Archive for the ‘Semantcs’ Category

Ruthie on meanings

October 19, 2017

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”).

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Two negatives make a positive

November 19, 2016

The One Big Happy in today’s comics feed:

“Two negatives make a positive” is one way to state a principle of logic, that the negation of the negation of X is equivalent to X. The principle is irrelevant to an account of the syntactic phenomenon that’s popularly called “double negation” (or more generally, “multiple negation”) — often labeled negative concord by linguists — according to which all susceptible elements in a negated clause themselves appear in a negative variant (I didn’t see nobody nowhere, corresponding to standard English I didn’t see anybody anywhere); in languages or varieties or styles with negative concord, two negative elements are just the expression of one negation.

But Joe takes us into new territory, with his novel interpretation — actually, willful misinterpretation —  of the principle of logic (or of algebra, as her father puts it): according to Joe’s interpretation, saying two negative (that is, deprecatory or insulting) things counts conversationally as saying something positive (that is, favorable or complimentary). All to take the opportunity to double down on nastiness.

Gang of five

June 28, 2016

Comics and cartoons pile up. Here are four recent ones from my regular feeds, plus a Perry Bible Fellowship (“The Offenders”) sent to me by Jason Parker-Burlingham. Before that, a Bizarro with the slow-snail cartoon meme; a One Big Happy with an attachment ambiguity; a Rhymes With Orange on reduplicated names (like mahi-mahi); and a massively alliterative Zippy.

(#1)

(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbol in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there’s just one in this strip — see this Page.)

The usual meme is about snails (with shells), but it works equally well for slugs (without shells).

(#2)

Simplifying the example, it’s I sketched a model in the nude. There are two scopes for the modifier in the nude — as a sentential (or VP) adverbial (the scoping for clauses with intransitive verbs, like I sunbathed in the nude), attributing nudity to the referent of the subject; or as a modifier within the direct object NP (note the passive A model in the nude was painstakingly sketched by the life drawing class). The first speaker intends the second, narrower scope, but Ruthie understands the first, wider scope, in which the artist is nude.

(#3)

English has a considerable number of names that are reduplicative in form, like the place name Bora Bora. Some of these are food names, like mahi-mahi and couscous. The diner is taking the reduplicative form to denote multiplicity (or extent), giving rise to a kind of back-formed noun, mahi or cous.

(#4)

Bill Griffith loves to play with the sounds of words. Having started with Fairchild Semiconductor (the company name) used as a personal name, the first panel explodes with F alliteration, which continues in the other two panels — pared with T alliteration in the second panel, S alliteration in the third.

And then to cartoon sound words in Perry Bible Fellowship, which range from conventional to inventive:

(#5)

Added later: More important, as commenter RF notes:

Note that Slur’s “problematic” fighting style results in sound effects that are racial slurs directed at his opponents.

This was clearly telegraphed by the name of the strip (“The Offenders”) and by the name of the central character (Slur). Somehow I missed this on a first reading. Many thanks to RF.

 

“part of who we are”

June 27, 2015

One of the developments in South Carolina has to do with the Confederate battle flag flying on the dome of the statehouse there: what does it mean? and should it be taken down?

The full history of the flag is complex, but there’s no question that after the rise of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s it was used as a powerful symbol of Southern resistance to the movement, black people, and the federal government.

Into this terrain walked Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, whose first response was to protest that the battle flag is an integral “part of who we are”, part of the Southern heritage, and as such should be proudly preserved in situ. (His position later moderated.)

The first thing to ask about his statement is: who are the we in what he said? From the larger context, I assume that Graham’s intention was to refer to Southerners in general  (or at least to South Carolinians). But I can’t credit that claim.

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