May 26, 2005

Language Log like list

Cristi Laquer at Invented Usage has recently posted "on like usage". She cites a number of blog posts on the various innovative uses of like (the hedge, the quotative and so on), including a Language Log post, and asks "If anyone knows of anything else out there, please let us know!"

The classic (non-blog) reference is Muffy Siegel's paper "Like: The Discourse Particle and Semantics" (J. of Semantics 19(1), Feb. 2002). In thinking about other references on our site, I came to three conclusions at almost the same time. There have been quite a few Language Log posts that are relevant to the use of like; it's hard to find them; and none of them summarizes the epic panorama of that protean word's patterns of usage.

To start with, here's a reasonably complete list, in chronological order, of Language Log posts relevant to like:

It's like, so unfair (Geoff Pullum)
Like is, like, not really like if you will (Mark Liberman)
Exclusive: God uses "like" as a hedge (Geoff Pullum)
Divine ambiguity (Mark Liberman)
Grammar critics are, like, annoyed really weird (Mark Liberman)
This construction seems that I would never use it (Mark Liberman)
Look like a reference problem (Eric Bakovic)
Seems like, go, all (Mark Liberman)
I'm like, all into this stuff (Arnold Zwicky)
I'm starting to get like "this is really interesting" (Mark Liberman)
This is, like, such total crap? (Mark Liberman)

It's hard to find these because we don't have a subject index or a lexical index. You can search by strings, and that works fine for (say) Pirahã, but it's essentially useless in searching for something like like. I guess some day we should fix that. Meanwhile, there's the like list. I think. (I probably missed a couple.)

As for my observation that none of these posts is, like, a systematic guide to all the, like, meanings and syntactic patterns of all the forms of like -- well, this is a blog, not a dictionary. So it's not like we should feel bad about this. Still, a survey of the origin and progress of like would make an interesting post. Someday.

Looking over the list of Language Log like titles, I also notice that different contributors have different ideas about like-related punctuation in the hedge and quotative cases. I seem to prefer commas fore and aft, while Geoff Pullum and Arnold Zwicky favor following commas only. There'll be a meeting at 8:00 in the Board Room at Language Log Plaza to settle the matter...

Posted by Mark Liberman at May 26, 2005 05:00 AM