"Like" abuse redivivus

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Mon Apr 14 16:25:00 UTC 2008

On Apr 13, 2008, at 6:37 PM, Benjamin Lukoff wrote:

> On Sun, 13 Apr 2008 RonButters at AOL.COM wrote:
>> In hindsight, I believe it seemed understandable to me as an
>> extention/contraction of "(What) he (said was something like), Q"--
>> which is, after all, what
>> it meant (at least then). There were other such quotatives going
>> around then as
>> well, at least one of which I reported in the early 1980s in AS:
>> "BE all," as
>> in "And he was all, 'Q'."
> I once tried conducting an informal survey of my friends as to whether
> they saw any difference between "And he was all, 'Q'" and "And he was,
> like, 'Q'". I got absolutely nowhere. *Is* there a difference in
> meaning
> here?

you'd think that reflecting on how you use variants would be a good
way to tease out differences in their meaning or discourse function,
but in fact it's a perfectly dreadful research strategy.  this kind of
side-by-side comparison combined with introspection never leads to
reliable data, though as a first pass it can provide hints as to where
to look for actual data.

the problem is that either you come up with nothing (even when there
are differences) or the accidents of your thought processes cause you
to fabricate distinctions in meaning or use (though the variants *are*
distinguished, but primarily on sociolinguistic grounds, or they're
distinguished in meaning or use, but not along the dimension you came
up with).  making judgments about grammaticality and appropriateness
in context is hard enough (though there are ways to collect such data
that reduce some of the noise), but introspecting about meanings and
uses is like introspecting about the formal aspects of grammatical
rules; we just don't have access to our knowledge of grammar and
lexicon, only to consequences of that knowledge.

side-by-side comparison just makes things worse.  for a critique in a
different context, here's:

Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
(Little, Brown, 2005), pp. 158-9:

The difficulty with interpreting the Pepsi Challenge findings begins
with the fact that they were based on what the industry calls a sip
test or a CLT (central location test).  Tasters don't drink the entire
can.  They take a sip from a cup of each of the brands being tested
and then make their choice.  Now suppose I were to ask you to test a
soft drink a little differently.  What if you were to take a case of
the drink home and tell me what you think after a few weeks?  Would
that change your opinion?  It turns out it would.  Carol Dollard, who
worked for Pepsi for many years in new-product development, says,
"I've seen many times when the CLT will give you one result and the
home-use test will give you the exact opposite.  For example, in a
CLT, consumers might taste three or four different products in a row,
taking a sip or couple sips of each.  A sip is very different from
sitting and drinking a whole beverage on your own.  Sometimes a sip
tastes good and a whole bottle doesn't.  That's why home-use tests
give you the best information.  The user isn't in an artificial
setting  They are at home, sitting in front of the TV, and the way
they feel in that situation is the most reflective of how they will
behave when the product hits the market."


note the distinction between reflection and choices-in-action.  much
as in the linguistic case, where we need to collect data about how
particular people use which variants in which contexts for what
purposes, and to get at knowledge of grammar and lexicon in various
indirect ways.

as for quotative "all" vs. quotative "like", there's quite a bit of
literature about differences in the contexts of use.  the situation is
complex, because different groups of speakers at different times have
somewhat different systems, but it looks like everybody with the two
non-standard quotatives uses them in different (though overlapping)
ways.  quotative "all" seems to be generally favored by simple present
tense; in a sense, it's more "vivid" than quotative "like".  and, from
the Rickford et al. paper:

"for the 2005 corpus, all is quite different from like with respect to
this constraint [occurrence with a representation of speech or
thought]. It rather seems to pattern like the older quotatives say and
go in being favored for the introduction of actual speech."

there's a lot more.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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