Thursday, December 18, 2008
"Scope" refers to how much of a given sentence or phrase a word modifies. For instance, the phrase "dirty blond hair" could mean either someone with blond hair which is rather darker than "blond" hair ([[dirty blond]hair]), or someone with blond hair who hasn't showered in a while ([dirty [blond hair]]). In the Disaronno commericals, I think my problem is that to me a drink is on the rocks or it isn't. You can have a scotch on the rocks with a twist, but not a scotch on the rocks with soda. The latter would be a scotch and soda on the rocks. Likewise, "Disaronno on the rocks with milk" annoys me, because I feel like "on the rocks" should have scope over the entire drink, not just the liqueur. "Disaronno with milk on the rocks" is fine, but the way they phrase it clashes with my usage.
P.S. I'll be out of town for winter break for the next two weeks, so the next new post will be 1/5.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Spanish has the letter h in its orthography, but it is never pronounced, and Spanish speakers are often unable to correctly pronounce the glottal h of English, instead substituting the velar fricative [x] found in Spanish (represented orthographically by j and sometimes g). British English has h-less dialects and h-dropping. I'm a bit puzzled by the prescriptive rule for using the article "an" before a word beginning with h, since I've been told h-dropping in British English is fairly low-class, and thus I fail to see how this pronunciation was immortalized in our rules for good writing.
These facts, combined with the relative rarity of h cross-linguistically when compared to stops or other fricatives, have given me the impression that h is indeed weakly represented somehow, most likely because it is more difficult to perceive clearly than other fricatives. However, I've so far been unable to find any good literature on the matter. I suppose I can always posit the weakness of h myself, but it's always preferable to back up one's own opinions with citations.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Sometimes this can go rather wrong, as it did on one of the recent applications I was filling out for Ph.D. programs. The question was asking what outside fellowships I had applied to, or was planning on applying to. The exact wording was "fellowships you have or will apply to". The reason this fails is because the VP's in this case aren't the same: have applied to vs. will apply to. So normally we would be hesitant to leave out the full VP's, because otherwise the immediate interpretation is "have apply to or will apply to" which is thoroughly ungrammatical. Of course the meaning can be recovered, but it's still quite odd.
Friday, December 5, 2008
This claim was (as far as I know) first seriously taken up by Donald Derrick a few years ago (though Don Frantz mentions that he has always assumed Blackfoot to have a syllabic /s/). I recap much of his evidence in my paper, because I find it very telling. Among the data he presents is the use of [ss] as a clapping unit by some speakers (I say some because this has not been reported by all investigations in the Blackfoot phonology). For instance, if I asked you to divide Minnesota into "units" of some type, you would most likely clap out Min-ne-so-ta. Likewise, if you ask a Blackfoot speaker to clap out a word like moapsspi, they would most likely clap out mo-a-pss-pi. The idea that non-vocalic syllable nuclei are pronounceable is pretty foreign to English speakers, even though we do it all the time: shhhhhh!
Derrick also points out (and I've backed this up with my own analysis) that the Blackfoot syllable is maximally simple if we assume syllabic /s/. This is desirable because it would be exceedingly odd for a language with as few sounds as Blackfoot to have syllable structure as complex as Blackfoot does without positing syllabic /s/. Once we treat [ss] as a syllable nucleus, however, the Blackfoot syllable template becomes maximally simple.
In my paper I also point to the fact that Blackfoot does not allow onset geminates (i.e., long consonants are divided between 2 syllables, e.g., nin.na), yet [ss] appears in many places where it cannot be ambisyllabic. I need to look into this more, since until recently I was unaware that onset geminates had even been posited for certain languages (I assumed they were a phonological impossibility, and this may change some of my analysis).
The final small piece of evidence is that fact that /s/ acts weird in many other contexts, so why not syllable nuclei? It's the only phoneme that can form complex onsets, and Blackfoot has several Cs affricates (at least /ts/ and /ks/, and possibly also /ps/). So /s/ clearly has a special status in Blackfoot even without the claim of syllabicity.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Friday, October 31, 2008
Since I don't have time for a detailed thought-out post, I'll simply pose a question today:
Does the existence of a phonemic tonal system in a language rule out the possibility of a prosodic stress system in that language?
