28 February 2008

idioms, idiolects, idolatry?

by Cecily
My Advanced Topics in Syntactic Theories class only has two students in it: me and much-deserving-of-sympathy C L-G. C L-G is the kind of guy who will go WAY out of his way to follow up on a ridiculous pun. For example, one time we were giggling about a silly joke from the internet. The joke was about inappropriate innuendo and the phrase "nut-dust". A week later, I got a text message. C L-G was coming over to give me something. So what happened? C L-G showed up in the lab with a plastic cup full of peanut dust! Just for me.

So, he's my favorite. This makes it a fun and funny class. There are other reasons that it is a fun and funny class too. And guess what! I will tell you about those reasons!

For one thing, the class is held not in the cozy old Linguistics Department building, but in a fancy new technotastic room which is set up for all kinds of sophisticated technology-assisted learning. In particular, a lot of cameras in the walls record our every comment and then the whole thing gets uploaded to a website so we can rewind and rewatch the lectures. Like for example if we were too busy drawing cartoons on our homework assignment to catch what somebody just said. This means that every time anybody wants to say anything we have to press the button on the remote control which is velcroed to the table nearest our current position. That tells Big Brother which camera to go to. We can tell if we pushed the button hard enough by looking at one of many giant screens all over the room that show the current feed. It's like being the star of a really sedate movie that is all about Noam Chomsky and his Various Theories of Syntax. Five stars! Two thumbs up! The perfect movie for certain occasions.

So, okay. Yesterday we were all talking about Raising versus Control. This is an issue which I will not explain in detail unless I am asked, and we are at a bar, and I get to draw you diagrams on napkins, and you feign enthusiasm long past the point where you are really very sorry you brought it up. But anyway, it's an issue of linguistics and we were learning about it in class yesterday. Particularly we were learning about, how do you know if you're dealing with a Raising situation or a Control situation? It is very hard. You have to do tests on sentences.

One way that SOME people think you should figure it out is to start substituting idioms willy-nilly for whatever boring sentence you're talking about. This is not a way of which I approve. Apparently, some people have intuitions about acceptability that are much stricter than my own. This is why I will never be a syntactician; I am the lone speaker of an idiolect that is so full of annoying jokes that I don't know how I even have any friends.

Also, the result of any discussion that involves idioms and me is inevitably a lot of snickering on my part. You'd think my professors would know better by now and send me out of the room on some trumped-up errand. "Take this blank piece of paper to the Dean's Office! It's important!"

Here's what I wrote on my notes from yesterday:

The cat is out of the bag.
The cat seems to be out of the bag
The cat really wants to be out of the bag
That cat is ASKING to be out of the bag

Bob kicked the bucket
Bob seems to have kicked the bucket
Bob keeps trying to kick the bucket

The cat's out of the bucket.
Bob kicked the cat.
Bob bagged buckets of cats.
Well, the cat's out of the bucket and Bob won't stop kicking it.
Bob kicked the cat out of the bucket.
The cat kicked the bucket and now Bob's out of the bag.

Poor kitty.

No comments:

Post a Comment