Wednesday, August 31, 2005

“On Language” 8/31: “Gone Missing” and Other Language Mysteries

Fussiness about grammar has gone missing
On Language
Chicago Tribune
August 31, 2005
By Nathan Bierma

Readers send both questions and answers by e-mail to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). First the questions:

Q. In the last three or four years, I’ve noticed news media using the phrase “went missing” to describe a disappearance, as in, “A child went missing today” rather than “A child is missing today.” I have always assumed “went missing” to be informal slang or a colloquial expression, not a part of the more formal grammar generally used by the media. Have I missed a shift in “correct” grammar?

—Elaine Truver, Chicago


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 08/31 at 02:00 PM
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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

“Be” Or Not “Be” in Sri Lanka

From the current issue of Language Variation and Change:

BE variation in Sri Lankan English

The focus of this article is zero copula use in Sri Lankan English speech. Zero copula use has been at the heart of variationist studies, but has received little attention in New English studies because of its limited use in these varieties. In this article I look at zero copula in Sri Lankan English to determine whether the patterns of use parallel those of AAVE, Caribbean Creoles, or other copula studies on varieties of English including New Englishes.


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 08/30 at 02:57 PM
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Old LL posts to re-read on a rainy day:


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 08/30 at 11:14 AM
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From Biblical Hebrew to Mandarin Chinese

Two news items on biblical translation:

Westminster Hebrew Institute partners with Asia Bible Society 

In 2004, the Westminster Hebrew Institute was approached by the Asia Bible Society (ABS) for technical assistance with a new Bible translation into Mandarin Chinese.  Over the summer, Institute personnel visited ABS headquarters in the Far East and met with the Old Testament project managers and key translators.  In addition to providing its Hebrew Morphology database to ABS, the Institute has agreed to provide technical assistance to the computational linguists at ABS, who are currently engaged in “mapping” the morphological and syntactic features of Biblical Hebrew to Chinese.  The Institute will also offer translation and exegetical guidance to the editorial committee throughout the project.

The Westminster Hebrew Institute, founded in 1986, applies computing and related technology to the study and teaching of the Hebrew Bible and language.



Posted by Nathan Bierma on 08/30 at 09:04 AM
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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

“Here Comes Me” and Other Accusative Subjects

A prinout of an old LL post by Arnold Zwicky surfaced somehow on my desk recently. Zwicky analyzes the quote “here comes me,” which he heard on a radio interview. After some useful background on the “fronted motional adverbial” and the ambiguous cases of free-standing pronouns, Zwicky suggests that the solution may be a “paratactic arrangement” in inverted motion construction. It’s a good read, and no doubt will spur a dissertation or two among linguistics students!

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 08/24 at 12:58 PM
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Friday, August 12, 2005

Reckless Pizza Delivery No Longer Condoned

My colleague Brenda laughed at this statement on a pizza box (from Hungry Howie’s) on the lunch table today:

Now Hiring Safe Drivers

Did Hungry Howie’s previously employ only dangerous drivers?

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 08/12 at 01:04 PM
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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Linguistics at Arby’s

A new Arby’s ad makes a linguistic observation: “Did you ever notice how when people say ‘Do the math,’ there isn’t any math to be done?” (Or something like that.)

I can’t tell from a quick search of how well that theory holds up, but I do think the phrase you do the math is often used rhetorically, to say either that the math is so obvious that it doesn’t need to be done, or that the calculation is just a formality that the speaker doesn’t need to complete in order to make her point.

Here’s some of what WebCorp finds (note that last one):


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 08/11 at 09:05 AM
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Wholes and Holes in Discourse Analysis

From the Better Bibles Blog:

Texts have holes. Lots of them. In “Introduction to Discourse Studies,” Jan Renkema gives a list of five potential answers to the question: “Where’s my box of chocolates?” They are:

Where are the snows of yesteryear?
I was feeling hungry.
I’ve got a train to catch.
Where’s your diet sheet?
The children were in your room this morning.


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 08/11 at 09:03 AM
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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

On Language 8/10: Translate Me, Untranslatable You

In Other WordsA few guides for translating the seemingly untranslatable
On Language
Chicago Tribune
August 10, 2005
By Nathan Bierma

French has the handy phrase “espirit de l’escalier,” which literally means “the wit of the staircase,” but is taken to mean a clever retort that occurs to you too late, after you have left the room (and gone down the stairs, presumably). The French also have a memorable expression for the disheartening monotony of life: “metro-boulot-dodo,” which literally means “subway-work-sleep.” ...

The South Asian language of Urdu has the proverb “oont kis karwat baithta hai,” or “let’s see which way the camel sits.” It means, “wait and see,” since in a sandstorm, the wind direction can be determined by seeing which way the camel turns to shield its face.