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Neologisms in Indigenous Languages of North America
A neologism is a new word created to name a new concept, often using productive morphology. For instance, "computer" is a neologism in English. In English we borrow --a LOT--, and most of our technical terms come essentially wholesale from Latin or Greek. However, Native American langauges are different. The reason I chose this topic was because I kept noticing that their names for new (esp. European) concepts weren't borrowings, but rather descriptive words or phrases (e.g., the Blackfoot word for 'car' means "it starts moving without apparent cause"). So I decided to investigate further and hopefully prove what I had a hunch was true: American languages coin new words much more often than they borrow words or expand the semantic scope of existing words. In the end, this did indeed turn out to be true. I also discovered an interesting trend: for animals, the trend didn't hold. In that category words were slightly more likely to borrow (though it wasn't a statistically significant difference).
Irrealis in Blackfoot (with Leora Bar-el)
The term "irrealis" is used to sentences that refer to the world other than how it is. The most typical irrealis contexts are conditionals and counterfactuals (e.g., "If I had a million dollars... [but I don't]"), but also can include imperatives, future, negation, and several other situations. Our goal was to investigat whether it makes sense to say that Blackfoot has irrealis as a grammatical category. Some languages clearly do. In Caddo, a Caddoan language spoken in Oklahoma, they use a different set of person prefixes depending on whether the context is realis or irrealis. English does not seem to have irrealis as a grammatical category, because we treat many different irrealis contexts in different ways (compares imperatives, negation, questions, conditionals, and counterfactuals -- you won't find any striking morphological or syntactic similarities as we do in Caddo). Our conclusion was that Blackfoot indeed lacks a grammatical category irrealis because no irrealis contexts are marked in a similar manner except for yes/no questions and negative statements. Mithun (1999) claims that minimally we would expect conditionals and counterfactuals to pattern together if irrealis has any real status in a language. Since this isn't true in Blackfoot (and for several other reasons), we concluded that Blackfoot lacks irrealis as a true grammatical category.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
On the index of synthesis, we have two poles: isolating and polysynthetic. An isolating language typically has one morpheme per word (i.e., there is a separate word for every grammatical function, e.g., Chinese or Vietnamese). A polysynthetic language typically has many morphemes per word, and entire sentences/complete thoughts are a single word (e.g., Blackfoot). As an example, the Blackfoot word kitakitamatsinopoao(a), which is used as "goodbye", literally translates as "You (pl.) and I will see each other again". Sometimes this is classification broken down further, either into synthetic (1-3 morphemes per word) vs. polysynthetic (4 or more morphemes per word), or into synthetic/polysynthetic (many morphemes, but only one lexical root) vs. incorporating (words have multiple lexical roots, e.g., Chukchi).
The index of fusion also has two poles: agglutinative and fusional (or inflectional). Agglutinative languages have many morphemes in a word, but each morpheme contributes only one grammatical meaning, and each morpheme is clearly segmented, e.g., Turkish. English, when it uses multiple morphemes in a word, is usually agglutinative. "Wonderfully" is easily segmented into wonder-ful-ly, and each morpheme contributes a single meaning. Fusional languages, on the other hand, tend to use fewer morphemes per word because each morpheme contributes multiple grammatical meanings, e.g., Russian or Spanish. In Spanish, the -o in "hablo" contributes the meanings "1st person", "singular", "present", and "indicative mood". It's a single sound, so it's not possible to segment it at all; it simply has all those meanings rolled into one sound.
Now, of course there are essentially no language that fit neatly into one category or another (including the languages I cited as example in each category), which is why we organize the four traits into sliding scales rather than leaving them as strict categories. Some languages are more analytic, some or more synthetic. Some languages are more agglutinative, while some are more fusional.
Monday, September 8, 2008
I suppose it's not very linguistics-related, but I had to get it off my chest. Oh, and they have to be double-spaced as well. I understand requiring that for the typesetter, but for initial manuscript submissions before the paper's even been accepted? Seems unnecessary. What was a twenty-page paper with normal margins, notes, and spacing is quickly becoming a forty-page paper, dangerously close to IJAL's upper limit of fifty pages.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
(1) Do statements about the future have truth values?
(2) Do irrealis statements have truth values?
Obviously, if the answer to (1) is yes and the answer to (2) is no, then future cannot logically be irrealis. However, there is good reason to say that future statements cannot have a truth value (or that they have a conditional truth value).
