Archive for January, 2010


January 30, 2010

Reading the New Yorker at the laudromat today, I stumbled at several sentences and had to backtrack. As usual, when I don’t follow I sentence a sentence, I quickly assume that the author is at fault. But, after many such experiences, I’ve come to understand and accept that it’s no fault of them, but the new me: the brain with same the old cognition, but the missing parser. It’s that old cognition that fools me each time. I know I can understand, so if I don’t get a sentence right away, it must be bad writing. I wonder how many Alzheimer’s feel just this way — I’m fine, the world is all awry and everyone in it daft.

Today, in any case, it occurred to me that maybe a large part of what accounts for the deficits is just short-term storage — holding on to a subject over many relative clauses before the verb, or holding onto a negation way high up in the sentence, remembering to interaction interact with a negation later down.

Not everything can account for short-term storage. The scrambling of formulaic phrases, dropped prepositions, dropped verbs, random arrangements of parts of speech, mistaken parts of speech — these are likely not all just an effect of a shortened store.

That does not entail that shortened store is not caused by some underlying structure or dynamic which also caused the rest of the deficits. One prop of a machine can disable storage independently from  retrieval and from branching. But I haven’t much more than straws in the wind what that prop might be.

significant results

January 29, 2010

The responses to the puzzle are in, and conclusive. The structure difficult to me is transparent to normal readers. I’m guessing, then, that I’m missing a key piece of syntax, what in formal machine jargon would be an element of the pushdown store, or in the informal jargon of formal languages, an ability to branch in the context-free grammar.

It’s the most interesting bit of information I’ve seen in all these weeks yet. For one thing, several deficits are common to the loss of a pushdown store: garbling of complex compounds like “white tablecloth,” frequent tip-of-the-tongue, common retrieval failures, agrammatical scrambling within the internal soliloquies, possibly the syncopation of verbs — all resemble this difficulty in holding onto the storing of the subject within a relative phrase and its verb separated by a relative clause.

It will also be interesting to see if this will be restored or will remain permanent. If it is permanent, then it is consistent with the hypothesis that the loss of aspects of developmental stage syntax cannot be recreated in adulthood. However, if it is recreated, then either it has been restored to its original state by recovery, or developmental stage syntax can been relearnt in adult. The latter would be surprising, though welcome. Anyway, I know what to work on.


January 27, 2010

I’ve been getting more promises on the “nuts” puzzle (see Jan. 25 below). To get closer at the question, I’ve tried a couple of alternate sentences with the same structure, but easier content.

Let me emphasize that the question for me is, how difficult or easy normal readers find these to comprehend, grammatically. They are tough for me: too many strings of noun phrases. But if normal readers find this confusing, then I should not bother investigating the structure further or find an explanation for my difficulty. If they find it easy, then I need to look at the structure carefully, not just out of linguistic curiosity, but to see if it can understand my deficits better or even help me towards fluency. That’s why it’s important to me.

So, consider a detective trying to get a confession from a murderer who made a bloody mess of a body:

1. “In other words, we need an information plan of interrogation in which the knowing murderer who alone has made the body bloodied will confess, in light of the interrogation’s information, that he is in fact guilty of that information.”

Or considering a light source that will hide a pigment:

2.”In other words, we need a means of light for which the affected pigment that makes it otherwise a texture visible will appear, within this kind of light, no longer visible.”

Or, with no discussion necessary:

3. “In other words, we need the generousity of forgiveness for which the faulted writer who made the sentence mangled will accept, recognizing our own faulted writing, that he is willing to be forgiven.”

If these are difficult, then I won’t pursue them. If they are easy, then they are an important clue to my current state of grammatical ability.


