May 05, 2007

Annals of collocation

Any number of people have remarked on the tendency of representatives of the U.S. government (GWB especially) and supporters of the government's current policies to refer to timetables for leaving Iraq as artificial timetables or arbitrary timetables, collocations that are presumably to be understood as involving appositive rather than intersective modification.  That is, those who use these expressions are conveying that they believe that such timetables can be characterized in general as "artificial" or "arbitrary", and they are are reminding us, again and again, of this claim.

Elsewhere on the collocation front, I've been noticing how often vibrant democracy occurs in print.  I got ca. 111,000 raw Google webhits on the expression this morning, referring to countries that are claimed (depending on who you read) to have, to not have, or to be working towards a form of government that is not only a democracy, but a vibrant one.  This is intersective modification.

Just in the first 50 hits, I found 16 different countries referred to:

India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Mexico, Mongolia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, U.S.

(plus Africa as a whole and the UAW).

Now, about the contribution of vibrant.  It clearly means something beyond just the minimal trappings of democracy (some voting): broad access to the vote, honest elections, perhaps the promotion of social equality and the protection of individual rights.  Vibrant would not have been my choice of adjective to convey this, though it is vivid.  I'd guess it comes from a single source that's been quoted again and again.  But I don't have the resources to search through media databases for the original, though I suspect that some helpful colleague will turn it up soon.

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at May 5, 2007 07:48 PM