Ruthie on meanings

Two recent One Big Happy strips:

(#1) What does /sǽtǝn/ mean?

(#2) What does anaphoric do that refer to?

#1 plumbs Ruthie’s knowledge of the English lexicon (satin is unfamiliar to her, so she does the best she can with it from what she knows), #2 her ability to use anaphoric elements in context (she’s an ace at wielding “sloppy identity”).

(#3) Pink satin

noun satin: a smooth, glossy fabric, typically of silk, produced by a weave in which the threads of the warp are caught and looped by the weft only at certain intervals (NOAD2)

And she’s not familiar with occurrences of the name in popular music, notably in Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll” and in “Nights in White Satin” (a recent posting here on the latter extends the title to “Knights in Black Satin” and beyond). What she does recognize in /sǽtǝn/ is a piece that sounds like the verb form sat (PST/PSP of sit), and she knows that a fair number of irregular verbs have PSPs in –en (BSE get, PST got, PSP gotten, for instance). She’s surely not heard satten before — DARE gives, for the PSP of sit, standard sat, also dialectal set, sit, and sot, but not satten — but if she’s trying to make sense of /sǽtǝn/ as a verb form, satten isn’t a bad guess: BSE sit, PST sat, PSP satten (cf. get above). Wrong, but ingenious.

Sloppy identity. In #2, Ruthie is playing on the way anaphoric do that is used in English. For background, look at this discussion from my 1/30/11 posting “Sloppy identity” about an ellipsis construction (rather than an overt anaphor like do that):

[on the example:] I hate myself. Pretty soon you will ___ too. (Ellipsis marked by underlines, antecedent VP bold-faced.)

Two readings for the second sentence (with the filled-in ellipses in square brackets]:

(a) Pretty soon you will [hate me too]. (intended reading: pronoun filled in by carrying over the morphosyntactic person/number features of the antecedent in the previous sentence)

(b) Pretty soon you will [hate yourself too]. (pronoun filled in from the morphosyntactic person/number features of the antecedent in its own sentence)

The crucial point is that in neither reading is the object pronoun in the ellipsis filled in by substitution of an actually occurring NP (myself or you)

… Instead, the understood object pronoun (me or yourself) has the person/number features of the antecedent and the ±reflexive feature appropriate to its clause. (This is a species of what is sometimes called “sloppy identity”, since the pronoun is generously interpreted in context.)

Now to #2. What was said:

You don’t have to talk about yourself so much. We’ll do plenty of that when you leave. (Anaphor marked by italics, antecedent by boldface.)

Again, two interpretations:

(a) We’ll do plenty of [talking about you]. (intended reading: pronoun filled in by carrying over the morphosyntactic person/number features of the antecedent (you) in the previous sentence)

(b) We’ll do plenty of [talking about ourselves]. (pronoun filled in from the morphosyntactic person/number features of the antecedent (we) in its own sentence)

Well played, Ruthie.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: