Tripod hit the big time

They may not even know it, but Australian comedy/musical trio Tripod have hit the big time (linguistically speaking): they have been linked by Language Log!

Grammatical chage in progress?

I’m just reading some work by a student and I came across the following (words removed to preserve anonymity):

A […] group is made up of several people, one of which takes the part of the […]

This reads very strangely to my ear; I would write “one of whom”. But I can see that there is a problem for people (an increasing number, I suspect) who don’t have ‘whom’ in their vocabulary to use. One possibilty would be co-ordination rather then subordination:

A […] group is made up of several people, and one of them takes the part of the […]

But maybe a change is in progress here, with ‘which’ allowed to have human reference in this type of construction?

Tlingit Children’s Book

Nice piece in The Guardian about a Tlingit version of the story of The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse. The story is now about bears!

The first comment is very odd though:

It is very strange that to someone who doesn’t speak a language, its words look impossible and awkward – I presume “Xóodzi” means “Bear” but not knowing how the “Xó” or “dzi” are pronounced makes it seem alien compared to seeing something like “l’ours” or “Bär”

This sort of attitude would be less surprising from someone who was clearly monolingual, but once you realise that the sound-meaning correspondence is arbitrary for ‘bear’ and ‘l’ours’ and so on, why should Tlingit be so surprising?

Strange signage

I was riding through the city of Darebin last week when I saw a road sign which said: NO RIGHT TURN BANS AHEAD. My immediate reaction was that it was wrong, or at least seriously weird, but why?

I quickly figured out that part of what troubled me was that there are two parses possible for the string with different scope for the negative quantifier:

[NO RIGHT TURN] BANS AHEAD

and

NO [RIGHT TURN BANS] AHEAD

It’s pretty clear that the second possibility is irrelevant – why would anyone bother telling me not to expect bans on turning right? Being able to turn right is a default expectation. But the first parse is still unsettling for me, and I think the bracketing tells us why this is the case. A ‘ban’ already contains the meaning that something is not permitted, so a [NO RIGHT TURN] BAN should (logically at least) be a ban on NOT turning right. Clearly, that’s not the intention of the sign….. I can see what they were thinking, but it didn’t really work.

This seems like another example of the phenomenon which our friends at Language Log have termed over-negation. What seems especially interesting here is that one part of the negation is hidden inside a lexical item – I haven’t looked through all the LL material to see whether such examples have been discussed there.

Eggcorn of the day

Beautiful eggcorn in The Age this morning:

The new Guide to the Murray Darling Basin Plan has taken a hammering from the irrigation industry over the past week. They’ve made fake websites to mock it, thrown paper machete horse heads at its authors, and burned copies of it in the street.

Given the vagaries of how nouns can modify other nouns in English, we have the choice between ‘machetes made of paper’ (which I am happy to have thrown at me) and ‘machetes for cutting paper’ (which I will duck). How either of those can,in turn, modify ‘horse heads’ is less clear……

Linguists at the British Academy

Via Mary Beard (who was also elected as a Fellow), three linguists were honoured by the British Academy in their recent election. Aditi Lahiri and Shalom Lappin were both elected as fellows, and Paul Kiparsky as a corresponding fellow.

One can only hope that this honour assist Professor Lappin in the ongoing mess at Kings College London.

Language and non-communication

This is the text of a letter which came to us (and all parents) from my children’s primary school:

Late last week there was a serious incident which was dealt with promptly beginning with ensuring the safety of children and staff. The incident was then addressed following [school name]’s procedures and Department of Education guidelines. Due to the seriousness of the incident the highest level action was immediately implemented.

I defy anyone to figure out what actually happened!