Archive for the ‘Anaphora’ Category

Discourse referents in hypothetical worlds

August 26, 2016

The datum here comes from a posting on Facebook with an affecting plea from a young Australian man about same-sex marriage:

The set-up: I don’t have a boyfriend right now, with the indefinite NP a boyfriend, in the scope of negation, so we would ordinarily expect the NP not to establish a discourse referent that later anaphoric expressions could link to. But Hutson goes on with anaphoric he: but one day I would like to ask him to marry me. Definitely a WTF anaphoric reference.


Extraction and insertion

July 30, 2016

(The main content is fairly technical stuff about syntax. But there’s a side discussion of gay pornstars, their bodies, and their roles in man-man sex, so probably not suitable for kids.)

From the Boys in the Sand website (an appreciation of men’s bodies, mostly in gay porn), this arresting sentence from a  posting on pornstars Micah Brandt and Rocco Steele:

(1) Which porn star does Micah Brandt think its’ a shame hasn’t fucked him? (Yet)

(apostrophe as in the original; but punctuation is not my topic here).

(1) strikes many speakers of English as plainly ungrammatical, though with some work you can figure out what question it’s asking (and the answer is: Rocco Steele). The problem with (1) is that it violates a constraint on “extraction” of material (in, among other constructions, Information, or WH, questions — as in (1) — and relative clauses) from within cerrtain sorts of embedded clauses, one of them being extraposed clauses, as in:

(2) Micah Brandt thinks it’s a shame [OR: it’s surprising] Rocco Steele hasn’t fucked him.

The extraposed clause is underlined, and the constituent questioned in (1), the subject in the extraposed clause,  is boldfaced. It turns out that two structural features are crucial to the phenomenon: that the questioned constituent is in a particular sort of subordinate clause (an extraposed clause in this example); and that the questioned constituent is the suject of that clause.


Referent finding in Zits

June 11, 2016

Today’s Zits features Jeremy, his buddy Hector, and his dad:

In panel 1, Jeremy introduces two entities into the discourse: (E1) the dead squirrel and (E2) the engine of the van that Jeremy and Hector share.

The in panel 2 come two anaphoric elements: (A1) the definite pronoun it from Jeremy’s dad and (A2) the indefinite pronoun one from Jeremy. In principle, (A1) could pick out either (E1) or (E2) as its referent, but on the grounds of real-world plausibility, (E1) is incredibly unlikely (dead squirrel running?), so (E2) it is.

(A2) could also in principle pick out either (E1) or (E2), but here things get complicated; remember that this is a cartoon.


VPE way over the line

May 18, 2016


(If you’re averse to technicalities of linguistics, this isn’t for you.)

Our text for the day comes from the tv show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, in the episode “Malice in Wonderland”, first broadcast on 3/28/12:

Olivia [Hodges’s mother]: Besides, I haven’t been totally honest with you about my romantic situation.
Hodges: What, the count?
(1) Olivia: He wasn’t a count. It’s possible he doesn’t even know how to ___.

The underscore marks the position of the elliptical material, in this case a BSE-form VP  count ‘recite numbers in ascending order’. We then cast around for an antecedent VP in the text; this wouldn’t have to be a BSE-form VP (divergences in inflectional form between antecedent and ellipsis are common in Verb Phrase Ellipsis (VPE); there are Pages on this blog with examples, and an index of them) — but there’s no plausible VP to be found in this text. Instead, there’s only a noun count ‘a rank of European nobleman’, which is phonologically and orthographically identical to the verb count, but otherwise has nothing to do, etymologically or synchronically, with this noun. The example is flagrantly zeugmatic.

It’s not that nouns can never be antecedents for an elliptical VP in VPE — discussion of such cases below — but this particular noun is totally unsuited to be an antecedent for this particular ellipsis. It’s all an elaborate play on words. (For the record, I was delighted by it, all the more so because it appeared in a dialogue that, though light-hearted in tone, was not jokey in character and concerned a serious matter (the abject failures of Olivia’s supposed fiancé). It was a pleasant surprise.)


Escorts, rentboys, male hustlers

May 9, 2016

(Only a bit about language, and given the topic, not for kids or the sexually modest.)

The subject of the 2009 book:

Escort: 40 Profiles with Photographs of Men Who Sell Sex (text by David Leddick and Heriberto Sanchez, photographs by David Vance)


(cover model: Stefan Pinto)

Leddick has a significant career writing about male nudes and male photography, and Vance is a well-known male photographer (though almost always modest in his work, concealing genitals in one way or another, as in the cover photo).


Data postings

July 29, 2015

A new feature in the set of “Linguistics notes” Pages on this blog: data postings, two so far. Each of them has three parts: an inventory of postings on the topic (from Language Log and this blog); “raw data” (a collection of numbered notes on examples (jottings on examples, observed on the fly or taken from e-mail, mailing lists, or blog postings); and an index to the examples, keyed to the numbered notes. All three types of material will be regularly updated.


Double anaphoric difficulties

May 27, 2015

From the NYT in print this morning, in Adam Nossiter’s “Nigeria Puts Its Hope in Former Strongman as a Scorned Leader Exits”:

(1) Despite being one of the world’s leading oil producers, Nigerians have lined up miserably at gas stations because of the fuel shortage, which has been choking the Nigerian economy, the continent’s largest, for weeks.

To start with, it’s an X-SPAR (a “dangling modifier”), in which the subjectless predicative despite being one of the world’s leading oil producers fails to have the subject Nigerians of the main clause provide the referent for the missing subject in the modifier. (Inventory of postings on danglers here.)

In fact, thngs are worse than that: though the possessive Nigeria’s in something like Nigeria’s people could serve to provide this referent, in (1), the reference to Nigeria in tucked inside the derived noun Nigerian — inside an “anaphoric island”, where it’s hard to find. (On islands, see here.)


Uneasy anaphora

January 19, 2015

From today’s New York Times, in a death notice, “Yoko Nagae Ceschina, Countess and Fairy Godmother to the Arts, Dies at 82” by Margalit Fox:

I used to play 120 concerts a year,” [the violinist Maxim Vengerov said. “She would follow me — not to all of the concerts, but to the most important ones, which were probably about 80 or so. I would go to Chicago; she would be there. I would go to Japan; she would turn up there. Then she finally announced that she would like to be my grandmother.”

And so, in effect, she became, on one occasion flying to Switzerland to bring Mr. Vengerov, ill with pneumonia in a hotel room there, an immense fur coat.

The crucial bit is boldfaced.

I read this at first as an anaphoric ellipsis of the complement of became (with so as a sentence-introducing adverb: ‘as a result, consequently’). Then it occurred to me that the so might have been intended as the complement of became: ‘that she became, she became that (i.e., his grandmother)’. The first structure is just impossible for me, and the second is very awkward.


Gapless relatives

March 30, 2014

An old topic, which has cropped up on ADS-L in the past few days. I’ll try to sort out that discussion in a while, but first a quick look back at (some) postings on the topic, in chronological sequence.


OBH roundup

March 28, 2014

It started with this One Big Happy cartoon, clipped from a newspaper and sent to me by Benita Bendon Campbell: