Archive for the ‘Syntax’ Category

Lessons from the English Auxiliary System

January 18, 2019

The title of a remarkable paper in Journal of Linguistics 55.1 (Feb. 2019) — published on-line on 1/3/19 — by an international panel of 11 authors, realizing a plan of the senior author, my Stanford colleague Ivan Sag, who died in 2013 before the project could be completed.

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Startling NomConjObj on the editorial page

January 17, 2019

From the lead editorial in the NYT print edition on 1/11/19, “[REDACTED] Shutdown: A Tragedy of Errors”, with the crucial bit boldfaced:

How did we get into this sorry situation? A meltdown of this magnitude typically has many causes. In this case, the president’s inability to reach some sort of deal rests heavily on several basic failures of understanding by he and his team.

By no means unparalleled, but this NomConjObj (nominative-case personal pronoun — 3sg he in this example — in a conjoined object — object of the P by in this example — and in the first conjunct, and in print, and in a serious context) is far from canonical, and might well strike even speakers who are regular users of NomConjObj as over the line. Whoa!

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Peppernut Day

December 24, 2018

Having tackled the Christmas season as a whole, Sandra Boynton examines one specific day: on FB yesterday, with “A helpful tip on National Pfeffernüsse Day” (December 23rd):

(#1)

On peppernuts. And on the recipe register (here: Recipe Object Omission in roll thoroughly in confectioners’ sugar).

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Ask not for whom the reaper scythes

December 20, 2018

Two Grim Reaper memic cartoons: today’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro collab, and a Harry Bliss cartoon in the current (12/24&31) New Yorker, both requiring signficant background information for understanding (beyond recognizing the figure of Death with his scythe):

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Penguins and packages

December 17, 2018

Two Xmas cards from Amanda Walker, from 2016 (Advent penguins) and 2017 (Santa grabbing his package). (Warning about the second: there will be images of crotch-grabbing and crude plays on the noun package.)

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Taboo book notice

December 13, 2018

… that is, a notice of a book on taboo language: The Oxford Handbook of Taboo Words and Language, ed. by Keith Allan, publisher’s site here.

Cover art: Namarrgon the Lightning Man (aboriginal rock art from Western Arnhemland); he comes to earth as a lightning strike and brings the fierce tropical storms in Western Arnhemland during the monsoon season (notable testicles are a common feature of representations of him)

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Return to Dangle City

November 30, 2018

It’s been a long time since my last “dangling modifier” — non-default SPAR — posting (on 3/15 in “giving a speech on drugs”, according to my records). Now, from Josh Bischof on the 23rd, this excerpt (now item Z4.86 in my files) from Paul Tremblay, The Cabin at the End of the World (2018):

He passes Wen’s grasshopper jar; sunlight flares off the glass and aluminum lid (screwed on tightly) as though saying see me, see me. Lying on its side and sunk into the taller grass, the earth is already absorbing it, consuming the evidence of its existence. (p. 175)

The subjectless adjunct in the boldfaced material has both a PRP VP (lying on its side) and a PSP VP (sunk into the taller grass) in it, and picks up (the referent of) its missing subject, not from the subject of the main clause (by the Subject Rule, as in a default SPAR), but, apparently, from the direct object in that clause. Nevertheless, unless you cleave unswervingly to the Subject Rule, you shouldn’t find the boldfaced sentence problematic, and there’s a reason for that.

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Reciprocity in the profane domain

November 16, 2018

At the request of colleagues who are working on reciprocal and symmetric expressions in English, yesterday I scanned in a classic paper on the topic, which is also a classic paper in profane-domain linguistics (aka scatolinguistics ‘the linguistics of dirty talk’): Quang Phuc Dong’s “A note on conjoined Noun Phrases”. Having gone to the trouble, I’m reproducing the scans here so that they will be generally available through this blog.

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Annals of word retrieval: in promiscuous positions

November 4, 2018

(Warning: embedded in this posting is a bit of — just barely euphemized — taboo vocabulary and the image of a hunky guy in his underwear.)

From Sim Aberson on 10/29, from WSVN, channel 7 in Miami FL:

BSO deputies arrest Dania Beach man in child porn case

Dania Beach, Fla. (WSVN) – Deputies have arrested a Dania Beach man on numerous child pornography charges.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office arrested 66-year-old Roger Aiudi on Thursday following a months-long investigation by the agency’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force. Investigators said Aiudi had 13 pornographic images of children and dozens of other images showing children in promiscuous positions.

Well yes, not promiscuous ‘having or characterized by many transient sexual relationships’, but provocative ‘arousing sexual desire or interest, especially deliberately’ (NOAD definitions). This is a very likely sort of word retrieval error, since the words are similar phonologically (sharing the accent pattern WSWW and sharing the initial syllable /prǝ/) and morphologically (both ending in Adj-forming suffixes, –ous vs. –ive) as well as semantically.

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What’s he like?

October 18, 2018

In today’s comics feed, the One Big Happy for September 21st:

Playground Lady intends a WH question with (a reduced variant of) the auxiliary V is + a predicative PP headed by the P like ‘similar to’. Ruthie, ever keen on the reading not intended, hears a WH question with (a reduced variant of) the auxiliary V does (a PRS form of the V lexeme DO) + a complement VP headed by the BSE form like of the V lexeme LIKE ‘find enjoyable’. What is he like? (possible answer: He’s short and blond and funny-looking ) vs. What does he like? (possible answer: He likes playing video games).

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