Instances of unmodified hair-day

Wed Feb 16 17:01:44 UTC 2000

But we can retrieve the meaning of the whole without figuring out the hierarchical relationship of all the consitutents. Kids do this all the time, and so do adults in the case of certain idioms. For example, many people never analyze whether it's "spit 'n' image" or "spittin' image" until they have to put it in writing for the first time. The fact that some of the elements might be variable in some of these cases (i.e., the X in X hair day) doesn't necessarily force an analysis of the structure. It just changes a semantic feature of the whole unit.

As a matter of fact, if any of us is in doubt about the structure of 'X hair day', which we have heard and understood many times--and clearly some of us are--that by itself invalidates your statement. Those of us for whom this is unresolved probably could not say (even if we could remember), "Well, when I heard my brother use this yesterday I took it as [great hair] day, but when Jane used it I took it as bad [hair day]."

Debbie Sawczak
Editor of Reference
Gage Educational Publishing
Scarborough, Ontario, Canada

>>> "Dennis R. Preston" <preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU> - 5/3/2104 8:07 AM >>>

Everything we know about psycholinguistics suggests that this is not
usually so. Ron is right to suggest that structures can be ambiguous, but
interpretations rarely are. It's not hard to understand why. We are
meaning-producing and meaning-retrieving organisms. Retrieving more than
one meaning is cogntively annoying, so we "fix" on one (just as we fix on
one interpretation of the well-known figure-ground reversal pictures in the
psychological research tradition and "cannot" fix on both at the same
time). Doubtless, we fix on the most conventional one or the most
pragmatically appropriate one in cases where there are ambiguities. We
normally do not fix on dual (or more) possibilities. Notice, in fact, how
difficult it is to get students to accept a "second reading" once they have
fixed on a first.

Now the fact that some conventions are learned earlier by some speakers
(e.g., the hair-day bracketing) does not do away with the individual
variation innolved here.


>****in reply to:
>... I don't understand why one analysis or the other has to prevail for each
>and every occasion. ... Why can't the structure go back and forth? Or even
>remain ambiguous at the point of utterance?

More information about the Ads-l mailing list