May 28, 2007

For syllepsologists only

This morning's mail included a note from Daniel Hyde, with a lovely example of WTF coordination from the English-language feed of China Radio International ("'Mao Zedong Actress' Astonishes Chengdu Citizens",, 3/28/2007):

Chen Yan startled pedestrians when she impersonated Chairman Mao on Chunxi Road, one of the most crowded commercial streets in Chengdu. Most onlookers thought the costumed Chen Yan looked considerably like the leader.

Chen Yan said at first she only wanted to imitate the acclaimed Chinese actor Tang Guoqiang. But one of her friends, who works as a dresser for a local performance group, suggested she imitate Mao Zedong since she looks more like him.

She said although her facial features are fairly similar to Mao Zedong's, she still needs to don "special makeup," which takes at least four hours and costs 2,000 yuan each time.

The pair of leather shoes worn by Chen Yan also attracted attention. They are tailor-made and heightened by 30 centimeters in the heels, making both Chen Yan look taller and it more difficult for her to walk. [emphasis added]

[Update -- John Cowan writes:

This sort of thing is to be expected from sinophones, because Chinese doesn't have a fixed rule for ergative or accusative coordination. Here's a bit from my Cthulhu-based tutorial on ergativity:

Chinese, on the other hand, is neither ergative nor accusative. Sentences that literally translate to "Cthulhu dropped the watermelon and burst" and "Cthulhu dropped the watermelon and was embarrassed" are equally valid, and Chinese speakers interpret them according to common sense. That is, "...the watermelon burst" (ergative) and "...Cthulhu was embarrassed" (accusative). Only the latter one reads properly in the English translation because English isn't ergative.

(I'm following Randy LaPolla here, who has done the heavy lifting on Chinese.)

I would not have guessed that "Cthulhu-based tutorial on ergativity" was a word sequence likely to be instantiated. The world is full of wonders.]

[Update -- Elizabeth Zwicky writes (under the Subject line "Never mind the coordination error -- what about the SHOES?"):

Umm, "heightened by 30 centimeters"? No doubt it's difficult for her to walk. Particularly if it's just the heels. 30 centimeters is close to a foot! Those aren't shoes, they're very small stilts. Or another translation error.

Indeed. "Small stilts" is what I assumed. Per aspera ad astra.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at May 28, 2007 10:06 AM