21 may. 2008

We think of noun phrases consisting of strings of long nouns as inelegant.

Like "emergency alert equipment test report."

"Modern Language Association Convention Program Committee Meeting"

But there's a kind of elegance in the fact we recognize immediately that we are talking about a report, a report about a test, a test of some equipment, some equipment used in an alert, an alert having to to do with the possibility of an emergency. Or a meeting of a committee for the Program of the convention of the association for the study of modern langugages. These are not just linear strings of words but the reflection of a hierarchically recursive structure, which could be shown with one of those trees linguists like to draw. There's only one possible order for these words to go and mean what they mean.

1 comentario:

Andrew Shields dijo...

Your first example reminded me of "Emergency Third Rail Power Trip" on the BART trains.