Archive for the ‘Syntax’ Category

Charles Blow’s non-parallelism

May 24, 2015

From his op-ed column “Unaffiliated and Underrepresented” in the NYT on the 18th:

(1) The issue in this country is less that Christians are persecuted as much as peevish.

Two things: the parallelism between persecuted and peevish; and the parallelism between less that X and as much as Y.

(more…)

The literalist

May 21, 2015

Today’s Mother Goose and Grimm, with a literalist Ralph coping with Grimm’s could care less:

could care less has been a perennial topic on Language Log and this blog. But in all the discussion among linguists and psycholinguists no one disputes that there’s an idiom here, and it has a negative element of meaning that is not overt. Ralph the literalist essentially denies this, implicitly taking the position that if Grimmy meant he couldn’t care less he should have said that.

(more…)

Conjunction or preposition?

May 21, 2015

In the NYT yesterday, p. 19, in “Happy Rockefeller, 88, Whose Marriage to Governor Scandalized Voters, Dies” by Robert D. McFadden:

many Americans were shocked when Margaretta Fitler Murphy, called Happy, and Mr. Rockefeller, who was nearly 18 years older than she, married on May 4, 1963.

The point is than she, with a nominative pronoun in construction with than — where many people (I am one) would have used the accusative her. There’s a long-standing issue in usage here, which I’ve posted about on this blog (as “Dinosaur grammar”), in connection with a Dinosaur Comics.

(more…)

Fig time

May 20, 2015

A couple days ago I caught a snippet of a discussion on KQED-FM about overwintering fig plants. Why people were discussing the topic as we near the beginning of summer I don’t know, but there it was. I’m not caring for any fig plants here in Palo Alto, but back when I lived in Columbus OH most of the year I had two: a Ficus benjamina, a very common house plant in temperate climates; and a Ficus carica, the plant the people on the radio were talking about (an ornamental and the source of the figs we eat), which I grew in Columbus as a potted plant, to serve as a reminder of California.

Now some figgy reflections, starting with some Ficus plants and then wandering on to other fig-related matters: the fig leaf of modesty, figgy pudding, Fig Newtons, and the negative polarity item care/give a fig.

(more…)

Intervention

May 19, 2015

Part 1:  Back in my posting on “Words to eliminate”, I looked at a site that proposed to get you to improve your writing by eliminating 15 words from it. (Yes, a silly idea.) One of these was that:

[Mashable advice] It’s superfluous most of the time. Open any document you’ve got drafted on your desktop, and find a sentence with “that” in it. Read it out loud. Now read it again without “that.” If the sentence works without it, delete it.

The idea is fraught with problems, most turning on the fact that there are several distinct lexical items that, with a large number of uses, and with distinct syntax, discourse functions, and sociolinguistic statuses for each use.

Part 2: On one of these items, the complementizer that, and its use to mark the object complement of a verb, as in

They know (that) pigs can’t fly.

(where the that variant and the ∅ variant are both fine).

But then I started an e-mail to a friend:

 I do wish people would credit sources.

(with the ∅ variant; the that variant is also possible) and thought to link to previous context with a though — but then the ∅ variant struck me as very awkward indeed:

?? I do wish, though, people would credit sources.

though the that variant is fine:

 I do wish, though, that people would credit sources.

What’s crucial is that material intervenes between the complement-taking verb and the complement. It turns out that this intervention effect is well-known in the variation literature.

(more…)

so (that)

May 19, 2015

A sideline in an investigation of “optional that“– that is, variation between that and ∅ — that I’ll post more on in a little while: so that vs. so as conjunctions. I have a bit of personal history with this variation.

(more…)

Jury of English majors

May 18, 2015

Via Gregory Ward, a Mark Parisi cartoon from 5/19/09 showing a man in a witness box protesting “I didn’t do nuthin’!”, with the jury all thinking “Ooo! A confession!” — a jury of English majors, as the caption says.

In the popular imagination, English majors are so committed to the idea of grammatical correctness that they are unable to understand non-standard varieties.

(more…)

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”.

(more…)

An attachment problem

May 16, 2015

Today’s One Big Happy:

Ruthie intends High Attachment for the adverb again, with the adverb modifying the VP with head feel, and that’s a possible parsing. But Low Attachment, with again modifying the VP with head smashing, is the default parsing, and that’s how Ruthie’s grandmother understands things.

Feuilleton: government by nearest in Baltimore

May 3, 2015

In the NYT on the 1st, in the story “Baltimore Police Complete Initial Inquiry Into Death of Prisoner”, this quote from Baltimore state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby:

“While we have and will continue to leverage the information received by the department, we are not relying solely on their findings but rather on the facts that we have gathered and verified.”

This would be labeled as a straightforward grammatical error by many commenters: a failure of parallelism in coordination, the result of failing to include all necessary words (possibly as a consequence of failing to attend to the syntax of sentences as they are being produced):

NOT we have and will continue to leverage …

BUT we have leveraged and will continue to leverage …

The have of the perfect governs a PSP complement, but there is no PSP VP in the example, only a BSE VP (continue to leverage …) governed by the modal will, an infinitival VP (to leverage …) governed by continue, and a BSE VP (leverage …) governed by infinitival to. The second part of the coordination is fine, but the first part fails the government requirement on the perfect. Put another way, the government requirement in the first conjunct is disregarded, and we see government determined by the nearest governor to the affected VP. In short, government by the nearest (GbN).

(more…)


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 853 other followers