Graduate, promote, advance

Several months ago there was a sign outside a middle school near where I live which read,

Congratulations to the promoting class of 2009!

I was familiar with the use of promote as something a school does to a student advancing to the next grade, and the particular significance of being promoted from middle to high school. But the syntactic contexts for this were school promotes student or promotion of student, etc., roughly transitive uses. This contrasted in my usage with graduate, where a student may graduate or a school may graduate a student. So, for me, graduating class was perfectly normal, while promoting class was out. But it seems to be not all that rare, and after all, why not? If it’s to be used pretty much parallel to graduate, why not let it take syntactic positions more like the latter?

But still, would you expect to find it as a main rather than in the -ing form? From here:

6th grade students who have promoted in 2008 will attend a middle school campus and 8th grade students who have promoted will be assigned to a high school site.

So far I’ve found only one such thing.

Then, there’s also advance. Students and classes advance to the next grade, and there are advancement ceremonies. But would anyone congratulate the advancing class of 2009?

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?

Most of them always men

Okay, this I just had to share. It’s on the boundary, I’d say, between mess-up and something a competence-grammarian should account for (I’m currently waiting for Mark Liberman to get back of my latest comment on that topic).

And like you, I have significant difficulties with women. Most of my friends are and always have been men. (link

I really want to know how most people (whose brains haven’t been fried on syntax and semantics) react to this sort of sentence.

Southside experiences

As promised, I asked two sections’ worth of undergraduate students (about 40) about “the Southside of campus.” What I decided to do was present the sentence to them in its original context — that is, I gave them a copy of the article. I asked them to read the first couple sentences and report anything they found grammatically unusual or even straight-up wrong. Now, it is a newspaper article so there are already all sorts of things you don’t see in other written genres. But in any case, there were a few people who had identified the Southside bit as a little strange, though not necessarily why.

Then, I wrote the phrase up on the chalkboard and immediately many more people saw the strangeness that I had. And when we got into a discussion of the phonology and syntax of compounds, I think everyone became convinced that there was some shoddy writing or editing going on.

I would say that there are many many syntactic or semantic phenomena that are of this nature: presented in isolation, what is interesting about them is immediately apparent, but presented in a natural context, even with instructions to seek out anomalies, they may as well be invisible. I guess part of the job of (a certain stripe) of syntactician is to be hypersensitive about such things; and part of the job of an instructor of syntax is to teach by example.

Whose side are you on

There’s recently been a string of sexual assaults in the area directly to the south of the UC Berkeley campus, known around town as southside. In the student newspaper, the Daily Californian, an article on the topic began:

Students and police are intensifying their efforts to curb what officials are calling an unusual string of sexual assaults being reported on the Southside of campus.

You know what they say about descriptivists (scratch ‘em and you find a prescriptivist), and I have to say I do not like the Southside of campus. With Southside as a single (compound) word, complete with compound stress (on the first element), it functions as a proper name, and does not have the complementation pattern that side, the head of the compound, originally had. Maybe reasonable people could disagree with me on this.

At the same time, I noticed that the proper preposition of southside (and northside) is on. One lives and eats on southside, not in or at southside. Why should that be? Other districts of Berkeley properly take an in: Elmwood, Claremont, etc. Well, maybe it’s the fact that side collocates with on. A little cute, perhaps, but I don’t really have a better story.

My plan is to present the original sentence to a bunch of undergrads tomorrow to see if they have the same reaction I have. If it ends up interesting, there’ll be a report of it.

When Altavista?

We all know Google can be the syntactician’s (or semanticist, or pragmaticist) best friend when it comes to carrying out powerful searches of various constructions and verifying or complicating theories and predictions about grammaticality. But there is one situation when I absolutely cannot use Google, and instead prefer Altavista.

That situation comes with search strings containing multiple wild card slots: that is, more than one *. On numerous occasions, I’ve found that having multiple of these guys in a Google search results in basically useless results — or results so polluted with non-hits that it’s tedious to find the good ones. To give one (slightly contrived) example, to prepare for a presentation on funky-a constructions recently, me and my colleagues wanted to get some examples from the internet.

Let’s say we were interested in what could fill the [brackted] slots of

an [adj] one thousand [noun] came

If you try this with Google, you get some good results, but also some…well, not so useful stuff:

an [annual income of] one thousand [gulden; and from Holland there] came

an [order for] one thousand [shekels. Bezalel] came

And so on. That is, perhaps acceptably, the * stands for strings longer than one word. Still annoying sometimes.

In other cases, you get something far less acceptable, both for a syntactician and (I dare say) for any searcher using multiple *s: that is, two words without a * between them become separated. At the moment the best I can do to replicate that result is to search for “tired people * and * with.” You’ll find “tired of people…” Perhaps this issue has been mostly dealt with. (or maybe this is useful for someone?)

In any case, where Google does unexpected things, I turn to Altavista. A * is one word, and I have yet to find an exception.

Younger than your parents

This week’s issue of the Journal of Neuroscience contains a really cool article titled “Transgenerational Rescue of a Genetic Defect in Long-Term Potentiation and Memory Formation by Juvenile Enrichment.” Clear enough? From the abstract:

Here, we demonstrate that exposure of 15-d-old mice to 2 weeks of an enriched environment (EE), that includes exposure to novel objects, elevated social interactions and voluntary exercise, enhances long-term potentiation (LTP) not only in these enriched mice but also in their future offspring through early adolescence, even if the offspring never experience EE.

The effect lasts about three months in the mice exposed to the EE, but wanes much earlier in their offspring (and is not found in the next generation). At one point the authors note that

[T]he phenotype ends at an younger age in the offspring of enriched mice than in their parents

Then comes the fun part. A few sentences later, they say this:

Defining why the effect ends when the offspring are younger than their parents will require further experimentation

Totally sweet example of the omission of everything in the comparative clause except for the contrastive bit. Actually, it took me a couple reads to make sure of what they were saying, despite the same information having been just presented.

Processing the sentence was made more difficult (in my case) by the fact that the first time through I read “younger” as “older,” yielding a truly incomprehensible proposition (which, it should be noted, is still as grammatical as the actual sentence, just with a different meaning).

So…ever wonder if you’ve done something when you were younger than your parents? Or older than them?

I felt pain but not dizzy

Yesterday I was at a climbing gym working out on a treadmill (climbing isn’t my thing, generally), and noticed something interesting about the medical warning printed on it. It read (roughly):

If you feel pain, faint, or dizzy, stop exercising immediately.

Though I’d read that warning dozens of times on many occasions, this time it garden-pathed me. The structure is [if you [feel N, A, or A]], which involves coordination of a noun with two adjectives (or their phrasal projections). But thanks to the lexical ambiguity of faint, I parsed it as [if you [feel pain], [faint], or], at which point I was expecting another (finite) verb phrase, but instead got dizzy instead.

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