February 25, 2005

Carnegie International, 2-4

Second installment. See here for all my posts.

2. Mamma Andersson. Paintings

3. R. Crumb. Comics and sketchbooks; a career retrospective.

4. Robert Breer. Two short animated films.

2. Mamma Andersson. Andersson's paintings are representational in a post-impressionist way. In many of them there are areas of blotched color, somewhat like a damaged photograph, or (if I remember correctly) sometimes part of a scene is transparently overlaid over another part. (I think I'm thinking of Stairway to the Stars as described in the catalog--linked on Andersson's name above.) I think there's one painting, of seats in a theater, that contains no nonrepresentational elements.

Overall the feel is bucolic or domestic rather than urban. The non-representational areas don't create a feeling of threat or damage--rather of open-endedness. Travelling in the Family (click on the thumbnail here should give the impression of the peace of the family in a fragile bubble, as palls of smoke hover outside--but somehow it doesn't. The family is there, the landscape outside dissolves into abstraction, and that's that. I'd say that these abstract areas, as well as the pictures within the pictures cited by the artist's bio, "seem to give us a view to a dimension beyond the present."

3. R. Crumb. R. Crumb you know, right? It was nice to see Despair, panels of which I'd seen before--more disconnected and surreal than I'd thought. Dave White points out that the open letter to feminists makes less sense if you haven't seen the work that would provoke them--and that is by and large, not on display. Perhaps some of my readers will have something to say about White's paragraphs 1 and 3.

4. Robert Breer. Two short animated films, "Atoz" and "What Goes Up." "Atoz" was delightful. The alphabet may seem like an implacable structure, but Breer's ramshackle methods subvert any such thing--the film feels improvised. Some letters appear as letters followed by objects that begin with them--sometimes you see an object without the letter appearing--sometimes an image turns into a letter which turns into something else almost before you've noticed it--and a naked woman pops up every so often with no apparent alphabetical rationale. There are jumps and discontinuities throughout--an image that's morphing into another will be replaced by something seemingly unrelated for a few frames, then it's back to the morphing.

"What Goes Up," though it uses similar methods (with more live photography), didn't move me nearly as much. It may be that Breer needs the forward momentum that the alphabet provided. According to the bio, "What Goes Up cycles through several intervals framed by the drawn animations of an ascending plane and a variety of images that offer a succinct summary of the joys of being alive—photographs of the artist's family, home and studio, food, drink, the changing leaves, and a drawing of a voluptuous woman." But the plane's flight didn't structure the film for me--so what I was left with was more of a sequence of snippets.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:29 PM | Comments (1)

February 23, 2005

Carnegie International Blog: Kutlug Ataman

This is the first installment of my promised review of the Carnegie International. The artists are arranged in a certain order for the tour, and I'm going to review them in that order. It'll be just like looking at the exhibits yourself! Except instead of looking at the art you'll be reading my blog.

1. Kutlug Ataman, born 1961, Istanbul. Kuba, a video and furniture installation.

(I will be making an effort to cover more than one artist per entry as this goes on.)

1. Kutlug Ataman. You enter the exhibit and see an array of TVs on rickety tables facing rickety chairs. You hear a low hubbub, a crowd of voices. Each TV shows a repeating loop of an inhabitant of Kuba, a shanty town in Istanbul.

To see what's happening you have to sit down and watch the videotape (and read the subtitles, if you don't speak Turkish). The speakers present themselves, with no overt intervention from behind the camera--a woman telling how things were in her childhood; a young man talking about where he works, the girl he loves there, and the trouble she has with her family; an older man with a beard screaming incoherently. Each gives the museumgoer a sense of a life that's very different from the one we live.

There is far too much to take in in one sitting--I'm not sure how long the loops are, but most of the ones I watched didn't repeat in the time I was there. One of my informants thought that the thing to do would be to watch one a day for a month. But in a way part of the impact is this sense that there's too much to absorb--there's so many people in the shanty that you could never have time to know them all. And I found very compelling the way in which one story impinged on another--I would sit at one monitor and look over to read the subtitles on the next. Though most people were filmed alone in a room, and sitting in a chair you were communing with one person, this gave the sense of everyone crowded together--parallel lives in a small space.

