Archive for the 'Constructing' Category


S as well as S

Am I totally behind the curve on accepting S as well as S (and V(P) as well as V(P))?

I don’t know mixins because I don’t like mixins (as well as I don’t really like templates).

Mersin State Opera and Ballet hired me to design a ballet “The Harem” in 1998, as well as I had a wonderful chance to design a ballet “Antonius and Cleopatra” in Istanbul state Opera and Ballet in 1989, invited here by a Primabalerina and a State Artist Merih Sumen

Anyone who loves to cook as well as eat will love these great recipes that I consider my favorites

I hear it from time to time, and wonder if people have a different entry for as well as than what I have. Or, are such coordinations due to a replanning of the sentence, after you’ve already committed to as well as, that makes verby coordination sound better?

As you turn it off

A few days after I got done saying that as used in the “speech act” sense was nearly impossible, though not uncommon in play-by-play commentary, I encountered an example.

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As you leave, I was wondering

Play-by-play sports commentators are, I believe, sometimes noted for their novel uses of language. Now, the only sports I watch on TV is baseball, but there are some interesting things to say about the langauge of even the most mundane of sportscasters. Take, for instance, predicate inversion, which I have the impression is used more often in play-by-play discourse than elsewhere (don’t know about baseball vs other sports, though).

Coming in safe at second is Giambi

Out at third is Ichiro

In from center field to catch the ball is Davis

One particular construction that I’ve noticed, which I previously thought was impossible, is using temporal as on the speech act level. Like this:

When you’re a catcher it’s important to make sure you’re always on the same page as the rest of the infield, as Ichiro takes Hudson the other way for a base hit.

What the as is doing is not saying that “it’s important to…” and “Ichiro takes Hudson the other way…” are happening at the same time. Rather, the base hit is happening as the commentator is saying “it’s important to…” This happens all the time with other temporal subordinators like before and while:

Before you leave, when are you coming back next?

While you’re here, I was wondering if you could help me out.

What happens “before you leave” is that I’m going to ask you a question (namely, when are you coming back). Similarly for “while you’re here”: it’s (crucially) during the time that you’re here that I’m making (or able to make) a request.

But I always though that as didn’t have this sort of use. It sounded (and still sounds) ridiculous to say, As you get ready to leave, when should I meet you tomorrow?. But I thought about it some more, and maybe as you get ready, I have a question for you isn’t that bad. Then, taking a cue from the sports-as, I put it at the end, sort of as an afterthought: I still have one question for you, (uh), as you get ready to head out. Not bad. But that’s getting uncomfortably close to a strict temporal use: my having a question and you getting ready are taking place at the same time. Saying “I have a question” isn’t the same as “let me ask you a question,” and certainly not the same as “when should we meet up?” So there’s still some strange limitations on as. Except in spontaneous play-by-play talk, where it seems be a sort of way to transition between commentary and reporting the action: you can never plan very far in advance to use as in this way.

(There is of course a “causal” use of as, which allows “speech-act” modification as you’re staying another week, would you like to use our guest bedroom instead of the sofa? But you can do that with because and (causal) since, so it’s not that surprising to me.)

I hereby request that you be direct

At a dinner I was at recently, one participant remarked that a roommate would continually make requests indirectly, e.g. “Do you think you’ll do the dishes?” “I wonder if we should do some cleaning this weekend.” [language changed to protect the innocent]. She expressed some frustration with that sort of talk, wishing that the roommate would “be direct” and just say

Can you please do the dishes?

In case anyone was wondering if, maybe, somehow, can you X was still only indirectly a request.

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A thoroughly-precedented 38 comments

It’s interesting what sort of posts get commented on at LL. One of the more popular posts of late (and one which continues to get comments an amazingly long 2 days after the initial post is the one mentioned last time, on what may or may not end up being called “funky a” as in, say the title of this post, or earlier in this sentence.

