October 23, 2007

Extended Adjectives

A few days ago, I commented on the frequent use of phrases as modifiers in informal English ("Phrasally grateful", 10/18/2007), and asked readers for terminological suggestions. What I was looking for was a way to search the scholarly literature for existing research on the subject, not a catchy name to use going forward. But I wasn't very clear about this, and so many people sent me suggested coinages.

I've only gotten one email with information about an existing term, and that one is in (and about) a foreign language, so it looks like a neologism competition is in order. However, before we get to that, I'll share with you what Seth Knox told me about German.

Here's an example from Der Spiegel, taken from the first sentence of the article "Schlappe für Premier Kaczynski - Bürgerplattform vorn", 10/21/2007:

„Die am späten Abend nach Schließung der Wahllokale im polnischen Nachrichtensender " TVN 24" veröffentlichten Prognosen...“


("The forecast that was announced on the polish news station "TVN 24" late in the evening after the closing of the polling stations...")

In German I am most familiar with these constructions being called erweiterte Adjektive (“extended adjectives”); in English I’ve heard them most commonly called “extended adjectival constructions,” but I’ve also heard such terms as “extended modifiers” and “pre-noun inserts”.

Also, while poking around on Google to try to find some alternate names for extended adjectival constructions, I came across the blog Experimental Linguistics, run by Yale grad students, wherein "W1ll13 30% Hacker" posted on 12/04/2004 about "Extended Adjective/Adverb Constructions", and referred to the same Yoplait advertisement mentioned by Patricia Witkin in your blog post. Go figure.

As an aside, I’ve discussed the teaching of extended adjectival constructions with other German instructors, and they all (myself included) teach it as a written alternative to relative clauses that would sound utterly ridiculous in English. Now I know of some English equivalents that I can present to my students.

W1ll13 30% Hacker observes that blues lyrics are a good source of examples, citing "I've got the 'gone completely crazy 'cuz my woman done left me' blues". I tried the search pattern "got those" and turned up a bunch of things like Louis Jordan's "I got those 'gee my feet are killin' me, since I'm in the infantry' blues"; or Dolly Parton's "I got those can't stop crying, dishes flying, PMS blues". (A nice phonetic discovery: in that last song, Ms. Parton makes an internal rhyme of of almighty and somebody in the line "I got those God almighty, slap somebody PMS blues".)

It looks like Experimental Linguistics (the blog) is moribund, alas -- no posts since 4/30/2006.

In this connection, it's worth revisiting Mark Twain's discussion of "The Awful German Language" (see here), which depends heavily on the effect of extended adjectives to achieve the effect that he described as follows:

"You observe how far that verb is from the reader's base of operations; well, in a German newspaper they put their verb away over on the next page; and I have heard that sometimes after stringing along the exciting preliminaries and parentheses for a column or two, they get in a hurry and have to go to press without getting to the verb at all. Of course, then, the reader is left in a very exhausted and ignorant state."

A quick scan of Google Scholar did not turn up any uses of "extended adjective(s)" to describe English, so I think the field is still open for new coinages.

[Update -- James Crossley writes:

This reminds me of my youthful (re-)reading of the Guinness Book of World Records. Listed then as the longest song title in history was, if I remember aright, something called "I'm a Cranky Old Yank in a Clanky Old Tank on the Streets of Yokohama with My Honolulu Mama Doin' Those Beat-O, Beat-O, Flat on My Seat-O, Hirohito Blues."

Relevant? Useful? I can't see how, but I had to get it off my chest. I've been carrying that song title around in my head for more than thirty years.

And after a bit more research, James reports that the lyric in question was written by none other than Hoagy Carmichael.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at October 23, 2007 12:55 PM