Archive for February, 2010

syntax or semantics?

February 16, 2010

Sometimes I think that there isn’t a particular piece of grammar has been lost or damaged, but it’s just a general taxing of all the many connections required for a sentence. My speech now regularly has the character of late-night tired normal speech or stressed and nervous speech. Instead of looking for an underlying damaged grammatical structure or function, maybe it’s much simpler. Maybe what’s common to all these problems is just that complexity or distance requires more effort. Maybe my brain’s language nexus is working the same way as always, but using with less, as if I simply have fewer neurons available so the tougher relations can’t make the distance.

In this regard, there’s no distinction between syntactic burdens and semantic burdens. If mere taxing is the underlying problem, then I’d expect both semantic and syntactic deficits. In fact, I see both.

Here are a few examples of problems of mere difficulty:

1. “yours is none of their business, whereas their business your – part your”

intending: yours is none of their business, whereas you are part of theirs

(complex relation of asymmetry: syntactic or semantic or both)

2. “how to talk about him”

intending: how to talk to him about him

(distinguishing two prepositional relations over the same object: syntactic or semantic or both)

3. “After seven weeks straight of dinner parties even the…extrovert”

hesitating whether to use introvert or extrovert

(comparing a complementary notion in the context of “introvert”: semantic)

4. “forty years old”

intending: forty years back

(described in the present of the perspective of the past relative to the present: semantic)

5. “How long was – how long has – when did he have – how long ago did he have this”

intending: how long ago did he have this

(described in the present of the perspective of the past relative to the present: semantic)

— And here are a bunch of pronoun confusions that also seem to show an inability to go the distance to sort through the indexed referents. Keeping the referents in a discourse, it seems to me, is always a little taxing since language affords only a small handful of pronouns for all the many referents. It takes a bit of added thought, which may be just beyond the threshold of an overtaxed brain:

6. “Have you learnt about the accident himse…itself?”

intending: have you learnt about the accident itself

(repeating the closest pronoun: syntactic or semantic)

7. “There was a tour guide who took her to … took them to…”

intending: [she] took them to…

(repeating the closest referent: semantic)

8. “What do you say when he asked why he’s trying to find her?”

intending: what do you say when he asked why you’re trying to find her?

(repeating closest pronoun: syntactic or semantic)

9. “He claimed he didn’t know anything about him”

intending: didn’t know anything about her

(repeating closest pronoun: syntactic or semantic)

— I’ve got more categories that are consistent with mere weariness, but I need a larger pool of data in those categories. Soon.

For a while, it seemed to me that all my problems were syntactic except for retrieval failures. But now it seems as if they might be able to be redescribed as mostly semantic, even the interference with the formulas.


February 15, 2010

It is surprising and, I think, important that I often — regularly — scramble formulaic phrases, those common, familiar sentences or clauses that we repeat everyday.

Some linguists think that the mind stores formulaic phrases, like “whatayaknow” or “gotta go,” as single symbols without internal grammatical parts, as if “whatayaknow” were a bit like a single word: a whole sentence-word like just another part of speech like noun or verb. To speak these, you wouldn’t need any internal syntax — you’d simply use the whole phrase as a unit. My frequent scrambling of them implies that such forumlas are not represented as single symbols, but have syntactic complexity in the mind.

There are a great many such formulas and sentence schemes, so many that it’s possible to get along through much of practical life using little else. In most social interactions we don’t expect intricate ideas, and prefer a least common denominator, avoiding the personal feelings and thoughts that might diverge from the formulaic, both socially and linguistically. Personal conversations, by contrast, often require inventive sentences that can place greater pressure on grammar. It’s harder to express the personal without peculiarities. But those personal conversations don’t play so much a part in the practical world of superficial life.

It might seem hopeful, if formulas were single symbols, that social interaction would be simpler for the aphasic who has trouble with internal syntax. In my case, exactly the opposite often appears. The formulas rush out with the familiarity of ease, but scrambled, sometimes leaving me a bit puzzled when they don’t work right at the end. Here are a few, mostly from phone conversations:

1. “I can’t deal it”

intending: I can’t deal with it

(dropped preposition)

2. “you might try it this one too”

intending: you might try this one too/you might try it too

(pleonastic pronoun — conflation of two forumlas)

3. “this is fuckin a bummer”

intending: this is a fuckin bummer

(restored syntactic integrity)

4. “It’s the oldest my friend”

intending: It’s my oldest friend / friendship

(pleonastic determiner: the/my)

5. “Your boss doesn’t know from his ass…from his elbow”

intending: Your boss doesn’t know his ass from his elbow

(pleonastic preposition)

6. “get out some light”

intending: get some light out (i.e. outside)

7. “just we gotta go”

intending: we just gotta go

(restored formula — as if it were a single, inviolable symbol)

8. “I don’t know where they found.”

intending: I don’t know where I found them

(dropped pronoun)

9. “My neighbors make upstairs a lot of noise”

intending: My neighbors upstairs make a lot of noise

(displaced modifier between noun and verb)

10. “time is too short”

spoken with long hesitation and careful thought to get it right

(insertion into a formula of an intensifier)

11. “For all of my … best friend I haven’t seen him since”

intending: For all the good of having a best friend, I haven’t seen him since

(complex relation between experiencer, two propositions and the matrix statement)