The artist's bio says "There is no indication whether the stories that Kuba's residents tell are straight autobiography or fantasy, because Ataman is interested less in separating truth from fiction than in presenting the complex intertwining of the two." Before reading this I hadn't thought anyone was presenting themselves as fictional--though the screaming older man (who I saw later) did seem to be playing to the camera.

Kuba reminded me of the installation of Chantal Akerman's d'Est a few Internationals back--that also had banks of TVs running a sort of documentary. And I didn't find the films in Kuba as captivating as d'Est; Kuba is more like a straight documentary, less aestheticized than Akerman's slow pans over (e.g.) waiting rooms and train stations, capturing what happens when nothing's happening. But d'Est was extraordinary--the comparison is not fair.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:12 PM | Comments (5)

Useless Lunchtime Thought

Gratuituous quotation marks as in

(1) Try our "new" southwestern beef sandwich!

aren't strictly speaking incorrect, they merely create a false implicature. (1) literally only says-or-whatever* that the sandwich is called 'new'. And this is true. It is, however, not as informative as it would be if the quotation marks were removed, which would say-or-whatever not only that the sandwich is called 'new', but that it is new.

I'm committed to the idea that it can be very bad to implicate a falsehood--as bad as asserting a falsehood. But that mostly applies to deliberate deception. When you implicate a falsehood through overenthusiastic punctuation, that's not as bad.

*I'm trying to be neutral concerning whether "Try our new beef sandwich" asserts, presupposes, or what that the beef sandwich is new. I suppose I can't abide the thesis that it's merely implicated.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:36 PM | Comments (6)

February 22, 2005

Majikthise on Women Political Bloggers

Lindsay Beyerstein at Majikthise has an excellent post on the recurring alleged lack of women political bloggers. She offers a list of female bloggers doing top-notch work (I dissent from one of those, but never mind), and points out that they are big players in the blogosphere.

But I do think there's a bit of a marginalization program. Read a lot of the most prominent male leftish bloggers (like the "Politics" section of my blogroll, excepting Obisidian Wings which is neither all male nor all leftish--Crooked Timber is not all male either, but most of the regular posters are male*) and you'll find a lot of links to each other, and not so many links to these women. So, when I read political blogs--which is not quite so much, lately--I find myself reading men's writing much more than women's.

Here it doesn't matter how much--if at all--differences (socially conditioned or whatever) between men and women contribute to the lack of attention I for one am paying to female polibloggers. If that lack of attention is a bad thing that should be addressed, and if systemic discrimination has any contribution to it--which I think is unquestionable--then there's a way to address that. Make an effort to seek out, read, and link more women polibloggers. It's the same way with any discrimination you may not know you're practicing. Check yourself to see if everyone you've read lately has been male--and if so, do something about it.

Now, I don't actually intend to do anything about it in my daily blog reading, because I think the less poliblogging I read the better. (Yes, this is kind of hypocritical.) But I think the same lesson applies to the most prominent male lefty bloggers, who are in a position to do something big about the systemic discrimination, and should have the inclination to do something about it. Ask yourself if you've been reading the same guys lately. If you have, try to read some women. You may find something you like and want to link. That could help break down the gender barriers.

I'm going to do one tiny little thing here, and that's to add some of Majikthise's (and other) links to my blogroll. I don't read everything on my blogroll, but if anyone happens to look for poliblogs from my site maybe I'll have done that little bit for gender equity in the blogosphere.

*And I hear one of the Fafbloggers is not male. And Left2Right isn't all male either, though I think the two people who post the most are male. Let's make it the "Politics" section as it stood when I started the blog.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 06:30 PM | Comments (4)

Baby Name Graphs

via SnarkAttack, this is really tremendously cool.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:07 PM | Comments (0)

February 21, 2005

"Owen Wingrave"

Since I am soon to teach Bernard Williams' "Internal and External Reasons," it behooves me to say this: I haven't seen the opera, but Henry James' ghost story "Owen Wingrave" is lame. Spoilers below the fold, such as they are.

