Archive for Morphology

Don't let 'bigly' catch on

Scott Adams, the Dilbert cartoon creator and diehard Trump promoter, has taken to the semi-jocular practice of adopting the mishearing of Trump's much-loved adjunct big-league, and using bigly as if it were a real adverb ("I just watched the debate on replay. Trump won bigly. This one wasn't close"). Adams is kidding, I think, but the mishearing is very common: by May 5, bigly was getting over 70,000 hits in the Google News index. I'm worried it may catch on, and we'll wake up some morning not only with the orange-quiffed sexist boor in the White House but with bigly added to the stock of adverbs in standard English.

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Definiteness, plurality, and genericity

Mollymooly's comment on yesterday's post ("The Donald's THE, again") deserves general attention:

1. A leopard is bigger than a cheetah, though both have spots.
2. The leopard is bigger than the cheetah, though both have spots.
3. Leopards are bigger than cheetahs, though both have spots.
4. The leopards are bigger than the cheetahs, though both have spots.
5. Your leopard is bigger than your cheetah, though both have spots.
6. Your leopards are bigger than your cheetahs, though both have spots.

For me at least, 1 and 3 are generic; 2 can be either generic or specific; ditto 5 and 6 (though generic is very informal); but 4 must be specific. There seem to be restrictions on when "the + plural-noun" can be generic: are these restrictions syntactic, semantic, pragmatic?

From the other side of the Atlantic, I agree with her judgments. Does the intuited specificity of 4 help us understand what's odd about Donald Trump's use of "the women", "the gays", etc.?

There are several literatures (from philosophy of language as well as linguistics) that converge here,  and perhaps someone who knows them better than I do can summarize.

One comment: this is an area where there are subtle differences even among those languages that have categories approximately corresponding to English plurality and English definite or indefinite determiners. The Romance languages are clearly different from English here, but are they all the same among themselves? What about Germanic languages?

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Strictly correct plurals of flower names

It has come to my attention that many laypeople, even Language Log readers, are using incorrect plurals for flower names. "Geraniums" indeed! "Crocuses", for heaven's sake! Please get these right. There follows a list of 30 count nouns naming flowers, together with their approved grammatically correct plurals. Don't use incorrect plurals any more. Shape up.

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"Love in Translation" (with footnotes)

In the Aug. 8 & 15 issue of The New Yorker, staff writer Lauren Collins has a "personal history" piece entitled "Love in Translation" (subtitled, "Learning about culture, communication, and intimacy in my husband's native French"). It's very nicely written and will surely be of interest to Language Log readers. But Collins relies on some linguistic research without giving proper credit, an oversight I've tried to rectify below.

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OtherCountries_ExitFromTheEU: better portmanteaux

Or is it portmanteaus? Anyhow, forget Portugexit and Italexit and the rest:

Update — now that Leave has won the referendum, we should be talking about Brexiit (3rd singular perfective indicative active), or perhaps more realistically Brexibit (3rd singular future indicative active), or maybe some other combination of aspect, mood, and tense…

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Canversers and draws

A LL reader sent in this picture of a "no hawkers or canversers" sign on a gate in a retirement community in Sawbridgeworth, England:

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English in Chinese: over了, out了, 太low了, 太out了

Note from Gábor Ugray:

I just came across a hugely exciting conversation on Twitter, about English words mixed in with Chinese / adopted into Chinese speech – as seen in the subject line. There’s no easy way to extract conversations from Twitter, but it’s all in Liz Carter's feed today:

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Gun oil

In "The Stress and Structure of Modified Noun  Phrases in English" (Sag & Szabolsci, Eds., Lexical Matters, 1992), Richard Sproat and I discussed the semantic ambiguity or vagueness of English noun compounds:

We now turn to N0 compounds where a paraphrase links the two words in the compound with a predicate not implicit in either one. We are limiting this category to endocentric compounds, so that their English paraphrase will be something like 'an N1 N2 is an N2 relative-clause-containing-N1,' e.g., 'an ankle bracelet is a bracelet that is worn on the ankle,' or 'rubbing alcohol is alcohol that is used for rubbing'. The range of predicates implied by such paraphrases is very large. Since this type of compound-formation can be used for new coinages, any particular compound will in principle be multiply ambiguous (or vague) among a set of possible predicates.

