Archive for the ‘Pragmatics’ Category

Background knowledge

September 14, 2014

Every so often, I post about how much background information can be required to make sense of what’s going on in a cartoon (and then to see why it’s funny); see, for example, “Bizarro followup” of 8/29. Now, through several Facebook friends, this wonderful New Yorker cartoon by Nick Downes:

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First, you need to recognize the two figures at the door as clowns — sociocultural knowledge, but very widespread, so that’s not particularly challenging.

The man at the desk is telling someone on the phone that “they” (that is, we calculate, the clowns) have arrived, presupposing some previous discussion about the clowns. But why does he say “Don’t bother”?

To work that out, you need to supply a very particular bit of sociocultural knowledge. You need to know a specific song, or at least its title.

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Hypothetical indirection

September 14, 2014

Today’s (re-run) Calvin and Hobbes:

 

Hobbes poses a hypothetical question to Calvin: suppose you knew …, then what would you do? Stated as a question, but functioning (indirectly) as a threatening instruction to do a specific thing (not named in the question, but inferrable from the context): do this, and today will not be the last day of your life — that is, DO THIS!

Visual formats

September 12, 2014

(Warning: some material about gay sex in plain language.)

On AZBlogX, a posting about a “cast album” for the gay porn flick Crave. Here, some reflections about this (conventionalized) visual format, an analogue to to conventionalized formats for linguistic material, variously referred to as “styles”, “registers”, “routines”, or “genres” (the terminological issues are vexed indeed) — choices of linguistic features that come together in packages, for use in specific contexts for specific purposes.

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More cheese, and conversion by truncation

August 26, 2014

A comment (of 8/23) by Andy Sleeper on my haloumi posting:

At a hotel in Chicago recently, at the breakfast buffet, they were serving some dish with egg, meat, and cheese, with a little sign saying “Scrambled with chorizo sausage and chihuahua.” [Note that chorizo would have done fine here; chorizo is the name of a type of pork sausage, so that chorizo sausage is an expansion of chorizo -- similar to Brie cheese versus Brie.]

Adjectives with assumed nouns are asking for trouble, it seems to me. From scrambled, I understand eggs, though it could have been brains.

After I inquired, I learned that “chihuahua” refers to a type of cheese I had never heard of. I think “cheese” would have been an important word to include.

First, a note on Chihuahua cheese, then on the “conversion by truncation” in scrambled for scrambled eggs and chihuahua for Chihuahua cheese.

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Abs of the week

August 19, 2014

… plus a kilt and an implied (sort of) apology:

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Tumble Inn, Stan

August 14, 2014

Today’s Zippy:

(#1)

There’s the diner, and there’s the address term Stan.

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infidel

August 11, 2014

Unfolding in Iraq, a fierce campaign by the Sunni Muslim organization ISIS against “infidels”, in particular, Shia Muslims, Christians, and Yazidis. (I’m skipping here what ISIS stands for, and whether some other label entirely should be used for the organization.) Jews would of course be on the list, but there aren’t many left in Iraq; ISIS proposes to get to the Jews by attacking Israel, but only after they eliminate Iraqi infidels first — by the classic tactic of requiring them to convert or be killed. (The Convert or Die tactic is familiar in the West from the long history of Roman Catholic impositions on other groups, especially the Ottoman Turks, but also Jews and (what the Church saw as) heretical Christian sects.)

Obviously, what counts as an infidel depends on your point of view, as will become clear from a run through the OED2 entry. But first, some notes on the etymology.

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The definite article of fame

August 6, 2014

In the NYT yesterday, an August 1st  letter from Pamela Shifman and Gloria Steinem in response to a July 30th op-ed essay on “The Girls Obama Forgot”. The letter-writers are identified in the Times as follows:

Ms. Shifman is executive director of the NoVo Foundation, which focuses on girls’ and women’s rights. Ms. Steinem is the writer and activist.

Both identifcations are semantically (or pragmatically) definite, conveying uniqueness in this case. The first has an anarthrous (article-less) title: executive director of X ‘the executive director of X'; in fact, the executive director of X would have been an entirely acceptable alternative, but the anarthrous version is shorter.

The second has the definite article, in a context where an indefinite article would have been entirely acceptable;

Ms. Steinem is a writer and activist

is not only syntactically well-formed, but also true. Why the definite article?

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More holidays and anniversaries

July 4, 2014

Here in the U.S., it’s July 4th: Independence Day. So yesterday was, I suppose, Independence Eve. The 2nd was a notable anniversary, of the signing of the (U.S.) Civil Rights Act (of 1964, so that’s a 50th anniversary). And the 1st was Canada Day, to the north of us.

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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.


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