The ghost story itself is about as hackneyed as they come. "There's an old family ghost, and a young man in the family is making an unpopular decision, and the rest of the family thinks he's a coward, so to show he's not he spends the night in the ghosty ghost room, and in the morning he's found--you'll never guess--DEAD!" Please.

Of course, James' ghost stories shouldn't necessarily be judged by the criteria we apply to lesser non-mortals; if he can attain some level of psychological depth in a story that turns on a device that is hackneyed, as ghost stories go, then it's a good story. But--and here I should be cautious, because I've only read the story once--I don't get that from this story. Wingrave refuses to enter the army, but not from cowardice, which his family is incapable of understanding--does it take a Henry James to tell this story? I much prefer "The Ghostly Rental," or "The Romance of Certain Old Clothes," or "Sir Edmund Orme" with its disquieting subtext, or definitely "The Turn of the Screw" with its even more disquieting etc. (And I think I left one out.)

Also, the details of "Owen Wingrave" harm Williams' point. Williams thinks Owen has no reason to join the army. But the fact that the family ghost is going to kill Owen if he doesn't join is a pretty big reason, which can be explained in terms of Owen's motivational set.

I do not intend to bring any of this up when teaching the essay.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:29 PM | Comments (3)

February 20, 2005

The Carnegie International

I've been meaning for a while to blog the Carnegie International, on view in Pittsburgh until March 20. The exhibit is organized to encourage you to see the artworks in a very particular order, so I'd like to discuss each one in that order, over the course of several posts. But I don't have with me the program that actually says what that order is, and the list of artists on the website is in alphabetical order. So I'll start with a few overview comments.--The first one being, it's a very fine exhibition of contemporary art, and if you have the chance to go you should. And spend lots of money in Pittsburgh.

My tastes in art run toward contemporary stuff (and impressionism and post-impressionism); unlike some people, I genuinely like a lot of installation art. And some of the publicity when this International was being planned had me grumbling, "I hope it's not going to be a lot of John Currin." But I found myself liking the painting better than any other component of the exhibit. Julie Mehretu, Peter Doig, and Francis Alys were especially strong--Doig's and Alys's representational work tended to the mystical, Mehretu's abstractions monumental and in a way clinical. Painting wasn't all--Katarina Kozyra's film installation, Lee Bontecou's sculpture, and Paul Chan's computer video piece were also particularly memorable--but I spent more time hovering around the paintings than I expected to.

(Does that say anything about the current state of painting in the contemporary art world? I doubt it. More likely it reflects this curator's vision.)

I'll start going through the individual artworks once I find the program. I saw the exhibition in January so my recollections may be inaccurate--as ever, if you're dissatisfied with anything, I'll gladly refund your subscription.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:17 PM | Comments (3)

AOTW = As of this writing

As Ogged says. I've decided that that abbreviation needed to be introduced, so I'm introducing it. If you would like to help it spread, besides using it, you can link to the definition, perhaps using the letters themselves: AOTW.

I'm just looking for a modest corner of eternity, here.

[UPDATE: This entry is #4 hit AOTW. Guess the Google algorithm revision that downgraded blogs ain't so bad.]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:46 PM | Comments (0)

February 18, 2005

Note to Self

Not everyone knows what a Whack-a-Mole game is. Referring to whack-a-mole games in the discussion period may cause confusion.

(And this--#1 hit--is weird but kinda cute.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 05:10 PM | Comments (0)

February 16, 2005

Talk at UWM Friday

UWM Philosophy Colloquium Series
Friday, Feb. 18, 3:30 pm
Curtin Hall 118 (note--not the usual room for Philosophy Colloquia)

Matthew Weiner, "An Incoherence Theory of Knowledge."

Note also the difference between 'ce' and 't'. The argument is that our ordinary use of the word 'know' is incoherent, but in a largely harmless way. The word 'know' is governed by four inference principles that together are inconsistent, but in practice we are usually able to use 'know' in such a way as to express usable contents.

This paper currently exists only in a 41-page very rough draft, which I'm unwilling to post on the web for the eyes of all and sundry. But e-mail me (or comment) if you want a copy. Or, if you're in Milwaukee, a hard copy is available in the Philosophy office (Curtin 612).

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:42 PM | Comments (3)

Weiner Power!

