Josh McNeill

Language, Music, Louisiana.

Month: August 10, 2016

After there being nothing that you can do before.

As always, Donald Trump finds himself in a controvery. This time, he suggested that 2nd amendment supporters will be able to stop the nomination of Supreme Court justices that aren’t supporters themselves:

Here, we have a temporal language problem. Trump speaks, usually, in an epenthetic way, that is to say he inserts small clauses in phrases that have nothing to do with the current phrase. He does this to mitigate the effect of phrases that might be offensive or to remind us that he’s the greatest man in the world (that’s clearly false, so he has to remind us), but on this occasion, he created a temporal incongruence. Here’s the full phrase:

“If she gets to pick her juges, nothing you can do, folks, although the 2nd amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

When Trump states the clause nothing you can do, he uses the present tense in an ambiguous way. It can describe either the present tense or the future tense. What determines the tense is the tense of the phrase in which the clause is found: If she gets to pick her juges. This clause can only mean the future, because she is completely incapable of picking a justice unless she wins the presidency in the future. This marks the rest of the utterance as in the future, after the election, including the clause nothing you can do. As such, there’s only one interpretation: Trump suggests that someone assassinate, with a gun, either the president or the judges, but Trump says that the clause is linked to that which would have happened before the election:

I have no doubte that that’s what Trump meant, but the way in which he said it renders a different meaning. The problem isn’t deciding if he was really promoting the assassination of Clinton or the justices, as the media is debating, it’s deciding if he endangered these people, to which I respond: yes, he doesn’t reflect on what he says, ever, and that is very very dangerous as a president.

Translating English to English.

There’s a post at Language Log on The Jeremy Kyle Show, where the guests speak varieties of English that even the host can’t understand, and me neither, as a native speaker of English:


The post at Language Log.

What I find interesting, is that I start to think about what I’m hearing as if it’s not English, as if it’s first necessary to find the boundaries of the words even before starting to parse them as something meaningful. This happens as soon as I fail to understand two or three adjacents words.

Something I’ve been thinking about for a few months is the lack of discussion on psycholinguistics in the sociolinguistics literature as well as the formal linguistics literature. Things like this seem to me like a good place to start.

I intend to start posting some small articles like this, seeing as it’s been a long time since I haven’t had the time to write some real posts.)

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