January 26, 2010

Formulaic structures have been failing lately. Below are only the most recent that I were able to record. There have been several more:

1. 1/25 “I got to need a pan”

intended: I need to get a pan

2. 1/26 “You’ll have a leg on it up” [this may not be perfectly transcribed]

intended: you’ll have a leg up on it

3.1/25 “Last this for a week”

intended: let this last for a week

4. 1/24 “You might favorite your own composer”

intended: you might have a favorite composer

— I’ve also had a few retrieval stumbles:

5. 1/25 “I don’t intend to lessen your…”

intending: I don’t intend to diminish your…

6. 1/25 “resistance to the Chomsky module…milieu…”

intending: resistance to the Chomsky program/project

7. 1/25 “gave me lipo…”

intending: gave me lipitor

— and a possible retrieval loss of a supplantive suppletive:

8. 1/25 “I look gooder today”

intending: I look better today

9. 1/26 “supplantive”

intending: suppletive

(Methodology: I’ve got little pieces of paper everywhere at home and a notepad with me outside.)

universal agrammar

January 26, 2010

A couple of alternative possible hypotheses about agrammaticality:

1. every grammatical loss is coordinated with a distinct grammatical function and a distinct neural network or even neural link: many grammatical deficits, many locations

2. all the grammatical losses are coordinated to some one underlying grammatical function and one neural network or neural modus operandi or even one neural link: one underlying grammatical source, one failed network or mode

3. some of the grammatical losses are coordinated, others are distinct: some consolidated underlying grammatical sources, some networks

Hypothesis (1) leads to the least information and interest; (2), the most, and (3) the most likely.

I’ve noticed a few related losses. Can any of these [be] characterized as one grammatical function (like “loss of functional elements”) without rendering the description meaningless (like “loss of grammar”)?

a) syncopation of “be”

b) syncopation of prepositions

c) tip-of-the-tongue retrieval failures

d) mistaken part of speech (adjective for noun)

e) loss of adages

f) tip-of-the-tongue compounds

g) pleonastic verb complexes

h) pleonastic particles and quantifiers (also, all)

i) “a close second” metathesis. I’m not sure how to describe: I jumped the second word?

j) wrong or too much grammatical structure, superfluous structure

k) preference for underived words (“depleted in nutrition” instead of the normal “nutritional depletion”)

l) agent/object conflation

m) agent/patient conflation

n) stress shift

o) loss of retrieval of familiar words

p) tipofthetongue familiar words

Some of these fall into natural categories, others suggest some underlying relation. Overall, there are two main categories, functional elements of syntax (be, pleonastic verbs and particles, syncopation of verbs, superfluous structure, agreement, agent/object and agent/patient conflation) and retrieval (compounds, tipofthetongue, loss of adages, familiar words). It’s suggestive then, that retrieval and syntax may be related mechanisms.  There’s some evidence that retrieval is a branching network, just as syntax clearly is.


January 25, 2010

Add to the long list of data: misplaced stress in polysyllabic polysyllables, possibly an effect of underived lexical choices — if the syntax is looking for a derived word, but retrieval surfaces underived, the phonology may stumble on the stress between the expected derived form and the underived given. Just speculating. But it would be interesting to provide evidence of the interaction, independence and order of the phonological component in relation to the syntax and the retrieval mechanism. Other than this and tipofthetongues (if tipofthetongues are phonologically misplaced retrievals), I haven’t noticed any effect of phonology in my speech post-stroke.

I haven’t record recorded [I noticed this uninflected verb much later, which I seemed to treat the ‘d’ as the past participial inflection, or maybe treated as the stem as a strong form] these misplaced stresses yet, though I hope to, since they are, at moments, frequent. Today [I] have been clear (until I just now wrote this syncopation of I). So maybe more deficit data will be forthcoming.


January 25, 2010

For over  a week, I’ve been trying, from time to time, to figure out one sentence in Kirkham’s Theories of Truth.  It seems like a test of syntactic limits, unless Kirkham’s sentence is actually nonsense. (After all, his editor regularly allowed “the affect on” when he should have written “the effect on.”) So, it matters. Now I think I might have cracked his sentence. But I’m not sure, especially because the verbal construction sounds very tenuous English. Here’s Kirkham’s sentence:

“To put another way, we need a theory of truth in which the very contingent facts that would otherwise make a sentence paradoxical will show, in conjunction with the theory, that in  fact the sentence has no truth value.”

