Archive for Pragmatics

Uh

An interesting example of meaningful uh:

The effect seems different from um, in a subtle way.

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Alien Encounter at Penn

Last week, I posted a few notes about how the alienness of aliens might make it hard to learn to communicate with them ("Alien Encounters", 9/15/2016). To start with, even the basic modes of signal generation and interpretation would probably not fit our biology very well. And the interpretation of signals — biological as well as cultural — might also be outside the range that we expect from experience with our fellow humans.

Some people, including my colleague and friend Victor Mair, nevertheless proposed methods based on those that have been found to work in human contexts. So to clarify the issues I was trying to raise, here's a little Alien Encounter Sketch.

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Hillary's "sigh"

Eric Garland of The Hill shares a video of Hillary Clinton at a June 22 campaign appearance in North Carolina, and it provides ammunition those who would like to portray her as a soulless automaton vainly trying to seem like an authentic human being.

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The NYT catches up…

Or maybe David Crystal does — as reported in Dan Bilefsky, "Period. Full Stop. Point. Whatever It’s Called, It’s Going Out of Style", NYT 6/9/2016. Better late than never, in any case.

For some background, see

"The new semiotics of punctuation", 11/7/2012
"Aggressive periods and the popularity of linguistics", 11/26/2013
"Generational punctuation differences again", 8/1/2014
"Query: Punctuation in personal digital media", 2/23/2015

And even: Jessica Bennett, "When your punctuation says it all (!)", NYT 2/27/2015

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Sentence meaning and speaker meaning

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Tell the truth!

It was a linguistic maneuver that had possibly never been tried before in the history of real estate: tell the straight truth about the property, no varnishing, no slathering with adjectives like "stunning". Just tell it like it is. One brave firm of real estate agents, Scott & Stapleton in England, tried it as a way of getting rid of a run-down apartment in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. The manager, Rob Kahl, wrote the copy:

Not for the faint hearted this first floor flat is being sold as seen, rubbish and all!

Having recently just had to evict some charming (not) tenants the vendors of this property have had enough and can't even face setting foot in what used to be their sweet and charming home.

I can't flower this one up or use my normal estate agent jargon to make this sound any better.

The property is full of rubbish, there is mould on the walls and I think there may even be some fleas there to keep me company when I carry out the viewings.

To conclude, the advertisement advised those viewing the property to "wipe your feet on the way out".

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"Are you Henry David Thoreau?"

A few minutes ago, an earnest-looking stranger came up to me on the sidewalk and asked "Are you Henry David Thoreau?" I shook my head and kept walking. And I'm pretty sure that was the right choice. But to satisfy my idle curiosity, can anyone tell me what he was selling?

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"If you're just joining me, …"

On Facebook, Mike Pope asks:

On "Fresh Air," Terri Gross says:

"If you're just joining me, my guest today is …".

What she DOESN'T mean is:

"… but if you're NOT just joining me, my guest is …"

Linguists: who can help us understand how "if" here is not a simplistic conditional? Any links welcome. Thx.

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In the European Union or out?

Over the past week there has been a change in the officially ordained wording of the referendum question about European Union membership that will be put before the people of the United Kingdom some time over the coming two years. On the face of it, the change seems trivial or even pointless, because it does not allow for any new decision to be made by the voters. They will vote either to continue the UK's membership in the EU or to discontinue it. But the change provides a very clear and useful example showing the real-life importance of a linguistic distinction.

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American politics: The pending expletive shortage

Charles Pierce, "Hillary Clinton Has Run Out of F*cks to Give", Esquire 8/28/2015:

My goodness, the special snowflakes of the elite political media are all a'quiver because Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is running for president of the United States, has decided to talk like somebody who wants to be president of the United States, which is to say, she's started to talk like someone whose big bag of fcks to give is running very, very low.

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Adventures in ellipsis

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Fan-fold ticket stock nerdview

We have not discussed any examples of nerdview on Language Log for a while. But Bob Ladd told me of one the other day. He was at the Edinburgh Airport dropping someone off, and pulled up next to the ticket dispensing machine for the short-stay car park. He pushed the button, but no ticket appeared. Instead, the display screen of the machine showed a message: "OUT OF FAN-FOLD TICKETS".

Not having encountered the term "fan-fold" (I guess he never owned a tractor-feed printer in the 1980s), he was momentarily flummoxed. What the hell was a fan-fold ticket, and what was he supposed to do, given that there apparently weren't any, and he had to take one to make the white bar lift up so he could go in?

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Gender is the least of it

A.C. sends in this opening sentence from a story in his local (NZ) paper:

The former lover of a murdered British jeweler was in his bed when he and his new girlfriend arrived at his villa on the Costa del Sol.

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