At the heart of the matter is what we mean when we say "John will arrive at 3:00 tomorrow". Is that truly a future tense statement? Is it the same as "John arrived at 3:00 yesterday"? One answer is no, that people mean "I believe John will arrive at 3:00 tomorrow", or "John is scheduled to arrive at 3:00 tomorrow". However, I firmly believe that in some statements from some people, there truly is a future tense. After all, we can negate the future: "It's not going to rain tomorrow". Conservatively, we can reduce that negative statement to a negative statement of belief, but I'm not convinced that's how we practically use the future (note that I'm not just talking about English here, but all langauges that have future marking that differs from irrealis marking). Logically, future is irrealis, but people don't speak logically. So taking a logical standpoint that when someone says "It's going to rain tomorrow" they cannot logically know the fact, that it is a statement of belief or prediction, is not necessarily valid or relevant.
If we compare the truth values for various irrealis contexts, we find that they differ significantly from the future. Conditional statements are evaluated by A --> B (I'm using --> to mean "then"), i.e., a conditional statement is true if A U B (U being the symbolic logical symbol for "and") or ~A (~ being the symbolic logical symbol for "not"). Counterfactuals have a similar truth value, but with the added given that A is not true, e.g., "If I had a million dollars, I'd be rich (but I don't have a million dollars)". Imperatives have no truth value: you can't say "that's not true" if I tell you to shut up (though you can respond that you are not talking, since imperatives presuppose that whatever state is demanded is not currently in existence, in this case, that you are not shutting up). Interrogatives I take to have a (vacuous) truth value, because if I say "Is it raining?" I am asserting that either it is raining or it is not, yielding an logical entailment of A v ~A (where v is the logical operator for "or"), which is always true.
On the other hand (to me, at least) future statements simply offer a single simple assertion: A, e.g., "It will rain tomorrow", and can easily be evaluated, even if not at the present moment. Likewise, past and present statements also give the simple assertion A, without any conditions or complex interactions. Since language and logic are so often not intertwined in any meaningful way, I haven't yet decided if this kind of analysis is at all useful, but it's a start.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Monday, August 25, 2008
Of course, there are difficulties to this, the most notable being that it's pretty easy to get in over your head. I was recently working on an abstract about stress in Navajo for submission to the High Desert Linguistics Society conference in November. My basic idea was that stop aspiration in Navajo was dependent on stress, and I was going to figure out how. The problem was that I'd never done any theoretical work on Navajo before (with the exception of an abstract on stop aspiration in Navajo). So each miniscule aspect of the language I had to research. While I've studied Navajo a little from a textbook, I don't speak the language at all, and since it was a language textbook, it didn't use any theoretical or linguistic terminology. Instead of having any background knowledge, whenever I had a question about a certain rule or pattern, I'd have to go research it myself. And since Navajo isn't Indo-European, many times I'd simply have to do the research myself, however cursorily.
I highly recommend submitting abstracts even when the paper isn't written. It's one thing when one is doing an outside research project and writes up finding for that. But for most grad students, we're just trying to get ourselves into research and publishing, and generally don't have mountains of self-produced data to wade through for paper topics. So this about the best we can do, and I don't think that's so bad.
(Bonus trivia: I saw a copy of the book "Black Like Me" with an odd font that was squished together and I believe lacked uppercase; I'm so used to seeing the -eme ending in words like "phoneme", "sememe", etc., that I immediately interpreted the title as "Black Likeme".)
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Thanks to all those who are reading and commenting.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Disclaimer: I prefer to use the subjunctive. I always use it where it is appropriate. It annoys me when people don't use the subjunctive. However, there is nothing "wrong" with using the indicative rather than the subjunctive. Many people did not acquire the use of the subjunctive when they acquired English. It is baseless and ridiculous to call the non-use of the subjunctive "improper English".
The subjunctive generally indicates situations that are counter-factual (contrary to fact, e.g., "I wish I were a millionaire"), conditional ("...whether it be/be it Communism, Capitalism, or some other economic structure..."), or, in certain rote phrases, future or nonaffirmative ("'til death do us part"). It was this last usage that caught me off guard, because I've never consciously analyzed that phrase, so familiar from wedding ceremonies. Upon reflection, I realized it must be the subjunctive (which in this case is signified by the bare form of the verb "do"), even though I can't think of a single productive instance (cf. *until he go to the store).
Bonus trivia: "If he were in the room" is counter-factual, and implies that he is not, while "If he be in the room" is a true conditional, implying that it is uncertain whether or not he is in the room (not that I've ever heard this used).
