Archive for relative clauses

What's wrong with this passage?

Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky has forwarded to me a site with (yet another) little "grammar test" (a "Google Grammar Test", from Tyler Cowen) — this one has only two items — that makes me scratch my head.

(I guess I should remind you that in some quarters, "grammar" covers absolutely anything in language that can be regulated: discourse organization, syntax, word choice, morphological forms, stylistic choices, politeness formulas, punctuation, spelling, whatever. So, ahead of time, I had no idea which features of this very short passage might be seen as reprehensible. Was it, for instance, spelling homepage as a solid word, rather than as two separated words?)

Here's the passage:

Here’s what’s on Google’s home page on May 16, 2009:
  Over 28,000 children drew doodles for our homepage.
  Vote for the one that will appear here!
Test yourself: Can you find the two grammar errors?

and here are the answers (from Penelope Trunk):

The AP Stylebook says "over" is a way to move—a preposition. And “more than” must precede a number. Also, if you are voting for one, specific doodle, then the AP Stylebook tells you to use “which” rather than “that.”

Here I'm going to talk about the which/that issue. I'll save a return to the adverbial-over question for another time.

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Some discipline where nobody knows what the hell it is

As I read the text of Rob Balder's latest PartiallyClips strip, about whether magic is perhaps secretly taught in universities, I experienced a moment of terror over whether linguistics was going to turn up in the third panel. But our discipline dodged the bullet. Check it out.

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Everett on the Pirahã in The Guardian

The Guardian interviewed Dan Everett while he was in the UK recently for lectures in Edinburgh and London, and has published a piece about Dan and the Pirahã. The Language Log fan who was the first to point it out to us (thanks, Rachele) asks about its example of recursion. It says:

Chomsky … recently refined his theory to argue that recursion — the linguistic practice of inserting phrases inside others – was the cornerstone of all languages. (An example of recursion is extending the sentence "Daniel Everett talked about the story of his life" to read, "Daniel Everett flew to London and talked about the story of his life".)

Is that recursion? Well, unfortunately the matter isn't clear. Let me explain.

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Are any of those things even things?

Annie Wagner, in an unusual tribute to the late David Foster Wallace, asked about "a grammatical quirk the man just couldn’t quit". She quotes from a review she wrote several years ago:

Everything is the first volume in the “Great Discoveries” series, through which the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, intends to “bring new voices to the telling of stories of scientific achievement.” Which goal, as DFW’s habitual syntax would have it, is somewhat suspicious.

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Double play: gapless relative in non-parallel coordination

Sometimes you get two at once. Here's a double play, from speech quoted by Cornelia Dean in "Physicists in Congress Calculate Their Influence", NYT Science Times, 6/10/08, p. D2:

Problems arise not just in obviously science-related issues, but also, as Mr. Holt [congressman Rush Holt] put it, in "those countless issues, and it really is countless, that have scientific and technological components but the issues are not seen as science issues."

Stripping away some extraneous complexities, we get:

(1) Problems arise in countless issues that have scientific components but the issues are not seen as science issues.

There is a parsing of (1) in which it's unproblematic, but I think the parsing Holt most likely intended has a gapless relative in non-parallel coordination (two phenomena we've written about here before, but not in combination).

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