Protester holding a sign saying "Liar Johnson puts the 'ROGUE' in 'PRO-ROGUE' at a protest at Th

Putting the ‘rogue’ in ‘prorogue’

By Jack Fifield

Protester holding a sign saying "Liar Johnson put the 'ROGUE' in 'PRO-ROGUE' #StopTheCoup" at the "Stop the Coup" protest next to The Cenotaph, Bristol City Centre
Protester holding a sign at the “Stop the Coup” protest next to The Cenotaph, Bristol City Centre, 31st August 2019
Photo: Jack Fifield

The word ‘prorogue’ has been enjoying its time in the spotlight this week, and many, not least angry protesters, have expertly deduced that the word ‘prorogue’ looks like the words ‘pro rogue’. This begs the question: are these words actually related?

To start my investigation, I turned to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), located at oed.com, and I signed in using my UWE Bristol login, just one of the many databases that the University grants access to students from campus or from home.

As an historical dictionary, the OED doesn’t prioritize modern meanings over historical meanings; this can be seen by the fact that the modern UK sense isn’t stated until last in the OED’s entry “b. intransitive. Of a legislative assembly, etc.: to discontinue sittings for a period of time or until the next session.”

As many angry demonstrators holding signs such as “Boris Johnson is a pro rogue” or “Liar Johnson put the ‘ROGUE’ in ‘PRO-ROGUE’” (pictured) over the last few weeks have pointed out, at first glance, the word ‘prorogue’ looks and sounds like a combination of the prefix “pro-” (before something) and the adjective ‘rogue’ (unpredictable, dishonest, etc.).

The “pro” in “prorogue” is not a shortening of “professional”, with the OED confirming that, much more boringly, in this case, it is the prefix discussed above, in the sense of “Forward, onward, in a course or in time”; this leads to the “rogue” part, surely this is just the word “rogue”?!

Going back to Latin via the route of Anglo-Norman and Middle French, we get to rogāre, to ask, according the OED, and we are directed to “see rogation n.”, with multiple senses including the acts of begging and of making a formal request.

Turning to the origin of the word ‘rogue’, the OED tells us that the earliest recorded sense is “An idle vagrant, a vagabond; one of a group or class of such people. Now archaic or historical.”, but admits that the origin is unknown, suggesting that it may be related to “roger n.”, an obsolete word for a beggar pretending to be from Oxford or Cambridge, with the OED telling us that some have suggested that this was actually pronounced like the word “rogue” instead of the name “roger”, but that there is no supporting evidence for any of this, or that the words are even related, and that “an etymological connection with the family of classical Latin rogāre (see rogation n.) is unlikely.”, bringing us full circle.

So, it would seem that, whilst the OED is of the opinion that a connection between ‘prorogue’ and ‘rogue’ is unlikely, there are some similar senses for both words relating to the acts of begging or asking, meaning that there could be some connection along the line. For now, this case remains unsolved.


She’s ’avin’ a lah-tay

By Richard Coates

One of the reasons I prefer an americano to a latte is that it does less violence to the Italian language. The Italian word for ‘milk’ is pronounced with a short stressed vowel and a long medial voiceless consonant. So if we can pronounce pâté (though many would prefer not to mention it at all) as “pat-ay”, why can’t we take our coffee as a “lat-ay”? That would keep the vowel more or less Italian, and ruin the consonant only in the way we already ruin the long consonants in espressocappuccino and macchiato.

Cardinal vowels labelled on an IPA vowel chart with numbers form 1 to 8 next to the corresponding vowel
Cardinal vowels on an IPA chart
Numbers added to Primary cardinal vowels on a vowel chart.svg by Mr KEBAB.[CC BY-SA 4.0])

It looks as though we have America to blame, which is ironic in view of where we started this. Americans generally voice the medial consonant, resulting in some tensing and lengthening of the preceding vowel. This lengthened vowel then gets identified with the British English long low vowel, which is noticeably back (cardinal 5). Hey presto – the worst of all worlds: we don’t voice the consonant, but we’re lumbered with the consequences of someone else doing it.

You can always cop out with a café au lait – it takes a barista to know the difference. But the confusion is enhanced by adverts for café latte – half anglicized French and half americanized Italian. Enjoy your caffè autentico.

The Confusing Language of Mortgage Lending

by Craig Evans

A response to today’s news story about interest-only mortgages

I have a lot of sympathy for the ‘nearly a million homeowners’ who face losing their homes after opting for interest-only mortgages. I can also understand why more prudent borrowers and a lot of non-homeowners might feel differently; after all, who’d want to pay only the interest on a loan that they can’t afford to pay back in full?

The logic against it is very sound. However, so too is the logic in favour of taking out an interest-only loan: surely the lender wouldn’t give out hundreds of thousands of pounds at a time unless there was a clear plan for capital repayment – right?