Saturday, August 2, 2008
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Instead, the speaker did not have a pause or any kind of intonational reset where the orthographic period is. She seemed to parse it into "Please remain on the line one of our customer. Care representatives will be with you momentarily." (At least, that's how I would represent orthographically the prosodic pattern she used.) In the first "sentence", primary accent was on "please" (no surprise there), but the secondary accent was on "our". In the second "sentence", the primary accent was on the third syllable of "representatives", while the secondary accent was on "with". Adding further to the oddity was the fact that the first intonational phrase fit perfectly into 3/4 time, complete with minor accents on the first beat, with "please" taking two beats: "Please -- re-/ main on the / line one of /our customer", and then of course it started to break down. But I found it exceedingly odd that, like myself, the speaker parsed the utterance into two intonational phrases, but that her phrases did not correlate in any way with meaning or clausal structure. There has to be some sort of flagrant alignment violation here, and I don't like it one bit. Luckily I'll never have to deal with it again, since I was on hold to cancel my account.
Monday, July 28, 2008
(I'll refrain from discussing the addition of English plural morphology on a word that is already plural in the original language.)
Friday, July 25, 2008
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Nowadays, though, it seems that lowly prepositions are taking CP complements (or has this always been the case?). Many of us have heard or uttered something like "I was surprised by them winning the race". Prescriptively, of course, this is "wrong". It should be "I was surprised by their winning the race", where "their winning the race" is a NP versus the CP of "them winning the race". Clearly there's something going on here, though, because plenty of people say things with this structure. My wager would probably be on the analysis of "be surprised by s.t." as a single verb, and then giving that verb ECM marking. Try as I might I can't think of very many good examples of this construction, even though I hear it all the time, so I may post a follow up later.
Monday, July 21, 2008
The token that really brought this home to me is the Godspeed You! Black Emperor song "motherfucker = redeemer". I was puzzling over what the song title could mean, and realized that one reading that was certainly not possible was that every motherfucker is a redeemer and that ever redeemer is a motherfucker, which in logic and math is what the symbol "=" is used for. 2+4=6 is a truth, no matter how you look at it. However, using the equal sign in English generally means that the left hand item is equivalent to the right hand item, but not vice versa. The copula works the same way. If I say "Computational linguists are jerks", I don't mean that every jerk is a computational linguist, but I probably mean that every computational linguist is a jerk (I didn't say it was an accurate statement; it's just an example). Sorry, logic. Natural languages don't really like you.
Friday, July 18, 2008
The OED gives us, under the entry for "next":
Applied (without preceding the) to days of the week, with either the current day or (in later use; orig. Sc.) the current week as the implicit point of reference.
Thus (for example) next Friday may mean ‘the soonest Friday after today’ or ‘the Friday of the coming week’. The latter may be indicated contextually, e.g. by contrast with this, but it is not always clear which meaning is intended.
So the key question here is what kind of scope "next" has (here I don't really mean semantic scope so much as temporal scope). For some people, the frame of reference is the day, for some the week. It seems the key distinction is that last sentence from the OED quote: people who distinguish "this Friday", "next Friday" are going to use the week as the frame of reference, whereas for someone who doesn't use "this X" for days of the week isn't going to have any kind of week association with the word "next"; it will mean what it means in ordinary speech, i.e., the next X that occurs, without any intervening time.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
However, Tom Brokaw for some reason just doesn't like clear l's. Not only does he pronounce all his l's (including those in onset position) dark, he doesn't even articulate the apical feature of the sound, instead using only the back of his tongue for the velar articulation, resulting in what can sound at times like a French "r" or Arabic "gh".
On a side note, my understanding of the two different l's in English was an extremely important step in my pronunciation of Spanish, which only has clear l's. Try it yourself: say "lamp" and "awl". The former is a clear l, the only l in most languages. The second is a dark l.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
So I guess my question is for any British English speakers, or anyone else who knows: what's the deal with h-dropping? Is it common among broadcast speech?
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Monday, July 14, 2008
Thus the "gn" sequence in "cognac" is interpreted as a phonetic [nj] sequence, and apparently it didn't bother this contestant that the [j] sound comes after the "n" while the orthographic "g" comes before the "n". I thought this was rather strange because (if I can try to remember back before I started being interested in orthography and pronunciation) I think my original interpretation of "gn" sequences in French and Italian was that the "g" was silent, and the palatalization of the "n" was just a quirk of those words in those languages. Clearly this is not the only way people view that digraph. Since he associated the "g" with [j], it made sense to him to spell his product as he did.
