Category Archives: Barack Obama

Maganda Without The Ang


1) Birfers!

with any of the following:

2) Si Robert Pattinson ang maganda.  (The beautiful one is Robert Pattinson.)

3) Ang maganda si Taylor Lautner.  (Taylor Lautner is the beautiful one.)

The exclamation “Birfers!” is a speech act naming a set, namely, the set of people who think that Obama is not a citizen of the United States.  (This is a substantial subset of ‘people who are seriously detached from reality’.)  Following Max Black, I submit that a set is just ‘things named all at once.’  ‘Birfers!’ thus establishes a set by naming all at once all people who are Birfers at the time of the utterance.

Robert Pattinson ang maganda” and “Ang maganda si Taylor Lautner” show a peculiarity about Tagalog:  one can turn an adjective or verb into a noun denoting a particular, discrete entity by pre-posing ‘ang‘ to it.  The sentences do not translate as “The beautiful is Robert Pattinson;’ and ‘Taylor Lautner is beautiful’;  they translate as “The beautiful one is Robert Pattinson” and “Taylor Lautner is the beautiful one”.  The ‘ang‘ in ‘ang maganda‘ signals that some entity has already been identified or will readily be identified (when it is pre-posed to to the topic) or that this definite entity and not some other is identical with the topic (when it is pre-posed to the predicate).

One sees, for example, a person in a group who stands out because of his beauty and you are confident he will stand out this way for your audience.  You know that Robert Pattinson is identical with this person, but you aren’t sure that the people you are talking with know this, so you say “The beautiful one is Robert Pattinson.”  “Si Robert Pattinson ang maganda.” You are assuming an identity.

You see someone in a group whom you know to be Taylor Lautner; you are overwhelmed by his beauty, but you are not totally sure that everyone else is (Dr. Forsberg for example is constantly casting aspersions on your taste in guys); there are other arguably beautiful men there…Brad Pitt, for example, or Matt Damon or Jude Law or Ashton Kutchner… so you say “Taylor Lautner is the beautiful one”.  “Ang maganda si Taylor Lautner”.  Not Brad Pitt, not Matt Damon, not Jude Law, not Ashton Kutchner, but Taylor Lautner — just to set the record straight.  So you are asserting, stating, not just assuming an identity.  This is the predicate, after all.

That ang either assumes or asserts an identity suggests the possibility of interpreting ‘maganda‘ as ‘some (currently unidentified) beautiful one.’  Taking out the ‘ang‘ takes out the identity, the ‘this specific one’, the ‘this one and not that other’.  What one is left with then is some (currently) not yet specified beautiful one; there exists some member of the set of beautiful entities, but we do not yet know which one, nor do we have enough of a handle on the entity to say it’s this one and not that other.

Of course, without the ‘ang‘, ‘maganda‘ cannot be the topic of the sentence. (The ‘*’ indicates a sentence that would strike competent speakers as a word salad.)

* Si Robert Pattinson maganda.

So in the canonical Tagalog sentence, the ang-less maganda could only be at the left of the sentence — on the left side of the scales, so to speak:

Maganda si Robert Pattinson.

This would then translate (on an extremely literal level) as:

Some beautiful one = Robert Pattinson.

Or again:

Some member of the set of beautiful entities = Robert Pattinson.

And this would be the easiest, cleanest way to cash out the intuition that the canonical Tagalog sentence has a PREDICATE = TOPIC structure.  Coming up with the cleanest way of doing this is the motivation for suggesting that we look at ‘maganda‘ as ‘ang maganda‘ stripped of the assumed or asserted specific identity signaled by the ‘ang‘.  (And understanding the arguments for the claim that Tagalog does not have a subject is the motivation for trying to cash out the PREDICATE = TOPIC intuition.)

If this way of cashing out the intuition is correct, then, ‘maganda‘ does not name a set in 2), as I suggested in a previous post.  Instead, it names some member of the set of beautiful entities that is unidentified at the moment of the utterance of the word and will remain unidentified until we get to ‘si Robert Pattinson.’  In this way, it differs from the ejaculation ‘Birfers!’ because, unlike ‘Birfers!’, it names not a set but some (unidentified) member of a set.

Above, I say ‘suggests the possibility’ rather than ‘shows’ because of course this interpretation of ‘maganda‘ has not been demonstrated.  To show that ‘maganda‘ in 2) names at the time of utterance some (currently unidentified) beautiful entity, I would have to show that stripping away the ‘ang‘ in ‘ang maganda‘ does not radically alter the function of the word ‘maganda.’  This of course I have not shown.  The constituents of ‘ang maganda‘ might not be that atomistic, partes extra partes.

