Archive for Pragmatics

Colorless green vaccine-laced M&Ms

Commenting on the (7/12/2016) headline "US government plans to use drones to fire vaccine-laced M&Ms near endangered ferrets", Joyeuse Noëlle on Tumblr noted that

The best part of this title is that in the second half, each new word is completely unpredictable based on what comes before it.

“US government plans to use drones to fire” okay, I see where this is going

“vaccine-laced” wait

“M&Ms” what

“near” not ‘at’?

“endangered” what

“ferrets” what

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Slurs inside idioms are still slurs

Below is a guest post by Josef Fruehwald:


Earlier this week (August 29, 2018, for readers in the future), Ron DeSantis, the Republican candidate for the governor of Florida, said of the victorious candidate of the Democratic Party, Andrew Gillum, that voters shouldn’t “monkey this up” and elect the left leaning Gillum. This has caused some controversy, since Gillum is a black man while DeSantis is white, and the discursive association of Black people with non-human primates is a longstanding racist trope.

A prominent linguist (anonymized here just in case he wouldn’t like his politics publicized like this) expressed a conflicted feelings between his political joy that DeSantis has gotten into hot water, and his knowledge of the non-denotative properties of idioms. That is, “kicking the bucket” and “buying the farm” refer to dying, not to buckets nor farms. Some of the conversation that ensued was about the nuances of idioms, and how prosodically prominent the world “monkey” was in context. This is, in fact, reminiscent of a controversy from last summer surrounding a British MP who used an idiom to refer to “an overlooked problem” that includes an explosive racial epithet that I won’t retype here, for reasons to be clarified below.

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mmhmm etc.

Kumari Devarajan, "Ready For A Linguistic Controversy? Say 'Mmhmm'", NPR 8/17/20018:

Once upon a time, English speakers didn't say "mmhmm." But Africans did, according to Robert Thompson, an art history professor at Yale University who studies Africa's influence on the Americas.

In a 2008 documentary, Thompson said the word spread from enslaved Africans into Southern black vernacular and from there into Southern white vernacular. He says white Americans used to say "yay" and "yes." […]

Ugo Nwojeki, a professor of African-American studies at the University of California, Berkeley, says he "always assumed" that the word was African. Lev Michael, a linguist at the same school, says that "doesn't seem very plausible." Roslyn Burns, a linguist at UCLA, says "it's hard to say."

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All the thyme in the world

A small recent experience with herb-related synchronicity reminded me of some very interesting phonetics research.

This all began a couple of weeks ago, when Larry Hyman and I were discussing what seasonings to use on meat to be grilled for dinner. I suggested thyme, and Larry reminded me of Suzanne Gahl's 2008 paper "Time and Thyme Are not Homophones: The Effect of Lemma Frequency on Word Durations in Spontaneous Speech":

Frequent words tend to shorten. But do homophone pairs, such as time and thyme, shorten equally if one member of the pair is frequent? This study reports an analysis of roughly 90,000 tokens of homophones in the Switchboard corpus of American English telephone conversations, in which it was found that high-frequency words like time are significantly shorter than their low-frequency homophones like thyme. The effect of lemma frequency persisted when local speaking rate, predictability from neighboring words, position relative to pauses, syntactic category, and orthographic regularity were brought under statistical control. These findings have theoretical implications for the locus of frequency information in linguistic competence and in models of language production, and for the role of articulatory routinization in shortening.

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"Misunderstand that …", "pessimistic that …"

In late June Lila Gleitman noticed a case of "A is pessimistic that S" meaning that A considers it likely that S will happen/turn out to be the case, and A considers S to be an unwanted outcome. Her example was "I am more pessimistic than I was two weeks ago about the trade war spinning out of control."

We agreed that we would both find it impossible to say "I’m pessimistic that the trade war will spin out of control", but differed on "pessimistic about": in my dialect, but not Lila’s, "A is pessimistic about a Republican victory in the fall" is OK, meaning that A fears that the outcome will be the one she doesn’t want — that there will be or that there won’t be, depending on her point of view.

Lila, by the way, said she could use “pessimistic that” in the case of losing hope in a good outcome: “I am more  pessimistic than I was two weeks ago that the prices of stocks will rise.” But I don't think I could use "pessimistic that" there either. (So the original speaker and Lila and I seem to have three different patterns of judgments about "pessimistic that".)

