LINGUIST List 16.695

Wed Mar 09 2005

Qs: Adjective Target Resolution;Origins of Metaphors

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        1.    Jason Skomorowski, Adjective Target Resolution
        2.    Boyan Nikolaev, Origins of Metaphors

Message 1: Adjective Target Resolution

Date: 07-Mar-2005
From: Jason Skomorowski <>
Subject: Adjective Target Resolution

Does anyone know of an algorithm to determine if a term is modified by a
particular adjective, or a likely place to look for such?

Ideally, it would be something that could be feasibly run on all adjectives
in a large corpus.

Since I have had little success in finding such a thing, I may need to
develop one. I've begun to work towards this end using descriptions of
adjective usage found in grammar books. These tend to be targetted at
people learning or writing the language, I would appreciate references to
any materials that you might think are appropriate to this task.

While musing on this, I've come into some questions:

Adjectives used attributively modify nouns directly, usually by preceding
them. Is it reasonable to assume then that an adjective is modifying the
rest of a noun phrase containing it?

Predicative adjectives are the object of a copular verb. In English, does
it simplify the problem of resolving the subject to only consider such
verbs? For example, in this case, would the subject be guaranteed to
preceed the verb where it wouldn't be in general (aside from questions like
''How sunny is it?'') Could I then, eliminating clauses bracketed by
commas, presume with some accuracy to say the noun phrase preceding a link
verb is the subject of said? Any good references on this topic? I know
some parsers provide such resolution but these tended not to be performant.

Beyond normal attributive and predicative use, what are some notable cases
where special treatment would be required to find the target of an adjective?

I appreciate whatever input you may be able to give and will of course post
a summary of responses.


Jason Skomorowski

Linguistic Field(s): Computational Linguistics
                            Text/Corpus Linguistics

Message 2: Origins of Metaphors

Date: 07-Mar-2005
From: Boyan Nikolaev <>
Subject: Origins of Metaphors

Dear fellow linguists,

This is a query about the nature of metaphors and the possibility of
investigating their history.

I have been more or less vigorously interested in metaphors for a quarter
of a century. Now, before I plunge into a more engaging study, I would like
to try and make a couple of things less disturbing. A lot of interesting
stuff has appeared since the 1980s with the leading role of Lakoff and his
associates. But in his works, from ‘Metaphors We Live By’ (1980) on, and in
the significant volume ‘Metaphor and Thought’ (1979, ed. Andrew Ortony) the
actual questions of the genesis of metaphors and their initial (prae-)forms
are never examined and most often omitted in toto. As a rare exception Yu
Ren Dong mentioned for the interested teachers, alas: without referring to
any sources, that “pull your leg was originally thought to be used to
shorten the suffering of a person who was being hanged.” (Yu Ren Dong,
‘Don’t Keep Them in the Dark! Teaching Metaphors to English Language
Learners,’ English Journal. Vol. 93, No. 4, March 2004; 29-35).

Apart from the fact that “pull your leg” is a historical expression which
does not fit entirely into the pattern of everyday metaphors as TIME IS
MONEY, LOVE IS A JOURNEY, etc., this is the only “etymology” given in the

Is it possible that the most widely spread metaphors as GOOD (conscious,
health, more) IS UP; BAD (unconscious, sickness, less) IS DOWN, appeared in
those far-away days our ancestors found their safety from the wild animals
up in the trees?

Is investigating the origins of metaphors a purely linguistic endeavor, or
does it concern primarily other humanitarian spheres like anthropology and
all historical studies of behavior and attitude?

Boyan Nikolaev

Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics

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