Archive for the ‘Discourse’ Category

Today’s dangler

May 16, 2015

Heard in a tv commercial for life insurance:

There’s no medical exam required. And by answering a few simple questions, your coverage can start immediately.

The boldfaced material has a classic “dangling modifier”, a non-default SPAR: by answering a few questions is a subjectless predicational adjunct to the main clause, and its interpretation requires that a referent be found for the missing subject, but that referent is not the default one, the referent of the subject (your coverage) in the main clause; instead it’s the referent of the possessive determiner (your) within this subject. Despite this, the sentence is easily understood (as something like ‘if/when you answer a few simple questions, your coverage will start immediately’); it may count as a “dangler”, but it’s harmless.

In my collection of many hundreds of danglers, there are only a few like this one (with a coding that begins SUB(by)-PRP), but there is a set of somewhat similar cases that I’ve looked at under the heading of “by-Topicalization”.

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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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