Archive for the ‘Variation’ Category

Light before heavy

July 10, 2015

(Waiting to be posted since early June, sigh.)

The abstract for a thesis defense in Stanford Linguistics, on June 9th:

Consistency in Variation
by Robin Melnick

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rived

July 7, 2015

From the NYT Sunday Review  on the 5th, in Nicholas Kristof’s column “Tales of Horror Should Galvanize Obama” (p. 9):

South Sudan is rived by civil war and collapsing economically

The PSP rived of the rare verb rive caught my eye; only riven would have been acceptable to me. In fact, for me, the verb is interestingly defective.

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A truncated idiom

June 4, 2015

From the 5/30 Economist, in “Republicans in name aussi” on Nicolas Sarkozy:

Even if the relaunch succeeds, however, Mr Sarkozy will have his work cut out.

Pretty clearly, the intention here is to convey ‘will have his work cut out for him’, that is ‘will have difficulty completing his work’, with the idiom have one’s work cut out for one, but here in a truncated variant. The shorter variant is simply not possible for me, though I can figure it out. It turns out that the shorter variant is specifically British. (Remember that the Economist is a British publication.)

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This week’s diathesis alternation

June 1, 2015

From the NYT yesterday, in “Who Will Watch the Charities?” by David Callahan:

Last week federal authorities disclosed that four cancer charities had bilked tens of millions of dollars from donors.

The subordinate clause here has a VP of the form:

(1) bilk MONEY from VICTIM

where I might have used one of the form:

(2) bilk VICTIM of MONEY

i.e., four cancer charities had bilked donors of tens of millions of dollars. Same verb, same participants in the event (a victim, some money), but different syntax: different argument structures, that is, different associations of the syntactic arguments (direct object DO and oblique object OO) with the participants. In more detail:

(1) V: bilk DO:MONEY P: from + OO:VICTIM

(2) V: bilk DO:VICTIM P: of + OO:MONEY

There is some tradition for referring to such a variation between argument structures as a diathesis alternation. In this case, both alternants are standard, and, so far as I can tell, are treated as such in the usage literature.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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shtum

April 25, 2015

From the April 18th Economist, in the article “Putin’s targeted strike: The meaning of Russia’s weapons sale to Iran”:

In July 2013 Russia remained silent when an Israeli air strike destroyed anti-ship cruise missiles that it had recently supplied to Syria and were on their way to Hizbullah. And Israel kept shtum last October when Syrian rebels released footage of the involvement of Russian intelligence officers at a Syrian military listening post on the Golan Heights that had been overrun.

Israel kept shtum. With the adjective shtum ‘silent, mute’ — an item that, apparently, few Americans know, unless they have some experience of British English. (The Economist is a British publication.) On the British side, the item is ordinary slang, commonly used in the collocation keep shtum (and in some other contexts). It seems to be derived from Yiddish, though I believe that very few British speakers appreciate that; for them, it’s just slang. So there’s something of a puzzle as to how it became naturalized in BrE but not AmE.

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Alternatives

April 22, 2015

Two recent items about alternative expressions: an occurrence of whimsiness (where you might have expected whimsicality), and one of the count noun mistruth (where you might have expected untruth).

Both are in the OED and both are in the Collins online (and count as legitimate words in Scrabble), but neither is in NOAD2 or most other one-volume dictionaries.

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Doris Roberts

April 20, 2015

Not a morning name or (thank goodness) an obit, but a brief appreciation of the actor (as a result of seeing her featured in an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent), plus some reflections on tv sitcoms.

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