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Language Log

Monday, Jun. 25, 2007 - 8:30 a.m.

Fun With Temporal Modifiers Department

From a news story today in the NZ Herald:

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi was jailed for 27 years in 2001.

Isn't it just delightful? 'Jailed' seems to be one of these interesting verbs-- punctual inception followed by a durative state.

But you can't say, 'he has been jailed for 27 years' the day after the court's decision-- it can only mean he's been in jail for that time. Or can it? Darn, I blew out my intuition already. Medic!

But it's interesting-- if you take just 'he was jailed for 27 years' on its own, I only get the durative bits, not even a hint of that punctual inception. I'd say it's the amibguity between passives and verbal adjectives at work here...

Anyway, I'm basically working hard to avoid mowing the lawn, which I have put off far too long and needs to be done today since I am leaving for England tomorrow (now, if I said, 'leaving for England for two weeks tomorrow', what would I say about that? I don't know, all I know is I don't think there's a durative portion to 'leave').

It's been rainy. The neighbors are back from whereever they went, and I hate them beacuse they're so damned industrious with their house. The husband is all the time out there doing useful things-- he just finished building a new deck. One day he came up and suggested I dig a short ditch from our driveway, which accumulates water, to his retention pond, which is supposed to collect water. This, he said, would prevent the driveway from sinking further, and would also prevent the buildup of soil. All true, and were I a responsible homeowner, I would be totally down with it. He also suggested that I might put the excess dirt that has collected in the driveway into a wheelbarrow and deposit it behind his house, doing us both a favor. Except I'm really not so keen on doing things with shovels, and I haven't done it yet, and now he's gone and built himself a deck and I can't even dig a 3' ditch. So I'm avoiding him like I avoid my advisor, but the fucker is ALWAYS out there doing something useful and home-improving. So between that and the rain, I'm seriously behind on the mowing.

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