The apostropher points out that this article ran on my birthday. I was pleased to see that the Hon. Weiner pronounces the name correctly. My family can't figure out where the name came from either.

(Can't find a permanent link for the NYT article, sorry.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:57 AM | Comments (0)

February 15, 2005


it's my birthday. Send me something nice.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:40 PM | Comments (4)

Yesterday's Playlist

So when I got back home yesterday, I was singing "My Fretful Porpentine" as is my wont, and I realized: Hey, a special day calls for a special playlist. This is what I listen to (after the Satoko Fujii Orchestra's Jo, in the morning before I'd decided to make the day thematic):

Miles Davis: My Funny Valentine, live (I'd been listening to Four, its companion, just the day before);
Mekons: I [heart] Mekons
Palace Music: Lost Blues and Other Songs
Chet Baker: "My Funny Valentine" (should've listened to all of Let's Get Lost, but after Palace Music I wanted more up)
Mike Westbrook Concert Band feat. Norma Winstone: Love Songs
Stefan Jaworzyn and Alan Wilkinson: "My Psychotic Valentine" (from In a Sentimental Mood)

which took me to midnight. I listened to the last track on headphones, as I thought the neighbors might not appreciate it so late at night. Sadly I don't have any Kid Thomas Valentine records.

Listening to the Mekons album again, it occurred to me that I could revisit this dispute with bza. I said that the surprising thing about I [heart] Mekons "wasn't that it was an album of love songs, it was that it was an album of happy love songs."

bza responded, ""I Love the Apple" isn't so happy. I think you're confusing bounciness with happiness."

Who's right?

Well, in my response to bza I said that Sally Timms' songs weren't happy. I want that on the record right away.

1. Millionaire. A Sally song. "Everybody's so in love, but they don't touch or meet." A stark, brutal world where love means nothing. Not happy.

2. Wicked Midnight.

i won't be looking for revenge again
seems like i'll be feeling good, yeah!
more ways to win more ways to better loving
look into these eyes of mine
all the lovely things will come together this time

There's the hint of revenge here, and the storms, but it sounds pretty happy to me overall. By Mekonic standards, at least. We're up against Oblivion here (another Sally special).

3. I Don't Know. "i say i love you, go to hug you, i know i'm lying, i don't know." Er, um. The song is bouncy, at least.

4. Dear Sausage. Sally. I'm not sure exactly what's going on in most of these lyrics, but I'm pretty sure it's not happy. The most positive image of love here is probably "and at the gate where the boneless meet, we melt and merge back into the sea," and that's at best up with the "love and solidarity may sustain us for a little while in a word that's crushing us" mode of Gin Palace, Charlie Cake Park, and "You can't live alone" ending to Journey to the End of Night. "Dear Sausage" is my favorite song on this album.

5. All I Want. "virtual reality, i smell you but never touch, my day spent just wondering, waiting to hear your call." I would claim that this represents the yearning aspect of love rather than the complete alienation of "Millionaire." Still, I'm not doing very well here.

6. Special. "feeling you move, you move me, you're running through me." I don't see anything negative here. It may be about sex more than love but that's part of it, right?

7. St. Valentine's Day. OK, this is the crux of my argument here. "love, it is a killing thing, did you ever feel the pain or hear the noise of kisses on cold skin in the rain?" is not, I insist, actually negative about love. And Sally's verse, "i went to church last sunday night, i knew him and he knew me, making love on the mossy stone, moonlight burns so bright" is positively ecstatic. I defy you to find a precedent in the Mekons' work.

8. I [heart] Apple. I don't see why bza picked on this one. "i like the apple and i like a pear, i like your curly black hair," what's not happy about that? The material surroundings may be squalid but that's how it is in Mekons land.

9. Love Letter. Sally. Absolutely, utterly despairing. "she crushed this letter down into a ball, so nothing could disturb her heart." Brrrrr.

10. Honeymoon in Hell. Hmm, that title isn't going to help me out. And the ending, "i'd swap ten years of married life to have it all again" cuts both ways, dunnit? Hmm.

