A blog about any and all things linguistic. Topics can range from phonetics to syntax to aspects of specific languages. Updated weekly.
Sunday, August 8, 2010
Just north of my apartment there's a popular diner that has their own printed paper placemats. Printed on these are various slogans of the general form "Take time to X, it is the Y of Z", e.g., "Take time to THINK, it is the source of power." Leaving aside the somewhat obvious nonsensicalness of othese platitudes, they use an interesting form of ellipsis that caught my eye (or maybe my language faculty). Perhaps ellipsis isn't even the right word, because what I noticed is the odd reference of "it" in these cases. In "take time to think", "think" is a verb, whereas "it" in the second clause is a noun, and refers to a noun. So how can this be? Pragmatically there's no ambiguity, and I'm sure most people don't even notice that the construction's strange: obviously thinking or thought is what is intended to be "the source of power" (hence the old syllogism "Knowledge is power; power corrupts. Study hard; be evil."). Though it's fairly easy to parse, I can't even remember coming across such a construction before, where a pronoun refers back to something that's technically the wrong category. This seems somehow different from pragmatically instantiated referents, because the referent is in one way overtly present (the verb "think"), but in another way completely absent (there's no gerund or noun "thinking" or "thought").
I live in New Brunswick, NJ with my wife Amanda, and am currently a 3rd year linguistics Ph.D. student at Rutgers. My research interests include phonetics, phonology, Optimality Theory, Native American languages (esp. Na-Dene and Algonquian), loanword adaptation, and syllable structure. Send comments/suggestions/questions to:
rdenzerk at eden.rutgers.edu