Friday, July 11, 2008
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
The first is hard, the second is the soft blend of "ch" as in "chagrin," and the third is a combination of "s" and "z" like the "c" in "facade": ka-SHAH-sa.
The first description is well-known to any speaker of English; we often talk about "hard" c's (/k/) and "soft" c's (/s/). The second description is a little confusing ("blend" of what? "c" and "h"?), but fairly transparent with the example word. The third description, however, really threw me for a loop. A combination of "s" and "z"? They seem to have picked the one feature of phonetics that truly is on or off, without any gradations (yes, there are several types of voicing, but it all comes down to either the vocal folds are vibrating or they aren't). It's clear enough what sounds they mean : /s/, as evidenced by the sample word "facade." But what the heck were they trying to describe by saying that this normal "s" sound is somewhere between /s/ and /z/? Maybe unbeknownst to me everyone else pronounces "facade" with a breathy voiced "z".
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Any guesses on the writer's native language?
Monday, July 7, 2008
Another (and I believe related) difference in word usage is with the word "technically". On a linguistics forum I frequent a new member posed a question about "technically". He recently voted for candidate A because he did not want candidate B to win. Thus in his mind he was technically voting against candidate B, rather than for candidate A. However, his friend argued with him, saying that since technically it is not possible to cast a vote against a candidate, he technically voted for candidate A. My take on this is that the friend is the correct one, at least in the strictest usage of the word. To me, "technically" refers to procedure, i.e., what is objectively happening at any given moment. Thus if John shoots Bill, technically all he's doing is pulling the trigger of a gun. Of course, if you believe in the slippery slope argument, where do we draw the line? Perhaps I should really say John's brain is firing electrical impulses that cause his index finger to contract.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
With "any" the interpretation doesn't make much sense, but replace it with "every" and there could be real ambiguity, at least in print. The only way I could see generating kind of construction syntactically is some sort of movement, where the CP starts out under the NP "any man" and then moves lower down. This is also a good example of the cognitive preference for low attachment, i.e., we want the CP "who does not appreciate you" to be attached to the lower NP, not the higher one the speaker wants us to attach it to.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
As for the word itself, the meaning is fairly obvious: anticipating twin infants. It is also a prime example of true noun incorporation. One of the hallmarks of true noun incorporation is that it decreases the valency of the verb. While non-verbal noun incorporation is debatable (where's the line between true incorporation and compounding, or are they the same?), verbal noun incorporation always includes a decrease in verbal valency, i.e., the number of arguments the verb takes decreases. In this case, the original phrase "anticipating twin infants" has a valency of 2: the anticipator and the twins. However, "twinfanticipating" has a valency of 1: only the anticipator is involved. We see this kind of incorporation all the time in Salishan and Wakashan languages, in which, for example, you could have a verb that refers to buying meat, so that one would say something like "I did some meat-buying this weekend." "Meat" ceases to become a separate argument of the verb and instead becomes incorporated inside the verb as a bound morpheme that contributes meaning to the specificity of the verb. Recently I've heard many English speakers do this as well: "online-shop" instead of "shop online." More interestingly, I was told by a waitress to "overlook" their list of daily specials when I was on my way to a conference a couple months ago (she meant for me to look over the list, not overlook it).
Monday, June 30, 2008
- "look after": 15,500,000
- "look out after": 282,000 (11 out of the first 30 results are in the sense of "look after", or 37%)
- "looking after": 7,620,000
- "looking out after": 157,000 (25 out of the first 30 results are in the sense of "looking after", or 83%)
So what does this mean? It definitely means the line I heard was not an isolated occurrence or malapropism. Clearly the writers or the actor intended that phrase. What puzzles me more than the phrase itself is the large discrepancy between the results using "look" and "looking". However, I'm guessing the discrepancy is not actually that high, but rather it's easier to find results of "...look-out, after" and "...look out, after" than it is to find the corresponding phrases with the progressive form. Still, to me "looking out after" sounds decidedly weird. Perhaps it's a mixture of "look out for" and "look after". As much as a quick search of Shakespeare can tell us, the expression seems to be new rather than original, since "look after" turns up 6 hits in Shakespeare, whereas "look out after" returns none.
