Charles Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Thu Apr 22 18:03:18 UTC 2010

A few days ago I came off the bench hurriedly to join a doctoral committee; a semi-final draft of the dissertation was already completed. The candidate's field is second-language acquisition (or, more specifically, her interesting study was of native-speaking students' ability, acquired skill, or willingness to comprehend the speech of "foreign" teaching assistants)--certainly not one of my fields of (pretended) expertise.

In the dissertation, the student used the word "attenuation" is a way that was quite unfamiliar to me; I assumed it was simply a mistake, so I circled the word and inscribed a large question mark in the margin. Then, in the oral defense of the dissertation she used the word again, presumably in the same way (I can't remember whether the word used was "attenuate" or "attenuation"; I had already given her back my edited copy of the dissertation). So I asked her about the word. Both she and the other committee members concurred in informing me that the word has a special sense in ESOL discussions, having to do (as best I could understand the explanation) with "paying attention" to something--almost as if the word "attenuation" derives from "attention."

Of course, "attenuation" and "attention" are cognate (in a Latinish way). Still, the specialized use of "attenuation" looks to me a little like a folk-etymologizing.

Anyhow, I resolved to ask "my" linguists about the usage!  It certainly doesn't correspond to anything recorded in the OED. I suppose it's the use illustrated in the following sentence (hastily found on the internet):

"The possibility of creole-specific learning or attenuation to second language contrasts is also addressed."  Eric Russell Webb, "An Optimal Theoretic Account" (abstract), _Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages_ 23 (2008).

I'll appreciate any information.


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

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