Archive for the ‘Constituency’ Category

Knuckle macaroni

August 17, 2022

Yesterday’s Wayno / Piraro Bizarro, at the grocery store:

(#1) Wayno’s title: Joint Replacement (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 5 in this strip — see this Page.)

So: let’s start with elbow macaroni and go on from there.


O tasty Tweety! O Tweety, my prey!

July 26, 2022

… What a delicious Tweety you are!

The 7/24 Mother Goose and Grimm strip, with a police line-up of cartoon cats, for little Tweety to pick out the threatening pussy cat that he thought he saw:

(#1) The potential pussy predator perps on parade, left to right: 1 the Cat in the Hat (Dr. Seuss picture book), 2 Stimpy (Ren & Stimpy tv animation), 3 Sylvester (Looney Tunes film animation), 4 Catbert (Dilbert strip), 5 Attila (MGG strip — note self-reference), 6 Garfield (Garfield strip)

The number of domestic cats in cartoons is mind-boggling — there are tons of lists on the net — and then there are all those other cartoon felines: tigers, panthers, lions, leopards, and so on. Out of these thousands, the cops rounded up the six guys above — all male, as nearly all cartoon cats are, despite the general cultural default that dogs are male, cats female — as the miscreant. (It might be that male is the unmarked sex for anthropomorphic creatures in cartoons as for human beings in many contexts; females appear only when their sex is somehow especially relevant to the cartoon.) And that miscreant, the smirking Sylvester, is the only one of the six known as a predator on birds, though in real life, domestic cats are stunningly effective avian predators, killing billions of birds annually.


What do we want? Change!

May 31, 2022

The Mother Goose and Grimm strip for 1/29

turns on an ambiguity in the VP, which is of the form:

want/need + NP1 + in NP2

The ambiguity appears more generally, in VPs of the form:

 want/need + NP + PredicativeComplement

The ambiguity involves two different constituent structures for the VP, with concomitant differences in the argument structures, and indeed, in the semantics of the primary verbs of desire, want and need: desiring a thing — the much more common semantics, seen in Mother Goose’s assertion:

I want that dress in the window

— versus desiring a change of state (an inchoative ‘I want that dress to be in / get into the window’ or causative ‘I want that dress to be put into the window’ reading), presupposed by Grimmy’s objection:

But that dress is in the window


Science, charity, and adverbial ambiguity

April 5, 2019

Through a chain of people on Facebook, who passed it from one hand to another, this painting (captioned by an unknown wag):


Ah, in a different genre of art, a version of this joke that I’ve posted on a couple of times:

(#2) A One Big Happy strip


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.


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.


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


Data points: RNR 1/22/11

January 22, 2011

In the “reduced coordination” construction known as Right Node Raising (RNR), a constituent on the right (final) end of a clause is combined with a loose coordination of two non-constituents, while being interpreted as being in construction with each of them. A simple example:

Kim discovered, but Lee publicized, the Disappearing Cat Effect.

The Disappearing Cat Effect is the shared constituent on the right. The two preceding conjuncts, Kim discovered and Lee publicized, are not themselves constituents; each is a clause missing a direct object.

RNR examples have different prosodies, and some are much more syntactically complex than this one. Today’s datum, from a KQED-FM begathon in which the announcer was asking people to phone in pledges to volunteers:

That’s what they came here, and that’s what they gave up their Saturday morning for.

Here, the shared constituent on the right is the single P for, the whole sentence being understoood as ‘That’s what they came here for, and that’s what they gave up their Saturday morning for’. You have to wait a long time for that for.

So, grammatical, but notable.


Spem in alium

December 20, 2010

A few days ago, my iTunes brought me Thomas Tallis’s magificent motet Spem in alium (ca. 1570), as performed by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge — causing me to stop what I was doing and just listen to this extraordinary 40-part masterpiece (eight choirs of five singers each) for 11 minutes. I’ve never experienced a live performance of it, much less a performance with the singers arrayed in a horseshoe around the listeners. (Understandably, it’s not often performed, because of the extraordinary demands it makes on the singers.)

I bring it up here because of the name Spem in alium — the first three words of the Latin text, which begins

Spem in alium nunquam habui praeter in te ‘I have never put (my) hope in any other but in You, I have never had hope in another beyond/besides/except in You’

That is, spem in alium ‘hope in another’. Without the context you can’t tell that this phrase is not in fact a constituent in Latin; it’s not spem in alium ‘hope in another’ functioning as a NP, but rather the sequence of the NP spem ‘hope (acc.)’ and the PP in alium ‘in another’, both functioning as complements of the perfect verb habui ‘I have had’. So it’s a part of a VP constituent but not a constituent on its own.

A while ago, Geoff Pullum collected examples of non-constituent book titles, for example Andrew Holleran’s Dancer From the Dance (like Spem in alium, a non-constituent of the form NP + PP); see Language Log postings here and here. He observed that such titles seem to be pretty rare in English. I’d imagine that the practice of referring to Latin texts by their first few words will yield many more Latin examples, especially given the famously free word order of Latin.