LINGUIST List 9.795

Wed May 27 1998

Disc: Recent change in English

Editor for this issue: Brett Churchill <>


  1. bwald, Re: 9.775, Disc: Recent "fun" in English
  2. Mark Mandel, Disc: Recent change in English

Message 1: Re: 9.775, Disc: Recent "fun" in English

Date: Wed, 27 May 1998 01:43:55 -0700 (PDT)
From: bwald <bwaldHUMnet.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 9.775, Disc: Recent "fun" in English

With regard to the "fun" discussion, just before it started I had been
describing my understanding of the topic to a non-English linguist as an
example of something that struck me when I first encountered adjectival
uses. I told him that I remember hearing something like "it's a real fun
game", and thinking that this was a childish usage based on "it's (real)
fun" reanalysed as an adjective instead of a non-count noun. Now I was
still a preadolescent when I first heard the adjectival usage, and I didn't
have the terms, but this is what I thought.

(NB. 'The wall was stone/wood' is still N.
 but 'the ring was diamond'? -- uh, I don't think so, not unless
it's made out of a
 a diamond in the
shape of a ring.
 'the ring was gold/silver/brass'. No problem!
 Why the difference here? If anyone agrees. And we didn't even
get to the 'very' frame yet.
 More on this problem later.)

>From discussion, it is quite clear that different speakers have integrated
"fun" as an adjective to different degrees. In particular, speakers differ
about how much they resist putting comparative and superlative inflections
on it . I, for example, would not say, "this game is funner than that
one", or "this is the funnest game I ever played", but some discussants had
no problem with such inflections, and I'm not surprised. I've heard it,
but I don't adopt it. As I thought about it further, there are many frames
in which "fun" should appear if it is fully integrated into adjectivehood,
many beyond the ones that have already been mentioned. I'll mention some
of them.

 It was *so* fun that I forgot to go to school. (or 'I don't think
it's *so* fun.')

I think I've heard that one, but I would say: 'it was so *much* fun that...'

 I know I've heard the following.

 It's not *THAT* fun (as in: it's not THAT red) stress on 'that'.

However, since I am a conservative user of "fun" I wouldn't say it.
Instead, as you've guessed, I'd say: 'It's not that *much* fun'.

and I'm not sure who would say the following:

 So, tell me, *how* fun is it? (cf. 'how red/tall/dangerous/etc/etc
is it?)

I would say: *how much* fun is it (?????'how much red/tall/dangerous....)

That fits in with my early prejudice that "fun" is a mass (non-count) N,
not an Adj.
Once you start listing these things, and exploring various speaker
reactions, it may fit in with the "part-of-speech" problem. EG, Haj Ross
once suggested that parts of speech are "squishy", i.e., you can find items
which vary, perhaps as an implicational series, among a set of frames which
distinguish two "parts of speech", clearly N and ADJ in the case of 'fun',
so that 'fun' is somewhere in between, N and ADJ, and is more "nouny" for
some speakers (i.e. resists more ADJ frames; I'm that type of speaker
according to my introspections) and more "adjective-y" for others. Whether
there is a strict implicational series to the frames which different
speakers accept I leave open. I don't know if this is what's happening, or
even if this ever happens. But if it does, the diachronic interpretation
would be similar to "lexical diffusion" of sound change. It would be
syntactic diffusion of a lexical (or lexico-grammatical) change.
Implicational relations along the diffusion path would suggest an ordering
of the frames themselves in terms of rules, patterns (or whatever)
sensitive to stereotyped parts of speech. In turn, traditional parts of
speech would turn out to be polarised stereotypes of the nature of
lexico-grammatical categories, and there would be an orderliness to the
complex hierarchy (or something like that) of intermediate "parts of
speech". I am not advocating this. Other orderlinesses besides
implicational relations are possible. I am just suggesting it as a
possibility which would make discussion of such phenomena as English 'fun'
more interesting and indeed more serious in its implications than has yet
been recognised in the discussion -- and maybe even more 'fun', or 'funner'
(that hurts!). -- Benji
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Message 2: Disc: Recent change in English

Date: Wed, 27 May 1998 12:51:18 -0500
From: Mark Mandel <>
Subject: Disc: Recent change in English

In LINGUIST List No. 9.774, Earl Herrick writes: >>> English, being a
Germanic language, allows nouns to modify nouns. So "This is a fun
game." has the same syntax as "This is a card game." <<<

In No. 9.775, Alexis Manaster Ramer replies: >>> Certainly there would
seem to be subdivisions within in, e.g., The game was fun but *The
game was card. <<<

Beyond that, it is only in writing that Herrick's two examples have
the same syntax. At least in my speech, and in any that I would expect
to hear, "This is a fun game" puts primary stress on both "fun" and
"game", while "This is a card game" puts primary stress of the NP on
"card" and a secondary stress on "game". The second stress pattern is
also possible for the first sentence, but not vice versa. Or am I
behind the times?

 Mark A. Mandel : Senior Linguist : 
 Dragon Systems, Inc. : speech recognition : +1 617 796-0267
 320 Nevada St., Newton, MA 02160, USA :

This document was created by voice with Dragon Systems' NaturallySpeaking.

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