Archive for the ‘Syntax’ Category

Another acceptable dangler

March 25, 2015

In yesterday’s NYT, in a letter to the editor from NPR talk show host Diane Rehm:

In a March 23 letter about the desire of my husband, John Rehm, to end his life after years of suffering from Parkinson’s disease, the writer described Parkinson’s as a chronic and progressive but not terminal condition. In fact, after suffering two bouts of pneumonia, brought on by John’s loss of muscular ability to swallow correctly, his doctor determined that John had six months or less to live and prescribed hospice care.

Pulling out the main part of the last sentence gives us:

(1) after suffering two bouts of pneumonia, …  his doctor determined that John had six months or less to live and prescribed hospice care.

This has a subjectless predicational adjunct, after suffering two bouts of pneumonia, that does not pick up a referent for that missing subject from the subject of the main clause, his doctor — so it’s a classic dangling modifier (a non-default SPAR, in my terminology). Well, the determiner in the subject, the possessive his, does supply the required referent, even though the whole subject does not. This is a pattern I’ve posted on before, and other factors work together to make a modifier that should be acceptable to almost everyone.

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whom from long ago

March 19, 2015

In the NYT Magazine on Sunday (the 15th), an article, “The Last Volunteer”, with an account, as told to Dan Kaufman, from Del Berg:

Del Berg, 99, is the last known surviving veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a contingent of nearly 3,000 Americans who fought to defend the democratically elected government during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s.

The beginning of his story:

It was 1937, and the Fascists had already revolted in Spain. I was walking down a street in Hollywood when I saw a sign — “Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade” — written on the side of a building. I turned the corner, opened the door and went in. The people inside said, “What can we do for you?” I said, “I want to go to Spain.” They couldn’t legally send people to Spain, they told me, but did I want to help? I did. My life started with poverty and then came the Depression. I felt a certain responsibility to help the Spanish workers and farmers.

They told me to go to an organization called the Medical Bureau to Aid Spanish Democracy. I was put to work there helping organize meetings and collecting clothes for the Republic. There was a younger guy working with me. One day he turned to me and said, “Do you want to go to Spain?” I said yes, I sure do. He said, “I’ll tell you whom to go see.”

That whom caught my eye; it sounded awfully formal for the context.

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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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Notes on malnegation

March 12, 2015

My posting of the 7th on miss not +Ving (as in I miss not getting the morning paper) has been getting a lot of views; at the moment, it’s #2 in number of views, behind only the long-standing top posting, on parts of the body. (Quite often, all the top ten postings in this regard have to do with sex or sexuality — but the “miss not” posting doesn’t.) At the same time, in looking at my files, I see an enormous number of postings on malnegation (or misnegation) — either overnegation (as apparently in this case) or undernegation (as apparently in could care less) — in Language Log and this blog (and also in some other linguablogs, for example Neal Whitman’s Literal-Minded blog), but no summary inventory of this material. It turns out that preparing such an inventory would be quite a substantial task, for a number of reasons, including one that became clear to me when I looked at Facebook comments on my “miss not” posting.

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Failure of parallelism

March 7, 2015

In a NYT story on the 4th, “Dangerous Passage and Multiplying Fines as Ice Is Left Uncleared” [in print: “With No One To Clear It, Ice Creates A Dangerous Passage”] by Winnie Hu and Ken Schwencke:

A bulk of the issue is that in vacant buildings it can be difficult to determine who the owner is, who is responsible for maintenance, or to compel payment.

The crucial bit, with some constituency indicated:

can be difficult [to determine [who the owner is, who is responsible for maintenance]], or [to compel payments]

I caught this immediately, because I had trouble parsing the thing. I stumbled on what felt to me like a failure of parallelism, even though part of what’s going on is a familiar pattern in coordination.

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miss not

March 7, 2015

A Pickles cartoon posted by Andy Rogers on Facebook:

Andy’s comment: “Negation is SO CONFUSING!” Actually, most people seem not to be confused by such negation examples, and in fact tend not to notice that there’s anything notable about things like “I miss not having the morning newspaper”, which they read as just emphatic negation.

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Rowling’s ESOC

February 21, 2015

From Ben Zimmer, this whom from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (p. 311):

Krum, whom Harry would have thought ___ would have been used to this sort of thing, skulked, half-hidden, at the back of the group.

The position that the relative pronoun fills in this sentence — as the subject of a subordinate clause (itself functioning as the object of the verb thought) with VP would have been used to this sort of thing is marked by the underlines. In now-standard, but somewhat misleading, terminology, the pronoun is “extracted” from the subject position of an object clause, a configuration I’ve labeled ESOC (for Extracted Subject of Object Clause).

The fact that the pronoun functions as a clausal subject would predict, in most syntactic frameworks, that it should be nominative case (who). However, it immediately follows a verb, a position where an accusative pronoun is often called for; it “looks like” an object, and ESOC pronouns are often marked as accusative: whom (as in the Harry Potter sentence).

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Quotative moments

February 7, 2015

Yesterday, Geoff Pullum posted an xkcd strip citing Patricia Cukor-Avila on “quotative like“, I linked to it, and lots of people on Facebook were impressed by the concept. So here a few words about quotative constructions, beginning with a wonderful exchange in a song from the 1996 album Love Is Dead by The Mr T Experience:

I’m like “Yeah”
but she’s all “No”
and I’m all “Come on baby, let’s go”
and she’s like “I don’t think so”

(with the quotative elements bolfaced). The guy and the girl go back and forth between quotative like and quotative all in their bargaining.

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McCosh on NomPred

February 5, 2015

From the Princeton Alumni Weekly on 2/4, an entertaining note from the 1/25/46 PAW:

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Sunday NomConjObj

February 4, 2015

In the NYT Sunday Review on February 1st, an interview by Kate Murphy. Background:

Michel Nischan is a two-time James Beard Award-winning chef who founded and now runs Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit sustainable food advocacy group that has forged partnerships with health care providers nationwide to prescribe and make farm-fresh produce available in low-income communities.

And then in the section on “Playing”, Nischan says (relevant bit boldfaced):

While I didn’t get to know James Beard, I did end up meeting one of my childhood heroes, Jacques Pépin, and we became very dear friends. He’s the one who turned my wife and I on to pétanque, which is kind of the French version of bocce. We caught on quickly enough — Jacques doesn’t like playing with people who can’t play — that he invited us to join his league and we play every other Sunday during the summer. It’s a really social and remarkably fun game.

A nominative conjoined object (NomConjObj) my wife and I, which struck me as perfectly ordinary these days; indeed, the prescriptive standard alternative my wife and me struck me as somewhat awkward in this context — and I’m someone who doesn’t use NomConjObjs. What might be going on here?

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