I should probably now take a step outside this post and explain that it is not my intention to write about finance. This is actually an issue concerning language and communication. Having previously spent a number of years working in the mortgages department of a finance company, I can appreciate why people might put their faith in common sense when faced with the often opaque language of financial services.

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Politicians and Their Words: Some Thoughts about Semantic Prosody

by Craig Evans

The battle-lines of political discourse in the context of election campaigns are often drawn at the level of individual words. Take, for example, the following words: ‘immigrants’, ‘benefits’, ‘bankers’, ‘Islamic’, ‘Brussels’, ‘politicians’. While defined in neutral terms by dictionaries, these words tend to acquire a derogatory sense when used in the media or by politicians themselves: ‘illegal immigrants’, ‘benefits cheats’, ‘bankers’ bonuses’, ‘Islamic fundamentalism’, ‘Brussels’ bureaucracy’, ‘distrust of politicians’.

The collocates that frequently occur with these words, as illustrated here, influence their semantic prosody; that is, the degree to which they have negative or positive associations. In the discourse of British political debate, the semantic prosody of these particular words tends to be negative. Alternatively, words like ‘troops’, ‘nurses’, ‘countryside’, ‘schools’, ‘British values’, ‘communities’, etc tend to have positive associations. This is because of the frequency with which they collocate with the possessive determiner ‘our’, where the sense of them belonging to us implies a positive emotional connection.

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CDA speeches! A practical exploration of Aristotle’s artistic proofs and other rhetorical techniques

by Craig Evans

For last week’s Critical Discourse Analysis module, several students volunteered to write speeches which they then delivered in the seminars. The purpose of the exercise was to explore the way that features of classical rhetoric, in particular Aristotle’s artistic proofs, work in persuasive writing. The format involved four speakers in each seminar making opposing arguments on two topics. After each speech the rest of the seminar group were asked to discuss the rhetorical merits of the speech; and after each topic, a vote was held to decide which argument had won the most support.

The two topics chosen by students to speak on were immigration and the Oscar Pistorius trial. Speakers were asked to argue against or for the following propositions:

“Immigration has gone far enough and a firm limit should now be placed on Britain’s borders”

“Oscar Pistorius is guilty of murder and should be sentenced accordingly” Continue reading

Glory and war: some thoughts on the language of remembrance

by Craig Evans

This year is the centenary of the start of ‘the war to end all war’. Images of flag folding at Camp Bastion to mark the end of Britain’s controversial 13-year-long military campaign in Afghanistan have been broadcast on the news during the past week. It is a reminder of the hopeless idealism of this expression, often attributed to HG Wells, to describe the First World War. Next Sunday is Remembrance Sunday. In the grounds of the Tower of London at the moment, tens of thousands of ceramic poppies are on display to commemorate people who have died serving in the armed forces.

For many, this hundred-year-old ritual of remembrance is sacred. To question its meaning is to express contempt for people who have ‘made the ultimate sacrifice’ in the ‘line of duty’. Others believe that remembrance is a custom that encourages a sanitised and glorified view of war and should therefore be scrutinised.

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Another advantage to being bilingual?

by Jeanette Sakel
A new study in one of the leading journals on language contact shows that bilingual children cope more easily with noisy classrooms, and are hence able to focus on a task despite substantial background noise. The tasks tested were relating to grammar (find a subject of a sentence, etc.).
Now why is this the case? The researchers want to look at this question in more detail, so there’ll be more interesting research into this area soon.
The CUP blog article about the paper is here: http://cup.linguistlist.org/journals/bilingual-children-cope-well-in-noisy-classrooms/

The actual paper can be accessed through the UWE library, where we hold an online subscription to the journal (Bilingualism: Language and Cognition).

In the news: “uptalk”

by Jeanette Sakel
Today’s BBC website features an article about the rise in intonation commonly heard at the end of a sentence without expressing a question:
There are some interesting theories discussed in the article – with comments from a number of linguists. Crystal’s comment about it sounding ‘Danish’ is not really correct, though, as this is not an intonation pattern of Danish. In Norwegian, however, it is quite typical.

The languages of Bolzano/Bozen

by Jeanette Sakel
I recently gave an invited talk in Bolzano/Bozen in Northern Italy, and I could not help but be amazed by the linguistic situations of the Alto Adige/Südtirol region of Italy. And since there is even a Guardian article about the language situation in this region today, I decided it was time for a new blog post.
Südtirol used to be part of The Austrian-Hungarian Empire, but became part of Italy at the end of the First World War. Yet, even a century later, the majority of people in this region still feel Austrian, or if not Austrian then at least ‘more’ Austrian than Italian. Local varieties of German are typically spoken here by the majority of local inhabitants. High German is only really used in highly official situations, if at all.

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