Dialect variation in the Times

Marc Velasco marcjvelasco at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jul 2 03:05:21 UTC 2008

I think it's a decent conundrum.  Many pop songs have lyrics of varied and
dubious aural interpretations; 'official' online versions of lyrics have
settled many disputes over what singers actually sang in their songs, at
least for my generation.  (I think the author mentioned this in the
article.)  In this case, everyone seems to agree that the _ain't_ is
definitely in the original recording, so it's a moot point. But in general,
when quoting a lyric, even if you're not *exactly* sure what it is, should
you trust your ear, or go with an online source many other people apparently
agree upon?

(And what of songs who's lyrics vary slightly from rendition to rendition?
Hundreds of live performances of a song are sure to have variation over

On Mon, Jun 30, 2008 at 6:57 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: Dialect variation in the Times
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> At 6:17 PM -0400 6/30/08, Joel S. Berson wrote:
> >At 6/30/2008 02:41 PM, Baker, John wrote:
> >>         The Supreme Court has the opportunity to correct its opinions
> >>before their publication in definitive form in United States Reports.
> >>It will be interesting to see whether it does so in this case.
> >
> >Perhaps if Laurence writes to Roberts' clerk?
> >Joel
> >
> Well, I'm sure his clerks read the Week in Review, so they, and he,
> must know of the problem without my help.
> Larry
> >
> >>John Baker
> >>
> >>
> >>-----Original Message-----
> >>From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
> >>Of Laurence Horn
> >>Sent: Monday, June 30, 2008 2:30 PM
> >>Subject: Dialect variation in the Times
> >>
> >>Nobody has yet mentioned this piece from yesterday's Week in Review at
> >>http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/29/weekinreview/29dylan.html?_r=1&scp=3&s
> >>q=Dylan&st=nyt&oref=slogin
> >>
> >>The Chief Justice, Dylan and the Disappearing Double Negative ADAM
> >>LIPTAK, June 29, 2008
> >>
> >>Four pages into his dissent on Monday in an achingly boring dispute
> >>between pay phone companies and long distance carriers, John G.
> >>Roberts Jr., the chief justice of the United States, put a song lyric
> >>where the citation to precedent usually goes.
> >>
> >>"The absence of any right to the substantive recovery means that
> >>respondents cannot benefit from the judgment they seek and thus lack
> >>Article III standing," Chief Justice Roberts wrote. " 'When you got
> >>nothing, you got nothing to lose.' Bob Dylan, Like a Rolling Stone, on
> >>Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia Records 1965)."
> >>
> >>Alex B. Long, a law professor at the University of Tennessee and perhaps
> >>the nation's leading authority on the citation of popular music in
> >>judicial opinions, said this was almost certainly the first use of a
> >>rock lyric to buttress a legal proposition in a Supreme Court decision.
> >>"It's a landmark opinion," Professor Long said.
> >>
> >>...
> >>Chief Justice Roberts gets the citation wrong, proving that he is
> >>neither an originalist nor a strict constructionist. What Mr. Dylan
> >>actually sings, of course, is, "When you ain't got nothing, you got
> >>nothing to lose."
> >>
> >>It's true that many Web sites, including Mr. Dylan's official one,
> >>reproduce the lyric as Chief Justice Roberts does. But a more careful
> >>Dylanist might have consulted his iPod. "It was almost certainly the
> >>clerks who provided the citation," Professor Long said. "I suppose their
> >>use of the Internet to check the lyrics violates one of the first rules
> >>they learned when they were all on law review: when quoting, always
> >>check the quote with the original source, not someone else's
> >>characterization of what the source said."
> >>
> >>===============
> >>I was especially interested in the question under investigation, since I
> >>cited the same line in my ADS paper on double negation in January as an
> >>instance of code switching between negative concord and standard
> >>varieties, and I also checked to make sure I had the line right after
> >>noticing, as Liptak and Long did, that it shows up in the "When you got
> >>nothing" (as well as the "When you ain't got nothing") form on various
> >>web sites.  I ain't got no iPod, but I did check the two "original
> >>source" versions (live and studio) of "Like a Rolling Stone" in my
> >>iTunes, and indeed both have negative concord, pace the Chief Justice.
> >>
> >>LH
> >>
> >>------------------------------------------------------------
> >>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> >
> >------------------------------------------------------------
> >The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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