Archive for the ‘Processing’ Category

Crash blossoming: Doctor Who as abortionist

November 5, 2022

A headline sighting reported on Facebook yesterday

— Wendy Thrash:
(#1)

— AZ > WT: A lovely garden-path example (as they are known in the trade) — made worse by the line break in your posting (Doctor Who / Performed Abortion …)

Newspaper headlines, with their compressed, trimmed-down format, make a rich ground for garden pathing; garden-path headlines are then some of the most remarkable specimens of the type — so remarkable that they’ve gotten their own label: crash blossoms (after an exemplary species).

I will explain.

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A fresh approach to English dangling modifiers

December 29, 2020

Recently defended:

Control in Free Adjuncts: The “Dangling Modifier” in English by James Donaldson. Ph.D. dissertation, Univ. of Edinburgh, 2020 (supervisors: Geoffrey K. Pullum and Nikolas Gisborn).

Donaldson presents a fresh approach to the topic, uniting a huge body of commentary on observed examples by reference to sentence processing in real time.

Below, the dissertation abstract and a “lay summary”. These are not (yet) for quotation: this is not yet the final form of the dissertation — as is common in academia, there will be some editorial revisions before final submission, though it’s to be expected that there will be no substantive changes. I provide the abstract and lay summary here because I think the leading ideas deserve to be heard and appreciated.

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Annals of error: how dig he deeps it

September 20, 2019

From an MSNBC reporter this morning, with reference to a metaphorical hole:

… wait to see how dig he deeps it … how deep he digs it

The sort of inadvertent error that illustrates just how much advance planning goes on in speech production: constructions are blocked out, with inflectional trappings in place; prospective lexical items — of appropriate syntactic category and semantics, with at least some phonological properties — are entertained to fill the slots in these constructions. But, still, a lot can go wrong.

(Also note that the speaker caught the (glaring) error and corrected it himself. As is customary with big errors like this one.)

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“as cleverer than people as people are than plants”

August 4, 2019

From The Economist of July 27th. Yes, it’s grammatical, but it’s fiercely hard to parse — you might feel the need to get out pencil and paper to graph the thing — and it’s also a big show-stopper flourish: stop reading the news to admire how clever we are!

In this case, the magazine has committed a nested clausal comparative (NCC), somewhat reminiscent of nested relative clauses (also known in the syntactic literature as self-embedded relative clauses) like those in the NP with head the rat modified by the relative clause that the cat that the dog worried ate:

[ the rat ]-i

… [ that [ the cat ]-j [ that [ the dog ] worried ___-j ] ate ___-i ]

(where an underline indicates a missing (“extracted”) constituent, and the indices mark coreferential constituents). Both nested relatives and NCCs require the hearer to interrupt the processing of one clause to process another clause of similar form.

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Cum, sweat, and broccoli

March 18, 2019

(Yes, this will get into bodily fluids in ways that many people will find really icky, especially in connection with food. There will be some complicated plant stuff and some analysis of fragrances, but you’ll have to be prepared for spurts of semen and the smell of sex sweat. Use your judgment.)

I blame it all on Ryan Tamares, who posted on Facebook a few hours back on some yummy broccoli he’d had for dinner. With a photo — not a great cellphone image, but you could get a feel for the dish — and appropriate hashtags, starting with:

#cuminroastedbroccoli

Oh dear, “cum in roasted broccoli”, probably not such a crowd-pleaser as the dish in the photo (though it would have a small, devoted audience). Spaces can be your friends.

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Annals of misreadings: the Cthulhu caper

February 26, 2019

From linguist Avery Andrews on Facebook:


(#1) Avery: “My first reading of this was ‘Cthulhu Towers’, indicating that whatever the top-down constraints on my linguistic processing may be, real world plausibility has at best a delayed effect”

To judge from my own misreadings — some of them reported on in the Page on this blog with misreading postings — real-world plausibility has virtually no role in initial misreadings; we tend to notice these misreadings, in fact, because they are so bizarre.

On the other hand, they sometimes clearly reflect material currently or persistently on the hearer’s mind — if you’ve been thinking about cooking some pasta for dinner, Italian pasta names are likely to insert themselves into your peceptions; if you’re a gardener, plant names will come readily to mind, even if they’re preposterous; and of course it’s common to see sexual vocabulary where none was intended —  but often they look like the welling-up of material from some deep chthonic place in memory, inexplicably in the context.

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Playful anaphoric islanding

January 18, 2019

Adrienne Shapiro on Facebook on the 14th, reporting on a day trip from Seattle with Kit Transue:

Cape Disappointment did not [understood: disappoint].

An instance of the anaphoric construction VPE (Verb Phrase Ellipsis) in which the antecedent for the ellipted material is not an actual expression in the preceding text, but instead is merely evoked by a word-part in this text, the disappoint inside the nominalization disappointment. The configuration requires some processing work on the part of a reader (or hearer) — it presents a kind of puzzle for you to solve — so it’s jokey, likely to elicit a smile from you, in admiration of Adrienne’s condensed cleverness.

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Return to Dangle City

November 30, 2018

It’s been a long time since my last “dangling modifier” — non-default SPAR — posting (on 3/15 in “giving a speech on drugs”, according to my records). Now, from Josh Bischof on the 23rd, this excerpt (now item Z4.86 in my files) from Paul Tremblay, The Cabin at the End of the World (2018):

He passes Wen’s grasshopper jar; sunlight flares off the glass and aluminum lid (screwed on tightly) as though saying see me, see me. Lying on its side and sunk into the taller grass, the earth is already absorbing it, consuming the evidence of its existence. (p. 175)

The subjectless adjunct in the boldfaced material has both a PRP VP (lying on its side) and a PSP VP (sunk into the taller grass) in it, and picks up (the referent of) its missing subject, not from the subject of the main clause (by the Subject Rule, as in a default SPAR), but, apparently, from the direct object in that clause. Nevertheless, unless you cleave unswervingly to the Subject Rule, you shouldn’t find the boldfaced sentence problematic, and there’s a reason for that.

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What room am I in?

October 20, 2018

This photoon passed on to me by Karen Chung on Facebook (I have no idea of its ultimate source):

(#1)

Context, context, context.

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Can you say “cat”? Can you spell “cat”?

November 4, 2017

Two recent One Big Happy strips:

(#1) Can you say … “cat”… um, “sheepshank”?

The Mister Rogers trope Can you say X? ‘Say X’ (in a pedagogical tone); idiomatic go/get (all) X on Y

(#2) Can you spell “cat”?

Spanish ‘yes’ vs. English /si/ C (the letter of the alphabet); linguistic and natural mean; and more.

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