Today’s interminable NPs

Il devrait y avoir une limite supérieure pour les syntagmes nominaux. En voilà deux en anglais, à ne pas imiter.

  • 2005-10-02
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Here are two really-much-too-long-drawn-out noun phrases I found in today’s idle browsing. The first one is from an AP wire (emphasis mine):

An independent commission to oversee coastal restoration and hurricane protection work in Louisiana has been proposed by the Louisiana congressional delegation. It would be called the “Protecting Essential Louisiana Infrastructure, Citizens and Nature Commission,” or the Pelican Commission, after the state bird.

Some might be wishing the state bird was an owl. And which of the Louisiana citizens and what parts of its nature count as essential anyway?

The second one was on a page from Stanford University, dug up by Google when I asked it to help me find out what sluicing is. (I’m still not quite sure, but I think i get the gist now.) The footer of the page contains a line that indicates, “A Stanford Humanities Center Mellon Foundation Research Workshop Program”. Whew.

What mitigates the sternness a little, though, is the line below: “this site is loved by philip hofmeister and he is loved back”. Humanity in the Humanities Center. Or at least on their servers.


Votre serviteuse regarde du cricket. Et ne comprend rien.

I’ve retreated down the pub, to relax after a long day. There’s a TV set running, showing something called “the Ashes”. And of course, me being a total cricket moron, I don’t understand a bit of what’s going on. In the beginning it looked like England was winning “that little urn”, with “three wickets left”, but these three wickets take an awfully long time. Everybody’s dressed in white, so I can’t discern who’s on which side.

But I understand (most of) the English (except the comments about the players’ achievements). And I’m hearing a whole lot of unreduced thes. And just two minutes ago, one of the commentators said, very clearly, “for all intensive purposes”. I couldn’t help laughing out in delight (or amusement), drawing the looks of those who were actually watching the proceedings.

UPDATE: England has have won.

A relative clause there’ll have to be some thinking over

Des problèmes avec une phrase relative en anglais.

So I was reading about the sad and horrifying loyalist#[1] riots that took place in Belfast over the weekend. Until I stumbled over a sentence, a quote of Ian Paisley.

In the Guardian, the construction that puzzled me looks like this (emphasis mine):

  • Then tension hit a higher notch when Ian Paisley, the now undisputed leader of unionism, warned that the Whiterock parade could prove “the spark which kindles a fire there could be no putting out“.

So there’s a relative clause with a zero relative pronoun embedded in a relative clause introduced by which. The part that I’m unsure about is the innermost one, a fire there could be no putting out: a dummy subject (”there”) and an absent object of “putting out” (the zero relative pronoun). To me, it sounds as if there was something missing. But what?

Looking at other news sources, I found that most have the same version as the Guardian (the BBC, the Times …), at least for the part of Mr Paisley’s quote that is between quotation marks. There’s one exception, though:

  • “It could be a spark that would kindle a fire that there’ll be no putting out,” he said. (

“Would kindle” instead of “kindles” and “there’ll be” instead of “there could be”, and most notably the relative pronoun that.

Still, I feel quite confused about what happens if a relative clause, in particular one with a zero relative pronoun that is the argument of a verbal particle / preposition, collides with a dummy subject in the construction there is.

[Isn’t syntax a really confusing discipline? The more I look into it, the less I understand. Maybe a better-oiled reader can put me on the right track? Pretty please?]

[1]: I debated with myself whether I should put quotation marks around “loyalist”. But as it is one of the accepted terms for the Protestant faction in Northern Ireland, this wouldn’t be appropriate. Still, “loyalist” sounds cruelly ironic for people in shoot-outs and pitched battles with the police.

Euphemism of the day: concertina wire

Appeler ces barbelés meurtriers aux lames aiguisées comme des lames de rasoir fil accordéon est un euphémisme quelque peu extrême.

  • 2005-09-11
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From the Washington Post (reg. req’d I think; you can also try to access the article via bugmenot). National Guard crews are setting up double rows of coiled razor wire in front of the tracks and will continue to do so until the fencing blocks the ravaged coast for 30 miles. […]

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Non-eggcorn: “equilateral(ly)”

Une liste d’exemples du mot «equilateral», notamment sous sa forme adverbiale (que le français ne connaît pas, de ce que j’en sais), dans des contextes surprenants.

Ce n’est pas un poteau rose, pour autant.

My first sighting was in a report from a tech volunteer in the Astrodome in Houston, quoted on BoingBoing. There are plenty of issues that need to be discussed, but the evacuees are keeping the area very clean and equilaterally said they were happier to be in the Astrodome than stuck in the Superdome […]

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For the danglers…

Un complément du nom mal rattaché et de toute façon pas très clair.

I mean those who collect dangling modifiers in published writing. This is from Jonathan Freedland’s opinion piece in today’s Guardian: Like a character in Shakespearean tragedy, race is America’s fatal flaw, the weakness which so often brings it low. I’m not even sure this counts as a mere dangling modifier: the imagery is just too […]

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BBC “Word 4 Word”

Word 4 Word est une nouvelle émission de la BBC Radio 4 sur la langue, liée à son projet de documentation des dialectes britanniques, Voices.

La première épisode est programmée pour aujourd’hui, dans une heure à peu près.

Je vous ferai un topo sur les émissions deradio sur la langue un de ces jours.

BBC Radio 4 has a new programme#[1] on language which will air once a week through August and September: Word 4 Word . It is part of the BBC Voices project and produced with the Open University, so this might be quite interesting. Quoting Dermot Murnaghan off the Voices page: Language is a badge. […]

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  • 2005-08-01
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Céline at Naked Translations knows a retired Canon — the clerical rank, not the weapon — who drew her the most marvellous sketch of a typical English church, with all the parts labelled. I downloaded it for future reference.

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No word too small

Comment les articles de l’anglais tissent des liens entre êtres humains, pourvu qu’ils bloguent [hé, c’est un subjonctif, ça !].

  • 2005-07-26
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You know, a little over a year ago, I was wondering whether blogging was an activity I should take up. I was hesitant for a while because it seemed you had to be either your own journalist, which I am not, or to spend a considerable amount of time gazing at your own navel. I was, […]

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Thy “thee”s, Ed Felten…

Quelques observations concernant la prononciation, réduite ou pleine, des articles a et the devant consonne dans un échantillon d’anglais américain parlé.

Some of Mark Liberman’s recent Language Log posts were dealing with dealing with reduced vs. unreduced vowels in the pronunciation of the articles a and the. (Reduced: [ə] and [ðə]; unreduced: [ɛɪ] (or [ɛj]) and [ði:]). In his latest post, he examined a G. W. Bush speech and found that, as other readers had claimed, […]

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