11. Too Personal. I'm not sure I understand most of the lyrics here, either. The ending, "a small gift of knowledge, i'm still trying to understand," I'd argue is redemptive, but history punching him in the nose and the blade designed to pierce the hardest heart may not be so positive.

12. Point of No Return. A Lonesome Bob cover. It's about doing wrong and "there's a darker side of love i'm bound to learn." Not happy really.

OK, so we're at about 4 or 5 happy love songs out of 12. But for finding unalloyed happiness in Mekons songs (outside of Me) that, as in baseball, is a damn good average. And we actually have a majority of non-Sally songs on this album, if you grant me some generous readings.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:36 PM | Comments (5)

February 14, 2005

All You Have To Do Is Call, And I'll Be There

But while I was thinking about the title of the last post--part of my program of making amends for dissing Paul (or did John do that one?)--I noticed the oddity of the rest of the chorus:

(1) All you have to do is call, and I'll be there.

Offhand (1) doesn't seem like a straightforward conjunction. If you don't call, I may not be there. What is conveyed is more like this:

(2) If you call, I'll be there.

Now, "all you have to do is" seems to me to be a dual of "you have to," somewhat as "if" is a dual of "only if." Compare the anankastic conditional

(3) If you want to pass this class, you have to finish all the homework


(4) If you want to pass this class, all you have to do is finish all the homework.

Where (3) expresses a necessary condition for passing the class, (4) expresses a sufficient condition.

So (2) means the same as the anankastic conditional

(5) All you have to do is call, if you want me to be there

which of course differs from (1) only by the substitution of "if you want me to" for "I'll."

I am kicking around a couple of ideas for how this might work (the Janneke Huitink paper Kai blogs here might help). But in the meantime I note that this construction might illuminate imperative-declarative conjunctions like

(6) Make a mistake and they jump all over you.

Earlier I cited Dwight Bolinger claiming that sentences like (6) are aphetics, not true imperatives at all. But (1) suggests (to me) that the imperative from of the first conjunct really does play a role here. "All you have to do is call" means something like the imperative "Call," but syntactically it's nothing like. So the fact that these two sentences have the same role when conjoined with a declarative suggests to me that we should look for a semantic/pragmatic explanation rather than a purely syntactic one.

(Whatever that means. What I really mean is that what Kent Bach called Bolinger's corny delete this-insert that transformations don't look like they'll work.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:18 PM | Comments (1)

Any Time At All

While I was thinking about the NPI post, I noticed that the usage of "any" seems to be a mess. Compare these two sentences:

(1) I'll take any road.
(2) I took any road.

It seems to me that (1) is obviously OK, and (2) is obviously wrong. I can't even tell what (2) would mean.

From the first few pages of the Google search, "took any" seems to occur only in NPI-licensing contexts, whereas "take any" appears in 'will take any unwanted corn snakes, which is not I think NPI-licensing. For instance,

(3) I will ever take unwanted corn snakes

seems wrong (unless 'ever' is being used archaically). And that disturbs me. Why should changing the tense change the acceptability of "any"? Unless (1) is actually a habitual tense, which would make a difference.

Anyway, Kai von Fintel has just posted a link to a Larry Horn paper on "any," which I'm sure is required reading for anyone who wants to think about this seriously. So--no thinking about this seriously unless and until I read Horn's paper.

[UPDATE: Yep, Horn's paper explains the difference between (1) and (2). From footnote 2, on p. 5:

Haspelmath... notes (1993: 52-55) that free-choice indefinites tend to be prosodically prominent and are invariably (as opposed to the corresponding ordinary some-series indefinites) non-specific; it is when the non-specifics are contextually ruled out (as in past perfectives or present progressives) that FC any and its cross-linguistic analogues are generally impossible. [Haspelmath 1993 = A Typological Study of Indefinite Pronouns. PhD dissertation, Freie Universität Berlin.]

If I've got the terminology right, (2) is a past perfective, and it rules out any because you can't have taken a non-specific road; if you take a road, there must be some road you've taken. (Or is "I've taken..." the past perfective? It may be that (2) is acceptable when it's meant habitually: "[When I was on the bum] I took any road [that I found myself on].")

Anyway, this also explains why the present progressive (4) is bad:

(4) I'm taking any road.