I think the study of the sentences involved illustrates the importance of considering syntactic and semantic features of a construction separately. There are several facts involved, like the strangeness of a plural nominal with a singular determiner, and the fact that adding a non-determinative number expression to nouns then requires the addition of an adjective, and potentially following that a particular determiner. On the meaning side there’s the fact that the adjective seems to modify the amount of the item, not just the amount or just the item on its own. Depending on your view of syntactic and semantic dependences (either syn-syn, sem-sem, or syn-sem relations), each of these facts might lead you to a particular analysis (maybe semantic dependency is always parallel to syntactic dependency, or syntactic selection is always local, etc).

Here’s another addition to the facts. As threatened last time, I did a search of the BNC for “a/an [adjective] [number] [noun]” (with some allowing for non-adjacency, say if the adjective takes local complements or has adverbial modification). Here’s what I found regarding possible adjectives (each list in order of decreasing frequency of participation in the pattern; I stopped looking after the frequency dropped below 7 or so, but scanning the list, it doesn’t look like there are huge categories that I’ve missed):

Mere/Massive-class: mere, good, full, massive, steady, level, small, whole, standard, paltry, meagre, healthy, normal, large, bare, generous, low, scant, nominal

Additional-class: additional, extra, initial, final, closing, further

History/estimation/-ed: estimated, unbeaten, typical, standard, normal, unprecedented, likely, recent, reported, proposed?

Modification of the head: clear, quick, free, bad, difficult, nice, busy, winning, long, hectic, gruelling

Color commentary: staggering, comfortable, astonishing, incredible, modest, remarkable, amazing, superb, fine, typical, respectible, excellent, splendid, disappointing, sensational, magnificent, solid, outstanding, whopping

Total-class?: possible, potential, maximum, minimum, overall, total, net

I’m not wedded (wed?) to the categories, but it seems like each one is slightly different. I’d guess that some might be merged. The “modification of the head” category has basically all units of time or distance as the head noun (a bad few years, a hectic five laps), and as such, I think the adjective is applicable to each unit of time/distance as well as the whole amount: so in a grueling five years, not only are the years grueling as a whole, but also as individual years. This is not the case for the other classes, except maybe the Additional class (in an additional three points each point is also additional)

An adjective quantified-noun

Back on the best holiday of the year, Mark Liberman wrote on LL about some strange claims about the constituency and plurality of a million dollars. In a comment, I noted some perhaps genuinely-strange uses of “a,” leading to this follow-up. Having had the fear of Zwicky etched into my brain, I thought I would avoid a too-long comment and just talk about it here.

First, the sentences:

He was there for a good seven years.

An additional three people are required.

A mere four nations recognize that standard.

She collected an amazing and heretofore unprecedented forty million dollars.

What we have is “a” and then some adjective phrase, and then a quantified nominal. There are some interesting questions to be asked: first, what is the range of adjectives? It seems sort of limited: a grueling 100 miles, but ?an asphalt-paved 100 miles. All the examples given so far involve some sort of “evaluation” (shock, amazement, disappointment, unprecedentedness, etc.). Maybe someone nice will do a corpus study and report the findings (and of no one does it soon, I might just have to).

Next question: does the whole thing act as a singular or plural phrase, for the purposes of subject-verb agreement? The comments seem to show that, depending on the “context” (how the NP is construed semantically, let’s say – either as a divisible group of individuals or as a lump), you might get singular or plural agreement.

A good 100 people have/*has arrived.

A mere four nations recognize/*recognizes that standard.

A mere four nations is/are not enough

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Yeah-no and no-yeah again

I was surprised and very happy about the sudden interest on LL in “yeah no” (initial post and the aftermath)since I’ve also been paying attention to the little guy in some recent research (following up, in a sense, from two earlier posts of mine here and here. I won’t reveal too much now (have to keep you in suspense!) but there’s one use of it which is really cool, and which is illustrated by LL’s own Geoff Nunberg on NPR.

Get yourself an archived recording of Talk of the Nation on June 2nd, 2004. It’s a discussion between Neal Conan and Geoff Nunberg on his then-new book Going Nucular. At about 10m30s into the session, they’re taking calls, and you’ll hear this:

JIM: Well, three categories here. I’ll do them real quickly. First I guess I’ll call it the category of the cachet of erudition. ((dozens of seconds omitted; some talk of the word robust included near the beginning))

CONAN: Any thoughts on those, Geoffrey?

