American abbreviations

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Sat Oct 8 00:33:00 UTC 2005

one of the other fellows -- ok, Fellows -- here at the Stanford
Humanities Center is a native speaker of Italian and has the
impression that Englsh speakers, or at least American English
speakers, use many more abbreviations of all types (alphabetisms,
acronyms, truncations) in everyday speech than do speakers of Italian
or the other languages she knows well (which include Japanese and
Mandarin).  speakers of several other languages, including French and
Spanish, were inclined to agree with her.

she had in mind things like "PC" for "personal computer" and
"politically correct", "ad" for "advertisement", etc.

it was generally agreed that in institutional contexts, modern
cultures were all inclined to use lots of abbreviated labels --
alphabetisms, acronyms, and truncations for the names of political
parties and action groups, for instance.  the question was about more
everyday contexts.

i pointed out that separating institutional from everyday contexts
was not easy to do, and probably in principle impossible.  and that
what was technical usage for some was everyday usage for others and
in-group jargon for still others.  so it's not clear that the
question is even testable.

do any of you know of anyone who's tried to look at cross-culture or
cross-group differences in such patterns of language use?


More information about the Ads-l mailing list