Archive for the ‘Pragmatics’ Category

A Dilbert and a Rhymes

April 23, 2014

Cartoons today:

(#1)

(#2)

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Speech act ambiguity

April 20, 2014

From an esurance commercial on tv, entitled “Hank” (the key bit is boldfaced):

Hank: My daughter thinks I’m out of touch. So I asked her how I saved 15 percent on car insurance in just 15 minutes.

Neighbor: Huh. (shakes head)

Hank: (looks at phone) “IDK?” What does that mean?

Neighbor: “I don’t know.”

Hank: And I’m the one who’s out of touch. LOL.

The neighbor is answering Hank’s question, a request for information, asking about what “IDK” means. Hank understands this instead as an assertion, by the neighbor, that he doesn’t know what “IDK” means. (Hank then thinks the neighbor is out of touch.)  Both understandings involve assertions, but about different aspects of the conversational exchange.

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Three for today

April 18, 2014

Three cartoons for today: a Dilbert, a Bizarro, and a Mother Goose and Grimm:

(#1)

(#2)

(#3)

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Degrading the language?

April 12, 2014

John McWhorter, in the April 6th NYT Sunday Review, the piece ““Like, Degrading the Language? No Way”, in which John sounds a familiar theme for him, that novel usages and the change in old usages to new purposes and fresh sets of speakers is not decline, but shows an active drive towards greater expressiveness and nuance.

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Dog whistles and more

April 4, 2014

On ADS-L on the 2nd, Geoff Nunberg started a discussion about political language coded for race. The background is dog whistle politics.

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My Hobby Comics

March 24, 2014

Some bounty from the Stanford Linguistics in the Comics freshman seminar, a collection of xkcd cartoons with subheaded metatext “My Hobby”, searched out by Kyle Qian. Kyle found about 1,300 xkcd cartoons online, 36 of them subheaded this way, and he posted 7 of them with discussion. (I’ll put off posting about his comments until he gives me permission. The cartoons are in some sense public, but Kyle’s analysis is certainly not.)

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Metatext handout

March 14, 2014

Metatext in the comics
Arnold M. Zwicky, Stanford University
SemFest 15 (2014)

[This material appears in two forms: a handout at the SemFest, and a posting "Metatext handout" on my blog (which has handy hot links).]

Cartoons and comics have main content – visuals, usually (though not always) with speech from the characters. But there often is other material designed to frame the way to read this text: metatext, of at least six types.

1. Inserts. These are bits of text within the body of a panel or panels, but not attributed to any of the characters. Often they are crucial to understanding what’s going on – indicating changes in place (“meanwhile, back in Metropolis”) or time (“three days later”), but sometimes providing a narrative background without which the comic would be incomprehensible (Zippy the Pinhead frequently has inserts of this sort – in which case they should be thought of as a third kind of main content.

A time insert from xkcd:

  (#1)

This cartoon is discussed in my posting “Messing with my mind” of 2/11/14.

Here’s a Zippy that advances the story almost entirely through extended inserted text, discussed in my posting “Fun is bowling” of 1/28/14:

(#2)

2. Captions and 3. Titles. Captions (located below the body of the comic) are so common in single-panel cartoons that they’re scarcely worth commenting on, except to note that single-panels are often so poor in context and content that captions are valuable for the reader. (Single-panel cartoons often have captions, inside quotation marks, instead of speech balloons, showing what a character is saying. In particular, this is New Yorker style. Not really metatext, but a piece of text that happens to be located outside the main image.)

A New Yorker example, from William Haefeli:

  (#3)

Non-speech captions are often dispensable, but nevertheless useful, and they can provide a “second smile” (thanks to Michael Siemon for this felicitous term) for the reader (visual: man waiting at airport with a sign “Godot”; funny as it stands, but the caption “Another day at Beckett International Airport” provides a second smile):

  (#4)

  (#5)

(Discussion on my blog,in “Caption exercise” of 2/20/14,  here.)

Sometimes the caption is essential, as here:

  (#6)

(Discussion in “Indirect pun” on my blog in 4/20/13.) Without the caption the strip is inscrutable.

As for titles, in principle, titles (located above the body of the comic or at the left side) serve to announce the topics of comics, especially three- or four-panel strips. Here’s a framing title from Rhymes With Orange:

  (#7)

(Discussed in my posting “Swamp Thing” of 3/1/14.) You can get the pun without the title, but you might well not recognize the drinker as the character Swamp Thing.

Strip #1 above (xkcd) has an informative title (beginning with “My hobby”) as well as an insert.

But titles have other uses. A great many Zippys have titles, but these are rarely just helpful topic declarations; instead, they are additional jokes, beyond the ones in the body of the comic, providing second smiles, as in this example, from my posting “Eleganza” of o3/5/14 :

  (#8)

The title here has a play on polyester.