Again, there must be one specific road that you're taking. Though again it seems to me that you can make FC any acceptable in present progressive when it has a habitual reading:

(5) At this point in my life, I'm joining any club that will have me as a member.

Any road, you can take this post as a pointer to interesting stuff rather than anything original. That's a good way to take most of my linguistics posts.]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:05 PM | Comments (3)

We Apologize for the Inconvenience

My whole site was down for a little while, due to a mixup that I thought was 80% my fault but turned out to be 100% my fault. Apologies. If you sent any email to my mattweiner.net address, it may not have gone through at all.

(And thanks to all my e-friends for their kind words of support and for bringing this impostor to my attention.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:13 PM | Comments (3)

February 12, 2005

Phill Niblock at Hotcakes Gallery Tomorrow (Sunday)

The Hotcakes site:

In a continued partnership with Crouton Music, Hotcakes is pleased to announce Phill Niblock live at the gallery on Sunday, February 13th, from 7-9 pm. There is a Milwaukee-priced, $8 cover charge at the door.... Phill Niblock makes thick, loud drones of music, filled with microtones of instrumental timbres which generate many other tones in the performance space. Simultaneously, he presents films / videos which look at the movement of people working, or computer driven black and white abstract images floating through time.

Hotcakes is at 3379 N. Pierce St. in Riverwest. From personal experience: bring earplugs.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:26 PM | Comments (0)

February 11, 2005

Factivity and "Must"

Mark A.R. Kleiman, faced with a claim of the form "X must be shown that p," asks, "But how can he be shown that when it is demonstrably not true?"

In philosopher-speak: "show that" is factive. Granting (which I do) Kleiman's claim that p is false, it is impossible to show that p.

Except the factive locution is inside a modal. So the original speaker might be saying the following: p must be made true, and X must be shown that p.

It'd be interesting to work out the semantics of this. Even if q entails p, Must(q) seems like it's an odd way to express Must(p). If Grad Student says to Advisor "In two weeks, you must realize that I've finished my dissertation," that seems like a very roundabout way to say "I must have my dissertation finished in two weeks."

However, in the case under discussion, the party that would make p true is the same party that would be showing X that p. So in that case it may be more natural to use Must(X is shown that p) to express Must(p). My instinct is that the passive voice doesn't help, though, because it doesn't make clear exactly on whom the onus is to show X that p. Must(Y shows X that Y is not F) would be much clearer. For Grad Student to say to Advisor, "By Friday, you must be shown that I'm ready to defend" might make it seem as though someone else had to show Advisor something that's already true. For Grad Student to say "By Friday, I must show you that I'm ready to defend" makes it sound as though Grad Student knows that readiness to defend is part of the issue.

The moral here, I guess, is that when you're assigning responsibility stay away from the passive voice. Hoary but true.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:15 PM | Comments (0)

February 10, 2005

Can There Be a Purely Semantic Account of NPI Licensing?

Let's start with a whole mess of disclaimers. NPI licensing has been thoroughly studied, and not by me. So these examples may well have been gone over, or I may have missed something obvious. Also, my intuitions may be slightly odd because of my exposure to different dialects of English (as I explain below). But...

I've mentioned that positive "anymore" is used in Pittsburghese. So

(1) Gas is really expensive anymore

is acceptable in Pittsburghese, but not in the dialect I speak most of the time and perhaps not in the dialect you speak. [I'm going to call that dialect "SAE," though like Suzette I'm not sure whether there is any such thing or if it's what I speak. But if I don't have a three-letter abbreviation for a dialect that's not Pittsburghese, this post will never get finished.]

(1) means the same as "Gas is really expensive nowadays," which is OK in either Pittsburghese or SAE. The following sentence is also acceptable in SAE as well as Pittsburghese:

(2) Gas isn't really expensive anymore

which means, or at least implicates, that gas used to be expensive and now is not expensive. That (2) is acceptable in SAE but (1) isn't indicates that "anymore" is a negative polarity item (NPI) in SAE. It's controversial how to characterize the environments that license NPIs. Here's a paper by Kai von Fintel on them (I haven't completely absorbed it, so maybe it contains a solution to the problems I'm going to raise).