Friday, June 27, 2008
If we think of this in terms of Optimality Theory (which, honestly, is what I'm doing always, even in non-linguistic things like traffic patterns and evolutionary biology), we can talk about two constraints: Exp(ressivity) (a sort of catch-all constraint I've been using half-seriously, with a definition something like "language should be able to express a speaker's thought accurately") and *Obs(truction) (something like "sounds should obstruct the vocal tract as little as possible"). The desire for expressivity is clearly what drives the robust distinctions between consonants after thousands of years. Though some will dispute it, there is an undeniable tendency for languages to simplify, espeically phonologically. This is how "want to" becomes "wanna," how "going to" becomes "gonna," and further how "I'm going to" becomes "I'ma." What holds back this march of simplicity is the Exp constraint. Simplify things too much, and people won't be able to express themselves properly, at least not without long strings of the same consonants/vowels.
So what languages seem to do is reduce nasal whenever possible. The reason this doesn't usually turn into nasal deletion or any other radical change is the necessity to use language as an expressive tool.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Much has been written of pre-glottalization, most of it by Frederik Kortlandt, but there seems to have been little attention paid to what this does to syllable structure. There seems to be a tendency to interpret a glottal stop as syllable-final, and any stops after it get thrown into the onset of the following syllable. For instance, in the paragraph mentioned above, "meet her" comes out more like miʔ.tʰɜ than mi(ʔ)t.hɜ. We can see a clear difference with the word "snake," which has no pre-glottalization. In the sequence "snake and," we end up with snejk.ʔæn(d), rather than snej(ʔ).kæn(d). An argument I made in a presentation this year was that it may be possible for word-final stops to be syllabified separately, especially after a glottal stop (I took my data from Blackfoot, but English does this quite commonly as well). As my colleague Tim Henry explained to me, the reason stops have so much force at the end of words is that without aspiration or a following vowel, it is exceedingly difficult to perceive the stop's place of articulation.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
There is clearly a cross-linguistic tendency for sounds to want to assimilate to their neighbors. Almost every language has a nasal assimilation rule that prevents clusters like nk, instead turning these into ŋk clusters, even across morphological boundaries (ɪŋkəmplit for "incomplete) and sometimes even word boundaries (ɪŋ kamən for "in common"). These preferences can also skip over segments, as in vowel harmony or the famous tongue twister "She sells seashells by the seashore." I think that may be the most likely explanation for the error "talk balk."
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
The example that prompted this post was my use of JSTOR (an online repository of scholarly articles) a few weeks ago. I was searching for something which returned no results, and as a helpful tip JSTOR told me that I may have gotten no results because my search "may have been ANDed instead of ORed." Here we have even lowly conjunctions being used as verbs; JSTOR was telling me that the AND operator was probably used instead of the OR operator, resulting in far fewer hits.
The ease with which we do this sort of thing raises the question of how different nouns and verbs really are at the underlying level in the lexicon. There are plenty of papers on the noun/verb debate in Salishan and Wakashan languages of the American Northwest, in which many words can be used as either noun or verb merely by applying noun morphology or verb morphology (NB: I do not mean adding derivational morphology to derive a noun or a verb, I mean simply adding tense/aspect/mood inflection or person/number inflection). Of course, in English we don't even deal with morphology. The difference is indicated entirely in the syntax and semantics.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Of course, knowing all this still doesn't tell us why the construction is odd. I think the reason is probably because the verb "cause" simply doesn't usually have a valency this high. Often it takes a clausal complement ("I caused him to drop the ball"), and when it doesn't it usually has a single internal argument ("This drug can cause side effects"). When I try to rephrase "cause you side effects" I don't really get anywhere: cause side effects to/in/for you. Any of the prepositions still sound marked to me. So I think this is simply a case where the verb manages to have a higher valency for someone else than it does for me. If my idiolect allowed "cause" to have a third argument, I don't think I'd find the double-object construction odd. But since it doesn't, I do.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
If these were the only two relevant constraints, there wouldn't be any syllables with codas, because all of the consonants would get piled on the onset of the following syllable. However, other preferences override these constraints in certain situations. Take the word "constraint," for example. The word has the massive "nstr" cluster in the middle. If all we cared about was getting rid of codas, we'd shove all those consonants onto the second syllable, giving a syllabification of co.nstraint. Go ahead, try pronouncing that. It's not very fun. The reason is that there is another constraint at work here, called sonority sequencing. This refers to the general tendency of onsets to increase in sonority and for codas to decrease in sonority (I'll leave an explanation of sonority for another post, but generally speaking, in order from least to most sonorous, sounds are classified this way: stops < fricatives < resonants < vowels, with voiced sounds being more sonorous than voiceless sounds within each category). In OT this constraint is Son-Seq (sounds increase in sonority moving from syllable margin to syllable nucleus). In the "nstr" sequence, the n is higher in sonority than the s, which means putting them together in an onset violates sonority sequencing. Since in English Son-Seq is ranked higher than NoCoda, we would rather syllabify the word as con.straint than co.nstraint.
