Archive for the ‘Syntax’ Category

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.

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deontic+, deontic-

July 28, 2016

(On the semantics and pragmatics of deontic should.)

I have a real-life example in mind here, from the NYT Magazine on the 17th, but I’m going to inch up to it, starting with these simpler examples:

(1) I should talk to my father.

(2) I should have talked to my father.

Both examples have the modal verb should, in its deontic sense, indicating obligation, duty, or correctness, incumbent upon some person, persons, or human institution; this is to be contrasted with its epistemic sense, indicating grounds for a judgment of truth — compare (1) and (2) with

(3) A sample this size should weigh about 10 kilograms.

(There are various ways to represent this difference, but that’s not my concern here.)

Then it turns out that deontic should can be used in (at least) two ways.

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Pronoun case in the Thames Valley CID

July 27, 2016

From S4 E4 (“Masonic Mysteries”) of the ITV detective procedural tv show Inspector Morse, an exchange between Morse and his sergeant, Lewis:

(1) Morse: It’s me he wants, it’s me he’s going to get, or rather, it’s me that’s going to get him…

(2) Lewis: Shouldn’t that be: “It’s I who am going to get him”?

It’s all about pronoun case (Acc me vs. Nom I) in it-clefts: roughly, identifying clauses with

subject it, a main verb BE, a predicative NP, and a relative clause missing an NP (the relative clause can have relativizer ∅, that, or a WH-pronoun like who)

— in these instances, clauses supplying the answer to the questions “Who does he want? Who is he going to get? Who’s going to get him?”

And, this being Britain, it’s also all about social class.

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A medal for pronoun case

July 15, 2016

In today’s Stanford News, a report by Dayo Mitchell, “The projects conducted by the winners of the 2016 Firestone and Golden medals and the Kennedy Prize represent the breadth of the undergraduate experience at Stanford. They included research on germ cell, federal farm animal policy, the tailoring industry in Naples, ethics and autonomous vehicles, and the writings of author Zadie Smith.”

Thirty-five graduating seniors were recognized recently for their outstanding thesis projects. They are recipients of the 2016 Firestone Medal for Excellence in Undergraduate Research, the Robert M. Golden Medal for Excellence in Humanities and Creative Arts; and the David M. Kennedy Honors Thesis Prize.

The prizewinners represent 24 academic departments and all three schools with undergraduate programs

Among the eight Goldens was

Tyler Lemon, “An Examination of the Distribution and Variation of Non-Coordinated Pronoun Case Forms in English,” linguistics, advised by Tom Wasow (linguistics).

(I helped out).

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Gang of five

June 28, 2016

Comics and cartoons pile up. Here are four recent ones from my regular feeds, plus a Perry Bible Fellowship (“The Offenders”) sent to me by Jason Parker-Burlingham. Before that, a Bizarro with the slow-snail cartoon meme; a One Big Happy with an attachment ambiguity; a Rhymes With Orange on reduplicated names (like mahi-mahi); and a massively alliterative Zippy.

(#1)

(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbol in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there’s just one in this strip — see this Page.)

The usual meme is about snails (with shells), but it works equally well for slugs (without shells).

(#2)

Simplifying the example, it’s I sketched a model in the nude. There are two scopes for the modifier in the nude — as a sentential (or VP) adverbial (the scoping for clauses with intransitive verbs, like I sunbathed in the nude), attributing nudity to the referent of the subject; or as a modifier within the direct object NP (note the passive A model in the nude was painstakingly sketched by the life drawing class). The first speaker intends the second, narrower scope, but Ruthie understands the first, wider scope, in which the artist is nude.

(#3)

English has a considerable number of names that are reduplicative in form, like the place name Bora Bora. Some of these are food names, like mahi-mahi and couscous. The diner is taking the reduplicative form to denote multiplicity (or extent), giving rise to a kind of back-formed noun, mahi or cous.