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 08/10 at 10:52 AM
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Provocative Vocative in Psalm 47

Keith Bodner in JTS recently:

Ps. 47:10 (v. 9 in many English translations) has perplexed commentators and proved elusive for translators. M. D. Goulder wryly describes the syntax of v. 10a as something of an ‘embarrassment’, no doubt because of the theological implications which arise. This short note surveys several opinions and argues that the impasse can be resolved if 10aß is translated as a vocative. This proposal has the advantage of preserving the MT and poetically coheres with the larger structure and drama of the psalm.

Bodner’s recommended translation:


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 08/10 at 10:44 AM
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Greek Adjectives, With or Without Articles

The first tricky thing about Greek adjectives, I’m gathering, is that they can have what seems to English speakers to be an extra article. We would say “the large tree”; Greek could have “the tree the large.” From Porter’s Idioms of the Greek NT (more earlier):

The four positions of Greek adjectives:

Position 1: article-adjective-substantive
Position 2: article-substantive-article-adjective
Position 3: substantive-article-adjective
Position 4: adjective-substantive or substanstive-adjective

Acts 1:1: [TON MEN PRÔTON LOGON epoiêsamên] (I completed the first word), position 1. ...

Col. 1:2: [tois en Kolossais hagiois kai pistois adelphois en Christôi] (to the holy and faithful brothers in Christ in Colossae), position 1. Some interpreters take [hagiois] as a substantival use of the adjective, while others take it as an attributive adjective along with [pistois], which the translation reflects.

Mt 6:14: [aphêsei kai humin ho patêr humôn ho ouranios] (your heavenly father will also forgive you), position 2.

Jn 1:9: [Ên to phôs to alêthinon] (he was the true light), position 2.

Jn 14:27: [eirênên tên emên] (my peace), position 3 ...

Mk 4:32: [poiei kladous megalous] ([a mustard plant] produces large branches), position 4.

The second tricky thing about Greek adjectives is that they can modify the substantive without a linking verb where English would have one:


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 08/10 at 10:20 AM
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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Third Person Imperative in NT Greek

From Porter’s Idioms of the Greek New Testament (p.55):

Whereas the second person is similar to the English form when translated, the third person imperative requires what has sometimes been labeled a permissive sense (let…). However, any permissive sense is a phenomenon of English translation, not Greek. The third person Greek imperative is as strongly directive as the second person. ...

Rom 6.12: [Mê oun basileuetô hê hamartia en tôi thnêtôi humôn sômati] (therefore, sin is not to rule in your mortal body), with the third person imperative.

Luke 16:29 [akousatôsan autôn] (they are to hear them), with the third person plural imperative, which only appears approximately 34 times in the NT, compared to about 200 third person singular forms.

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 08/09 at 11:45 AM
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Ancient Near Eastern Mutual Comprehensibility

Here’s an article I want to read. Someone please edit it so it can be published!

posted to ASD-L:

Hello All.
I’ve been asked to consider an unsolicited manuscript for possible publication in the magazine I work for now. It is not written by a linguist, and I have some questions. I was wondering if anyone out there knows, or knows of someone who specializes in, ancient near eastern languages who could clear some things up for me. 

The paper is on the lack of mentioned interpreters in the Bible, and how the Egyptian, Aramaic, Hebrew, Philistine etc. peoples managed to communicate with each other (the author is assuming all recorded events i.e. Moses’ exchange with his brother Aaron, or Abraham’s conversations with Pharaoh, or the Sanhedrin’s and Pilate’s dialogue, actually happened, of course.)
Kathleen E. Miller
Assistant Editor
Bible Review & Biblical Archaeology Review
Biblical Archaeology Society
4710 41st St., NW
Washington, DC 20016
202-364-3300 * 230
202-364-2636 (fax)
[log in to unmask]

Gerald Cohen adds that Miller is “a former (and very helpful) assistant to NY Times columnist William Safire,” and notes, “Btw, there’s at least one mention of an interpreter (Genesis XLII: 23: “And they knew not that Joseph understood them, for he spoke unto them by an interpreter.”

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 08/09 at 08:48 AM
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Monday, August 08, 2005

The The Extra Article Adjective

A DJ over the weekend, with a shaky grasp of Spanish articles, referred to a song by “the Los Lonely Boys.”

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 08/08 at 07:01 PM
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This is a Blog Post

Contextual tautology is Geoff Pullum’s term for sentences whose truth depends on the manner in which they are spoken, such as “I am now moving my lips” or (upon multiple repetitions) “I am annoying.” (Pullum’s definition is: “contingently true in virtue of a property that the context of utterance picks up because of what you are doing.”)

So what about the classic logic puzzle, “This sentence is false”?

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 08/08 at 06:56 PM
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