Archive for the ‘Pragmatics’ Category

Routine and sub-routine

October 4, 2015

Today’s Zits:

True, she just asked him to unload the dishwasher, and he did that. But the point of unloading the dishwasher is to put the clean dishes away, so that unload the dishwasher implicates put the clean dishes away. Or to put it another way, the routine of unloading the dishwater has a sub-routine of putting the clean dishes away.

As usual, Jeremy takes what his mother says as literally and narrowly as possible, so as to avoid work.

Sexual advance?

October 3, 2015

A Dilbert from a while back (9/23) with co-workers Alice and Ted at cross-purposes:

People are inclined to sexualize social relations between the sexes, to the point where some people are dubious that men and women can have non-sexually tinged friendships, and this inclination seems to be particularly strong among men. The rather dim-witted Ted is a pretty extreme case.



October 2, 2015

Yesterday’s Bizarro:


(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Don Piraro says there are 2 in this strip — see this Page.)

But all bits of language have to be understood in context — the immediate physical context, the immediate social context (who’s speaking, to whom, for what purposes), the larger socioicultural context, and the context of background knowledge about the world. The task of taking all this stuff into account is substantial, but we manage the task pretty well (though by no means flawlessly) all the time. Still, the task is especially complex for highly compressed material, as on signs.


Context context context; and variation

September 26, 2015

Back in March, Luc Vartan Baronian posted on Facebook this semantics argument between his two children:

Daughter (4): I love my piggy bank.
Son (7): You mean your froggy bank?
Daughter: No! My piggy bank.
Son: But it’s a froggy, so it should be a froggy bank.
Daughter: No. It’s STILL a piggy bank.

Yesterday, Luc (recalling my immersion in penguiniana) sent this on to me, asking me if I had a penguin bank. My answer was fairly complex, though basically I spoke in favor of Luc’s daughter’s position.


Participles of immediacy

September 21, 2015

Yesterday’s Doonesbury:

Not necessarily participles (PSP, PRP) of urgency, really, but something more like immediacy, conveying a sense of reporting on ongoing events, events that are happening right now. Hot news, on the scene.


August 20, 2015

Yesterday (while working on my “Plant families” posting, on the rose family) I came across the Wikipedia page for the agreeable plant Cotoneaster, which sent me on a complex journey through pronunciation and etymology, botanical taxonomy, English morphology, lexical semantics, and the pragmatics of expressions of resemblance.


A hypothetical question?

August 9, 2015

The Zits from the 7th:

Jeremy is given to responding to what people say in perfectly literal terms, not taking account of their reasons for framing things the way they do. He’s deliberately no good at Gricean relevance — a tactic that, by his lights, allows him to do nothing at all in situations where people (in particular, his mother) are trying to get him to do something.

As here. Jeremy’s mother asks him a question about his ability, a standard form of indirect request, framed this way out of politeness, so as to avoid issuing a direct command. But Jeremy takes her to be literally asking about his ability, a question asked only in case it might turn out that she wants his help in clearing the table.


Semantic specialization and extension

August 2, 2015

First case: An NPR announcer warns the audience,

(1) Spoiler alert!

Second case: a site for tourists in Ghent, Belgium (linked to in a comment on my recent posting on the city), that tells us,

(2) Ghent is divided into two quarters: the historic centre and the artistic quarter


The unflappable waitress

July 23, 2015

Today’s Bizarro:

Hun / hon.

The informal clipped form hon (for honey) as a term of address is stereotypically used, along with other pet names like the full honey, sweetie, dear(ie), and doll, by waitresses to their customers, in addition to the use of these as terms of endearment to genuine intimates. Many customers find the usage disrespectful and insulting, expressing intimacy in a situation where they see that deference to authority is called for.

(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Don Piraro says there are 4 in this strip — see this Page.)

30 twats in a field

July 19, 2015

Passed along by Mike Pope, this supremely annoying video clip in which a man poses what sounds like a question riddle to a woman, who can’t interpret the question, and the man, chuckling offensively, just goes on repeating the question. But if she didn’t get the trick early on, she’ll be stuck indefinitely in her incomprehension — and by the time her tormentor finally provides hints that might let her see the trick, there’s no hope she’ll get out of the processing hole she’s in.

I would label the man as an asshole or a total dick, but since the speakers are British, I prefer to call him a first-class twat.

But check it out for yourself:



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