The reason I'm talking about this at all is from having set our DVR to record the show Good Eats on the food network. The host of the show, Alton Brown (who is also the announcer/narrator for Iron Chef America) has a formidable NoCoda ranking, and almost always assigns many more consonants to onsets than most of us would ever want to. An example of this is his syllabification of the word "fifteen." I say fɪf.tʰin, with aspiration on the t because it begins a stressed syllable. However, Mr. Brown says fɪ.ftin, a syllabification distinguishable from my own pronunciation by the last of aspiration on the t, which signifies that it is not syllable-initial (compare pʰɪt with spɪt). This unusual syllabification violates sonority sequencing (remember that stops are less sonorous than fricatives), but he prefers it because it results in only one NoCoda violation instead of two.
Another example of an extremely high-ranking NoCoda constraint is the syllabification of a word-final coda with the following word, even in careful speech. I wish I could remember the token Alton produced to make me think of this, but any random example will do. Usually in rapid speech, with a phrase like "farm aid," we say far.maid, because of the constraint *Complex (syllable margins should be simple). Our Align-Morph-R constraints are being violated here, since the first morpheme is being split between two syllables, but in rapid speech we generally prefer violating that to violate *Complex, which is an articulatory constraint as opposed to a semantic one. However, I noticed that even in careful speech, Alton Brown continually violates Align-Morph-R, because he would always rather fulfill phonetic and articulatory constraints over more abstract semantic ones.
Friday, June 20, 2008
There is a whole rash of words that arose via the misparsing of articles and the words they attach to. A different process perhaps, but again, one that stems from a common source: the belief of speakers that they understand the origins or a word or phrase. Examples include "an apron" for historical "a napron," "an orange" for "a norange," "an asp" for "a nasp," etc. One common example that I think we all run into from time to time is "a whole nother." People almost never write this, opting instead for "a whole other," because they know that the word is "other," not "nother." The astute observer may notice that in all the above examples the /n/ is moving from the article to the noun, and never the other way around. This is due to the tendency of syllables to have onsets. Phonetically, when presented with the sequence VCV, people will almost exclusively parse it as V.CV, even if morphologically it is [VC][V]. This is formalized in OT as the constraint Onset (syllables should have onsets).
One final discussion: spelling pronunciations and pronunciation spellings. Spelling pronunciations occur quite often, and are simply pronunciations based on how a word is represented orthographically as opposed to what the historical or more common pronunciation is. A great example of this is the [r] in Burma. The name of the country was more accurately pronounced ba:ma, and in non-rhotic British English, the way to signify vowel length was to add an "r". For them, of course, it would yield something approximating the correct pronuncation, but for us rhotic speakers it creates a non-underlying [r] sound.
A great example of a pronunciation spelling I ran across recently is "pubity" for "puberty." Presumably the person lives in New England, in which case "puberty" and the hypothetical "pubity" would be pronounced the same: pʲubəɾi.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
I believe what's going on here is not merely laziness. Prescriptivists love to jump all over linguistic innovations, pointing out how they are vague, lazy, or just downright immoral. In many instances, these critics couldn't be any more wrong. Most often linguistic innovations arise because people have a desire to express themselves, and want a better and more succinct (and often LESS vague) way to say what they're thinking. A good example of this is "like," as in "John saw Steve hit Mary and was like 'What the hell?!'" Critics would probably have this utterance rephrased as "...and said, "What the hell," or "...and thought, What the hell. The problem occurs when John neither said nor thought this. The use of the word "like" conveys an emotion via a descriptive phrase, and there is simply no other way to do this in the English language. I'm a very conservative like user, because to me it is marked and sometimes, when used in excess, the subject of contempt. However, I do use "like" in all situations like the above (of course this is in addition to the "normal" uses of like as just demonstrated), because it's the best way of expressing myself.
