It begs the way we see the world

Brad Plumer, "Two Degrees: How the World Failed on Climate Change", Vox 4/22/2014:

"If you’re serious about 2°C, the rates of change are so significant that it begs the way we see the world. That’s what people aren’t prepared to embrace," says Kevin Anderson, a climate scientist at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research. "Essentially you’d have to start asking questions about our current society and how we develop and grow."

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The city of Mr. Andreessen, South Korea

By now, the sinking of the South Korean MV Sewol on April 16, 2014, with 476 persons on board, is known to the whole world.  Especially tragic is the fact that most of the passengers were high school students on an outing and that the ship's captain had behaved in an extremely irresponsible manner, resulting in the deaths of many individuals who might otherwise have been saved:

"South Korean President: Actions of sunken ferry captain 'akin to murder'".

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Gaps inside adjunct phrases

Linguists have often assumed that the principles of English syntax do not allow a dependency between the head noun and the "gap" in a relative clause to span the boundaries of an adjunct such as a conditional if phrase. They will invent pairs of this sort to illustrate the ungrammatical results:

  1. I'm working with a man that I think you would absolutely hate.
  2. *I'm working with a man that if you saw you would throw up.

In the first, the meaning of the relative clause is "I think you would absolutely hate him", and syntactically there is a gap where the object of hate (underlined) would have been. But in the second, the meaning of the relative clause is if you saw him you would throw up, and the underlined pronoun is inside the conditional adjunct if you saw [him]. Having the gap inside the adjunct is not permitted, they say.

And they mean that descriptively: the claim is not that you ought to avoid sentences like 2 above; the claim is that all speakers have a natural instinctive aversion to syntactic structures of this sort.

But is that true?

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Playing philologist at summer camp

In response to "What would a "return to philology" be a return to?", Omri Ceren proposes a simple explanation for Paul de Man's assertion that literary "theory" was just a return to philology:

You might be overthinking the de Man thing.

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Philology and Sinology

I was going to post this as a comment to Mark Liberman's "What would a 'return to philology' be a return to?", but it got to be too long, so I'm putting it up as a separate piece.

To begin with, when people ask me what my profession is, I've always replied that I am a Sinologist, but most people don't know what a Sinologist is, so that leads to complications.

Let me illustrate.

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Expletive undeleted

Either the NYT has changed its policies, or some editor was asleep at the beeper and let  this through by mistake — "Raptors Drop Expletive and Game to Nets in Playoff Opener", NYT 4/19/2014:

Sparked by a stinging expletive the NBA playoffs got off to an explosive start as the Brooklyn Nets landed the first blow in a suddenly bitter Eastern Conference first round match-up with a 94-87 win over the Toronto Raptors on Saturday.  Out of the playoffs since 2008, Toronto's return to the postseason was both eventful and controversial, upping the ante in the best-of-seven series.  

With A list celebrities, including rappers Drake, Jay-Z and Beyonce, occupying courtside seats, an embarrassing technical malfunction and a jaw-dropping expletive delivered by Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri to thousands of frenzied supporters at a pre-game pep rally, the first game of the NBA postseason offered a little bit over everything.

Despite topping the Atlantic Division and setting a franchise record with 48 victories, the Raptors have had a harder time winning respect than games. Meanwhile the Nets dropped four of their last five contests, including a 29-point loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in their season finale, to cement a Toronto match-up.

 The Nets denied any suggestion of subterfuge but Ujiri made his position crystal clear, shouting "Fuck Brooklyn!" at a fan rally outside Air Canada Center prior to the start of Game One.

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What would a "return to philology" be a return to?

I recently read Peter Brooks' "The Strange Case of Paul de Man", NYRB 4/3/2014, which is a review of The Double Life of Paul de Man by Evelyn Barish. Brooks' central argument seems to be that it's unfair to call de Man a fascist thief, because he was really just a charismatic sociopath. But the thing that caught my eye was a reference to an essay by de Man that I hadn't read:

He began teaching Reuben Brower’s famous course in Harvard’s General Education program, “Humanities 6: Introduction to Literature,” which had a transformative effect on his own approach to literature, as he noted in one of his last published essays, “The Return to Philology.”

