Archive for the ‘Definiteness’ Category

A pandemic meta-cartoon

April 25, 2020

By JAK (Jason Adam Katzenstein), the New Yorker daily cartoon from yesterday:


“Personally, I worry that, with everyone wearing masks, readers won’t be able to tell who in the cartoon is speaking.”

The masks are part of daily life in plague time, and they conceal the wearers’ mouths. So in a cartoon you can’t tell who’s speaking. (In real life, there might be other clues, like vocal timbre.)

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Dead Tongues

July 15, 2015

News from the 2015 Linguistic Institute (at the University of Chicago), from Stephanie Shih: a performance yesterday by Dead Tongues, the (un)official band of Stanford Linguistics. Plus a stunning Lingstitute2015 logo for the band by Stephanie:

(#1)

Cue the Rolling Stones.

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The definite article of fame

August 6, 2014

In the NYT yesterday, an August 1st  letter from Pamela Shifman and Gloria Steinem in response to a July 30th op-ed essay on “The Girls Obama Forgot”. The letter-writers are identified in the Times as follows:

Ms. Shifman is executive director of the NoVo Foundation, which focuses on girls’ and women’s rights. Ms. Steinem is the writer and activist.

Both identifcations are semantically (or pragmatically) definite, conveying uniqueness in this case. The first has an anarthrous (article-less) title: executive director of X ‘the executive director of X’; in fact, the executive director of X would have been an entirely acceptable alternative, but the anarthrous version is shorter.

The second has the definite article, in a context where an indefinite article would have been entirely acceptable;

Ms. Steinem is a writer and activist

is not only syntactically well-formed, but also true. Why the definite article?

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