Archive for the ‘Discourse’ Category

The speaker is (almost) always topical

March 18, 2015

From my dangler files, this recent entry:

Z4.81 PRP-I-0-1P  Growing up in Chicago in th ’40’s “crickets” were popular, a useless but irritatingly noisy toy. Since replaced by bubble wrap. (Paul Johnson on ADS-L 3/12/15)

The crucial codes are the last two, 0-1P, having to do with where to find the referent for the missing subject of the predicational adjunct (0: no referent in the linguistic context) and the features of this referent (1P: 1st person singular; that is, the referent is the speaker of the sentence).

The adjunct thus frames the content of the main clause as representing the speaker’s thoughts or experiences, and in general 0-1P adjuncts (while impressive examples of classical “dangling modifiers”) are surprisingly acceptable, and not uncommon. And there’s a reason for that.

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More on the sports interview

March 9, 2015

In a comment on a Bizarro cartoon on the vacuity of sports interviews (#2 here), Stan Carey supplies a fine VectorBelly strip on the subject:

(The verbing sports is entertaining.)

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Three cartoons

March 8, 2015

For Daylight Saving(s) Time in the U.S., three cartoons having something to do with discourse organization: One Big Happy, Bizarro, and Dilbert:

(#1)

(#2)

(#3)

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Answering a question with a question

October 2, 2014

Today’s Dilbert, with Dilbert and the pointy-headed boss:

Well, responding to a yes-no question with a question could just be a request for information — that would be taking the boss’s question “at face value” — but quite often the second question (conversationally) implicates that the answer to the first question is “yes” (why, the reasoning begins, would the second question have been asked in the first place?)

Action Item, Professional Superhero

October 2, 2014

From Martin Kaminer to ADS-L on the 28th, a link to this wonderful 2000 comic strip by Neil McAllister (apparently the only extant episode of Adventures of Action Item):




 

Mostly about jargon, but it also raises questions about discourse organization, in this case about how business meetings are organized.

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Rules of conversation

June 26, 2014

Yesterday’s Zits, with Jeremy’s parents getting instruction on how to speak to his friends when they visit:

Grice’s Maxim of Quantity, in two parts:

Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange).

Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.

(Discussion on this blog here.)

The crucial point, of course, is what Jeremy thinks is required in such exchanges.

Why is this so hard to process?

April 21, 2014

From Chris Waigl, passed on by Chris Hansen:

 

The problem begins with the subject, a longboat full of Vikings. The (syntactic) head of this phrase is certainly longboat (and that’s what determines agreement on the verb), but it’s functioning here semantically / pragmatically as as an expression of measure, much like a collective noun. So the question is whether the subject is “about” a longboat or “about” Vikings. (Animate beings, especially humans, are especially favored as topics, ceteris paribus, so we should probably look to the Vikings.)

At the same time, the first sentence introduces the British Museum and the Palace of Westminster, implicitly (but quite subtly) introducing the Members of Parliament as entities in the discourse, though probably not as the topic.

Then we get the second sentence, which is clearly about Vikings (uncivilized, destructive, and rapacious), not boats (or the Members of Partliament, for that matter).

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Sports interviews

January 18, 2014

A cartoon (whose ultimate source I don’t know) on the banality of sports interviews:

New Yorker cartoons

January 14, 2014

From John McIntyre on Facebook, this link to the TED blog of 7/26/13, “Bob Mankoff picks his 11 favorite New Yorker cartoons ever” by Helen Waters. (Mankoff is the cartoon editor of the New Yorker.) Hard to choose, but here are four I especially like.

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Repetitions

November 8, 2012

On Monday Nancy Friedman offered this awkward example to me:

“One of the things that you always want to be for, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, is that you want everyone who’s eligible to vote to vote.” – Steve Schmidt, McCain strategist in 2008 (link)

There’s nothing syntactically wrong with this sentence, but the repetition of to vote might give you a moment’s pause. Nevertheless, the first to vote is an ordinary infinitival complement of be eligible (They are eligible to vote), in a relative clause modifying everyone (Everyone who’s eligible to vote is coming), and the second to vote is an ordinary infinitival complement of want in combination with a direct object of that verb (We want everyone to vote), and to vote to vote is merely part of what you get when you put these pieces together in ordinary ways.

Repetitions like this one — repetitions I’ll call Toto examples (Totos for short), after to vote to vote and in recognition of the passing feeling of oddness that they can produce (“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”) — are quite common, though a careful stylist might want to avoid some of them as distracting. But then there are syntactic constructions that specifically call for repetitions of constituents. And still other configurations that you’d expect to be acceptable — more Toto examples — that are nevertheless just ungrammatical (for some speakers).

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