So why would someone say "There's two pencils on the table"? I would wager not because they're stupid or lazy. I think the most likely possibility is that the contraction "there's" has ceased to be a true contraction, and instead has become a sort of existential quantifier that signifies "There exists some x," where x is a state. In the above example, the state is "two pencils are on the table." Many more people would say "There's two pencils on the table" than would say "Two pencils is on the table," so clearly there is a perceptual difference. People aren't looking at "there's" as a verb, but rather a mathematical or logical operator. Now, this works fine in a predicate logic framework, but I wouldn't want to try to explain it in current syntactic theory. I'm sure someone could, though, so if you're so inclined, please share. Also, if someone can antedate there's with plural argument to before Shakespeare, that would be interesting to see.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
However, I'm usually pretty liberal when it comes to morphological reanalysis (i.e., I usually treat a set phrase as a single prosodic word). One example I run into often is my ˈgreen ˌbeans, versus my wife's more conservative ˌgreen ˈbeans, the same thing anyone would say when confronted by a random bean which was green in color.
Occasionally I get confused when reading lexical items when I get the stress wrong because of this process. For instance, I was shocked to see how high the deˈfault APR was on a credit card offer I received in the mail, until I realized that it was actually the ˈdefault APR (the APR you receive if you default on a payment). One other instance was a dictionary entry that caught my eye when I was looking up something the other day: safety orange. I assumed this was ˈsafety orange, some delicious variety of the fruit with which I was unfamiliar. It is, of course, ˌsafety ˈorange, the color of traffic cones and hunting vests.
So, which pronunciations do you guys use?
Monday, June 16, 2008
The answer: He ranks MOP above Align-Morph-R.
Don't worry, all will be explained. This will be the first of several posts dealing with the most recent theory in phonology: Optimality Theory, or OT for short. The idea behind OT is a simple and universal one, based on constraints. We all are familiar with constraints from our everyday lives. Would you rather spend that $20 on a movie or dinner? That's exactly what OT does for linguistics, except instead of figuring out how to spend money it's trying to figure out (in phonological applications) what the surface realization of an underlying form will be.
OT presents constraints as realizations such as Onset (which states that syllables should have onsets) and *Comp (which states that syllable margins should be simple, e.g., "string" would violate this because of the complex "str" cluster at the beginning). The problem, of course, is that we can't get everything we want all the time. If you only have $20, you can't spend $20 on dinner and then $20 on a movie. You have to pick one. Here's an example from OT.
One constraint is the Maximal Onset Principle, or MOP (it's questionable whether this is a necessary constraint; most likely NoCoda and S(onority)S(equencing) render it irrelevant in all cases, but we won't deal with that now). This states that if there's a question whether to assign a segment to the coda of the preceding syllable or the onset of the following syllable, you should do the latter. In the word "instance," we could syllabify it as ins.tance or in.stance, and MOP says we should pick the latter. Another common constraint is Align-X, where X can be L for left or R for right. It states (in the most vague definition possible) that things should be aligned with other things. This can apply at any level of abstraction. We are most concerned with Align-Morph-R, which I will define as "The right edge of a morpheme should be at the right edge of a syllable."
In the example I gave at the beginning of the post, these are the two relevant constraints. So, why do I aspirate the /k/ in Caspian while Ben Barnes doesn't? The MOP constraint wants us to assign as many segments as possible to the onset of the second syllable of Prince Caspian: prin.skaspian (clearly I'm not using IPA, I'm not going to venture into Unicode yet; that's for later this week). However, the morphemes are [prins] and [kaspian], so this syllabification violates Align-Morph-R, because the right edge of the morpheme [prins] in the onset of the following syllable. If we syllabify the phrase as prins.kaspian (I'm ignoring syllable boundaries in Caspian), we're violating MOP, because "sk" is a perfectly valid onset in English (school, escape, etc.). We can't fulfill both constraints, so we have to choose one. I choose [prins.][ka.spi.an], because for me Align-Morph-R is ranked higher than MOP, i.e., I would rather have my morphemes lined up with syllable boundaries than assign as many segments as possible to onsets. Ben Barnes is the opposite; MOP is very important to him, so he chooses to violate Align-Morph-R: [prin.s][ka.spi.an].