So far all I have is ‘I have the intuition that the canonical Tagalog sentence is an equality (and Naylor and Schachter also have this intuition, so  nyah nyah nyah), and interpreting ‘maganda‘ in the way I have just suggested would be the simplest way to describe this equality should the intuition turn out to be correct.




My Confidants Will Know What I Am Talking About

In the course of discovering, quite unexpectedly, that I am just one degree of separation away from Barack Obama (this may partially ameriolate my 3-degrees-of-separation connection with Al Capone), I encountered a little fire-fight on the interwebs that I sum up as follows:

Person A:  “I was a confidant of Barack Obama when he was an undergraduate.”

Person B:  (Addressing Person A):  “You can’t claim you were a close friend of Barack Obama’s, since you met him only twice.”

Person A:  “I never said I was a close friend of Barack Obama’s; I said I was a confident of his.  The two are not the same.  Someone I meet in an elevator can be my confidant.”

Now I have absolutely no intention of going back to the exact wording of the dispute, so please assume, until you have any firm evidence to the contrary,  that any criticism of the arguments of the real people A or B that may seem to be implied here is in fact a straw man.  I am just interested in the narrow question:  Does ‘A was a close friend of Barack Obama’s’ follow from ‘A was a confident of Barack Obama’s’? 
I suggest that how much one is a confidant of a person is a measure of how close a friend one is to him.  One might hear, for example:  “I know that you two are close friends, but I don’t know how close, so I am not going to elaborate on this remark I’ve just made because then you might come to know too much.”  One measure of how much one is a confident of a person is how much he is willing to tell you information that he is at pains to withhold from the general public.  Another measure is how long-lasting the relation is and how regularly he confides information to you.  Let’s assume, then, just for the sake of argument, that I am reluctant to divulge to the general public the following items, listed in descending order of the urgency with which i need to keep these things private:

1.  My boyfriend is this really cool vampire, but now my love-life has become complicated by this really hot (and I mean really hot) werewolf who has a desperate crush on me … and I am becoming more and more attracted to the werewolf by the minute.

2.  I adore Country Music.

3.  As an undergraduate, I was a fervent adherent to the philosophy of George Berkeley, and I used to argue vehemently, not only that this chair would not exist if no one perceived the chair, but also that sometimes this chair actually does sometimes fall out of existence because, there being no God, God is not around to perceive the chair when no lesser sentient being happens to be around to perceive it.

Any one of these three revelations, I believe, would forever dash any presidential aspirations I may have.  Nonetheless, I am much more sanguine about 3) become widely known than I am 2), or, God forbid, 1).  I am not sure how I could live down widespread knowledge of 1). 
Now if I meet Philippa Foot once and only once in my lifetime at a philosophy conference, and tell her 3) while we are in the elevator, is Philippa Foot now my confidant?  My own intuition tells ‘well, in a way.  Sort of kind of.’  But I seriously doubt that Philippa Foot’s membership in the set comprising ‘confidants of Cliff Wirt’ is 100%.  Would not the degree of membership be closer to something like 1%?  (Permit me for the moment to use the terminology of fuzzy set theory.)  The urgency with which I want to withhold the information is low.  The relation to my sort-of-kind-of confidant is not a long-lasting one. Nor do I regularly or habitually confide private information to her.
Alternatively, should I collar some stranger in the elevator and tell him — outside of any context whatsoever . . . we are not at a conference of Robert Pattinson fans, for example — “My boyfriend is this really cool vampire….”, my intuition is that this is another case in which the membership of this unfortunate person in the set of ‘confidants of Cliff Wirt’ is considerably less than 100%.  The urgency with which I normally withhold this information from the general public is quite high (I don’t know what came over me in the elevator), nonetheless, my sort-of-kind-of confidant is not someone with whom I have a relationship lasting through a significant stretch of time to whom I regularly confide things.
But if I confide 1) to someone to whom I regularly confide things and with whom I have associated for a significant amount of time, my intuition is that, yes, this person does have 100% membership in the set comprising ‘confidants of Cliff Wirt.’  But this person also has 100% membership in the set of close friends of Cliff Wirt. 
So yes, ‘A was a close friend of Barack Obama’s’ does follow from ‘A was a confident of Barack Obama’s’ when membership in the set of ‘confidants of Barack Obama’ is 100%.  The vagueness of the terms ‘confidant’ and ‘close friend’ might lend support to an evasion of this implication, but at the core (by that I mean ‘at the level of 100% membership in the sets), the implication does hold. 
Anyone is welcome to advance differing intuitions here.