice online reference: bookmark it!) only uses resistance in its electrical sense, and defines wing drag as "When lifting, induced plus profile drags." Profile drag it defines as total drag minus induced drag, so my parasite drag. Some of these may be historical and some trans-Atlantic differences. I won't crawl any deeper into this hole today. I have made a note to research the history of drag-related terms at a later date.

Other aeronautics entries in the short excerpt include drift, drift angle, drip band or flap, and drome. Drip band is a balloon term, no idea if it's still in common use and I've never heard a pilot shorten aerodrome to drome, a demonstration that the up-to-date vocabulary of 1927 doesn't necessarily stick around. The years 1909 to 1927 marked a huge advance in aviation, so it's not surprising that aviation features here, but it's still a coincidence that he picked that span of time and that chunk of the alphabet. I like to take coincidences like that as affirming that I should keep trying to make a living in aviation. There's no reason language can't be a deeper hobby for me than it has been.

Back to the linguistics aspect of the book. We now know that the author is pompous, opinionated, contemptuous of fields in which he knows nothing, and proud enough of his lack of knowledge to boast about it. I hope the late Zeps would have known better and told him it made him look like an idiot.

One of the many ways language changes is by adding bits to or losing bits from words. Being that linguists like words, you can bet that there will be words to learn to describe this all. Here is a sampling of words to do with adding sounds.

anaptyxis - a vowel added between segments

gemination - lengthening of a consonant

prothesis - addition at the beginning of a word

excrescence - consonant added between segments or finally

So when people pronounce /nuclear/ as ['nʲu:kʲuləɹ], instead of freaking out, you can say "Cool, that's an example of anaptyxis." When people say things like "That's a whole nother story," it's prothesis in action: other is acquiring the n from its indefinite article, just as happened with newt in Middle English (used to be "an ewte"). I have a friend who always says "slaunter" when he means "saunter." I don't know why he does it, but it's an example of excrescence. I can't think of any English examples of gemination, probably because I can't think of anywhere in English where consonant doubling occurs. I mean in pronunciation, of course. There are lots of examples in spelling, like latter and later: but the real difference between those words is the sound of the first vowel. In my dialect they are ['læ ɾɚ] and ['le ɾɚ] respectively. Depending on where you are from, you may pronounce a t sound or replace it with a glottal stop, and you may do more with the r, but no one says [læt təɹ] (late-ter) repeating the t-sound.

These words are to do with losing sounds.

syncope - from between segments

apocope - from end of word

aphaerisis - from beginning of word

haplology - loss of a sequence of segments

metathesis - transposition of segments

My slauntering friend pronounces /ruin/ as [ɹun] and /mirror/ as [mɪɹ] compared to my [ɹuɪn] and [mɪɹɚ]. The former I guess is syncope, losing the vowel, and I suspect the latter is too, but you could argue that it was apocope, and that it's the middle r sound he's lost, from that word, not the ending one. Yeah, my friend is a one-man agent of language change. It's not the people who talk like everyone else who cause changes! I could probably call the childhood pronunciation of spaghetti (p'sketti) ['pʰskɛ ɾi] an example of metathesis, with the additional wrinkle that the hard g in the original is devoiced to k by the child, an example of lenition or weakening.

It's interesting that these changes are variously perceived as cute, lazy, uneducated or infuriating, but I find that knowing they have names and roles in inexorable language change makes them kind of cool. It's the difference in approach between "Eww, we've got ants in here!" versus "Look, Formicidae! I bet these are Leptothorax canadensis!" And then you rush to to find out more, before your roommate squashes them all.


Frank Van Haste said...

Dear Trix:

I have heard in recent times (and in fact have used myself), the locution "home 'drome" to refer to the field where one is based. So, it's not a lost term.



Learn to fly said...

I love the earlier period of aviation and the pilots of the 20s and 30s. So much happened then and aeronautical knowledge exploded.

Interestin treatise on language!


All Things Aviation

Anoynmou said...

The In vs. It error does not appear in the original source of the definition: the "Nomenclature for Aeronautics" Report No. 25 regarding terms adopted at the 1918 NACA annual meeting. The definition is quoted correctly in nine out of ten Google hits; the lone error is the language history textbook.

Geminated consonants in English occur in compound words like "bookkeeper", where the "k" sound usually has a definite doubling relative to the one in "bookie". I always hear it as marking a difference between a stressed and an unstressed syllable after the consonant.

Aviatrix said...

Thank you, Anoynmou, I don't think there are a lot of examples, but bookkeeper is definitely one, at least spoken carefully. I think in some rapid speech it turns into book-eepr and we lose it, though.

Devil In The Drain said...

I love linguistics.

There's all sorts of fascinating things out there. Dialect maps of North America will teach us what the vowel shift is that we from the US think of as "Canadian" ("aboot", etc.). Or if you're into epenthesis, this is too technical but a fascinating examination of which contexts can get "Homeric infixation" -- which is named after Homer Simpson, and means "saxomaphone", "intellimagent", etc.

Aviatrix said...

Devil, that's hilarious. I kept checking the attribution to make sure it wasn't from The Onion. That's what's so cool about linguistics, but part of what causes the problems. Its field of study is what comes out of people's mouths. A four year old can tell you what works and what does not as English, even a joke word, without doing any calculations, just what sounds right. And the linguists tie themselves in knots trying to nail down a formula for 'sounding right.'

Rhonda said...

Every time I see "Homeric" in that paper I think of ancient greece.

My edumacation is clearly not up to date.

Anoynmous said...

Homer Simpson's a poser. Bob Nelson's "shouldermapads" will always be the archetype in my mind.