If a man does it, …

(A number of jokes, but also some seriously technical linguistics.)

A joke going the rounds on the net recently, here from a exchange posted on Facebook on 3/24 (yes, yes, I am incredibly far behind on my postings; life has been very difficult):

(#1) Anaphoric do it : ‘(a man) sleeps with 10 men’ (the gay reading) vs. ‘(a man) sleeps with 10 women’ (the Don Juan reading)

In a similar vein, this Stone Soup cartoon of 6/17/11:

(#2) Anaphoric do the same, with at least three readings (discussed below), one of them gay

The phenomenon at play here is called sloppy (vs. strict) identity. The gay readings above involve strict identity.

A simple example, with readings for the ambiguous John scratched his arm and Bob did (so) too, with anaphoric do (so); shared subscripts indicate referential identity (the indexing of the understood his is what’s at issue):

a. Strict reading: John-i scratched his-i arm and Bob-j [scratched his-i arm] too.

b. Sloppy (think of it as the “mutatis mutandis”) reading: John-i scratched his-i arm and Bob-j [scratched his-j arm] too.

Previously on this blog:

— in my 1/30/11 posting “Sloppy identity”: from a comedy routine on Prairie Home Companion, with VPE (Verb Phrase Ellipsis, a zero anaphor), with the example

I hate myself. Pretty soon you will ___ too. (‘you will hate me too’ [strict] vs. ‘you will hate yourself too’ [sloppy]).

(Ellipsis marked by underlines, antecedent VP bold-faced.)

Expanded discussion in the posting:

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), which would give

*Pretty soon you will hate myself too.  OR

??Pretty soon you will hate you too. [requires some sort of conceptual split of the addressee into two persons]

Instead, [in (b)] 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.)

— in my 6/19/11 posting “Data points: sloppy identity 6/19/11”, on the Stone Soup cartoon (discussion below)

— in my 10/19/17 posting “Ruthie on meanings”: a One Big Happy cartoon on the character Ruthie’s “ability to use anaphoric elements in context” (in this case anaphoric do that):

Cylene, you don’t have to talk about yourself so much … We’ll do plenty of that [i.e., talking about you] when you leave  [sloppy identity: the strict reading would be ‘we’ll do plenty of talking about ourselves’]

And now the discussion on the complex Stone Soup case:

Over on Language Log, Mark Liberman has posted about “sloppy identity” in anaphoric expressions, using an ambiguous exchange in a [Stone Soup] cartoon as a starting point:

(A) Woman 1 [talking about romance with her husband]: I close my eyes and imagine he’s Tom Hanks.

(B) Woman 2: What if he’s doing the same?

Do the same in Woman 2’s question can be taken in (at least) three ways: as referring to Woman 1’s husband imagining that he’s making love to Tom Hanks (the gay reading, which then becomes the comic point of the strip, since this wasn’t what Woman 2 intended); as referring to Woman 1’s husband imagining that he’s making love to a celebrity (parallel to Woman 1’s imagining that she’s making love to a celebrity); and as referring to Woman 1’s husband imagining that he’s Tom Hanks. This is an exceptionally complex example — more complex than the standard examples in the literature on syntax and semantics — but the second interpretation clearly illustrates “sloppy identity”, with a shift, between the speakers, in how Tom Hanks enters into the love-making.

My posting goes on to provide further examples from Liberman and from my own files.


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