syntax or semantics?

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.

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2 Responses to “syntax or semantics?”

  1. anniecoburn Says:

    I’ve tried to correlate what Mom is experiencing with her speech with the things you write about. In the mornings, her speech has the weariness you speak of. However, as the day progresses, her tongue and mind seem to “warm-up.” Then, as the evening falls, she returns to the slower less precise pronunciation. At times she will stop in mid-sentence, think, then complete her thoughts.
    I am proud of you and enjoy reading about this adventure because when the blog pops onto my email, I know you are OK.

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