I’d like someone to try this one. In fact, I’d like everyone to. I have figured out a possible parse for it, but I’ll keep it for my comments later.

Here’s a hint. Kirkham’s context and meaning is something like this:

To avoid the liar paradox (“This sentence is false” — if it’s true then it’s false) we need a theory of truth to solve this.

This theory will allow the liar paradox to have no truth value (neither true nor false, just meaningless — like “The present king of France is bald”: since there is no such present king, it’s arguably neither false nor true, just meaningless, as it wouldn’t do to say “The present king is NOT bald” either).

That theory will make sentences truth-valueless only if those sentences would be paradoxical if they had a truth value.

So, if some sentence would seem factually paradoxical (like the liar paradox), then this truth theory would somehow make just such sentences (like the liar paradox) truth-valueless.

Now try Kirkham.


January 24, 2010

Speech in public or conversation is guarded, monitored and more careful than the internal soliloquy. I’ve noticed many more deficits internally than in public speech, so many in the internal soliloquy that the mistakes have fallen quickly into the pattern of a handful of categories.

Here’s a numbered list of deficits, both internally silent, aloud alone or in spoken conversation. They are organized by date, followed by the actual quote, with a separate line indicating the intended meaning, and another line with a speculation on either the category of loss or an explanation.

1. 1/19 “He is attracted to her.” (Spoken with uncertainty)

meaning: She likes him.

The ambiguity in agent/patient caused puzzlement and hesitation

2. 1/19 “The actor is the responsible of following the direction.”

meaning: The actor is the responsibility of taking direction, or the actor is responsible for following direction.

adjective for derived noun

3. 1/20 “I completely about it.”

intending: I completely forgot about it.

syncopation of a content verb (these are incredibly common in my unguarded internal soliloquy, less so as I guard my actual, public spoken words)

4. 1/21 “Bill won’t be able to be able to give tours”

meaning: Bill won’t be able to give tours…

pleonastic compound verbal (also frequent especially in internal unguarded moments)

5. 1/21 “I might his…??”

intending: I met his wife

spoonerism conflation of ‘met’ and ‘wife’ (again, quite common internal)

6. 1/21 “…you might that I’m thinking that I’m crazy”

intending: you might think I’m crazy

pleonastic propositional clause

7. 1/22 “sorra Donna” (these phonetic blends, spoonerismsm, word order reversals plague the soliloquy)

intending: sorry Donna

phonetic harmonization? spoonerism? blend?

8. 1/22 “depleted in nutrition”

normally: nutritional depletion

retrieval of underived lexical items

9. 1/22″That’s a cold, forbidding environment for a bug, don’t you?”

meaning: That’s a cold, forbidding environment for a bug, don’t you think?

syncopation and lack of agreement/long distance (shouldn’t agree)

10. 1/22 “…in a little lock”

intending: in a little locker

easier access to the underived lexical item

11. 1/22 “…to tell him about a health problem of his senescent”

intended: senescence

wrong part of speech, oddly preferring a coining adjective, both rare

12. 1/23 “the…”

intending: the Farmers Market

retrieval loss in a compound

13. 1/23 “I felt that when it went by”

intending: “Felt that brush by”

retrieval failure (took about three seconds to find it later)

14. 1/23 “I wouldn’t want attention…physician attention”

intending: wouldn’t want medical attention

retrieval loss of a frequent pair, akin to a compound

— I’ve noticed wide differences between conversations. Last night, with a friend whose conversation rapidly and wildly ranges over quicksilver wit and imagination, I found myself at a loss for occasional the bon mot the occasional bon mot. There just wasn’t time to search the word: “wagging,” instead of shaking a finger, for example. These are not tip-of-the-tongue cases, it’s just searches that  take longer. Tip-of-the-tongue losses often involve a familiar word and can be replaced quickly or immediately with a more arcane synonym or close synonym. But in this conversation, it was just that the rate was too rapid for some searches.