Consider hair oil versus olive oil. Ordinarily hair oil is oil for use on hair, and olive oil is oil derived from olives. But if the world were a different way, olive oil might be a petroleum derivative used to shine olives for added consumer appeal, and hair oil might be a lubricant produced by recycling barbershop floor sweepings.

We go on to discuss the wide range of relationships involved in such cases, and the difficulty of automating their analysis.

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Grammarians, Whores, Buffoons

From an anonymous colleague:

I'm currently auditing Jennifer Houseman Wegner's class on Cleopatra. Today, in a Powerpoint lecture on Ptolemy IV, she showed the following quote from Edwyn Bevan's "A History of Egpyt under the Ptolemaic Dynasty": (Metheun, 1927, p.233)

"Agathocles and Agathoclea still, as before, ruled the king's [Ptolemy IV] corrupt affections. The palace swarmed with literary pretenders, poets, grammarians, whores, buffoons, philosophers."

Somehow put me in mind of Language Log.

Heavens!  What a motley crew!

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Japanesey Chinese

A new wave of Sino-Japanese borrowings?

During the last century and a quarter or so, Chinese has absorbed a large number of borrowings from Japanese:

"Recent Japanese loanwords in Chinese" (7/22/13)

"'And the greatest Japanese export to China is…'" (8/21/12)

"Sino-Nipponica " (7/26/15)

"Metaphysics has ruined Chinese" (5/27/15)

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Softy Calais goes ballistic…

Calais in north-western France, and Kent in south-eastern England, have been experiencing weeks of extraordinary chaos. Thousands of desperate migrants from Africa and the Middle East are fighting to get into the Eurotunnel depot where they think they might be able to stow away on trucks that will make the train journey through the tunnel to the immensely desirable destination of Great Britain. The British think the Calais local authorities and the French government have been making only desultory efforts to prevent the migrants from clogging the approach roads, breaching the security fences, delaying train departures, and causing side effects like 24-hour traffic jams on the M20 freeway in Kent. So the headline writers at The Sun went to work, with feghoot based on a song from Mary Poppins:

Softy Calais goes ballistic… Frenchies are atrocious!

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Linguist reads the paper: First sentence in Friedman's column begins "Let’s see, America is prepositioning battle tanks …" and before I got to the battle tanks I was surprised and wondering how 'preposition' could be used as a verb and what it could mean. (I'm of course seeing the word that starts with 'prep', had to be garden-pathed before I backtracked and saw the verb pre-position.)

I won't be surprised if readers of this blog had a similar first parse of my header –  its occurrence in this blog will probably make that even more likely.

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Back in March, Lauren Spradlin gave a wonderful talk at PLC 39, under the title  "OMG the Word-Final Alveopalatals are Cray-Cray Prev: A Morphophonological Account of Totes Constructions in English". It's been on my to-blog list ever since.

Totes, of course, is a clipped form of totally, which can be found is exchanges like this one:

A: Yo, I'm totes starving. I could totes eat a horse right now.  
B: Yeah, totes feel you man. I'm totes hungry too.  
A: I totes know this totes pimp place we could eat.  
B: We should totes hit it up then.  
A: Totes.  
B: Totes.

This (I think simulated) example of "totestalatarianism" comes from a Totes Truncation site that Lauren set up to hold the appendices for a paper of the same name as her PLC talk.

But the point of her analysis is not the totes usage itself, as striking as it sometimes is, but rather the pattern of abbreviation that often spreads to other words in the totes phrase: "totes emosh", "totes adorb", "totes atrosh", "totes apprope", "totes unfortch". Mix in a final /s/ and maybe some expressive palatalization, and you've got "totes arbz" (< arbitrary), "totes inevs" (< inevitable), "totes awesh" (< awesome), "totes impresh" (< impressive).

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