Tuesday May 16, 2006

Stupid Linguistics Tricks

I am easily amused, so I assume other people are the same way.  Even when I write about linguistics, then, I try to squeeze in some wit to keep the reader awake.  My favorite trick to pull is to abuse the linguistics-writing convention of italicized examples in sentences in order arrange ungrammatical strings of identical words.

For example, here's an otherwise-serious comment I just posted on Diacritiques:

Hmm.  How about the following two versions:

(1) It is an offense to ride a cycle on the footway and punishable by a £30 fine.
(2) It is an offense to ride a cycle on the footway and punishable by a £30 fine, too.

Both suffer from the same problem as the original (i.e. dummy it is the subject of both clauses), except that now the copula is is also missing from the second conjunct. I’m a little suspicious of (1), but (2) sounds fine to me, especially with a pause between footway and and.

See what I did there?  I managed to squeeze in two instances of pairs of words where one is an example in italics and the other is part of the surrounding, grammatical sentence: is is and and and.  Hey, did you catch that?  I did it again with and and and.  That's meta!

The best examples are, as in the previous paragraph. when I can get two of these pairs in a row.  I once wrote a syntax paper that contained a sentence like:

The the in in the sky has interesting properties...

(Don't ask me what the properties were, I'm reconstructing this from memory.)  It ought to be possible to concoct examples with three pairs of words, but the few I can come up with are so unnatural-sounding that I think they'd distract the reader—the point is not to make the paper unreadable, after all, it's to squeeze a little funny into something that otherwise dry, dry, dry.

The only downside of this little game is that it causes seizures in Microsoft Word's spelling and grammar checkers.  I really wish there was a way to tell Word that italicized text should be treated as somehow extra-syntactic, but I'm not sure how their parser could do that—maybe treat them as quotations?  Apart from that, though, it's all good, clean fun.  Give it a try in your next paper and see if your professors/committees/editors/reviewers notice!

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
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Does the Word word check check all words? Words that are part of any "do not check this style" style are ignored. Any way, way better too, too much; much too often I miss the "the the" and the like, like when I type in a browser (ie, IE).

PS I'm interested to hear that your copy of Word has "seizures," that's cool. Mine just puts red squigglies under repeated words.

Posted by: mike at May 17, 2006 9:46:05 PM

I was set a puzzle at school by a teacher to create a grammatically correct sentence with the most consecutive occurrences of the same word.

His offering was the following, a comment on the work of a signwriter who had just finished a sketch for a pub sign:

"Can you fit more space between the 'Rose' and 'and' and 'and' and 'Crown'?"

I was a fan of Matt Johnson in the 80s. Someone once asked me what I'd done the night before, and I was able to answer accurately "I went to the "the The" concert".

Posted by: Psi at May 18, 2006 11:56:00 AM

And your most recent post has inadvertantly done it again!


language hat on On of Nazareth
The Tensor on On of Nazareth
Ander on On of Nazareth
komfo,amonan on On of Nazareth
nw on On of Nazareth
sigg on On of Nazareth
includedmiddle on On of Nazareth

Posted by: at May 18, 2006 3:48:07 PM

There is a sentence in Norwegian that's a bit like this - 'er det det det er?'. It means 'is that what it is?', but in this case all of the words between the verbs can be translated to 'det'.
FWIW, the pressure (in one variant) goes up and then down, like this: ^ Primary stress on the second 'det'.

Posted by: Nick at May 29, 2006 3:24:19 PM