12. “But it won’t severe”

intending: but it won’t be severe

(verb drop — maybe not a formula, but a simple, common form)


February 13, 2010

Whoever it is in charge of the recall desk here seems to be on holiday, at least I can’t find him when I need him. I’m often left searching for an expression, a word, a phrase — sometimes even an expression that I had within minutes  I’d read or heard just before. They are not all simple items: some are complex relations. Here are a few examples, from simple word recalls to complex negotiations, all from various phone conversations:

1. “frozen dinners…[pause]…Swanson”

intending: TV dinners — I had heard this expression the day before


2. “anything named inositol is … really too much”

intending: anything named inositol should arouse skepticism

(complex notion)

3. “[these tourists] figured this guy will … have an answer”

intended: they figured this guy will be sympathetic


4. cholesterol and pills

intended: medication


5. “You shouldn’t be flagellating yourself”

intending: you shouldn’t beat yourself up/punish yourself

(formula or word)

6. “If you don’t um…”

intending: if you don’t interview well


7. “He um … contracted with a detective’

intending: he hired a detective


8. “not to kill him but to … [thinking: manipulate?]

intending: mutilate


9. “he stole that beautiful…”

intended: Gainsborough (couldn’t recall Reynolds either)


10. “a jar … not a jar…of pills…”

intended: bottle (I didn’t believe that this was the correct word when it was suggested — this also happens often)



February 4, 2010

In addition to recorded speech below, I’ve noticed that I continue to drop verbs and prepositions, use present tense when past is required and meant, inflect non verbs as if verbs (‘I stilling here’ [meaning: I’m still here]) confuse ‘interesting with ‘interested’, confuse pronouns when there are too few many in the discourse, confuse opposites (e.g., ‘few’ for ‘many’) often can’t retrieve common expressions, scramble formulaic schemes (‘Don’t short yourself’ [meaning: Don’t sell yourself short]), and generally form sentences oddly and awkwardly, with less than optimal intention. And I speak more carefully, hesitantly and deliberately.

Sometime, I want to try to let my speech loose with someone, just to hear what it sounds like. But mostly, I’m guarded.

These are all in the last week since January 27:

1. I can’t go high that

meaning: I can’t go that high

2. You are the best listener [hesitation] I know anyone

meaning: You are the best listener anyone I know

[in conversation in person: two relative clauses]

3.Don’t short yourself

meaning: Dont’ sell yourself short

[alone: formulaic expression, dropped verb replacing adj for verb]

4. I think get most retroactive payments

meaning: I think I can get most retroactive payments

[phone conversation: dropped pronoun, second ‘I’]

5. You’re none of business

meaning: It’s none of your business

[phone conversation: dropped pronoun]

6. Now don’t fall me down me

meaning: Now don’t let me fall down

[alone: pleonastic pronoun]

7. That’s about of it

meaning: That’s about it

[formulaic expression]

8. because I don’t really work at it to make [hesitate, restart] I don’t try it to make simple

meaning: I don’t really work at making it simple; I don’t try to make it simple

[phone: dropped verbal inflection; scrambled?]

9. they became brothers like me

meaning: they became like brothers to me

[phone:scrambled formulaic expression]

10. you never quite sure

meaning: you’re never quite sure

[dropped verbal clitic]

11. somebody guy I like

meaning: somebody/ some guy I liked

[phone: pleonstic noun?]

12. just what you know, what you needs

meaning: just what you know he needs

[phone: confused pronouns]

13. I was the first person who  [pause, restart] He was the first person that I called him

meaning: He was the first person that i called him

[phone: confused topic with subject]

14. soiree, what’s it called [hesitant] a musicale

meaning: soiree, musicale

[phone: often I doubt my word choice, insisting there is a better, even though it appears that the choice is the right word]

15. you’ll be a great surgery

meaning: you’ll be a great surgeon

[phone: mischoice of derivation]


February 1, 2010

This morning our pick-up renaissance motet vocal quartet rehearsed. Reading this counterpoint at sight, I found no difference in musical skill since the stroke, either in finding pitch, time or word — and some of the Latin texts were unfamiliar too. While sightreading requires a complex of skills — time values, pitches, words and a contouring of melodic line — it’s without ideational content. That partly accounts for its pleasant, focused divertissement. There’s also no grammar.

Despite this blunt stroke, all in all the muse, along her dance, alit with subtle, deft, deliberate grace; yet one more a part of mind untouched and safe, apart and whole. So, some pools are quiet, well and still, at least.

A friend, conversing in the park two weeks after this stroke, asked that we leave the convex benches for concave benches, so we’d not have to turn our heads so sharply as we converse. When we approached the concave curve, he began to sit next on our same bench next to me. I quickly remind me explained that sitting together on the straight benches would have been no different from before — the benches all are straight, it’s only between the pairs of benches that they are angled acutely or obtusely — so we’d benefit only by sitting at the junctures between two benches…

[Seated facing right, the first pair of benches were obtuse ‘>’ versus the pair we found were acute facing right ‘<‘. ]

…as with quietly satisfaction I recognized that, regardless of any loss of speech, cognitive acuity has not dulled to obtuseness.

On the other hand, I find that in speech and writing I regularly omit the past tense inflection. Often, often.