Archive for the ‘Anaphora’ Category

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:



The anaphor joke

March 20, 2014

From a site with “20 Jokes That Only Intellectuals Will Understand”, one that I had not heard before, appealing to both linguists and programmers.

The set-up:

19. The programmer’s wife tells him: “Run to the store and pick up a loaf of bread.. If they have eggs, get a dozen.”

Ok, there’s an ellipsis, of an indefinite: a dozen of something. But what? There are two candidates in the context: the close eggs, and the discourse-topical loaf of bread. In the joke, the programmer’s wife intends the first, but the programmer supplies the second, as the punch line indicates:

The programmer comes home with 12 loaves of bread.


Bake and you shall receive

October 17, 2013

Passed on by Terry Bartlett on Facebook, this ad for Diamond Walnuts. The video:


You always want him to be more thoughtful and romantic. This Diamond Toasted Walnut Truffle recipe will make him go above and beyond.

Bake and You Shall Receive


Use, mention, anaphora

September 2, 2013

Noted in an episode of the old tv show The Rifleman, this bit of dialogue. The main character, Lucas McCain, has just explained to his son, Mark, that Mark is quite a psychologist (after Mark’s deft handling of  difficult situation). Lucas explains (in brief) what a psychologist is, and Mark struggles to pronounce the word psychologist. Mark:

I may be one, but I’ll never be able to pronounce it.

Ok, one ‘a psychologist’ plus it ‘the word psychologist‘. Use, mention, and an anaphoric connection between them.


don’t know

May 29, 2013

Today’s Zits:

The dad’s “I don’t know” conveys that he’s unsure of his opinion on the subject (whatever that is), so he says “Ask Mom”, meaning ‘Ask Mom what she thinks”, with ellipsis of the Wh-clause object of ask, but with understood reference (within that object) to the mother. But Jeremy takes the other possible reading, involving reference to the father — i.e., ‘Ask Mom what I think’ — which, though possible, is unlikely in context (how should the mother know what the father thinks, when he doesn’t know himself?).


Another split antecedent dangler

March 13, 2013

Back in January I looked at a racy dangler in final position in its clause, where the referent for the missing subject was picked up from a combination of the subject of the clause and an oblique object in the clause; the antecedent was split between two different elements in the clause. Now this morning in a KQED Perspectives column by Steven Moss (“Transformation”), another split-antecedent dangler, less racy and now in clause-initial position.


A split-antecedent dangler

January 6, 2013

In ad copy for the Michael Lucas raunchy gay porn film The Wetter the Better, this summary of some hot-hot man-on-man action (not perhaps to everyone’s taste, but this posting is about syntax and semantics, not watersports, as piss play is delicately referred to in some contexts):

Morgan Black spices up his sex life with Christopher Daniels by soaking him in piss before fucking each other.

Two sentence-final subjectless predicational adjuncts there, and they both need something to supply the referent of the missing subject (they are SPARs): by soaking him with piss, which picks up a referent for its missing subject from the subject of the main clause, Morgan Black; and before fucking each other, which the writer of the copy clearly intended to pick up a referent for its missing subject from the *combination of* the subject of the main clause (Morgan Black again) and the oblique object in that clause, Christopher Daniels. The first exercise in referent-finding is just the default Subject Rule for these things, so there’s no issue. The second exercise in referent-finding is non-default, requiring before fucking each other to be interpreted as ‘before they fuck each other’, where they refers to the set-theoretic union of Black and Daniels (and the semantics of each other then tells you that Black will fuck Daniels and Daniels will fuck Black, as indeed happens in the flick — this is called flip-fucking in the trade). I understand the writer’s intent, but the non-default SPAR is beyond my comfort zone in this case. A dangler too far.