Archive for the ‘Modification’ Category

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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It was correction killed the desire

March 19, 2017

Yesterday’s Bizarro:

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

First, the adverb bad in I want you so bad. Then some notes on correction as a social practice, especially in one-on-one interactions.

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The power of the Subject Rule

March 4, 2017

Over on ADS-L yesterday, Wilson Gray reported the following example from his reading:

(X) A nine-year-old boy is being hailed a hero for saving his mother’s life after being struck by lightning.

Merriment ensued on the mailing list over the boy’s impressve act, his toughness, and the like — all these responses indicating that readers interpreted (X) as asserting that the boy performed his heroic act after he had been struck by lightning.

The phrase after being struck by lightning is a SPAR (a Subjectless Predicative Adjunct Requiring a referent for the missing subject), and virtually everyone reading the phrase in the context above will take the required referent to be the referent of the subject in the main clause (a nine-year-old boy), rather than the referent of an NP closer to the SPAR: his mother’s life, an unlikely candidate, since that referent isn’t even a concrete object that could be struck by lightning; or, better, his mother, surely the NP the writer of (X) had in mind as supplying the required referent.

If the writer had absorbed the lessons of their school grammar, they would in fact have expected that the boy’s mother would be supplied as the required referent — because that school grammar tells you, very firmly, that a SPAR will (indeed must) pick up its referent from the NP nearest to it (the Nearest Rule). (That’s not the way school grammars, and books of usage advice, talk about these things — they speak of nouns and dangling modifiers — but here I’ve cleaned up the deep conceptual confusions in the traditional way of talking about these things.) Unfortunately, the empirically more adequate general principle isn’t a Nearest Rule, but a Subject Rule (and even that’s just a default, not an inviolable law of grammar).

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Adjunct or argument?

March 2, 2017

The most recent One Big Happy:

Joe’s version of Job 3:1 is the one I recall:

Job cursed the day he was born.

and it suffers from an ambiguity, between the day he was born as an argument (the direct object of cursed) and as an adjunct, or modifier (a time adverbial, in fact a bare NP adverbial, an alternative to the PP adverbial on the day he was born). The intended reading of Job 3:1 is the argument reading, but Joe got the adjunct reading.

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Language Sunday in the comics

December 12, 2016

Four in my comics feed Sunday morning: a One Big Happy with the derived adjective quotatious; a Zippy on pangrams; a Mother Goose and Grimm with an ambiguity in marine biologist; and a Doonesbury nominally about pronoun choices, but about much more.

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Something I missed on NCOD

November 12, 2016

National Coming Out Day was largely a day of personal remembrance for me this year — see my posting here — so I missed a bit of significant lgbt news, with a local twist even. It came to me circuitously, via the (closed) Facebook group Our Bastard Language, in a posting by Lauren Hall, originally on October 11th (NCOD itself), where Lauren reported the Think Different poster she’d seen on Market St. in San Francisco that day. One shot among many available (this one just a bit off Market, but in a famous spot):

(#1)

A variant of Apple’s Think Different ad campaign of some years back, with a silhouette of Squire GrabPussy (as the President-Elect was then) instead of a semicircular bite out of the apple, and with the bands of the Pride Flag instead of Apple’s rainbow colors:

(#2)

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Going for High Attachment

July 30, 2015

Passed on by Steven Levine on Facebook on 7/23, this headline for a story that day by Quinn Foley:

Children’s Choir Surprised Their Teacher With Cancer

The intended reading was that their teacher with cancer should be parsed as a constituent, a NP understood as ‘their teacher who has cancer’ — that’s Low Attachment (LA) for the modifier with cancer, and LA is the default parsing for such modifiers (see other postings in the “Attachment” Page on this blog). Despite that, it’s very hard not to understand the modifier as having High Attachment (HA), modifying surprised their teacher, a reading that’s both ludicrous and distressing.

For the moment, I’m just puzzled by this fact.

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The hunted 95 per cent?

June 4, 2015

Let’s start with:

(1) Hunted for its horns, 95 percent of the population disappeared

This looks like a classic “dangling modifier”. We have a SPAR hunted for its horns (a Subjectless Predicative Adjunct Requiring a referent for the missing subject), but the adjunct doesn’t obey the Subject Rule (doesn’t pick up its referent from the subject of the main clause: (1) doesn’t in fact tell us that 95 percent of the population was hunted for its horns). (On the concepts and terminology, see the material in the Page on “Dangler postings”, especially the “as a SPAR” posting.)

But even without context, (1) is easily understood: 95 percent of the population is a metonymic stand-in for a population of X, and it’s X that was hunted for its horns. But that takes some interpretive work. However, when more discourse context is provided, this work is no longer needed, and I’d expect that readers wouldn’t even notice that (1) is technically a dangling modifier.

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Today’s dangler

May 16, 2015

Heard in a tv commercial for life insurance:

There’s no medical exam required. And by answering a few simple questions, your coverage can start immediately.

The boldfaced material has a classic “dangling modifier”, a non-default SPAR: by answering a few questions is a subjectless predicational adjunct to the main clause, and its interpretation requires that a referent be found for the missing subject, but that referent is not the default one, the referent of the subject (your coverage) in the main clause; instead it’s the referent of the possessive determiner (your) within this subject. Despite this, the sentence is easily understood (as something like ‘if/when you answer a few simple questions, your coverage will start immediately’); it may count as a “dangler”, but it’s harmless.

In my collection of many hundreds of danglers, there are only a few like this one (with a coding that begins SUB(by)-PRP), but there is a set of somewhat similar cases that I’ve looked at under the heading of “by-Topicalization”.

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