Friday, April 21, 2006

This is why I love Language Log...

This is why I love Language Log. Josh Fruhlinger at the Comics Curmudgeon had posted this picture and this commentary:
So this is the cookie aisle, right? And all the boxes are arranged on the shelf so that their fronts, with their lovingly detailed close-up pictures of delicious, delicious cookies, are turned so as to be largely invisible to hungry shoppers, while their sides, with detailed information about the massive amounts of fat, industrial chemicals, and animal byproducts in said cookies, are prominently displayed for all to see. Plus, the boxes are all a muted brown. Where do these people shop, the Depressing Store?

Also (and this next paragraph is an extended shout-out to my professional linguist homies over at the Language Log, who have linked to me several times despite my near-total absence of linguistics content), I’ve always found the verb construction Mom’s deploying here pretty stilted and weird. It’s a verb of being governing a negative infinitive, which makes it … well, hell, if I knew that, I’d be writing "I analyze syntax so you don’t have to," or, you know, the Language Log, instead of this thing. I reached back a decade and rummaged around my half-remembered memories of Latin for a while and came out with the phrase "hortatory subjunctive," but I don’t think that’s right...

And Mark Liberman at Language Log responded:
As far as I know, [this construction] doesn't have an established name in traditional grammar. The OED gives sense II 11b. for to:

Expressing duty, obligation, or necessity. (a) with inf. act.: is to..= is bound to, has to.., must.., ought to...

and gives these citations, among others:

1591 SHAKES. Two Gent. II. iii. 37 Thy Master is ship'd, and thou art to post after with oares.

1598 -- Merry W. IV. ii. 128 You are not to goe loose any longer, you must be pinnion'd.

1887 'L. CARROLL' Game of Logic i. §1. 9 What, then, are you to do?

And CGEL distinguishes among six uses of be (p. 113):

  1. She was a lawyer. [copula be]
  2. She was sleeping peacefully. [progressive be]
  3. They were seen by the security guard. [passive be]
  4. You are not to tell anyone. [quasi-modal be]
  5. She has been to Paris twice already [motional be]
  6. Why don't you be more tolerant? [lexical be]

The be in iv is called "quasi-modal" because it "has clear semantic affinities with the central modal auxiliaries, and syntactically it resembles them in ... [that] it can't appear in a secondary form:
  • I resent being not to tell anyone
  • The meeting had been to be chaired by the premier.
It lacks all the other modal auxiliary properties, however..."

So I guess the right terminology would be something like "quasi-modal be with an infinitive of obligation" ...

[In the CC comments section, Jimmy says "Thel should have said you weren't to open those until we got home," which is a usage of the Past Future Perfect Laudatory Declamatory Tense Twice Removed...

and Scipio tries heroically to assimilate it to Latin: "I think what you're searching for is negative future passive participle, specifically,
"tibi non aperturum est donec domi revenerimus."
"it's not to be opened by you until we shall have returned home."

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At 12:31 PM, Anonymous Aida Gonzalez said...

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