Mr. NUNBERG: Yeah. No. I think ‘robust,’ for example, is an instance of one of those vogue words that for one reason or another is just picked up and people like the sound of it. You’re right. I don’t know if it’s erudition but there’s a kind of pleasure in saying a word like that and everybody plugs into it.

This sort of thing happens not infrequently on NPR (and other radio talk shows, I presume). It might even be getting to the point where “yeah no” (and sometimes just “no”) is almost just a question-uptake marker more than anything else. Listen for it. Other good places to listen for it: asymmetric social contexts, especially where one person constantly feels the need to maintain a non-disagreement or positive-alignment stance with other people there, either just in order to be nice (think job interviews) or to prevent themselves from being misunderstood (think any academic context).

It’s too bad that neither Burridge and Florey, nor Moore’s thesis from what I saw, take up the task of comparing “yeah-no” and “no-yeah” to the use and distribution of yeah and no individually. Maybe I’m just too much of a lexical semanticist. But, if they had, they might have found what I did in going through a bunch of LDC mixer corpora (as well as some more natural conversations): namely, that in most but not all cases there’s not a whole lot special about the combination in and of itself. It doesn’t seem to fulfil any core function that either “yeah” or “no” aren’t observed to do on their own (assuming you assign some combination of propositional and discursive meaning to each yeah and no when they do appear on their own, and also when they appear in combination). There may be cases where it is appropriate or even ideal to use both, as many of Mark’s readers pointed out (like in responses to negative or leading questions), but the resulting “meaning” is not really anything beyond what you might expect by putting the two together. I think that’s the case with most of the examples in the two LL posts. However, Australia could be a completely different story. In particular, if you have access to the Burridge and Florey article, check out the “athletic” use, which to my ears is actually rather strange.

Finally, it may interest my more sociologically- or CA-minded readers (all none of them?) that this sequence of words was analyzed by Schegloff in a 1992 paper, “Repair After Next Turn: The Last Structurally Provided Defense of Intersubjectivity in Conversation”, Am. J of Soc. He also looked at just “no” in “Getting Serious: Joke->Serious ‘No'” (2001, J of Prag.), but this “no” can also be combined with “yeah” resulting in a very similar effect. This is the use that I don’t think any of the LL-responders has mentioned, where you say something joking as a sort of ice-breaker, and then “(yeah) no I just wanted to ask you about….” This is as opposed to Mark’s (right-on, by the way) characterization of the “no” as indicating “divergence from (perhaps shared) presuppositions or expectations” — note the similarity to “intersubjectivity” in Schegloff’s title.

We don’t need no gestures

The other day in the class I’m TAing, the professor said, “by the end of the semester, there are ten questions that you should be able to answer like that.” That got me thinking, what is up with the phrase “like that” and its meaning, namely ‘with ease’. For one thing, it’s really hard to represent in writing. You could use typographic emphasis: he can do it like that. Or you could add a word to make it clearer: she finished it just like that. Or, you could notice that it’s sometimes (often?) accompanied by a snap of the fingers, so could have: “You should be able to answer it like that,” he said with a quick snap of the fingers.

And on that note: it seems likely to me that what we have here is a phrase that was at some point rather dependent on a concurrent snap (either timed with that, or perhaps, for dramatic effect, just before that) to make any sense, but over time the association became conventional enough that the gesture was no longer needed. And in fact you could say like that along with any appropriate gesture that indicates speed, ease, or some similar idea. It’d be interesting to see if, in the absence of any gesture, it is regularly or obligatorily replaced by some prosodic cue.

Then I checked the OED entry for like, and lo and behold, there was a meaning! But it wasn’t what I was expecting:

[…] of the nature, character, or habit indicated; spec. (usu. accompanying the crossing of the speaker’s fingers) as an indication that two people described are very friendly or intimate

The first written attestation for this use is from The Great Gatsby. For me, if I want to express that meaning, I’d have to use the finger-crossing gesture – no amount of facial or intonational gymnastics seems to get it quite right. Which is interesting, since my first associations with that particular gesture are the “hope” and “nyah nyah I can break my promise” meanings.

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