A new research project

UniGe2In December 2018, I will join the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures of the University of Genoa, Italy as a research fellow. I will be working on a research project entitled ‘English construction grammar(s): Between description and cognition.’

The project consists of a critical appraisal of the family of theoretical approaches collectively known as ‘Construction Grammar,’ a very popular but not uncontroversial framework. Indeed, it is often less than clear if the studies carried out within the Construction Grammar framework should be considered, cautiously, as structural descriptions of linguistic facts or, more ambitiously, as psycholinguistic analyses. The goal of the present project is to study the notion of construction in English and evaluate the distinct constructional models proposed in the literature, on the basis of a sample of empirical data drawn from corpora such as COCA. If necessary, the project also aims to develop an alternative model at least descriptively accurate.

Stay tuned!

News on reviews

several booksMy review of Peter Lasersohn’s book ‘Subjectivity and perspective in truth-theoretic semantics’ is now available on the LINGUIST List website. The interested reader can either read it online or get the PDF version.

Shortly, I will also receive and review the new book ‘Southern English varieties then and now,’ a collection of studies edited by Laura Wright on the varieties of English spoken in the south of England. Stay tuned!

A new joint presentation

AelfricOn November 29-30, 2018, Cristiano Broccias and I will jointly present a paper at the International Workshop on the Diachrony of Ditransitives, which will be held at the University of Eastern Piedmont, Italy. Our contribution will be entitled ‘Revisiting the history of the English dative alternation: An attraction-based account.’ I will upload the slides shortly after the workshop; meanwhile, the program of the meeting is already available for download.

Reviewing a new book on historical linguistics

book harleyI will soon receive a new book to review for the LINGUIST List: ‘Multilingual practices in language history: English and beyond,’ a collection of contributions edited by Päivi Pahta, Janne Skaffari, and Laura Wright. Since I have always been interested in both language history (with particular – though not exclusive – regard to English) and language contact, I am looking forward to receiving the book. Stay tuned!

ICHLL9 presentation

PresentationThe slides of the talk Cristiano Broccias and I gave at the 9th International Conference on Historical Lexicology and Lexicography are now available for download, along with the abstract. It was really great to take part in such an interesting meeting, in such a beautiful venue as Santa Margherita Ligure.

ICHLL9 program

looking at clipboardAs the 9th International Conference on Historical Lexicology and Lexicography (ICHLL9) is approaching, it is possible to download the final version of the program along with the book of abstracts on the conference website. As you will see,  Cristiano Broccias and I will be presenting our paper entitled ‘On the relationship between V and Ving in the English VVing pattern: A historical perspective’ on Wednesday, 20th June 2018 at 4.30pm. Stay tuned!

A logical pitfall in academic writing

typing English and gearsWhen I was a student, it was not infrequent for me to have an idea and write an essay in one go. In the phase of editing, I could not see any faults in my essay, because I knew what I wanted to say. Much to my disappointment, when I had my essay read by somebody else, sometimes I found out that I had communicated something quite different from what I had in mind. I believe this is one of the most insidious pitfalls in essay writing. Indeed, your intentions are unfathomable (and irrelevant) to the reader: s/he will only know (and be interested in) what you have actually written. In other words, a poor word choice can fatally undermine the logic of your argument. I will now clarify this point with the aid of a simple example.

Let us suppose that you are describing an entity, which is made up of three elements standing in a certain relationship with each other: your description of this scenario must be careful and consistent; otherwise, you may find yourself in trouble. Let us also suppose that you have decided to introduce your entity as ‘A’. Later in the text, you want to provide some more details about this entity and say it is made up of the three components ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’. An apparently small oversight has led you to claim, inconsistently, that ‘A’ is at the same time the whole entity and one of its three components. This already amounts to a reductio ad absurdum of your argument and you are also running the risk of going further astray. For instance, you may later term the relationship between the two components ‘A’ and ‘B’ as ‘C’. Then, you would be claiming that ‘A’ is an entity which is made up of itself and two more components, one of which (‘C’) is the relationship between ‘A’ itself and the other component (‘B’). The danger of infinite regress would then be looming large.

You may be tempted to dismiss the present post as ‘stating the obvious’ and/or dealing with a trivial issue. Though perhaps legitimate, this comment does not find support in my experience. It is true that the problem mentioned above can be resolved by rephrasing the concept, so that ‘A’ is an entity made up of three components ‘B’, ‘C’, and ‘D’, with the relationship between ‘B’ and ‘C’ being labelled ‘E’ (for the sake of completeness, let us add that the relationship between ‘C’ and ‘D’ could be labeled ‘F’ and the one between ‘B’ and ‘D’ could be termed ‘G’). However, this is the kind of issue which tends to slip under the radar. Indeed, not only can you find this kind of oversights in student essays, but also in academic books. For instance, in an otherwise well-written monograph on English phraseology, an internationally recognized linguist claimed that his analysis was “… expected to reveal very strong qualitative trends rather than statistically measurable patterns” (the emphasis is mine). This assertion is controversial because the notion of ‘trend’ is inherently quantitative, i.e. a trend is a statistically measurable pattern. Basically, the author is claiming that the analysis is expected to reveal ‘As’ rather than ‘Bs’ but he is overlooking the fact that ‘A’ and ‘B’ are extensionally identical.

Putting the above quotation into context, my guess is that the author aimed to say that the scope of his study was not carrying out a detailed statistical analysis, but rather identifying general tendencies and then proceeding to carry out a qualitative analysis. However, this is just my interpretation. In order to prevent misunderstandings in your essays, you will need to put forward sound arguments as clearly as you can. It goes without saying that, to do so, reflecting on what you want to say will be vital. However, the way you choose to say it is no less important since an unfortunate lexical choice may turn into a serious logical problem. Indeed, it seems safe to state that, in academic writing, logic and word choice must go hand in hand.