Tuesday, January 18, 2011

the most difficult linguistics sentence ever?

Imagine I give you the sentence template that follows:
  • If speakers omit X to avoid Y, optional Z should be less likely if W.
Question: What X, Y, Z and W could possibly make that sentence EASIER to understand?

For no particular reason other than (that) I love linguistics and will read any free article that catches my fancy, I've been reading Florian Jaeger's Phonological Optimization and Syntactic Variation: The Case of Optional that. Submitted for Proceedings of 32nd BLS (pdf). I have nothing but respect for Jaeger as a linguist* and this is a very interesting paper that I have enjoyed reading**. But flo*** has a knack for producing very difficult to read sentences. Here's the original that produced the template above:

If speakers omit optional that to avoid segmental OCP violations with the immediately preceding or following segment, optional that should be less likely if the segments was to share some articulatory feature with the adjacent segment of that.

It actually got worse WITH context, right? And I read the actual paper, with all kinds o' context. And I still had to re-read that sentence many many times. I'm still not sure I understand it. I may have to whip out PowerPoint, a laser pointer, and a flashlight before I figure it out for sure. Now, I'm prepared to admit that the three pints of BBC Bourbon Barrel Stout at Galaxy Hut may have influenced my critique ...

...but not entirely for the worse. If I ever get around to typing up my awesome and prodigious commentary, it might make a great blog post ... but don't hold your breath. I have a stack of linguistics articles I've read and reviewed over the last 12 months and yet somehow, I just never get around to typing up my truly awesome comments (including in-depth discussion of flo's partner-in-crime Peter Graff's Longitudinal Phonetic Variation in a Closed System -- I got mad comments on that one). Maybe I should have called this blog The Lazy Linguist?

*I've never met the guy so maybe he's a bastard in person, I dunno, I hope not...
**Not in the least because it has some tangential connection to my somewhat defunct dissertation research.
***Hey, he calls himself that on his site...

1 comment:

D. Sky Onosson said...

The Lazy Linguist is my blog ... er, just as soon as I get around to making it, that is.

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