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geoffw
Triglot
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United States
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1134 posts - 1865 votes 
Speaks: English*, German, Yiddish
Studies: Modern Hebrew, French, Dutch, Italian, Russian

 
 Message 497 of 1317
21 March 2013 at 7:19pm | IP Logged 
"I demanded justice." Subjunctive?

EDIT: Slightly more pathological--"I demanded that result."

Edited by geoffw on 21 March 2013 at 7:20pm

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Josquin
Heptaglot
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Germany
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 Message 498 of 1317
21 March 2013 at 7:33pm | IP Logged 
I hope this question wasn't serious, because otherwise I don't know how to answer it appropriately.
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geoffw
Triglot
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United States
Joined 2848 days ago

1134 posts - 1865 votes 
Speaks: English*, German, Yiddish
Studies: Modern Hebrew, French, Dutch, Italian, Russian

 
 Message 499 of 1317
21 March 2013 at 7:45pm | IP Logged 
It wasn't really meant as a question, but I was making a serious attempt to suggest that my examples further show,
as emk argued, that special cases and exceptions can make machine processing of natural language fairly
complicated.
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Expugnator
Hexaglot
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Brazil
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3335 posts - 4349 votes 
Speaks: Portuguese*, Norwegian, French, English, Italian, Papiamento
Studies: Mandarin, Georgian, Russian

 
 Message 500 of 1317
21 March 2013 at 7:52pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:
In general, I found extensive reading to be enormously useful in boosting my reading speed from really slow to about 33–50% of my speed in English. The idea is that you stop worrying about new vocabulary for a while, and just try to increase the speed at which you can read what you already know.


I'm mostly concerned about concrete nouns, and these are the most tiresome to look up, because I often have to do the path French->English->Portuguese and sometimes even look use Google Images. Like yesterday, when a character's mother was giving the main character a recipe on a chicken dish. When I come across a word I find important, I find it demandatory to look it up, mostly verbs.

I do hope it will get better with time. That book by Giono was much easier, and since most of my remaining books are ePub, maybe it's about time I get a pop-up French dictionary for my iPad.
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Josquin
Heptaglot
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Germany
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2266 posts - 3992 votes 
Speaks: German*, English, French, Latin, Italian, Russian, Swedish
Studies: Japanese, Irish, Portuguese, Persian

 
 Message 501 of 1317
21 March 2013 at 8:04pm | IP Logged 
@geoffw: Okay, now I get your point. That really is a problem.
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emk
Diglot
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Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
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 Message 502 of 1317
21 March 2013 at 9:04pm | IP Logged 
Josquin wrote:
emk wrote:
Any theory of grammar must be able to deal with a million weird special cases like, "I demanded that he be ready on time."

This weird special case can be explained very easily. "To demand" requires the subjunctive mood.


Specifically, this is what The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language calls a "mandative subjunctive", one of three major uses of the subjunctive in English outside of fixed phrases (more on the other two in a second).

Let me quote a bit. Here, "*" marks a phrase which is not valid English.

Quote:
Reporting of directives

Imperatives are generally used as directives, and directive speech acts can of course be reported. But they are reported by means of constructions where the subordinate clauses are syntactically and semantically very different from imperative clauses. Compare, for example:

[53]
i. Leave her alone. [imperative]
ii. Max ordered/told/asked/advised me to leave her alone. [infinitival]
iii. Max asked that I leave her alone. [mandative subjunctive]

All three constructions contain the plain form of the verb, but the imperative differs from the other two in taking auxiliary do for verbal negation and emphatic polarity:

[54]
i. Don't be late. [imperative]
ii. *He told me to do not be late. [infinitival]
iii. *He asked that I do not be late. [mandative subjunctive]

In other clause types subordination does not exclude do in this way (compare main Why didn't they like it? and subordinate He asked why they didn't like it), so the data in [54] suggest that we are dealing with different constructions, not main and subordinate versions of a single construction. (p. 443)


The other uses of the English subjunctive mentioned in CGEL are:

* Certain fixed phrases: So be it, Long live…

* A complement to if, unless, lest, etc.: Nothing in the English language has been ridiculued as much as the the ambiguous roots of words, unless it be the ambiguous use of sentences.