(#4)

Bill Griffith loves to play with the sounds of words. Having started with Fairchild Semiconductor (the company name) used as a personal name, the first panel explodes with F alliteration, which continues in the other two panels — pared with T alliteration in the second panel, S alliteration in the third.

And then to cartoon sound words in Perry Bible Fellowship, which range from conventional to inventive:

(#5)

Added later: More important, as commenter RF notes:

Note that Slur’s “problematic” fighting style results in sound effects that are racial slurs directed at his opponents.

This was clearly telegraphed by the name of the strip (“The Offenders”) and by the name of the central character (Slur). Somehow I missed this on a first reading. Many thanks to RF.

 

The literalist on Fathers Day

June 9, 2016

Fathers Day comes on the 19th. For the occasion, a Tom Toro cartoon that didn’t get into my earlier posting about him:

Well, there can be literally only one greatest dad in the world, but then not all language is literal — as in this case, where the sentiment on the mug is a piece of hyperbole, exaggeration for effect.

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Tom Toro

June 9, 2016

Caught in the May 9th New Yorker, this Tom Toro cartoon:

(#1)

A little slideshow on time adverbials and the times they refer to, understood figuratively.

Toro hasn’t appeared on this blog before, but he’s a prolific cartoonist with an ear for language and an inclination to play with classic cartoon memes (like the desert island or, as below, penguins and their discriminability).

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Still solid, after 20 years

June 8, 2016

(Warning: heavy technical linguistics.)

This morning a linguist working on auxiliary reduction in Scots dialects wrote to ask me about the 1997 Pullum & Zwicky LSA paper “Licensing of prosodic features by syntactic rules: The key to auxiliary reduction” (a paper Geoff and I are still proud of). The abstract is available on this blog, but the handout is not (though other handouts are there). A significant problem with word processing formats was the culprit, but (spurred by my correspondent’s query) Geoff managed to unearth a clean copy of the reading script for the paper, which includes everything from the handout and more. Now available for public consumption here.

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VPE way over the line

May 18, 2016

 

(If you’re averse to technicalities of linguistics, this isn’t for you.)

Our text for the day comes from the tv show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, in the episode “Malice in Wonderland”, first broadcast on 3/28/12:

Olivia [Hodges’s mother]: Besides, I haven’t been totally honest with you about my romantic situation.
Hodges: What, the count?
(1) Olivia: He wasn’t a count. It’s possible he doesn’t even know how to ___.

The underscore marks the position of the elliptical material, in this case a BSE-form VP  count ‘recite numbers in ascending order’. We then cast around for an antecedent VP in the text; this wouldn’t have to be a BSE-form VP (divergences in inflectional form between antecedent and ellipsis are common in Verb Phrase Ellipsis (VPE); there are Pages on this blog with examples, and an index of them) — but there’s no plausible VP to be found in this text. Instead, there’s only a noun count ‘a rank of European nobleman’, which is phonologically and orthographically identical to the verb count, but otherwise has nothing to do, etymologically or synchronically, with this noun. The example is flagrantly zeugmatic.

It’s not that nouns can never be antecedents for an elliptical VP in VPE — discussion of such cases below — but this particular noun is totally unsuited to be an antecedent for this particular ellipsis. It’s all an elaborate play on words. (For the record, I was delighted by it, all the more so because it appeared in a dialogue that, though light-hearted in tone, was not jokey in character and concerned a serious matter (the abject failures of Olivia’s supposed fiancé). It was a pleasant surprise.)

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Raining subjunctives

May 2, 2016

Today’s Zippy dips into morphosyntax:

The three panels are far from parallel. Adjective and Adverb are the names of major syntactic categories, while Past Subjective and Present Subjunctive are (intended to be) the names of infectional forms of Verb words: the Present Subjunctive in things like

(1) I insist that Sandy be promoted.

and the Past Subjunctive in things like

(2) Were Sandy my friend, I would be proud.

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