So, I’m figuring that besides the tip-of-the-tongue (tipofthetongue from now on — hyphens are a bum), which is a distinct process that can affect difficulty for even familiar words, there’s also an independent slowing of searches that particularly show up in less familiar words that require more time.

The internal soliloquy is rife with spoonerisms, off prepositions, metatheses and syncopations of words, agent/patient or agent/object confusions, underived lexical items or just wrong part of speech, and, occasionally, pleonasms especially in the verb phrase (“…be able to be able to…”), although I have a sense that pleonasms are more common in actual speech than in internal soliloquy.

The wide difference between internal unguarded and guarded public speech is, then, instructive.


January 23, 2010

Nothing more dramatic of the autonomy of syntax — the module in the mind that allows words to bring sentence structures together — than in the first hours and days (though less so) recognizing the individual words on every written page, yet unable to understand a single sentence. This seems to have been partly true of speech too, but the speech flow does not usually distinguish words individually the way the written word does. But even I understood “hello,” clearly, within the first half hour of the stroke. To find my name, I looked at my e-mail address to read the word. I recognized that single word-name. When I then googled “brain blood” to remind the word “stroke,” I quickly recognized “stroke” as soon as the wikipedia article entitled it appeared. I not only recognized the word, I understood it.

And yet, I couldn’t understand a single sentence.

It’s true that much of what we say in social circumstances don’t exploit our innovative syntax generator machine. Most of what we say in a day we either repeat formulaic catch phrases or, even in a flurry of witty repartee, we rarely construct anything beyond a few short, simple, basic sentences.

In intimate and serious discussion, all of a sudden sentences become new and more complex. A discussion with an old acquiantance about catching up — about theater, about our past, about relationships, about life — all these required complex innovative constructions during which I failed often to express intentions. Ironically, familiar catch phrases got mangled, “made a killing,” “easier said than done,” tripping me at length.

For speech therapy, absent any means to recreate lost syntax, there may be no better effort than encouraging the use of simple sentences and formulaic expressions. But is there a way of step-by-step recreating syntax?

The steps I lack, that I’ve noticed, include agreement (number in both nouns and verbs as well as tense agreement), agent/object distinctions, odd choices of prepositions or verbal sattelites (in Talmy’s sense), syncopation of “be” and other occasional omissions, and a preference for underived or uninflected lexical items causing mistaken parts of speech.

I haven’t tried systemcatically to practice these in speech. Writing is a kind of practice, but so much more deliberate: when you slowly practice a tricky musical passage, you get to be expert at playing it slowly, but only slowly; it doesn’t always help learning to play it a tempo. Speed requires a different skill, a different movement and relationship among movements.

I’d imagine that speech practice would require immediate flagging of error and immediate correction, assuming it is at all possible that the syntax module can be coaxed at all, and not just simply lost and gone. Syntax is a skill of the developmental period, and it may not be amenable to adult learning from scratch.

The alternate to speech practice is listening to complex speech. I’ve been listening to difficult speakers on line — pundits and media mavens. But it would be good from time to time to listen not only complex speakers, but also, occasionally, slow complex speakers. Replay is not the same as learning to understand on line as the words form in the speech flow. Repeating after the whole sentence has already heard altogether, giving a difference advantage to the sentence from the slow step-by-step yet unfamiliar.


January 22, 2010

Yesterday, after it seemed that I’d made strides towards fluency the night before, I found myself particularly frazzled all day, not so much talking to others, but talking to my internal dialogue. I felt tired the entire day, and kept noticing missing words in sentences, mixed-up word orders, spoonerisms, phonological blends, underived lexical items where there should have been a derived or inflected form.