OK, now consider these two sentences:

(3) I can't look at a pretzel anymore.
(4) Anymore I can't look at a pretzel.

My feeling is that (3) is acceptable in SAE and Pittsburghese, but (4) is acceptable only in Pittsburghese. I slip between dialects a bit, so maybe these intuitions aren't the most reliable, but that's my intuition. That would indicate that in SAE "X I can't look at a pretzel" isn't an NPI-licensing environment for X, whereas "I can't look at a pretzel X" is. And that seems to be hold for "ever," which is an NPI in Pittsburghese as well as SAE:

(5) *Ever I can't look at a pretzel.
(6) I can't look at a pretzel ever.

(Actually, I don't think "ever" is always an NPI--it's not in "It was ever thus"--but I think when it isn't an NPI it always sounds somewhat archaic. Put another disclaimer in there.)

Now, as far as I can tell the most common accounts of NPI licensing have to do with the semantics of the environment in which the NPI appears. NPIs, it is thought, are licensed within the scope of an operator that is downward entailing, or Strawson downward entailing, or not upward entailing, or some variation thereof. (See von Fintel and Daniel Rothschild for explanations of these terms, and some theories.)

But it seems to me that the difference between (3) and (4) can't be explained in terms of their semantics, because in Pittsburghese, where both are acceptable, they mean exactly the same thing. Indeed, it seems to me that for many temporal modifiers X ("anymore," "ever," "lately," "on Friday"), "X I can't look at a pretzel" and "I can't look at a pretzel X" mean the same thing if they're both acceptable. If that's true, then there's no hope for a purely semantic account of NPI licensing.

There are some cases in which the order makes a difference:

(7) Every day I can't look at a pretzel.
(8) I can't look at a pretzel every day.

In (7) "every day" scopes "I can't look," in (8) it's the other way around. So perhaps in (3) "anymore" is within the scope of the negation, and in (4) it isn't. Nevertheless, as far as the semantics go it seems as though they have exactly the same readings. Does this mean that here there's a difference in scope that determines NPI licensing even when it doesn't determine truth conditions? Maybe.

On the other hand there's

(9) On Fridays I don't teach.

(10) I don't teach on Fridays.

In both (9) and (10), on the most natural readings, "on Fridays" scopes the negation. So this doesn't settle the question of scope. If anyone can settle the question of scope for me, and explain whether this restores the possibility of a semantic explanation for NPI licensing, I'd appreciate it.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:17 AM | Comments (3)

I Must Make Amends

Mom sent me a stiff note concerning my dis of Paul McCartney in the last post. So to be fair, I should say that it was not at all unpleasant to have "Hey Jude" running through my head for a while (alternating with the not unpleasant accordion music). He really is/was great (I haven't liked most of what he's done since the Beatles, but he probably gets lifetime greatness status for that.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 10:46 AM | Comments (3)

February 07, 2005

Light Blogging Continues

In the spirit of this post, do you think it makes sense to flag Plato for Illegal Formation? Or does that apply to ontologists with overly liberal views (should there be any)? I believe I can flag C.L. Hamblin, "Starting and Stopping," for False Start.

Otherwhere, after riding the bus this morning my head is filled with the accordion music from the ad for car seats they show on Transit TV. This is odd, because (1) the sound was broken on the bus this morning and (2) that ad wasn't shown anyway. The associations are getting strong.

(Oh, and could the halftime show have been any lamer? What's with this "Great or once-great musician plays a lot of his greatest hits" thing? I want glitz! I want dancing! I want humorous juxtaposition of a lot of currently fashionable acts of questionable aesthetic worth!)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:55 AM | Comments (3)

February 01, 2005


I was just hit by 138 trackback spams. I've now closed trackback on all old entries. Since I've got about 10 legitimate pings in the life of this blog, I may just close trackback on all new entries if this keeps up. And when I went to write this entry, I found a new comment spam on an entry that's more recent than this one, which I want to keep open. Sometimes I wonder why I keep this hard work up, and then I remember, at the end of the blogging tunnel, there's... wait, what is there at the end of the tunnel? Anyway, blogging is still light (I meant sometime in February, not Feb. 1.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:04 PM | Comments (0)