LINGUIST List 7.1611

Wed Nov 13 1996

Sum: Words denoting temporally non-contiguous events

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>


  1. Laurie Bauer, Sum: Words denoting temporally non-contiguous events

Message 1: Sum: Words denoting temporally non-contiguous events

Date: Tue, 12 Nov 1996 09:33:57 +1000
From: Laurie Bauer <>
Subject: Sum: Words denoting temporally non-contiguous events

Words denoting temporally non-contiguous events

In a recent query to LINGUIST I cited Chomsky's +Aspects+ (p. 29)
on the items denoted by words fulfilling a condition of
spatio-temporal contiguity, and asked for words that failed to
meet the temporal part of such a condition.

Many thanks to all those who responded -- the list has worked
again! I provide a list of respondents at the end. Several
different types of word were suggested, and I'll go from those
which I personally found least convincing to those I found most
convincing. The ordering is thus purely subjective.

Other examples of spatial non-contiguity
Several people gave further examples of lack of spatial
contiguity, including France (with overseas territories), "There
are a couple of former Soviet republics that include areas
separated by other republics. Azerbaijan consists of Azerbaijan
proper plus the Nakhichevan Oblast, which is to the west of
Armenia (with which Azerbaijan is effectively at war). And
Russia itself (technically the Russian Federation, so not a
single word as you asked for) consists of the bulk of Russia plus
the Kaliningrad Oblast, which is to the west of Lithuania. These
were the borders in postwar Soviet times too, so the only
difference is that now there are separate countries, not just
union republics separating these areas." (Peter Michalove),
Germany (with the Polish corridor), Pakistan (East and West) [I
particularly like that example], "As you pointed out, place names
can refer to spatially noncontiguous entities such as
archipelagos (e.g., the Phillipines). Other examples are
corporations (Xerox), political parties (the Tories), religious
groups (the Anglicans), and so on." (Bill Turkel). He could
have added the word +archipelago+ itself.

Recurrent events
Many people suggested days of the week and holidays, such as
Christmas. I guess we're thinking about sentences such as
[1] On Sunday I always go sailing.
[2] We spend Christmas at the beach ((which makes perfect sense in the
southern hemisphere!!)).
Here I think we have what is in effect a covert plurality, which
is why I am not necessarily convinced by such examples.
Plurality seems to overcome the requirement for spatio-temporal
contiguity as long as there is some kind of thematic unity.

Some suggested that people seen in different roles are also
similarly non-temporally-contiguous (are you a mother or a father
when your children are not there?). My feeling is that you are a
parent even when you are not acting as one. So again I am not
totally convinced. There are other kinds of recurrent even, the
most subtle of which I was offered was +the Perseid meteor
shower+. Or "Another example is menstruation, personified and
named by some women (see, e.g., V L Ernster 1975, American
menstrual expressions, Sex Roles 1:1-13). In each case, the
thing that is named has neither a spatial nor a temporal
contiguity." (Bill Turkel). Wind names like +the Foehn+ might
also be taken as consecutive iterations of the same type, though
we do say [3] The Foehn is blowing again. and not [4] There's
another Foehn blowing. Waruno Mahdi points out that plurality
overcomes the need for spatial or temporal contiguity (cf. +The
United States+), but continues "All these types of denotates can
also be observed to have names in the singular, in which case
they nonetheless remain being non-contiguous, e.g. "The Bismarck
Archipelago", "Japan", "Big Dipper", "Milky Way" (consists of
myriads of stars), "Golden Gate Quartet", "Metropolitan Symphonic
Orchestra", "Grand Old Party", "The David Letterman Show"(is
interrupted by commercials), etc.". The last of these is
temporally non-contiguous, and is very relevant.

"As regards another example of a name that is not contiguous in
the temporal sense, we thought of the state of Poland that has
known several periods of non-existence in the last ten
centuries. In a Jurassic Park scenario, the (genus) _dinosaur_ is
an example of a noncontiguous noun: first it existed, than it was
extinct, and then it existed again. And how about _game_ and
comparable words? During the interval there is arguably not a
game." (Ton van der Wouden). Various other people also
suggested Poland.

"Another possible example of temporal discontinuity would be a
Tibetan or Mongolian Buddhist spiritual leader believed to be
reincarnated, after a while, as his successor, e.g., the Dalai
Lama, who/which must have experienced some discontinuities. The
(Catholic) Pope is similar, though it is only an office, and one
might argue that each pope is considered a distinct individual
from the previous, and not simply a holder of a not-quite
continuous office." (John E. Koontz)

The Reign of Henry VI
"_The reign of Henry VI_ (1422-60 and 1470) - and any comparably
restored government" (Richard Coates). This is the kind of
example I had expected to find, but had failed to get on my own.
""Han dynasty" or "Tang dynasty" are "words" in Chinese,
especially they may be referred to as just Han or Tang." Each
was apparently interrupted by other dynasties. (Chilin Shih). On
a more mundane level, there's the +40-hour week+ (Dick Hudson).

My favourite example (thanks to Oesten Dahl) is +course+, as in
[5] I gave a course of lectures
where there is a temporal gap between each lecture. Equivalently
[6] You have to undergo treatment [a course of treatment?]
where there are long periods in which you are not being actively

Another similar example (though a compound word) suggested by
Larry Trask is +sex-life+. Surely no-one has a continuous

The final blow

Chomsky, in the passage cited, refers to the impossibility of a
the four limbs of an animal having a single name. Geoff Sampson
replies: "The closest I got to his allegedly impossible case of a
singular noun for the four legs of a dog was the French noun
"rouage" for the (four or whatever) road wheels of a vehicle -- a
pretty close match, I thought." I agree.

Respondents: (Ellen Bard)
"Richard Coates" <>
Oesten Dahl <>
 Peter Daniels <>
"Marc Eisinger (+33 (1) 40 01 52 01)" <eisingerVNET.IBM.COM>
"James L. Fidelholtz" <>
"Paul Foulkes" <>
Stephen Helmreich <>
Dick Hudson <>
Lior Kaspy <> (John E. Koontz)
Waruno Mahdi <> (Peter Michalove) (Geoffrey Sampson)
Chilin Shih <>
stephen p spackman <>
"Larry Trask" <> (Bill Turkel)
Ton van der Wouden <>
Yurij <>
Department of Linguistics, Victoria University, PO Box 600,
Wellington, New Zealand
Ph: +64 4 472 1000 x 8800 Fax: +64 4 495 5057
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue