Schedule (sk-/sh-?) etc. etc.

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Jan 30 11:47:42 UTC 2001

At 11:54 PM +0000 1/30/01, Lynne Murphy wrote:
>  >
>>  >Rest assured that plenty of Americans say 'I couldn't care less', and most
>>  >(I hope all) American English teachers correct 'I could care less' when
>>  >they come across it.
>>  Why? It represents a natural and predictable reduction of a sequence
>>  containing
>>  /dntk/, not exactly an ordinary English sequence.
>Well, in writing the phonological reduction is not quite relevant--we don't
>spell phonetically in English most of the time.
>But even in writing, the 'naturalness' of phonological reduction is not a
>good excuse for leaving out semantically relevant information.  On this
>logic, it would be permissible to pronounce "I could carry that" when you
>mean "I couldn't carry it".
>As Hans Hock was fond of saying in my historical lx class, phonological
>reduction has to be balanced with semantic preservation, else all languages
>would evolve toward expressing everything as "uh" (for lack of a schwa on
>my keyboard).
I dispute the assumption that this IS a least-effort reduction, or
you wouldn't have the difference in intonation patterns we were
alluding to earlier today (again, see Pinker's anti-Safire chapter
for a detailed account of this).  Your objection here would be
analogous not to a true least effort reduction (phone for telephone,
bus for omnibus, OSU for The Ohio State University, PC for either
personal communication or personal computer or politically correct,
depending on the context), but to the use of "That was a great idea"
or "You're a fine friend".  Yes, in writing there may be some
confusion, but not generally in spoken language or when there's a
real context.  And I'm not sure there's ever a context in which "I
could care less" would be uttered when it would be intended literally
rather than sarcastically.   In any case, semantically relevant
information is regularly omitted--think of anaphora, involving both
null and overt pronouns.  As you say (and as Paul, Zipf, Martinet,
and other functionalists were fond of pointing out), there is a
balance between speaker and hearer, but that balance isn't violated
in the "I could care less" case.


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