LINGUIST List 4.822

Tue 12 Oct 1993

Misc: Mass/count nouns, Pronouns, Piece of data

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  1. catherine rudin, mass/count noun
  2. Paul T Kershaw, Pronouns
  3. Bill Bennett, A piece of data!

Message 1: mass/count noun

Date: Thu 7 Oct 93 8:51:33 CDT
From: catherine rudin <>
Subject: mass/count noun

Another example of the "fluidity" of mass vs. count nouns:
I've been noticing for some time that my children and at least a few of
their friends regularly use "stuff" as a count noun (with zero plural) in
sentences like
 Can I bring three stuff for show and tell today?
 How many stuff can we bring?
 I got all of these stuff for my birthday.
 Brian has more stuff than me. I only have one stuff in my bag.
Is this a trend, or is it just our neighborhood?

Catherine Rudin
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Message 2: Pronouns

Date: Sat, 2 Oct 1993 18:18:31 -Pronouns
From: Paul T Kershaw <>
Subject: Pronouns

Jeff Bishop originally queried about the syntactic behavior of coordinated
pronouns, the four possibilites of which I give here:
 (1) He and she like you and me.
 (2) Him and her like me and you.
 (3) He and she like you and I.
 (4) He and her like you and me.
While Bishop suggested that (3) might be the result of prescriptivism, David
Denison responds by arguing, among other things, that examples like (3) occur
in Shakespeare, "long before there was a prescriptivist tradition." I would
like to protest this on two grounds: first, there are prescriptions for
language for oral as well as literate cultures (or, at least, people speaking
different dialects of a language may argue as to who speaks the "correct"
form), even though prescriptivism is more salient in literate cultures;
secondly, while Shakespeare may predate the bulk of the tradition, there are
prescriptivist works extant from Shakespeare's time (witness, for example, in
the case of spelling reform and prescription, Hart (1569) and Smith (1568),
both of which existed for decades before publication).
 Denison later offers the tantalizing explanation of an evolution from
"Assign Nominative when Subject" to "Assign Nominative when Subject and
complete NP". The immediate problems I see are: (1) if this is a shift, why
has it taken 500 years? Has prescriptivism alone blocked it? (2) Why are
examples like Unlucky him has to do it more universally awkward but acceptable
while cases like (2) are still only somewhat dialectal?
 -- Paul Kershaw, Michigan State University
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Message 3: A piece of data!

Date: Wed, 06 Oct 93 21:35:52 BSA piece of data!
From: Bill Bennett <>
Subject: A piece of data!

With his discussion of the ambiguity of "teach", Laurie Bauer, I hope, started
an interesting run on 4 October. I wish he had taken a less modest title than
"a piece of data", because there's something about his examples which are at
the heart of linguistics, something for everyone.
 Laurie contrasted some sentences, of which three were
 (a) "That'll teach him not to come" (the absentee was landed with an
 unpopular task in his/her absence);
 (b) "That will teach you to tell lies" (Laurie was struck by the fact of
 differing polarity in the non-finite clause cited here in (a) and
 (c) "That will teach you to tell lies";
So, you think I have made a mistake, repeating (b) as (c). But Laurie meant
"that" of what is cited here as (c) to refer to a computer. Such an entity, of
course, can only be an instrument, like the key of the door and the opener of
the fish-tin. Someone else will be ensuring the teaching; (c) belongs to
another area of linguistics. It is not like (a) and (b). That will show you to
think that (c) was a mistaken duplication!
 As for (a) and (b), I believe them to be ambiguous. As was true of (c),
"that" in these sentences does not refer to an entity. For example, (a) is
 (a) "[CHORES] will teach him not to come", where the bracketed item
represents [S].
 For (b) we have no information about the content of the
subject, except that it can only be an entity if it is also human (or
highly-trained acolyte - allow for technology)
 (b) "[e] will teach you to tell lies".
The object of teaching ought to be goodness (agree?). So an unwelcome contrast
is established between "teach" and "tell lies", or "not come". Polarity is, I
believe, not at issue here. I could just as easily say
 (bi) "[e] will teach you NOT to tell lies"
What is then the difference between (b) and (bi)? None, I think.

Here I think I must give way, for there are so many subscribers to this BB
better skilled to discern for both (a) and (b) one of its spoken versions which
has a non-low pitch on "him" in (a) and "you" in (b). The other spoken version
has a final low pitch. It would be good to have a statement of the pitch
differences before this debate ends.
 I can introspect no other examples of this interestingly expressive
structure, except perhaps the less complex "That will worry them" (ironic).
Perhaps someone will jog my intuition ("show, is not it, is it?). I think there
are interesting general claims to be made about such expressive utterances. I
am sure that there is much to be improved on in my account.

Bill Bennett.
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