Language Fun: Identifying photocopy machine poses problem for Cuyahoga County official |

Linguists are often called to testify about the meaning of words in legal contexts.  In the last several weeks, Ben Zimmer has written on several situation where companies have tried to copyright language, including the use of the word “app.” 

The deposition in the following link involves a similar situation: the use of a brand name as a generic, which is something that linguists pay attention to.  The witness who calls this use into question is a government clerk, not a trained linguist, but he manages to skillfully avoid a lawyers questions by repeatedly asking one of the lawyers for clarification.  Read the excerpt below.  If you’re not rooting for the lawyer, it’s pretty funny.

Identifying photocopy machine poses problem for Cuyahoga County official |


About LingEducator

Dr. Jaclyn Ocumpaugh received a PhD for her dissertation on regional variation in the acoustics of Mexican American English (Michigan State University, East Lansing). Before that, she received an MA in English/Linguistics from North Carolina State University for her work on the acoustics of /r/--a sound which is highly variable in the English language. Her passion, however, has always been to understand the social implications of language variation. In addition to her work in acoustic sociophonetics, she has worked with rape trial analysis, developed cognitive methods for understanding discourse level variation between men and women, and created sophisticated tools for teaching future educators about the kinds of dialect variation they will find in the classroom. She has taught classes in English, Linguistics, and Education at Old Dominion University, William & Mary, the University of Mary Washington, and Virginia Wesleyan College. She is currently a Post Doctoral Fellow of Learning Sciences and Technologies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where she is helping to develop models of student engagement in the classroom. She also consults in the private sector.
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