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Funky Mind Shoes

Michael Johnson took this picture in Hong Kong between Queen's Road Central and the escalators:


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"Want PRO should"

Aaron sent in a question about a usage that he first noticed at the age of nine, learning Allan Sherman's "hello mudda hello fadda" for an elementary school assembly:

Now I don't want / this should  scare ya,
But my bunk mate / has malaria.

He has also seen a similar use of irrealis should from time to time in old jokes:

Q: Mom! You haven't eaten in three weeks? Why not?
A: I didn't want my mouth to be full you should call.

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Sinographic memory in Vietnamese writing

Jason Cox sent in the following photograph of the cover of a Vietnamese religious text and asked what was going on with the "characters" along the left and right sides.


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Samples in which hypercorrections are in

Following up on "A nation in which supports dependency" (7/9/2012), Glenn Bingham has sent me an annotated compendium of "Samples in which hypercorrections are in", reproduced below as a guest post.

Glenn's diagnosis is that these examples arise by way of an attempt to "sound erudite" by adding an extra preposition at the start of a relative clause, thus yielding a formal-sounding collocation like "in which" without any valid grammatical license.  He sees this as a hypercorrection along the lines satirized by James Thurber in his "Ladies' and Gentlemen's Guide to Modern English Usage":

The number of people who use "whom" and "who" wrongly is appalling. The problem is a difficult one and it is complicated by the importance of tone, or taste. Take the common expression, "Whom are you, anyways?" That is of course, strictly speaking, correct – and yet how formal, how stilted! The usage to be preferred in ordinary speech and writing is "Who are you, anyways?" "Whom" should be used in the nominative case only when a note of dignity or austerity is desired.

As discussed in "Back to the future, redundant preposition department" (5/4/2007) and "A phenomenon in which I'm starting to believe in" (5/14/2007), I'm not entirely sure that the extra-preposition examples are all errors, hypercorrect or otherwise — but Glenn's rational catalogue, drawn mostly from assignments submitted by his students, is a valuable step.

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Breakthrough

Jon Kabat-Zinn's estimable (2013) Full Catastrophe Living (Revised edition): Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness has an odd "Chinese character for X" blooper: "Maybe there is something to be learned from the fact that the Chinese character for 'breakthrough' is written as 'turning'" (e-book loc 8495, last sentence in chap 12).

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British "gentleman" in China

Will Spence has an article on "Why 'gentleman' matters" in Caixin Online, part of a Mainland media group, with the following lede:  "The Chinese government often says it wants to build up its soft power, but for this to happen it may have to embrace its heritage and adopt a gentler approach".

A key passage is the following:

It is interesting to note that the the word itself is rarely translated – it is much more common to hear "gentleman" than to hear shenshi or junzi – suggesting that there is something uniquely British about the notion, in a similar vein to English adopting the words of Chinese concepts like taichi and yin yang.

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Not guilty on this train

Wenn sounds a bit like when, but doesn't really mean "when" in German; it usually means "if". Wer sounds a bit like where, but it doesn't mean "where", it means "who". Sechs sounds like sex but doesn't mean "sex". Gift looks like gift but means "poison". Nothing is easy, even when dealing with languages as closely related as English and German (the curse of Babel really was a serious curse). I was reflecting on such matters yesterday as I waited to begin my journey on a fast train from Salzburg to Munich. How easy and natural it would be to make the wrong assumption about, for example, the meaning of the adjective gültig, which I had seen on my tickets and accompanying documents. And as if on cue, I suddenly heard the beautifully-spoken announcer tell us in English over the train's PA system that tickets of a certain category "are not guilty on this train."

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So appealing

A few days ago, (someone using the initials) C D C commented:

I get so annoyed when I hear sloppy English on the news.
Today I heard that one of the killers of that soldier in London was going to "appeal his sentence" instead of "appeal against his sentence"!

This was a free-floating peeve, completely unrelated to the content of the post  ("The case of the persevering pedestrian", 4/7/2014) or to any of the previous comments — C D C apparently mis-interpreted our discussion of grammatical analysis as one of those articles meant to stir up "Angry linguistic mobs with torches" that the media, especially in Britain, features from time to time.

And as usual for peevers, C D C was not at all curious about the nature and history of the usage in question, and was therefore soon exposed as ignorant as well as intolerant.

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