Archive for the ‘Syntax’ Category

without a care in the world

March 20, 2018

Today, Zippy takes on idiomaticity and is unsettled:


giving a speech on drugs

March 15, 2018

Today’s Bizarro/Wayno collaboration takes us into the world of modifier attachment:

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


Syntext: basic concepts

February 10, 2018

Continuing my 1/23/18 posting “Syntax assignments from 20 years ago”, now with a section of these materials on some basic concepts in syntax.


Another reversed Exchange verb

January 31, 2018

My posting yesterday on reversed substitute (one in a series on the phenomenon) moved Mike Pope to ask me about another Exchange verb, swap. I seem not to have posted here about this particular verb, but I did take part in, um, exchanges on swap on ADS-L back in 2005. The trigger was a 1/17/05 posting “”swap”: inversion of meaning” by Jon Lighter:

This is much like the odd shift in the meaning of “substitute” commented upon some weeks ago [that would be reversed substitute]:

“New dietary guidelines coming out Wednesday are expected to place more emphasis on counting calories and exercising daily, along with swapping whole grains for refined ones and eating a lot more vegetables and fruits.” — Gov’t: Calories, Not Carbs, Make You Fat (AP) January 12, 2005

This says to me (nonsensically) that if you’re eating whole grains now, you should switch to refined ones.

The news story quote has swap NEW for OLD, but Lighter expects swap to have the argument structure swap OLD for NEW. And OLD for NEW in fact is the argument structure in NOAD‘s entry for swap.


Nominalized reversed substitute

January 29, 2018

From the annals of reversed substitute,

substitute OLD for NEW ‘replace OLD by NEW’

a fresh example noticed by Betty Birner, sent to Larry Horn, David Denison, and me in e-mail on the 25th:

From Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury”, pp. 84-5:

“He had lived in the same home, a vast space in [REDACTED] Tower, since shortly after the building was completed in 1983.  Every morning since, he had made the same commute to his office a few floors down.  His corner office was a time capsule from the 1980s, the same gold-lined mirrors, the same Time magazine covers fading on the wall; the only substantial change was the substitution of Joe Namath’s football for Tom Brady’s.”

I don’t know much about football, but I’m pretty certain this means “Namath out, Brady in.”

The example has several features of note, but especially its nominalized form: substitution of OLD for NEW. This is of course exactly what you’d expect from speakers for whom reversed substitute is perfectly normal, but I didn’t have such an example in my files.


Syntax assignments from 20 years ago

January 23, 2018

Background from a January 14th posting, with reference to Julie Tetel Andresen and Phillip M. Carter, Languages in the World: How History, Culture, and Politics Shape Language, 2016:

I’ve taught from an antecedent textbook enterprise, also focused on combining structural sketches of particular languages (from all over the world) with accounts of how languages fit into the social lives and cultures of their speakers:

Timothy Shopen (ed.), Languages and Their SpeakersLanguages and Their Status, both Winthrop Publishers, 1979, reprinted by Univ. of Pa. Press, 1987

I used the volumes as texts in an undergraduate introduction to syntax course, at Stanford and at Ohio State, with (I think) some success. For that purpose, the language sketches in the Shopen volumes had to be supplemented by material on syntactic typology and syntactic theory (which I created on my own).

And now some of these materials, from a 1998 version of the course at Stanford.


But that’s not I nor you

January 6, 2018

My most recent adventure in pronoun case — the posting “Usage note: NomPred”, about nominative predicative pronouns — ended with a screen capture with the bit of dialogue

No, that’s more you. That’s not me.

which I converted to a piss-elegant pronoun version with That’s not I.

I haven’t found recent examples of this pronoun usage, not That’s not I, That’s not she/he, That’s not they, or (worse) That’s not we — NomPred we is extraordinarily unnatural — but I did find an example from the late 19th century, in a bit of didactic verse for schoolchildren:

Some folks long to die
But that’s not I nor you.

(where it’s repeated as the fourth line of morally instructive quatrains; this is the end of the first verse) — here conveying ‘but that’s not the way you and I are, but you and I aren’t like that’, and so indirectly conveying both ‘but that’s not the way I am, but I’m not like that’ and also ‘nor should that be the way you are, nor should you be like that’.


Usage note: NomPred

January 5, 2018

Every so often, I’m brought up short by an example, in edited prose in a serious publication, of a nominative predicative pronoun that strikes me as deeply strange and unnatural. So it was yesterday as I read through the New York Times. In a piece by Alan Feuer (relevant sentence boldfaced):

[on-line 1/3] “One Brooklyn Man’s Lonely Journey to Jihad”, [in print 1/4] “Court Papers Detail a Drift Toward Jihad”
For years in Brooklyn, it was just he and mother, his alcoholic father having long ago abandoned them in Kazakhstan. She worked cleaning houses and was gone much of the day. He went to a large public high school, but spoke little English and had few, if any, friends.

Presumably, either Feuer or an editor was bewitched by the theory that predicative pronouns must necessarily be nominative (on the model of the hyperformal identifying formulas It is I and This is he), but in the specifying-it construction above, the pronoun case choice of native speakers would be accusative him, not nominative he.


tooken by the senses taker

January 4, 2018

The 12/5/17 One Big Happy, which came by in my comics feed a few days ago:


Three things here: Ruthie’s eggcornish reshaping of the unfamiliar word census (ending in /s/) as the familiar senses (ending in /z/); her tooken as the PSP of the verb take; and (in the last panel) her use of take ‘tolerate, stand, endure’ (here with the modal can of ability and also negation; and with the pronominal object this).


Expletive syntax: I will marry the crap out of you, Sean Spencer

December 27, 2017

The quote is from the American tv show Psych — illustrating a construction I’ve (recently) called Vexoo (V Expletive out-of Object), an emphatic alternative to V + Object. So, in the title quote above,

V: marry + Ex: the crapout of + Object: you

conveying ‘really, really marry you; totally marry you’.

Vexoo is a syntactic construction, an assemblage of formal elements, with restrictions on what lexical items can occur in specific slots (Ex in Vexoo is the + {crap, shit, hell, heck, fuck, piss, snot, stuffing, tar, daylights,…}), with an associated semantics (crudely expressed in the gloss for the example above), and with associations to particular sociocultural, stylistic, and discourse contexts.

English expletives occur in many very specific idioms (a fuck-up, raise hell, shitgibbon, etc.), but they’re also central elements in a number of syntactic constructions. Coming up below: a brief inventory of some of these constructions.