Archive for the ‘Syntax’ Category

100 years of independence

December 6, 2017

Though today is one of the dark days of early December alluded to in my recent posting — it’s Mozart’s death day, a sad occasion indeed — it’s also St. Nicholas’s day (gifts!), and Chris Waigl’s birthday (eggcorns, remote sensing of wildfires in the Arctic, Python, knitting, and more, in three languages!), and Independence Day in Finland. As Riitta Välimaa-Blum reminds me, this year’s Independence Day is something spectacular: the centenary of Finland’s declaration of independence from Russia.

(#1) The Finnish flag

So raise a glass of Lakka (Finnish cloudberry liqueur) or Finlandia vodka, neat, to honor that difficult moment in 1917 — the year should call to your mind both World War I (still underway then) and the Russian revolution, and these enormous upheavals were in fact crucial to Finland’s wresting its independence from Russia.

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A dark week in early December

December 4, 2017

A week of death, punishment, and destruction. This week: deaths on M W F, punishment on Tu, destruction on Th.


(#1) John Cleese as the host on Monty Python’s “It’s Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart” show

Hello again, and welcome to the show. Tonight we continue to look at some famous deaths. Tonight we start with the wonderful death of Genghis Khan, conqueror of India.

Well, acually, today, the 4th, is Frank Zappa (1993). Friday, the 8th, is John Lennon (1980). And Wednesday, the 6th, is Wolfie M. himself (1791). Tomorrow, the 5th, is Krampusnacht, when the Christmas demon Krampus punishes naughty children (the night before St. Nicholas rewards the good ones, on his feast day). And Thursday, the 7th, is Pearl Harbor Day, the anniversary of the Japanese bombing of the naval base in Honolulu, which brough the United States into World War II.

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Another ship reaches port

December 2, 2017

In e-mail yesterday and today, an exchange involving Betty Birner, Larry Horn, David Denison, and me about “reversed SUBSTITUTE”, starting with Betty’s observation:

This struck me while I was watching an episode of The Great British Baking Show on Netflix:

“Andrew is substituting the barmbrack’s customary raisins for milk chocolate chips.”  [voiceover]

Needless to say, he was leaving OUT the raisins and ADDING chocolate chips.  Also needless to say, this is British English.

This is reversed SUBSTITUTE: substitute OLD for NEW (in this case, substitute customary raisins for milk chocolate chipscustomary lets us know that the raisins are OLD), rather than traditional SUBSTITUTE: substitute NEW for OLD (what would be, in this case, substitute milk chocolate chips for customary raisins).

The end of our discussion was David’s noting that the shift from traditional to reversed SUBSTITUTE seems to be virtually complete for many British speakers (including educated ones), and Larry’s suggesting that this was true for some younger American speakers as well. Another ship of linguistic change that has reached its port for many speakers.

Two other such ships I’ve written about: NomCoordObjs (nominative coordinate objects, as in They gave it to Kim and I, rather than to Kim and me; and +of EDM (exceptional degree marking with of, as in that big of a dog, rather than that big a dog).

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Two memic moments

November 30, 2017

In today’s cartoon feed, a penguin Zits and a maze-rat Rhymes With Orange:

(#1) There’s cold, and then there’s penguin cold

(#2) Rats in a Japanese bento maze

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Skip to the important bit

November 23, 2017

From reader Joshua Bischof in e-mail on the 21st (boldface highlights the example sentence, call it (1); italics and underlining mark off important elements in (1)):

I just got this email from the superintendent of my kids’ school district:

This is Superintendent Bill Hall calling to wish everyone a very happy, healthy, and safe Thanksgiving break. I would also encourage you to go to our website at http://www.mtsd.org and watch the video regarding our District’s recently released ranking for our Pennsylvania Value Added Assessment Scores. After watching the video, I know you will be proud of your child, our teachers, and our District.

Interesting how effortlessly we retrieve you as the missing subject of the adjunct despite its position in the complement clause.

The initial phrase (italicized above) after watching the video, call it (1a), would be deprecated as a “dangling modifier” by many — but as Josh noted, it is effortlessly (and correctly) interpreted as having the addressee of (1) (and not the speaker of (1)) as the person watching the video.

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Environmentally responsible derivation

November 13, 2017

It starts with an ordinary noun source and an ordinary verb sustain and eventually works its way to the adverb sustainably as a modifier of a verb source, strikingly in the split infinitive construction to sustainably source, which Wilson Gray reported in an ADS-L posting on the 11th, citing a General Mills ad in which to sustainably source oats figures prominently.

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Grammar police on the highway

November 4, 2017

A PartiallyClips from 2014, which somehow slipped my notice:

The officer in the cartoon — I’ll call him Andy, after E.B. White — objects to (1) broke as the PSP of break and to (2) What did you do that for? as (incorrectly) ending a sentence with a preposition, and he’s about to object to the driver’s use of (3) hyperbolic or intensive literally. Meanwhile, Andy’s partner Bill Strunk (note: the Strunk of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style was called Will) is busy doing usage-retributive damage to the car. Not, I think, the world’s greatest usage assholes, but arguably in the asshole pantheon.

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Ruthie on meanings

October 19, 2017

Two recent One Big Happy strips:

(#1) What does /sǽtǝn/ mean?

(#2) What does anaphoric do that refer to?

#1 plumbs Ruthie’s knowledge of the English lexicon (satin is unfamiliar to her, so she does the best she can with it from what she knows), #2 her ability to use anaphoric elements in context (she’s an ace at wielding “sloppy identity”).

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The perils of parallelism

October 9, 2017

Passed on to me by Ben Zimmer, a tweet, entitled “To Whom Is Responsible for This”, from author Colin Dickey (most recent book: Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places) with this photo of extraordinary whom on the hoof:

I see three contributing factors here: (A) a preference for fronting rather than stranding Ps in extraction constructions; (B) a mechanical application of a principle calling for (formal) parallelism in coordination; and (C) an irrational reverence for the case form whom (rather than who) of the (relative or interrogative) pronoun WHOM.

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not agree with

September 16, 2017

The One Big Happy in my comics feed yesterday has Ruthie v Idiom, once again:

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