* An "exhaustive conditional interrogative": Our thanks are due to all our staff, whether they be in the offices, the warehouses, or the branches, for their help during this difficult time. (They don't mention the famous Be he live or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread!, but nobody's perfect.)

There's also a completely different construction which some teachers (particularly in the ESL world) like to call the "past subjunctive", and which CGEL refers to as the irrealis for clarity: If I were king…

Anyway, CGEL has about 5 pages discussing the mandative subjunctive. The entire book is over 1,800 pages long, and it's really just a summary of what modern linguists know about English grammar. And the linguists who do this research are constantly running across weird little constructions that they can't explain.

This is ultimately why you need massive amounts of exposure to learn all the fine points of grammar. The Grammaire progressive du français is a wonderful book, but even their Perfectionnement covers a minuscule fraction of what appears in an 1800-page doorstop like CGEL, which is only a portion of what every native speaker knows. (No native speaker was ever taught that [54]ii and [54]iii above are ungrammatical, and yet we all know it.)

When Chomsky's followers attempt to reduce this endless complexity to statements like "Italian is a pro-drop language, but English isn't," as though there were some small set of tunable parameters in a Universal Grammar, I personally think they're hopelessly off track. There's a thousand perfectly ordinary English utterances like "Want to grab a bite to eat?" that violate these simple patterns.

My personal hypothesis is that grammar is a half-baked attempt to extract a regular mathematical structure out the expressions actually observed in a language. When no pattern is apparent, we just repeat chunked phrases, or chunked phrases with a few variations slotted into likely-looking positions. Or to put it another way, grammar is first and foremost a bunch of snowclones, clichéd phrases with open slots.

Or at least if you build your statistical natural language parser assuming this to be true, maybe you won't be ground down by the endless exceptions that led Sapir to declare, "All grammars leak."
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emk
Diglot
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 Message 503 of 1317
21 March 2013 at 9:16pm | IP Logged 
Expugnator wrote:
I'm mostly concerned about concrete nouns, and these are the most tiresome to look up, because I often have to do the path French->English->Portuguese and sometimes even look use Google Images. Like yesterday, when a character's mother was giving the main character a recipe on a chicken dish. When I come across a word I find important, I find it demandatory to look it up, mostly verbs.


(Just so you know, I've never seen the word "demandatory" before. A false friend or maybe a typo?)

There's a tradeoff with looking up words. Sometimes a word will be totally opaque in context, but at other times the context will make its meaning clear. The idea of extensive reading is that you read fast enough that you encounter the latter sort of situation very often, and you learn thousands of new words.

If you stop to look lots of words up in the dictionary, you'll read slowly, and you won't encounter the same total number of cases where the meaning of a word is made clear from context. And you also train yourself to "decode" carefully, and you don't get as much practice reading at a glance. I think that it's important to develop both skills.

That's why I have good luck mixing the two kinds of reading. I find it enormously helpful to just sit down and blow through a paperback sometimes, ignoring any words I don't know. If I come back and read the book again a few months later, I often know all but one or two words per page.
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Expugnator
Hexaglot
Senior Member
Brazil
Joined 3326 days ago

3335 posts - 4349 votes 
Speaks: Portuguese*, Norwegian, French, English, Italian, Papiamento
Studies: Mandarin, Georgian, Russian

 
 Message 504 of 1317
21 March 2013 at 9:39pm | IP Logged 
Sorry, I just meant mandatory. It doesn't exist in either English, Portuguese or French =D

On the other hand, I think what I do accounts for extensive listening. I won't look up a word I hear on TV because I won't know how it is spelt. I won't even be able to extract it from the blur of incomprehension. (That's not totally true, I can pick up some words in isolated contexts and I even happened to look them up, but this happened only two or three times).


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