Archive for the ‘Pragmatics’ Category

Before or after?

July 26, 2020

In the 9/14/19 One Big Happy, Ruthie wrestles with a workbook question, apparently something along the lines of “Does 4th Street come before 6th Street or after it?”:

(#1)

There’s a lot packed in here. Crudely. the strip is about what before conveys, and that turns out to be dependent on the context. Ruthie takes before to refer to the ordering of a particular 4th and 6th Street in her own actual neighborhood, taking herself to provide the point of view for the spatial ordering (every spatial ordering via before rests on some point of view). But what’s the point of view of a workbook exercise? Who’s asking the question? For what purpose?

Now we’re out in the pragmatic weeds. Crucially, Ruthie has to understand that the workbook question is not an attempt to elicit useful information from her, but instead aims to get her to perform in a test of her sociocultural knowledge.

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The teddy bears’ drink

July 10, 2020

The coincidental juxtaposition of two things: yesterday’s Zippy strip about the drink Yoo-hoo; and the annual occasion, today, of Teddy Bear’s Picnic Day. Yes, one thing leads to the other, and the crucial link is the American baseball player Yogi Berra.


(#1) Zippy goes to his Kelvinator, and it calls “Yoo-hoo” to him

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Smearing and taunting

June 17, 2020

(Adapted and expanded from a Facebook comment of mine a while back. Some coarse sexual language, notably from American newsmakers, but also enough about sexual bodies and mansex from me to make the posting dubious for kids and the sexually modest.)

Every so often, MSNBC commentator Ali Velshi tartly notes — alluding to the Imperator Grabpussy’s smears of President Barack Obama as a Muslim born in Kenya — that he is a Muslim who was born in Kenya (though he grew up in Canada).

There’s a linguistic point here, having to do with relevance and implicature. Why does Velshi say this? Yes, it’s true, but then “The freezing point of water is 32F” is true, but if Velshi had said that it would have been bizarre, because it would have been irrelevant in the context. So Velshi’s religion and nativity are relevant in the context. Cutting through a whole lot of stuff, I would claim that Velshi is implicating something like “Being one myself, I know from Muslims born in Kenya, and I know that Barack Obama is no Muslim born in Kenya”. And THAT brings me to a piece I’ve been wrestling with some time, about Grabpussy Jr. jeering at Mitt Romney, taunting him by calling him a pussy. (I have a Velshian response of my own to that.)

Hang on; this will go in several directions.

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Annals of the AIC: the African American vote

June 14, 2020

Ali Velshi, on MSNBC on 2/23 (yes, yes, I am absurdly far behind in my posting, maybe irretrievably; life has been very hard), talking about:

(a) … the African American vote, and what is motivating them in the coming elections [in South Carolina]

African American vote is understood here as ‘the vote of/by African Americans’, and African Americans is what the later anaphoric personal pronoun them refers to, though the noun African American(s) doesn’t occur in the example, only the adjective African American. So the example would once have been seen as a violation of a purported condition on grammatical well-formedness, the Anaphoric Island Constraint (AIC) — but in fact, in the context, it seems scarcely problematic, if at all.

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The voice of authority

June 3, 2020

Yesterday on FB a query from my friend P (exchanges edited to remove personal chitchat):

A company is creating an outgoing voice message and they have come to blows over sentence structure. My suggestion to them is to fight bigger battles — but, alas, here we are.

They are going to the mat on “how can I” vs “how I can.”

Given your expertise, which is better?

“Thanks for calling COMPANY. Please tell me, in detail, how CAN I help you?
OR
“Thanks for calling COMPANY. Please tell me, in detail, how I CAN help you.”

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Our reclusive pangolinists

May 4, 2020

On the dangler watch, a report by Ben Zimmer on 4/29 about this Reddit posting, which seems to have appeared without any preceding context:

TIL [Today I Learned] Due to their reclusive nature, scientists are unsure how long a pangolin lives in the wild.

(now entry Z4.87, coded SUB(due to)-I-EMB-3P, in my collection of examples)

The writer of Z4.87 was no doubt intending to write about the endangered animal the scaly anteater, or pangolin, and the creatures were paramount in their consciousness; and they also wanted to introduce an observation on scientists’ knowledge about pangolins. All of that is fine. But we can’t be mind-readers, and what they wrote fell afoul of a general strategy in sentence comprehension that leads even well-intentioned readers to understand, at least for a perceptible moment, the claim to be that scientists, not pangolins, are reclusive.

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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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The therapist is in French

April 20, 2020

The following cartoon, in French and unattributed, has been making its way around Facebook in the last few days:


(#1) “How do you [polite] feel this week?” – “Much better.”

Therapist and patient, both cowering in the anxiety of persecution. But this week is better. Much better.

Presumably, it’s being passed around as a pointed commentary on the fix we are all in currently. Even better is appalling.

It doesn’t take a keen eye to see that #1 is a rip-off of a Bizarro cartoon: the drawing style, the content (the Psychiatrist meme is a Bizarro evergreen favorite), the two odd Dan Piraro symbols. And so it is, from 2/15/11, almost a decade ago.

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The Desert Island Psychiatrist

April 5, 2020

Today’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro combo is also a cartoon meme combo: Desert Island + Psychiatrist:


(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 7 in this strip — see this Page.)

You notice the empty clinical couch, with its colorful pillow, because it’s the biggest thing in the drawing, and it’s right in the middle of it. You notice the psychiatrist, because he’s a human figure, of some size, with a significant face (our attention is drawn powerfully to faces).

Only then do you follow the therapist’s gaze and take in the little figure in the lower righthand corner: the tiny castaway under a miniature palm tree, on a desert island — charmingly presented as being in a colorful planter, so that it’s also one of the plants in routine office decor, matched by the ornamental foliage in the planter in the opposite corner.

We are both in a Desert Island cartoon and also in a Psychiatrist cartoon (where the therapist is doing shrink-talk), set in a stereotypical psychiatrist’s office (notably medical, down to the framed diplomas on the wall).

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Where is the fishmonger?

March 8, 2020

(On facial expression and gaze in sexual negotiations between men, definitely mansexually raunchy, so not for kids or the sexually modest.)

Yesterday’s ad from Next Door Studios (specializing in regular-guy boy-next-door types — twinks and swimmer-body young men — enthusiastically engaged sexually with each other, covering a range of acts from vanilla mansex on out to moderately kinky stuff). In it, Dakota Payne is preparing to slip his cock (fuzzed out here) into a deliciously sling-bound Alex Tanner. But these next-door boys aren’t focused on each other; they are instead staring penetratingly into the eyes of their audience, who are pantingly stroking their dicks in appreciation of their performance. This particular image now exploited to illustrate a dialogue for learners of the Spanish language; the by-ways of kink are strange indeed.


(#1) Alex y Dakota, Diálogo 17: ¿Dónde está el pescadero?

Alex: ¡Ay caramba! / Dakota: No lo creo.
Alex: ¡Que desastre! / Dakota: No importa.
Alex: Pero te deseo, mi querido. / Dakota: ¡Vete a la mierda!

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