Archive for the ‘Syntax’ Category

Mind the Gap

April 22, 2015

The title of a piece on “mindfulness” by Virginia Heffernan in the New York Times Magazine on the 19th. Well, that was the title in the print version, using a conventionalized expression for warning about a (specific) danger; in the on-line version, the title is the more straightforward (but alliterative) “The Muddied Meaning of ‘Mindfulness’”.

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On the double entendre watch

April 20, 2015

Posted on Facebook by Leith Chu:

  (#1)

Oh my: the verb pork, the verb pull, the verb rub, all available with sexual senses.

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Laughter and forgetting

April 20, 2015

Today’s Zippy, set in the town of Prosaic:

With apologies to Milan Kundera, it’s the strip of laughter and forgetting: forgetting the catch-phrase, forgetting to rewire the CD remote, forgetting that Dingburg is only 12 miles away. Apparently Happy Boy interferes with memory.

(Note that there are three argument structures for forget here: forget NP, forget to VP, forget that S; remember and, for that matter, know have the same possibilities.)

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Vegan diners and gay opponents

April 8, 2015

Into the world of composite expressions, in particular N + N compounds and Adj + N phrases: vegan diner in today’s Bizarro, gay opponents in recent news stories. The first turns out to be pretty straightforward, but the second is more complex. The Bizarro:

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Truncation notes

April 2, 2015

Two recent examples of truncated expressions: from a Law and Order episode on tv, a character saying “I work the graveyard at” some place or another; and a reference in the Economist to David Cameron and Margaret Thatcher seeming to be barking.

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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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