Archive for the ‘Syntax’ Category

Research papers

May 7, 2021

It started in late April with Randall Munroe’s wry xkcd cartoon #2456, “Types of Scientific Paper”:

(#1)

Though the cartoon is primarily gentle ridicule of the natural sciences, some of the topics are applicable to the social sciences as well: My colleague is wrong and I can finally prove it; Some thoughts on how everyone else is bad at research. And several are adaptable to linguistics with only small changes: Check out this weird thing one of us heard while out for a walk; We ran experiments on some undergraduates.

The xkcd cartoon immediately set off an avalanche of variants in various specific fields, including at least two in areas of linguistics: Indo-European studies and syntax.

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trade and trick

April 16, 2021

(About the language of sex, with plenty of discussion of sexual acts, some of it in very plain terms, so not for kids or the sexually modest.)

Sexual vocabulary day, inspired by my puzzling about the syntax of the item trade (in examples like He’s looking for trade to service and He’s trade), which led me to a 2004 e-mail exchange — yes, still relevant — with a colleague about this item and its sexual lexical cousin trick.


Ajaxx63 Rough Trade t-shirt, on offer on the DealByEthan (men’s fashion shopping) site

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Ripped from the headlines

April 3, 2021

Well, actually, the headline — from CNN Politics, “Gaetz showed nude photos of women he said he’d slept with to lawmakers, sources tell CNN” by Jeremy Herb, Lauren Fox and Ryan Nobles yesterday — isn’t problematic, but very early in the body of the story, we get this:


(hat tips to Mike Pope and Michael Covarrubias on Facebook)

Which is.

I was (actually) shocked at the idea that congressman Matt Gaetz (R of FL) — admittedly, an extraordinarily arrogant bully with the contempt for ordinary people and customary social conventions so often displayed by children of privilege — would have sex with women on the floor of the US House of Representatives. Then I saw the ambiguity in modifier attachment and realized that what was alleged was merely deeply boorish behavior: passing around, wink wink nod nod, naked photos and videos of his sexual conquests to other legislators and their staffs.

Now, about that modifier attachment…

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Treading down the thorny path

March 16, 2021

Two evergreen topics in grammar and usage: so-called “split infinitives”, where some usage critics have insisted that they must always be avoided, however unnatural the results of this avoidance are; and modifier attachment, where jokes are often made about one of the potential attachments, however preposterous the interpretation associated with this attachment is.

The two topics are connected through their unthinking devotion to dogmas of grammatical correctness: avoid split infinitives, avoid potential ambiguity. A devotion that leads adherents down the thorny path of usage rectitude to using unnatural syntax and entertaining preposterous interpretations.

But first, the thorny path. The (tough) counterpart to the (easy) primrose path.

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Collocation restriction

January 17, 2021

Today’s Ada@Home cartoon by Rob Harrell exemplifies the restriction of lexical items to specific collocations:

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secret cabal

January 13, 2021

(Hanging in my posting queue for some considerable time, but just as relevant now as then.

From John McIntyre on Facebook on 9/6/18:

Guardian writer refers to a “secret cabal” in the Trump administration. What other kind does he think there is?

The crucial point is the definition of cabal. From NOAD:

noun cabal: a secret political clique or faction: a cabal of dissidents.

That is, cabals are by definition secret, and secret cabal is pleonastic, so is to be avoided (in favor of plain cabal). The general principle is the Strunk / White Avoid Needless Words dictum. (Yes, we can dispute the applicability of the dictum in particular cases. More below.)

In my mental filing cabinet, the relevant drawer is labeled pilotless drone, after a specific example I discussed at some length back in 2007. Then, of course, the question will be whether my treatment of pilotless drones carries over to secret cabals

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Callipygian in his Levis

January 10, 2021

(About the male body, in particular, men’s buttocks as objects of male sexual desire, and, eventually, about sexual acts between men, so not suitable for kids or the sexually modest.)

Two things from Pinterest recently: a vintage Levis ad prominently focused on the model’s buttocks:


(#1) My caption: fanning the flames of desire around the campfire with butt-flattering jeans

and a link to a comic piece “How the West Was Worn” (from 9/18/14, by Christopher Harrity) on the Advocate magazine’s site, about the history of callipygian men in Levi’s ads, with mocking captions added to the ads. (Note: the Advocate provides news and features for LGBTQ readers.)

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The lexicon of masturbation

December 30, 2020

(A spin-off from today’s posting “Manual labor”. Obviously inappropriate for kids and the sexually modest: it’s all about sex, and a lot of it is raunchy.)

This is a compact summary of usages, confined here to male masturbation (all participants are men), in particular such acts involving men who have sex with other men.

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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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All they will call you will be “escapees”

September 13, 2020

Well, maybe also “escapers”, or even “escapettes”, as in this One Big Happy cartoon from 8/17, which taps into a much-studied phenomenon in English morphology:

(#1)

From my 1/9/15 posting “-ee” (warning: this goes, unavoidably, pretty deep into the technical weeds of syntax and semantics):

The great resource on [the English derivational suffix] –ee is a 1998 paper by Chris Barker in Language (74.695-727), “Episodic -ee in English: A thematic role constraint on new word formation” (stable URL here), which uses a database of “fifteen hundred naturally occurring tokens of some five hundred word types” to analyze the semantics of the suffix; it also has a full bibliography of relevant literature on the subject.

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