4. Accompanying text and 5. Mouseovers. These are “add-ons”, outside the body of the strip.

Accompanying text is available on the net and, in principle, with print comics, but mostly used on the net, where explanation or snarky commentary can be provided after the comic itself. Scenes From a Multiverse and Dinosaur Comics regularly have accompanying text. In principle, this text could illuminate the strip, but more often than not it’s about the cartoonist’s life. So from Jon Rosenbaum on his Scenes From a Multiverse entitled “Skyball part 5″ (8/7/13), here:

This is SFAM #500! Whee!

I’m previewing the Goats Mini I’m working on for the Goats IV Kickstarter rewards for the next few days. Here’s part 5.  Enjoy the sneak peek!

(followed by a bunch of tweets). Discussion of the strip in my posting “Bilingual wordplay of the same day, here.

Mouseovers are available only on the net. These framing or commenting messages appear when a mouse hovers over the image. xkcd is especially given to mouseovers. Often they provide second smiles, as in strip #1 (xkcd), which has not only an insert and a title, but also this mouseover:

Like spelling “dammit” correctly – with two m’s – it’s a troll that works best on the most literate.

which is only tangentially related to the main content of the strip.

6. Footnotes. Occasionally, comics have expressions marked as footnotes (with the standard asterisk), with the explanatory footnote itself (again, marked with an asterisk) appearing somewhere inside or close to the body of the comic.

7. Summary. Comics regularly have material in addition to images and represented speech (in speech balloons or their equivalent — lines from speakers to represented speech — or in speech captions). Much of the time, this material enriches, sometimes crucially, the semantic/pragmatic content of the comic. Other times it presents an extra stream of content, only loosely related to the main content of the strip.

Metatext in the comics (conference version)

March 9, 2014

(An abstract for the upcoming Semantics Festival at Stanford; my paper is this Friday afternoon at 2. This is the abstract as submitted, but with a footnote added; it needs more text and also illustrative examples. Earlier version on this blog here.)

Metatext in the comics
Arnold M. Zwicky, Stanford University
SemFest 15 (2014)

Cartoons and comics have main content – visuals, usually (though not always) with speech from the characters. But there often is other material designed to frame the way to read this text: metatext, of at least six types.

1. Inserts. These are bits of text within the body of a panel or panels, but not attributed to any of the characters. Often they are crucial to understanding what’s going on – indicating changes in place (“meanwhile, back in Metropolis”) or time (“three days later”), but sometimes providing a narrative background without which the comic would be incomprehensible (Zippy the Pinhead frequently has inserts of this sort – in which case they should be thought of as a third kind of main content.

2. Captions and 3. Titles. Captions (located below the body of the comic) are so common in single-panel cartoons that they’re scarcely worth commenting on, except to note that single-panels are often so poor in context and content that captions are valuable for the reader. (Single-panel cartoons often have captions, inside quotation marks, instead of speech balloons, showing what a character is saying. In particular, this is New Yorker style. Not really metatext, but a piece of text that happens to be located outside the main image.)

Non-speech captions are often dispensable, but nevertheless useful, and they can provide a “second smile”* for the reader (visual: man waiting at airport with a sign “Godot”; funny as it stands, but the caption “Another day at Beckett International Airport” provides a second smile).

As for titles, in principle, titles (located above the body of the comic) serve to announce the topics of comics, especially three- or four-panel strips. But they have other uses.

A great many Zippys have titles, but these titles are rarely just helpful topic declarations; instead, they are additional jokes, beyond the ones in the body of the comic, providing second smiles.

4. Mouseovers. Available only on the net. These framing or commenting messages appear when a mouse hovers over the image. xkcd is especially given to mouseovers. Often they provide second smiles.

5. Accompanying text. Available on the net and, in principle, with print comics, but mostly used on the net, where explanation or snarky commentary can be provided after the comic itself. Scenes From a Multiverse and Dinosaur Comics regularly have accompanying text.

6. Footnotes. Occasionally, comics have expressions marked as footnotes (with the standard asterisk), with the explanatory footnote itself (again, marked with an asterisk) appearing somewhere inside or close to the body of the comic.

A combo. AZ’s posting of an xkcd cartoon, entitled “Messing with my mind”, has a title (beginning with “My hobby”), an insert (“Three hours later”, indicating the passage of time), and a mouseover:

Like spelling “dammit” correctly – with two m’s – it’s a troll that works best on the most literate.

[*added  4/8/14: Thanks to Michael Siemon for this felicitous term.]

Framing the message

March 4, 2014

Today’s Bizarro:

Two very different ways of framing the message. The sense of frame here is the subsense of the verb

to put into words, express; to formulate

in OED3 (discussed in this posting on framing).

Subtext

February 15, 2014

A recent Zits:

Subtext has come up in the Stanford Language of Comics seminar I’m involved with, in discussions of indirection — primarily, Gricean implicature, in which expressions have a straightforward interpretations but are used to convey different ones. Subtext is subtler, since two messages are sent at the same time.

In the Zits case above, the subtext (Drag Me to Hell) is made explicit, as commentary on the surtext (The Sound of Music).

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