In, out, up, front, back, minimal, maximal
with us to tell him what incall
mean, so that he can order massages from
hotel rooms without wondering whether he is supposed to head
across town to the massage parlor or relax and wait for the
expert to ring his doorbell.
I venture that the answer is that there is
no answer: these directionals are ambiguous, and they are not
alone in this. In support, I offer four similar examples as well as
a private confusion.
Where I grew up (the Tri-State Area), order (food) in
and order (food) out
both describe having food
delivered to one's house. This is mostly harmless. The phrases
are used when everyone is hungry and nothing has been prepared.
In such situations, one is unlikely to propose sending some
food out of the house.
When someone says that an appointment has been pushed back
there is no telling whether it is now set to begin earlier
than it was originally scheduled to begin or later than that.
The phrase pushed up
is equally unhelpful. In this case,
we can usually recover the intended meaning by gauging whether
the speaker has grown more frantic or less so.
Imagine that you are looking down a row of automobiles,
each with its driver's side door facing you. A new
car pulls up and stops at the end of the row that is farthest
from you. Would you say that this car pulled to the
front of the row or to the back of row?
Linguists often talk about
These generally involve a binary relation on nodes that is
called the dominance
relation. There is always
exactly one node, the root
, that is not dominated by any other node
(except perhaps itself).
Is the root maximal or minimal with regard to the dominance relation?
If you think in terms of bottom-up derivations for sentences
(if you like to begin with the words and imagine projecting structure
from them), then the root is likely to be maximal in your mind.
If you think top down, the root is probably your minimal element.
Happily, it doesn't matter which perspective you adopt for
the dominance relation. Just be consistent.
(As you probably gathered from my brief description, linguists
draw their trees upside down, with the root at the top of the page.)
And my own private confusion: I have trouble remembering how
work, because I can never remember
whether one is supposed to begin counting from the beginning of
the relevant phrase or backwards from where former
Posted by Christopher Potts at January 13, 2004 10:19 PM