The hydrodynamics of complex demonstratives

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From Andy Bull's interview with Acer Nethercott, cox for Britain's Olympic eight ("The little guy with big brains and Olympic ambition", The Guardian, 8/7/2008):

Likeable, and clearly happy to be in Beijing, Nethercott is indecently intelligent. Two months ago he completed a DPhil in the Philosophy of Language. "What exactly?" I ask with all the confidence of a man who has a 2:1 in English Lit.

"Linguistics. The semantics of complex demonstratives."


In between qualifications (he has a BA in Physics and Philosophy and a Masters as well), Acer says he "fell into" international rowing.

I haven't yet been able to find an online copy of his dissertation — I guess he's been busy.

[via Brian Weatherson]


  1. James said,

    August 20, 2008 @ 4:02 pm

    It takes quite a while for UMI to put dissertations online in their Dissertations & Theses (formerly known as Digital Dissertations). A friend who graduated this spring has yet for hers to appear, and another friend who graduated a few years back waited for more than eight months for his to come online. I suspect that UMI gets big batches of dissertations submitted at the end of each semester and it takes a while for them to add them to their database, tag them with keywords, add appropriate banner pages, and so forth.

  2. MM said,

    August 20, 2008 @ 4:31 pm

    This tops Christine Ohuruogu's mere BA in linguistics, then.

  3. Simon Cauchi said,

    August 20, 2008 @ 4:32 pm

    What is a complex demonstrative? Is it an expression like (say) "that one over there"? I can't find the term used in the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.

  4. Mark Liberman said,

    August 20, 2008 @ 4:43 pm

    Simon Cauchi: What is a complex demonstrative?

    I believe that simple demonstratives are words like this, that, these, used by themselves. Complex demonstratives would be phrases like that dog or those boats.

    You can learn more about them from a Google Scholar search.

  5. Maggie said,

    August 20, 2008 @ 4:49 pm

    from :

    "expressions of the form 'that F'," such as "That is filthy."

    from :

    Complex demonstratives (in the singular) are noun phrases that result from combining the determiners `this' or `that' with syntactically simple or complex common noun phrases such as `woman' or `woman who is taking her skis off'. Thus, `this woman', and `that woman who is taking her skis off' are complex demonstratives. There are also plural complex demonstratives such as `these skis' and `those snowboarders smoking by the gondola'.

  6. Peter Howard said,

    August 20, 2008 @ 4:53 pm

    I've got a BA in Physics and Philosophy, too. And a Masters as well. (Actually, you get a Masters from Oxford (which is where I guess Nethercott obtained his degrees) just for staying alive for a few years, so that's no great shakes.)

    Dammit! If I'd just stayed on for that DPhil, I'd be in Beijing right now.

  7. MJ said,

    August 20, 2008 @ 5:18 pm


    You've misunderstood the schema. 'that is filthy' is not an instance of 'that F', though it's an understandable mistake given how translations are taught in logic (i.e. 'is filthy' is usually translated 'Fx'). But no-one is having a debate over whether 'that is filthy' is a referring term or a quantifier phrase.

    Those interested should check out Jeff King's book "Complex Demonstratives."

  8. Nathan Myers said,

    August 20, 2008 @ 6:30 pm

    Those uninterested should not check out Jeff King's book "Complex Demonstratives." Those disinterested should check it out anyway.

  9. Joe said,

    August 21, 2008 @ 2:47 am

    This discussion is tempting me to reply by quoting one of the answers above, adding merely "This."

    Unfortunately, that's a simple demonstrative. By which I'm referring to that "this," not that "that."

    No wonder this takes a PhD ….

  10. Polly Glot said,

    August 21, 2008 @ 3:19 am

    I suppose if he says he's been getting a D.Phil in this and that, people aren't so impressed.

  11. James said,

    August 21, 2008 @ 9:21 am

    Maybe he'll return to linguistics in his post-shellular life.

  12. Randy Alexander said,

    August 22, 2008 @ 12:02 am

    Simon Cauchi: What is a complex demonstrative? Is it an expression like (say) "that one over there"? I can't find the term used in the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.

    In CGEL "this" and "that" are analyzed as determinatives. When they are used alone they are not analyzed as pronouns, but rather "fused-head" determinatives because that analysis can be generalized to cover more cases. See CGEL p419-422.

  13. Mayson Lancaster said,

    August 23, 2008 @ 9:17 pm

    Another of those athletes with philosophicl bent [to throw in a complex determinative] is my friend Juli, an undefeared professional boxer (3-0, 2 KOs, [135 lb] retired due to training injury), who is at work on her dissertation about "Nothing".

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