LINGUIST List 3.233

Mon 09 Mar 1992

Qs: Specificity, French, Quasi-Natives, Font

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  1. Michael Newman, specificity problems
  2. , Query about French: neveu
  3. "Wayles Browne, Cornell Univ.", teaching quasi-native speakers
  4. , Looking for a font...

Message 1: specificity problems

Date: Fri, 06 Mar 92 22:58:58 ESspecificity problems
From: Michael Newman <MNEHCCUNYVM.bitnet>
Subject: specificity problems

In doing work on my dissertation on pronominal usage in a corpus I am en-
countering a semantic conundrum which my training in semantics is not adequate
to solve. The problem is related to the semantic distinction between referents
which are +specific (or +referential) or more informally real, existing out
there in some way, and those which are -specific, hypothetical or generic.
Thus there is a clear distinction between two readings of , to use a rather
unoriginal example. "Peter is going to marry the richest woman in town." So
far so good. The issue seems relatively clear when you are using example sen-
tences, but when you use real language, things do get messy sometimes. For ex-
ample, I would be reluctant to use the + or - specific lable for the following
example from my corpus, (which is based on TV talk shows by the way) The prob-
lematic antecedent-anaphor pair are in caps:

 (1) I have become involved with a consumer advocacy group called s.h.a.m.e.
 it stands for Stop[ Hospital and Medical Errors, and it is a group that
 was formed by MALPRACTICE VICTIMS and THEIR families.

In this case there were indeed a concrete set of people who formed this group,
yet neither speaker nor hearer were in any position to specify that set any
further. In addition it is certainly conceivible that there might be some dis-
pute as to who exactly belongs in this set or not. So my solution was to label
this type as semi-specific (actually I use the term 'semi-solid' reserving
'solid' for specific and non-solid for -specific, but I don't want to get into
that here) Cases like (1) where there are sets which none of the interlocutors
are in any position to identify are fairly common, and using this semi label, I
have managed to reduce the number of problematic tokens by more than half. If
any semanticists have any objections to this, I would like to hear them now,
before I get any further.

Yet I have not solved all my problems. Here are a few cases which I am puzzling
over. In (2) the speaker (George Carlin on Larry King Live by the way) is talk-
ing about censorship on the radio

(2) you know THESE MORAL COMMANDOS who want us to think THEIR way and want to
change what we can hear and see and think in this country are dangerous. . .

This is close to a generic, but is it a true generic? The use of the definite
specifier would seem to tilt the image in the direction of a closed set of
(3) is also from George Carlin who is talking about Andrew Dice Clay and his
fans. Clay is (or was since he disappeared from view) a comedian who would
make hostile jokes about gays, blacks, women, immigrants, etc.

(3) I think he's appealing largely, I think his core audience are young white
males who are threatended by these groups. I think A LOT OF THESE GUYS aren't
sure of THEIR manhood, because that's a problem when you're going through ado-
lesence, you know, am I really, am I?

This ambiguity or perhaps more acurately, vagueness, of specificity of refer-
ence seems typical of Carlin and some other speakers. It will be part of the
findings of my dissertation, but I would like it if someone with more semantic
training than myself would help me draw the lines on what appears to be a
cline from one extreme, the concrete individual(s) whose identities are known,
to the other, hypothetical or generic referents.
Michael Newman
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Message 2: Query about French: neveu

Date: Sat, 7 Mar 92 12:53:30 ESTQuery about French: neveu
From: <>
Subject: Query about French: neveu

If there is anybody familiar with French usage in the
18th century (before the Revolution), can you tell me
whether 'neveu' can mean something like 'protege, favorite'?
I am dealing with a diplomatic document from that time
in which the term is used, even though the normal meaning
'nephew' is clearly impossible.
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Message 3: teaching quasi-native speakers

Date: Sun, 08 Mar 92 19:11:58 ESteaching quasi-native speakers
From: "Wayles Browne, Cornell Univ." <JN5JCORNELLA.bitnet>
Subject: teaching quasi-native speakers

As a teacher of Slavic languages, I sometimes encounter people
in class who have, let's say, a partial command of Serbo-Croatian
from home, or an approximate knowledge of Polish from spending
time in Poland. My usual teaching methods often do not work well
with such people; they have great difficulties in expanding their
vocabulary in the language, or in learning its morphology correctly
(both in getting the endings correct and in realizing that the endings
are vital for proper understanding of sentences).
Have there been any second-language acquisition studies, or psycho-
linguistic researches, or empirical observations that would help
in working with such quasi-native speakers? Please write to me
at jn5jcornella.bitnet or and I will
summarize to the list.
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Message 4: Looking for a font...

Date: Sun, 08 Mar 92 22:25:58 ESLooking for a font...
From: <Leandre_RacicotCMR001.bitnet>
Subject: Looking for a font...

 I am desperately in search of a Windows International Phonetical
Alphabet font. I looked at CICA and SIMTEL and found nothing. If
that font does not exist anywhere, I would settle for a font editor
and make it up myself.

Please answer directly, if you know anything that would help me on
this... thanks in advance.

Benoit Racicot
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