Saturday, September 27, 2014

How TV expressions wind their way into your mind

Next month, the English Language Research Group here at the University of Edinburgh will be discussing Blythe & Croft (2012). The paper considers how language changes occur, and finds that, statistically speaking, changes that succeed tend to follow an s-curve. In other words, they start slow, then pick up steam and go along for a while before slowing down. Like this:

They go so far as to say,
To our knowledge there are no clearly documented cases of a change going toward
completion that follows either a simple linear trajectory or an exponential curve (either slow start with a rapid completion and no tapering off, or an immediate rapid increase followed by a slow completion rate). (p. 280)
"Remarkable!", I thought. And then I thought of Wheezer's kid brother Dickie Hutchins from "The little rascals" (AKA "Our gang").

Do you think Dickie's constant repetition of a word like "remarkable" was picked up and repeated? If so, it's going to be really hard to see in the sea of other uses of the word, but what about other more identifiable TV catchphrases? I don't think they're language change in the way Blythe and Croft mean, but do they follow an s-curve nevertheless? Well, sit right back and you'll see a few tails. (All of the graphs are from Google N-grams and smoothed over 3 years.)

Our first is a beautiful s-curve from "Star trek":

So are they all going to be like that? Silly rabbit!

One from Timex:

Does this look pretty linear, Scoob? Yup!

So, what do you say, Hanibal? Linear?

Blythe, Richard A. & William Croft. 2012. S-curves and the mechanisms of propagation in language change. Language 88(2). 269–304. doi:10.1353/lan.2012.0027.

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