snowgall: (close-up)
[personal profile] snowgall
Yesterday I got into a lively discussion with another tumblr user on the proper interpretation of one of Bucky's lines in Captain America: The First Avenger.

The line in question goes like this:

ā€œHell, no. That little guy from Brooklyn who was too dumb not to run away from a fight, Iā€™m following him.ā€




The original poster thought this line was illogical, while I thought it made perfect sense.

This engendered a lot of back and forth debate!

If anyone's interested in reading it, the resulting tumblr thread is here, and my follow-up post with more technical linguistic-y discussion is here.

Where my linguists at? [livejournal.com profile] khalulu ... [livejournal.com profile] shiftylinguini ... [livejournal.com profile] pauraque ... I'm sure I'm missing some :)

Date: 2017-03-12 09:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] khalulu.livejournal.com
Thanks for inviting me!

I can see how in context and in the stream of speech the intended meaning comes through, but I personally agree with the person stating the opposite side - this sentence doesn't make sense to me as written. As written, after twisting my mind around it, it implies that a smart person would not run away from a fight, but he is too dumb to do what a smart person would do. He's so dumb he couldn't do what a smart person would do (smart person's action = not run away from a fight = stay and fight). He can't stay and fight, he's too dumb for that, so he stupidly runs away. But then I'm not in the fandom and don't know him, so I don't have the context to override that.

I was 12 when they reported Neil Armstrong as saying "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" and I immediately thought "that doesn't make sense". He probably meant "a man" and the "a" got swallowed up by radio distance, but it bugged me to have the makes-no-sense version plastered everywhere.

Here's a fun ambiguity of negative scope argument for you - "you need not X, nor must you Y". Does that mean you must not Y (Y is forbidden) or you don't have to Y (Y is optional)? I looked for an explanation after a prof used that construction in an assignment, but couldn't find it discussed - examples I found were about half and half.

Date: 2017-03-13 12:05 am (UTC)
pauraque: bird flying (Default)
From: [personal profile] pauraque
There have been some great posts on Language Log about constructions like this. I think "too stupid not to..." was specifically discussed in one a few months back. It generated some good discussion about how difficult it was even for linguists to notice that their instinctive interpretations of these constructions were illogical (though sometimes pragmatically correct in that they did lead to the speaker's intended meaning).

Unfortunately I'm on my way out the door and I couldn't immediately find the particular post I was thinking of, though a search for "too stupid not to" turned up another one from a few years ago.
Edited Date: 2017-03-13 12:06 am (UTC)

Date: 2017-03-27 10:23 pm (UTC)
lokifan: black Converse against a black background (Default)
From: [personal profile] lokifan
Yay descriptivism! I absolutely think it makes sense, and even if it didn't the context tells us what it means.

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