LINGUIST List 4.800

Thu 07 Oct 1993

Misc: Can't, Count nouns

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  1. "Anne M Loring-1", can't (fwd)
  2. Ronald Fein, can not/can not
  3. , shift to count noun
  4. Michael Earl Darnell, Re: 4.794 Homework Summary, Word Counts, Null Object

Message 1: can't (fwd)

Date: Sun, 3 Oct 1993 00:55:44 -can't (fwd)
From: "Anne M Loring-1" <loringmaroon.tc.umn.edu>
Subject: can't (fwd)

Here's a little more on "can" and "can't", from the Darwin list.


---------- Forwarded message ----------
To: Multiple recipients of list <darwin-lukanaix.cc.ukans.edu>

Another example of linguistic change creating difficulties was reported
in talks (and perhaps in print) by William Labov a little over a decade
ago. Surface deletion (non-pronunciation) of final 't' after 'n' had
produced a merger of "can" and "can't" in Northern New Jersey. Often,
speakers had to actually ask whether what was intended was c-a-n or
c-a-n-t. This ties into teleogical questions debated a few days ago, in
that it appears (once again; this is normal) that phonological change
proceeds relentlessly onward, leaving speakers to mend whatever bits get
"broken" in the process (near quote, from Nigel Vincent 1978). It
makes clear what Sally Thomason mentioned, i.e. that language change
typically occurs below the level of speakers' conscious awareness, and
to some extent beyond their control once, late in its development, the
change jumps into awareness. The major exception, i.e. speakers' resistance,
seems to be the case of taboos. In parts of the US Midwest where -ar-
and -or- have merged, so that "far" and "for" sound the same, both
with 'ar', "forty" has -ar-, but he word "fort" resists the merger.
No teleological repair of the system, but individual items can be
repaired if deemed absolutely necessary. (There are other, more colorful
examples which I refrain from citing here; the extreme is the case of
the town which petitioned the King of Spain to change its name because,
through phonological development, it had come dangerously close to a
rather vulgar term for testicles. The King obliged.)

Tom Cravens
cravensmacc.wisc.edu
cravenswiscmacc.bitnet
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Message 2: can not/can not

Date: Mon, 4 Oct 1993 19:39:32 -can not/can not
From: Ronald Fein <fein2husc.harvard.edu>
Subject: can not/can not

Consider the following sentences:

(1a) I can not drive a car to work (because I don't know how to drive)
(1b) I can not drive a car to work (and that will help to reduce pollution)

My thesis advisor (S. Epstein) and I were wondering about this dichotomy, and
he suggested that in (1a), "not" is heading NegP in the typical Pollock (1989)
position, whereas in (1b) it is adjoined to the VP. (I pointed out that at
LF, the "not" in 1a must raise to a position c-commanding "can".)

Also note the following contrasts:

(2a) I can't drive a car to work (because I don't know how to drive)
(2b) *I can't drive a car to work (and that will help to reduce pollution)

(3a) Can't you drive a car to work? (or don't you know how to drive?)
(3b) Can you not drive a car to work? (or do you live too far away to walk?)

2a/2b support an adjacency analysis (if we assume contraction require
adjacency), as do 3a/3b (under not-incorporation, or whatever it's called,
where the wide-scope "not" contracts prior to subj-aux inversion, whereas the
narrow-scope (VP-adjoined) "not" doesn't contract, but rather stays in place.)

QUESTION: Has anyone thought about this before? Does anyone have any data
bearing on this point? Can anyone point me to something in the literature?

(I will post a summary if there are a sufficient # of responses.)

Thanks in advance,

Ron Fein | fein2husc11.harvard.edu
Cabot House Box 216, Harvard University | fein2husc11.bitnet
Cambridge, MA 02138-1560 | (617) 493-5739
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Message 3: shift to count noun

Date: Tue, 05 Oct 93 10:29:15 -0shift to count noun
From: <bnevinBBN.COM>
Subject: shift to count noun

I hadn't previously encountered "homeworks" as a count noun, but here is
another instance. Email was always used in an attributive way, e.g. email
software, email command, and 100 email messages in my mailbox. In the
last 5 years or so, as the technology became more widely used, I began
hearing email as a count noun where I would have expected and used
email message: there are 100 emails in my mailbox, send me an email.
I first heard this consistently from a program manager who dealt mostly
with government customers in federal agencies. The usage seems pretty
well established now. Of course, the prior usage (which I still prefer)
was established only for a restricted population, those who used email
more than 5-6 years ago. It is possible that even then both usages
existed in parallel and I just never encountered the count noun usage.

 Bruce Nevin
 bnbbn.com
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Message 4: Re: 4.794 Homework Summary, Word Counts, Null Object

Date: Tue, 5 Oct 1993 13:09:21 -Re: 4.794 Homework Summary, Word Counts, Null Object
From: Michael Earl Darnell <darnellcsd4.csd.uwm.edu>
Subject: Re: 4.794 Homework Summary, Word Counts, Null Object


while I may have missed some of this discussion of mass vs. count nouns, it
seems that it be noted that there's a lot of fluidity between the two
categories, i.e., something isn't always one or the other. (Again if this
is a redundant posting, please skip.)

Most any mass noun can be pluralized, or occur with a/an if you're talking
about a serving unit (a beer, two coffees), a type ( a beer I had in Germany),
or an instantiation ( a war, two wars). My students in grammar for English
majors always come up with further examples every semester. Homework seems
to fit this pattern, several instantiations of homework.

Mike
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