In the running for attachment ambiguity of the week is a photo caption from Simon Johnson and Ben Hirschler, "Beating Parasites wins three scientists Nobel Prize for medicine", Reuters 10/5/2015:
Henry Thompson wonders (by email) whether something is changing in English syntax:
This from a 30ish native speaker of American English, with a PhD, definitely literate.
"I had a quick glance at sections of the [xxx], and it does have
some good tips, so I'd encourage you to look over it:"
The issue is whether a verb-associated intransitive preposition goes before or after a direct object. The standard view is that either order is possible with full noun-phrase objects, while unstressed pronominal objects can only precede the preposition:
Kim pointed out the mistake.
Kim pointed the mistake out.
*Kim pointed out it.
Kim pointed it out.
Henry has noticed (he thinks) an increasing number of violations of this pattern:
I first noticed this is spoken English, e.g. ripped off them, fucked over me, picked up it, in the 1970s, and I feel like it's been steadily occurring in my hearing since then.
In the 10/4/15 issue of the Chicago Tribune, Eric Zorn has a sympathetic look at Chinglish: "Cultural sensitivity lost — and found — in translation". He offers the following sign at a museum near Datong as a prime specimen:
On June 9, 2012, Clement Larrive wrote:
I stumbled upon this sign while on a trip from Wuhan, Hubei to Shanghai.
Do you have any idea about what it really means ?
Initially baffled by this BBC headline. Thought "ship" was a noun and "rolls" a verb. pic.twitter.com/otnLWElvui
— Ralph Harrington (@ralphharrington) October 3, 2015
[h/t Ian Preston]
Dmitriy Genzel sent in this photograph of an item on a Chinese menu:
Several people sent me links to this headline. One submitter wrote "I’ve enjoyed many ambiguous headlines in my few years of following Language Log. Today I ran across this one, which I read entirely wrong at first (how does a baby track down a nurse?):"
"Woman burned as a baby tracks down nurse who cared for her", Chicago Tribune 9/30/2015.
Anyone who has studied more than a year of Japanese will have a sense of the elaborate system of honorifics employed in the language. But there's a very high level of honorific speech that not even advanced students are required to learn, viz., the language used exclusively by the imperial family.
Last month, there was an article in The Daily Beast about MacArthur's translator, George Kisaki, a nisei (second generation Japanese):
Jim Breen snapped this photograph in the departure lounge at Guangzhou airport:
Nathan Hopson sent in this photograph of a trash can / rubbish bin in Nagoya, Japan:
Upcoming editions of the Festival of Bad ad Hoc Hypotheses will take place in San Francisco, Seattle, and London. If you're not sure what these are like, here's a winning entry from BahFest West 2014:
From Cecilia Segawa Seigle (9/18/15):
Yesterday morning's Asahi Shinbun reports that some Japanese words (or argot in certain cases) seem to be changing (reversing) meanings.
For example "yabai" (やばい), originally an argot used by criminals (thieves) meaning "not good" or "not propitious," seems to have changed its meaning among teenagers. 90% of the teens use the word "yabai" to express "wonderful," "good," "delicious," "smart-looking." Only 5% of the people above 70 years of age used "yabai" for positive meaning; in other words the older people still use the word for negative situations.
For the word "Omomuroni" (おもむろに), an adverb meaning "unhurriedly," "slowly," 44.5% answered with the traditional meaning "slowly." 40.8% answered that "omomuroni" meant "suddenly."
This is only a small part of the phenomena revealing the breakdown of the Japanese language according to the recent survey made by Bunkacho (文化庁), Japanese government's Agency for Cultural Affairs.
Paul Kay wrote to point to a sexist joke that inverts a scalar predicate, in a way that's similar to what happens in the "No head injury is too trivial to be ignored" / "No wug is too dax to be zonged" type of misnegation:
The speed in which a woman says "nothing" when asked "What's wrong?" is inversely proportional to the severity of the shit storm that's coming.