Archive for the ‘Syntax’ Category

Briefly: a demented p.r. pitch, an off-the-rails headline

June 18, 2017

In the past few days, some tidbits from Facebook friends: from Margalit Fox, another demented p.r. pitch in her mail; from Jean Berko Gleason, an unfortunately ambiguous headline.

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An old resultative joke

June 8, 2017

From Wilson Gray on ADS-L on the 6th, in a discussion of a joke that turns on a structural ambiguity, a totally different joke of this sort:

A drunk is staggering along the sidewalk muttering to himself, “It can’t be done! I couldn’t do it!” A passer-by comments, “Damn, man, you all fucked up!, It must have been something terrible! What couldn’t you do?!” The drunk answers, “Drink Canada dry!”

The joke doesn’t quite work in print like this, unless you use all-caps, the way artist Richard Prince did in this “joke painting”:

(#1)

Untitled (Drink Canada Dry), acrylic and silkscreen on canvas, 1998

The joke of course also works fine in speech. (Early occurrences in print have only either Canada Dry or Canada dry, with text that points the reader towards the other.)

Two things: the joke and its history

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Non-standard sex talk

May 26, 2017

I’ll start with the steamy gay sex talk from an on-line messaging site — sensitive readers are hereby warned about this content — and then go on to focus on a non-standard syntactic construction in this exchange, what the YGDP (the Yale University Grammatical Diversity Project: English in North America) calls the Needs Washed construction (using as a label an instance of the instruction), involving a PSP complement of a head V.

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Prepositions matter

May 22, 2017

Today’s Zits:

V + P~Ø (V with oblique object, marked by a P, vs. a direct object, with no P) was the topic of my 2009 Stanford SemFest paper; detailed handout here.

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A failure of parallelism, sort of

May 22, 2017

In this headline from the 21st:

The crucial part is the NP

(PA) child- and gang-rapes

a reduced variant of the coordination child rapes and gang rapes — with rapes “factored out” of the full coordination, leaving the two-conjunct constituent child and gang. What gives this reduced coordination the whiff of non-parallelism is the difference in the way the factor rapes is semantically related to the two conjuncts child and gang: the first conjunct, child, functions as patient, or affected participant, with the factor rapes (like a canonical syntactic object; in a child rape, someone rapes a child), while the second conjunct, gang, functions as agent, or active participant, with this factor (like a canonical syntactic subject; in a gang rape, a gang rapes someone).

The coordination of patient with agent has a mildly zeugmatic flavor. It probably adds a bit of processing difficulty to this example — and it’s certainly enough to make a linguist like me take notice of the headline.

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Housemates

May 19, 2017

The occasion is the discovery of more photo albums from the past, in this case the relatively recent past. One had photos of two friends who shared the Columbus OH house with Jacques and me in the 1990s: Philip Miller (during a postdoc year in linguistics at Ohio State) and Kim Darnell (while she was finishing her PhD in linguistics at Ohio State). Then there’s our last housemate before Jacques and I moved entirely to Californa, our bookfriend Ann Burlingham, who was working in Columbus bookstores at the time.

After teaching in (mostly) Lille, Philip is now in Paris. After years teaching in Atlanta, Kim is now in Palo Alto. And Ann has been in Perry NY (south of Rochester), where she owns and runs Burlingham Books, for some time now.

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The news for food, 5/11/17

May 11, 2017

Following on yesterday’s food bulletins — “The Z with the ‘za”, on robot pizza trucks (here), and “Regional potato chips” (here) — today brought Facebook postings by Dan Everett and Kyle Wohlmut, taking us to: recursive pizza, a pizza place in Williamsburg (A Slice Bakes in Brooklyn), camo gouda, a cheese shop in Utrecht, cheese slicers, red and green gouda, camo ice cream, and camo cheesecake.

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Conjunct order in the comics

May 5, 2017

Today’s Rhymes With Orange.on love and conjunct order:

So: in coordinated pairs of names, which comes first, and why?

In the case at hand, whoever creates the coordination (here, carving it into a tree) will almost always put their own name first; people are strongly inclined to take themselves to be the measure of all things. Similarly, if you’re referring to a couple of people and one of them is a friend of yours while the other is someone you know mostly through your friend, you’ll probably put your friend’s name first. But beyond that, there’s a complex set of factors that tend to favor one order of names over the other. It seems that these factors conspire in (now well-studied) ways to favor — wait for it… — Guys First.

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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.

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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

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