Archive for the ‘Syntax’ Category

Chub and chums in the morning

April 17, 2017

Yesterday’s morning name was chub (the name of a fish), which led me to the rest of the bilabial-final family: chum, chump, and chup. (And that led to the velar-final family chug, Chung, chunk, chuck, but I won’t pursue that one here.) As it is, the bilabials will lead us into many surprising places, including the Hardy Boys books, eyewear retainers, Australian dog food, gay slurs, and hunky underwear models.


The Congressional Brain Injury Task Force

April 6, 2017

The U.S. has such a thing, and its name is a compound with three possibly relevant parsings into constituents (for in the glosses conveys something like ‘to investigate’):

(1)  [ Congressional ]  [ [ Brain Injury ] [ Task Force ] ]

‘ a task force, associated with Congress, for brain injury

(2)  [ [ Congressional Brain ]  [ Injury ] ] [ Task Force ]

‘a task force for injury to the Congressional brain

(3)  [ [ Congressional ] [ Brain Injury ] ] [Task Force ]

‘a task force for Congressional brain injury

(1) is the intended reading. (2) has an entertaining sense involving a Congressional brain, a brain that Congress has (or is otherwise associated with). (3) involves (a) brain injury that is associated in some way with Congress. I’m much taken with readings (2) and (3), especially (2), which reminded me of the October 1980 Doonesbury sequence “The Mysterious World of Reagan’s Brain”.

The intended reading is entirely clear, but sportive readers will play with the alternatives


More on early “is is”

March 30, 2017

Background: a posting of mine (“An early “is is”? Probably not”) on the 27th, looking at a 1964 quote (from published fiction) submitted by Jon Lighter to ADS-L:

(1) “The thing of it is, Waldron said… “is that this order was set up for you personally.”

(1) is a quotation from the writer that seems to have Waldron saying:

(2a) The thing of it is is that this order was set up for you personally.

or, possibly,

(2b) The thing of it is, is that this order order was set up for you personally.

(that is, a spoken sentence like (2a), but with a pause between the two occurrences of is).

JL responded the next day on ADS-L:

1.8 million raw Googlits for “The thing of it is is.”

This is supposed to be evidence about how the sentence from fiction in (1), from over 50 years ago, is to be interpreted: as (2a) — which would be an early example of the vernacular construction Isis, hitherto dated only back to 1971 — or as (2b), an utterly everyday disfluency in speech.

Now to look at the reasoning.


It was correction killed the desire

March 19, 2017

Yesterday’s Bizarro:

(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 2 in this strip — see this Page.)

First, the adverb bad in I want you so bad. Then some notes on correction as a social practice, especially in one-on-one interactions.


hyperbaton, hypermasturbation

March 11, 2017

The Dinosaur Comics from the 3rd, in principle about hyperbaton:

But hypermasturbation (which sounds sort of like hyberbaton) intrudes in the conversation.


“depriving healthcare for millions”

March 8, 2017

Noted by Wilson Gray on ADS-L on Monday, from his reading on Facebook. Wilson commented:

Remember the days of yore when people wrote: “depriving  millions of health-care”?

The implicit analysis here is that the ordinary argument structure (hereafter, argstr) for the verb deprive has a Direct Object referring to a POSSESSOR in an act of deprivation, and an Oblique Object (marked by the P of) referring to a POSSESSION in this act. In abbreviated form: deprive has the argstr:


with the semantics that AGENT causes POSSESSOR to come to no longer have POSSESSION.

But the Facebook sentence has an argstr with a Direct Object referring to a POSSESSION and an Oblique Object (marked by the P for) referring to a POSSESSOR:


with the same semantics as in (1).

Now, alternative argstrs for the same verb are very common; the question is which verbs have which structures. Wilson’s judgment (which I share) is that deprive is fine in structure (1) — deprive millions of health-care — but not in structure (2) — deprive health-care for millions. (Divest is similar to deprive here.)


The power of the Subject Rule

March 4, 2017

Over on ADS-L yesterday, Wilson Gray reported the following example from his reading:

(X) A nine-year-old boy is being hailed a hero for saving his mother’s life after being struck by lightning.

Merriment ensued on the mailing list over the boy’s impressve act, his toughness, and the like — all these responses indicating that readers interpreted (X) as asserting that the boy performed his heroic act after he had been struck by lightning.

The phrase after being struck by lightning is a SPAR (a Subjectless Predicative Adjunct Requiring a referent for the missing subject), and virtually everyone reading the phrase in the context above will take the required referent to be the referent of the subject in the main clause (a nine-year-old boy), rather than the referent of an NP closer to the SPAR: his mother’s life, an unlikely candidate, since that referent isn’t even a concrete object that could be struck by lightning; or, better, his mother, surely the NP the writer of (X) had in mind as supplying the required referent.

If the writer had absorbed the lessons of their school grammar, they would in fact have expected that the boy’s mother would be supplied as the required referent — because that school grammar tells you, very firmly, that a SPAR will (indeed must) pick up its referent from the NP nearest to it (the Nearest Rule). (That’s not the way school grammars, and books of usage advice, talk about these things — they speak of nouns and dangling modifiers — but here I’ve cleaned up the deep conceptual confusions in the traditional way of talking about these things.) Unfortunately, the empirically more adequate general principle isn’t a Nearest Rule, but a Subject Rule (and even that’s just a default, not an inviolable law of grammar).


Adjunct or argument?

March 2, 2017

The most recent One Big Happy:

Joe’s version of Job 3:1 is the one I recall:

Job cursed the day he was born.

and it suffers from an ambiguity, between the day he was born as an argument (the direct object of cursed) and as an adjunct, or modifier (a time adverbial, in fact a bare NP adverbial, an alternative to the PP adverbial on the day he was born). The intended reading of Job 3:1 is the argument reading, but Joe got the adjunct reading.


Books from Stanford

February 13, 2017

Recent books from Stanford-connected authors, some my colleagues, some my former students (so I have warm feelings). Two in sociolinguistics / educational linguistics, one on the (gasp) morphosyntax-phonology interface.


re-up syntax

December 28, 2016

From Jon Lighter on ADS-L early in the month:

CNN advises us … to “get re-upped on” our MMR [measles / mumps / rubella] vaccinations. I.e., join the crusade against vaccine avoidance: get the kids their booster shots, you nut-case parents!

And W Brewer recalls the connection to

re-up ‘to re-enlist’ (U.S. military slang), with possibility of getting a re-enlistment bonus

The military usage we’ve looked at on this blog. It goes back over a hundred years, with early cites having especially simple syntax: no object, either direct or oblique, but interpreted as having an oblique object referring to a branch of the service: to re-up understood as ‘to re-enlist in/with (branch of service)’, with the specific branch understood from context. Call this the objectless re-enlistment use.

My earlier posting was primarily focused on the issue of external vs. internal inflection for this verb (PST re-upped vs. re’d-up). Here I’m interested in the syntax and semantics of the verb, getting from the objectless re-enlistment use to the oblique-object renewal use in get re-upped on.