LINGUIST List 11.2294

Mon Oct 23 2000

Qs: Phantom Phrases, "To mean"/Arguments

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  1. karchung, Phantom phrases
  2. Jorge Guitart, query about arguments--to mean

Message 1: Phantom phrases

Date: Sat, 21 Oct 2000 12:03:34 +0800
From: karchung <>
Subject: Phantom phrases

	This past week a student who had done a transcription of Cat
Steven's "Father and Son" as part of a class assignment said she
and a friend heard a Mandarin phrase in one part of the song. The
song describes a conflict between a middle-aged father and his
college-age son in which the son says he's cried 'keeping all the
things I knew inside', and over his father's unwillingness to
listen to him. 

	The phrase the student 'heard' was _ba3 lei4 ca1 diao4_ (take
tears wipe away) 'wipe away your tears'; her friend said she
heard _ba3 lei4 ca1 gan1_ (take tears wipe dry) 'dry your tears',
both of which make sense in the context of the lyrics. I then
played the portion of the song in question for the whole
(Mandarin-speaking) class - and they burst out in raucous
laughter. They immediately 'heard' it too. I didn't (I am a
fluent but not native speaker of Mandarin) - until I tried again
at home and figured out what was going on.

	The English phrase was: [It's hard,] but it's harder [to ignore
it]; the part that sounded like Mandarin is unbracketed; the
parts in brackets are added for context. The English-Mandarin
correspondence is:

	bV (tap)I ts'a d (_but it's harder_, British English)

	(V = wedge [inverted V], I = short lax i, ' indicates
aspiration,  = schwa)

	ba3 lei4 ca1 diao4

	I played it for my son (Mandarin-English bilingual, age 19) to
see if he could 'hear' it, without telling him the Mandarin. He
didn't; but then he got it after I told him the Chinese phrase.
'I hear it, but it's a bit forced,' was his comment.

	This made me remember similar experiences I've had with various
languages; one that comes to mind is a character in a beginning
Chinese dialogue named Zhang1 Han4sheng1. To me he was always
'John Hanson'! Though I was laughed at once by a classmate for
calling him this.

	I guess this falls under the category of 'shoecabbages', on
which Teresa Dowlatshahi ( posted over
LINGUIST some time ago. (I've heard from her recently, and she is
currently writing a weekly children's column on 'shoecabbages'.)
The words Teresa collects seem to have a fairly clear and stable
one-to-one correspondence in the mind of the speaker. What I'm
describing seems to be more on-the-fly and context-dependent, and
with less of a fixed connection between the matched-up elements.

	Does anybody else have experiences like this to report,
anecdotal or otherwise? I don't plan to do a serious study on
this, but I find the phenomenon intriguing. Please write to me
privately and I'll summarize if there are enough responses.

						Karen Steffen Chung
						National Taiwan University
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Message 2: query about arguments--to mean

Date: Mon, 23 Oct 2000 19:11:04 -0400 (EDT)
From: Jorge Guitart <>
Subject: query about arguments--to mean

How many arguments does the English verb 'to mean' have as used in (1) and

(1) You mean nothing to me
(2) You mean a great deal to me

Are [nothing] and [a great deal] arguments? You can't say *'You mean to

In "Do you want to know something? You mean a great deal" is the second
sentence ungrammatical if your interlocutor has no idea of your feelings
towards her or him?


Jorge Guitart
SUNY Buffalo
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