April 13, 2006

Police: Dead rapper fired first shot

Until you saw this improbable sounding CNN headline (via Wonkette), maybe you thought that sentences were associated with a single time, as picked out by the verb's tense. But it ain't necessarily so. Though it was an expensive way for the rapper 'Proof' to prove it, a noun phrase, say dead rapper, can be interpreted at a completely different time from the main verb. The firing event apparently took place around 4:30AM on Tuesday at the CCC club in Detroit, while dead rapper first described Proof only afterwards, maybe not long before he was pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital. While we're at it, first shot also only became an apt description sometime after the shot was fired.

If this sort of thing excites you (temporal semantics, not dead rappers), then get in line for the first editions of Judith Tonhauser's PhD dissertation on temporal interpretation of noun phrases, due to be completed sometime this summer.  No pressure, Judith! (As a preview, see e.g. this paper of hers for some relevant, though technical discussion.)

By the way, from a linguistic point of view it looks like Proof's big mistake was allowing himself to be pronounced upon, and if I were you, I'd never let anyone pronounce you anything. Based on Google counts, you're over 5000 times more likely to be pronounced dead than pronounced alive. More optimistically, you have a better than 1 in 100 chance of being pronounced husband and wife rather than dead. But can marriage really merit such a risk?

Posted by David Beaver at April 13, 2006 01:09 AM