Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Linguistics Paper Idea 1: Variation, Syntax, Semantics/Pragmatics

Okay, so from time to time I hope to use his as a venue for all the ideas I have for lx (=linguistics; that's just how we roll, baby!) papers/research in areas I am woefully under-qualified to even think about. In fact, posting them at all is probably an affront to both God and mankind, but dagnabbit if I ain't filled with 'em! So post them I will. I will try to give them an easily searchable header (as above) that will let the reader know approximately how many brilliant ideas have come before as well as which sub-areas of lx they concern.

Observation: My lovely boyfriend, P, is driven nuts by the combined use of the intensifier really and various downtoners (hedges) as modifiers of adjectives (and usually adjectives that already represent one end of the spectrum they describe). He thinks it's stupid and contradictory. Let's have some examples! (Feel free to post other examples of such a phenomenon in the comments!)

Example 1) "You know, you're really kinda' wonderful."
Example 2) "I like your new computer." "Yeah, it's really pretty sweet, huh?" (Note: pretty would usually seem to be an intensifier to me in "pretty sweet" when used without the really, but in this case, doesn't it seem like a hedge?)
Example 3) "That movie was just really sorta' awful."

Whether or not it is a stupid or contradictory way to speak, it has entered the "parlance of our times." Here are my investigatory questions:

Variation:
- Is this localized to the west coast? I hear it on TV, but a lot of TV is made in LA or written by people who grew up or are currently living in that area.
- Is use determined by age or gender? Is this a teenage/young adult/generation Y/Pepsi generation kind of thing?
Corollary: What in the hell is my generation called anyway?
- Is use predicated by any particular behavior, situation, environment, etc?

Syntax:
- What is really modifying? The downtoner or the adjective?
- (And here we will see how little I understand about Syntax; please don't judge me too harshly!) Could the downtoner be in the spec position of AP? If so, how would that change meaning?

Semantics/Pragmatics:
- Could commonly hedged adjectives have become semantically new concepts? Is pretty sweet different from pretty + sweet?
- Why hedge and then intensify? What purpose does it serve?

Anyway, that's my idea. While I hope that it is useful to someone, I'd settle for just interesting. Please share your thoughts on the matter! Are there other ideas for investigation that I'm missing? Is this not really all that interesting? Has someone already studied this? Are you living somewhere other than the NW and you've heard this kind of sentence structure?

3 comments:

Connie said...

Trying to think... Seems all the extra "reallys and kindas" are more prevelant in the 21 and younger crowd. Although I let them slip into my vocab on occassion. I think their usage can be explained by the raging uncool factor of seeming to be greatly impressed or excited about anything at that age.

Example: "That computer is really kinda cool."
Translation: "That computer is far superior in quality and design than any I have had a chance to work/play on. I am extremely impressed and envious. But I don't want you to know this. So while it is REALLY cool, I'm going to add KINDA so that you don't think you are all THAT."

Hope that helps!

Here's an other language oddity. What about , "So not"? As in, "That is sooooo NOT what I had in mind!"

:) Connie

Sydney said...

Man, we need a syntactician like crazy! So normally not is found in a "Negative Phrase" or "NegP," right? And that usually is some how related to the "Verb Phrase" or "VP". But in this case it seems to be associated with the complement, what I had in mind. Is this an example of movement, does the not fall into the second CP? Is it in the spec of CP? Or is it in the usually place? Is so a "Quantifier Phrase" or found in the spec of NegP? Is there an "Adjective Phrase" involved? I just don't know! And this is why I myself am, sadly, not a syntactician. : (

Sydney said...

Mom offers the following (which she couldn't post for some reason - stupid fickle interweb):

"I think really is being used as an adverb meaning, "in fact" in the examples you use rather than as an intensifier.

You are "in fact" kinda cool.
or
You are "really" kinda cool.

See what I mean?"

I like it!