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Miss

In Sunday's post "Ask Language Log: Prosodic hyphens and italics", I noted  that one of the features that Grant Allen's 1899 novel identifies as typically American — or at least typical of the one American who is caricatured in chapter 3 — is the socially inappropriate use of "miss" as a term of address:

'Good morning, miss,' he began–he called me 'Miss' every time he addressed me, as though he took me for a barmaid.

At first I found this as weird as the observation about the same American individual that "Like all his countrymen, he laid most stress on unaccented syllables."

But a little research and introspection have supported some aspects of Grant Allen's sociolinguistic intuitions, while leaving some other questions open.

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Capitalization

Alan Levinovitz, "Trump’s bizarre understanding of Capitalization is surprisingly Strategic", Washington Post 5/23/2018:

On Monday, President Trump let loose a string of triumphant tweets about China that featured one of his strangest linguistic quirks:

“On China, Barriers and Tariffs to come down for first time.”

“China must continue to be strong & tight on the Border of North Korea until a deal is made.”

“Under our potential deal with China they will purchase from our Great American Farmers practically as much as our Farmers can produce.”

Rule-bound English speakers only capitalize titles, proper nouns, and a few other exceptional words. But for Trump, Farmers, Barriers and Borders are standard fare. In fact, when it comes to abusing letter case, the China tweets look positively restrained compared to this classic from April: “Despite the Democrat inspired laws on Sanctuary Cities and the Border being so bad and one sided, I have instructed the Secretary of Homeland Security not to let these large Caravans of people into our Country. It is a disgrace. We are the only Country in the World so naive! WALL”

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The pragmatics of ESP

As I was browsing some search results in Google Scholar, I came across a listing for a paper titled, "Communication and Community: The Pragmatics of ESP."

After reading the title, I asked myself, If you have ESP, why would you need pragmatics?

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Annals of unintended judicial irony

From Grice v. City of St. Robert (Mo. Ct. Ap. 1992) (citations omitted):

This court should not create an exception where none is present. Where a statute has no exception courts should not engraft one by judicial legislation. Words used in the statute must be accorded their plain and ordinary meaning. When language is plain and admits to but one meaning, there is no room for construction.

On Paul Grice:

A quick summary at/by The Information Philosopher

Dictionary of Philosophy of Mind

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Toward a recursive meta-pragmatics of Twitterspheric intertextuality

A few days ago, I posted a post consisting of…

a screenshot of a tweet (by me) consisting of…

a screenshot of a Language Log post (by me) consisting of…

a screenshot of a tweet (by me) consisting of…

a screenshot of a tweet by Lynne Murphy, a linguistics professor, quote-tweeting* an earlier tweet by Benjamin Dreyer, who is (although I didn’t know it at the time) a vice president, Executive Managing Editor, and Copy Chief at Random House.
* retweeting and adding a comment

A screenshot of the post is provided below the fold—but I hasten to add that I am providing the screenshot solely as a convenience to the reader, to save them the trouble of having to leave this post in order to look at that one, should they be so inclined.

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Modality is a bitch (updated)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

H/t (via retweet) Hugo Mercier.

UPDATE:

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Incrimination by presupposition? The Goldstone e-mail

Paul Kay offered the following item for discussion around the water cooler at Language Log central:

Here's an excerpt from the initial email from Rob Goldstone to Donald Trump, Jr.:

​"This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its  government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin."​

Is it worth noting the use of the possessive determiner​? I guess it's generally accepted that possessive determiners involve  some kind of existence presupposition, though I'm aware that there's a lot more to that subject than I know. In the current instance, the presupposition would be that there is in fact Russian government support for Trump. …

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What a woman can't do with their body

Mark Meckes noticed a tweet about an interview with Emma Watson, who was being discussed in this Language Log post, and mentioned it in a comment thereto. It was completely off topic (and thus violated the Language Log comments policy), but I felt it was too interesting to be left languishing down there in a comment on a post about preposition doubling, so I'm repeating it here, where it can have its own post:

If you think @EmmaWatson is a hypocrite, maybe consider you shouldn't be telling a woman what they can and can't do with their own body.

Two occurrences of singular they (they and their), with the phrase a woman as antecedent!

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