Wednesday, October 05, 2005

scalar adjectives with arguments

Here's a cartoon with a grammaticality judgment as the punchline:

Funny thing is, I concur: 'half empty' can't take an internal argument, although 'empty' certainly can ('empty of meaning', e.g.). 'Half empty' is also clearly fine. 'Half full' is of course fine, and 'half full' can of course take a internal argument. Here's some Google searches which bear out this judgment:

Ghit ratio: 'full':'empty'

1,980,000,000: 133,000,000 (approx 15:1)

Ghit ratio: 'half full':'half empty'

2,070,000: 1,810,000 (approx 1:1)

Ghit ratio: 'half full of':'half empty of"

247,000: 1660 (approx 149:1)

Indeed, about a third of those 'half empty of' cases seem to be typos for 'half empty or half full'; the Ghit return for "half empty of" -"half empty of half full" is only 1080, so the real ratio is more like 247:1. (Note that if you weed out the "half full of water" cases, to avoid that one expression about the glass being half empty or half full of water, you still have 188,000 hits for "half full of", so the ratio's still about 188:1.

Anyway, I don't need Google to tell me that 'half empty of X' is way worse than 'half full of X', but that the difference between 'empty of X' and 'full of X', although sensable, isn't of the same grade at all.


Update: Mark Lieberman at Language Log has pursued this problem considerably farther, in the context of comparing search results between engines and reliable linguistic corpora, and has lots of interesting remarks to make and examples to exhibit. Among other things, he looked even closer at the sixteen hundred or so results for 'half empty of' and finds that not only are those typos mentioned above inflating the numbers, so are hits for strings that match superficially but have significantly different structures, such as "Only the most 'glass half empty' of HR professionals would...". Nonetheless, a few examples of 'half empty' with an internal argument that seem to be both naturally produced and easily interpretable did turn up. I don't myself find them particularly grammatical, despite their clarity, though the tide of opinion (3 votes for to mine against) seems to be against me here.
I should also note that the GoogleFight ratios that I reported above are slightly different than the results you would get if you just typed the strings straight into Google; mostly the Ghit results are a little higher. I don't know why that is, unless GoogleFight is plugged into an older/newer version of Google that is not obvious from their main website.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Speaking of euphoniously named people, I can't resist noting that the only other Heidi Harley in the world that I know of has managed to teach a dolphin to reproduce the theme from 'Batman'. No, really! At this version of the story, there's even a link to an audio file, though I haven't been able to connect to it yet (it just gives me 'access denied').

Actually, it really seems to be about proving that dolphins can recognize and reproduce rhythms independently of pitch or tempo. Judging from the first quote in the ABC article, it's even maybe supposed to be about showing that humans' language-and-music skills are not species-specific, and hence might be an entry on the anti-innatism side of the great divide. Or something. Must remember to take the journalistic version of the research with a grain or lick of salt.

I look forward to many years of being asked about this by people who think I'm that Heidi Harley. I've got to work up a story to tell.

Sluicing puzzle 2.5

This isn't mine, which is why it's 2.5; it certainly deserves its very own integer on its puzzle merits, methinks. Lance Nathan over at *I wonder my time remaining has gotten into the sluicing puzzle business with a good 'un; check it out.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

3 sluicing puzzles: Number two

This one isn't at all involved, it's just a simple query: Does anybody's theory explain why you can't sluice an embedded yes/no question?

E.g., what's wrong with (1)?

1. *Bill guessed that Mary had left, but when I asked, Sue didn't know whether.

or, to make the antecedent and the sluice even more parallel:

2. *Bill asked if Mary had left, but I didn't know whether.

Maybe you can sluice them but the C° has to be null, as in

3. Bill asked if Mary had left, but I didn't know.

Any opinions?

Update: Norvin Richards writes:

"Anne Lobeck had a theory that was intended to handle this, which she talks about in her book Ellipsis (and some other folks have used it or developed similar theories--Saito and Murasugi have a relevant paper in a J/K from 1990).

The theory is that you can only elide the complement of a head that agrees with its specifier--so the fact you're discussing here is grouped together with contrasts like "I wanted to read a book, so I stole John's __" vs. *"I wanted to read a book, so I stole a __".

I don't think they have a story about why agreeing with your specifier has anything to do with being able to elide your complement. And the facts for NP-ellipsis are not so clear--it sure looks like you can have D's like "that" or "five" with elided complements (unless there's something more complicated going on in " I bought five"). Ignoring this, I have an article where I try to get the facts to follow from tenets of Kayneanism ("Why there is an EPP")."

Thanks, Norvin!