Archive for the ‘Anaphora’ Category

Calvin becomes a personage

April 6, 2021

Two Calvin and Hobbes cartoons recently — yesterday and today (originally from 4/8 and 4/9/91) — in my comics feed, in which Calvin takes on a title (the epithet the Bold) and adopts illeism (referring to himself in the third person):



Yes, it’s all about linguistics.


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.


If a man does it, …

June 11, 2020

(A number of jokes, but also some seriously technical linguistics.)

A joke going the rounds on the net recently, here from a exchange posted on Facebook on 3/24 (yes, yes, I am incredibly far behind on my postings; life has been very difficult):

(#1) Anaphoric do it : ‘(a man) sleeps with 10 men’ (the gay reading) vs. ‘(a man) sleeps with 10 women’ (the Don Juan reading)

In a similar vein, this Stone Soup cartoon of 6/17/11:

(#2) Anaphoric do the same, with at least three readings (discussed below), one of them gay

The phenomenon at play here is called sloppy (vs. strict) identity. The gay readings above involve strict identity.


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.


Prosthetics on an anaphoric island

December 12, 2018

I posted yesterday on anaphoric islands — “Smoke from a island”, here — and then of course immediately came across a wonderful example, in a 12/1 Economist article on prosthetic limbs, where the anaphor is a bit of conspicuous language play. (The Economist is strongly inclined to language play in its heads and lead paragraphs.)


Anaphora into proper names

August 20, 2018

From Larry Horn on ADS-L yesterday under the subject line “Navigating those islands”, noting that in this case “the relevant islands are (i) in Florida and (ii) in the morphosyntactic context below”:

Background: a(n adulterous) couple lands at Tampa Airport en route to a supposed “ecotourism” adventure-cum-real-estate promotion (i.e. scam) through the islands of the Everglades and stop at the bar for a drink…

The landing in Tampa was bumpy. At the airport, Eugenie Fonda charged into the first open bar in the concourse. “Margaritaville” was playing over the sound system, so she ordered one. — Carl Hiaasen (2006), Nature Girl, p. 116 (beginning of Chapter 11)

That’s ONE-anaphora “going into” the complex proper name Margaritaville (the name of a song) to find its antecedent, the  common noun margarita:

noun margarita: a cocktail made with tequila and citrus fruit juice. (NOAD)

The anaphor takes a moment to process and strikes most people as a joke (Hiassen’s novels are wryly jocular, though not usually in this particular way).

I’ve posted about one related example, on 8/11/12 in “Proper anaphoric islands” (discussion to follow). And in e-mail discussion an informal group of anaphoric islanders (researchers on the phenomenon) has invented a series of further examples of anaphoric elements that find their antecedents inside proper names — examples that go one step beyond the ordinary anaphoric island examples (which can usually be contextualized) by playing on the use of the antecedent expression (to refer to a kind of cocktail, as in There was a margarita mixologist behind the bar, so she ordered one) vs. its mere mention (as in the Hiassen example: “Margaritaville” was playing over the sound system, so she ordered one.).


Motherhood and stupid PAP

July 29, 2018

Starting around the 9th, making the rounds on Facebook, a Daily Mail (U.K.) story from 2016, with a disturbing video under the heading (H):

This mother took her children’s phones and shot them to teach them a lesson!

(#1) You can watch the video here

(H) presents a series of complexities in interpretation, having to do with the reference of the two anaphoric pronouns them, with respect to two potential antecedent NPs: the determiner NP her children (marked as possessive) and the argument NP her children’s phones (here serving as the direct object argument of the verb took).


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.