Wednesday, March 06, 2013

88. Small Words with Big Meanings

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I had this idea once: provided that a sheet big enough were found to take up all the structural possibilities of English, all the teaching activities would unfold as an intricate mandala – all starting from a core and creating a 3D-network. Taking the paths that are forming from the core would lead anyone to progress, and at the same time would make learning something tangible and finite. Well, the ‘good news’ is that I’m not the only one who would like to find a solution to what in fact keeps someone studying for years and years. The ‘bad news’ is that it would hardly be of any use to master structures alone – simply because the meaning of structure is relative.
Where does the structure get formed and where does lexis stop exerting an influence?

1. Harry’s doctor vs. Harry’s a doctor
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Do you recognize the combinations in the example?
Is any of them a structure? And, if so, which one?
How many differences can you find?
What are the questions you would ask so as to receive them as answers?

2. Verb Meanings

The verb strike is polysemous – a very common phenomenon in all the world's languages. In its second sense, it is close to hit, or attack somebody /something:

[adapted from Oxford Dictionary of Collocations]
a.     He struck her hard across the face.
b.    The German army struck deep into northern France.
c.     Lightning struck the old oak.
d.     The remark struck home.

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Which sentence presents /sentences present the literal meaning? Is any of them an expression that should be understood figuratively? If so, which one(s)?

3. The same verb, in its second sense, means ‘come into your mind suddenly/give an impression. What this means is that you should expect certain adverbs to appear in sentences in which this sense is used (the examples are taken from the same source):

a.     It suddenly struck me how we could improve the situation.
b.    An awful thought has just struck me.
c.     Joan was struck by the forcible silence.
d.     He struck me as being rather slow-witted.

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The thing is, how do you decide on the meaning to be applied in these sentences? What is there that directs you towards this other sense?

When you’ve read the answers, I hope you’ll see what I mean. And agree with me that you can hardly ever convey any meanings (in English, in this case) without constructing those meanings from some linguistic material arranged in a structure and having a phonological support. So, back to the starting point.    

Monday, March 04, 2013

87. 'The more the merrier'

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Who might claim that we don’t manufacture our own idealized model of ‘being’, or ‘acting’? Consciously or unconsciously, we’re constantly trying to look better, taller, more interesting; or else seem more intelligent, better prepared, richer, healthier…It’s absolutely natural to try to improve and embellish our domestic affairs and the world we’re adjusting to against our potential, while actualizing it: it’s the essence of the human nature.

Hm. No sooner said than done! One needs some solid knowledge of adjective and adverb formation to do that successfully. While expressing ‘positive’ values, there doesn’t seem to be too much trouble paying attention to such…static, uninteresting affirmations as My car is bigger, faster, and more expensive than his; but in order to make the discourse unfold while you speak you must know that adjectives and adverbs are a somewhat unsettled category which shaped asymmetrically in English. Yes, it’s true that there are some adjectives which may ‘follow’ both rules, like I feel more tired / tireder today than yesterday (though tireder is hardly ever heard these days). Again, this should make us think about exceptions.

And about the conflictive adjectives that have replaced adverbs in General American, like Now I want you to move real (=really) slow. Then again, a lot can be said about How are you? ~ I’m good (=fine /(very) well) or I’m trying hard – never hardly. Yet there are still those trustworthy cases in which you simply can’t say *Everything is more easy today: it’s still easier that represents the established norm.      

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A.  Progressive increase /decrease
You can express these linguistic aspects by placing the corresponding adjective or adverb after the verb – reduplicating it and uniting them by and.
It goes without saying that the use of progressive tenses is not a grammatical, but a logical, consequence:

Thomas smokes more and more.
Your niece studies less and less.

Well, that is the ideal case. It’s just that by no means are adjectives and adverbs in English so easy to transform. The ones above are special forms whose ‘positive’ variants cause a lot of trouble when you want to quantify or qualify nominals: it’s all a matter of number, i.e., singular (Singular Countable and Singular Uncountable/Quantity) and plural. ‘More’ will refer to either (Aff.) ‘a lot (of_)’ or (Neg.) and (Aff-? /Neg.-?) [not] much/many [?]. So, if you wonder what the previous affirmations look like in the positive, you’ll have to consider:

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Thomas smokes a lot / *a lot of cigarettes. (nobody says that about the default case, that is cigarettes; only if Thomas smokes cigars, or a pipe – otherwise there’ll be no mention)
Your niece studies little. (how strange that both smoke and study  should be free from expressing the Direct Object, don’t you think? Someone studies ‘something’ anyway!)

Let’s say that a schematic visualization would look like this:

adjetive[-er] and adjetive[-er]

It was getting colder and colder.
You are coming home later and later.
She’s getting fatter and fatter.

Analytic adjectives and adverbs do use more+adjective /adverb and less+adjective/adverb, respectively:

more and more + adjective
less and less + adjective

The film became more and more interesting.
She was becoming less and less interested in his speech.

“What time shall we leave?” ~ ”The sooner the better.(=as soon as possible)
“What sort of box do you want? A big one?” ~ “The bigger the better”. (=as big as possible)
When you’re traveling, the less luggage you have to carry the better. (=it is best to have as little luggage as possible).

Note word order in the structure with two comparatives:
The younger you are, the easier it is to learn.

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What this means is that you aren’t allowed to leave the subject and the verb out of the expression, and that they follow the normal Word Order.

Still, the forms of to be are omitted when the correlated sentences require the same verb form:
The more expensive the hotel [is], the better the service [is]. Exercises 1&2

B.  Parallel increase/decrease

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Here, it’s the lexical unit the that solves the problem. Mind you, we’re far away from the definite article; we should go back in time to important changes that took place in Middle English to know why this happened. For the present purpose, it would be easier to accept it as it is and…move it right along!

Again, the adjectives we used above will prove of great help:

The more John studies the more he learns.
Or the opposite:
The less John studies the less he learns.
(I wouldn’t discard ‘The more John studies the less he knows’)
The fatter Sam gets the uglier he becomes.
The more famous she became the sadder she seemed to be.
The less notice she takes of him the more he tries to please her.