Dec 05

Cognitive Science Lesson #27 – Phrase Structure

A man meandered down the street
his terrier bounding ‘neath his feet
when suddenly he came to meet
a boy

The boy had followed him from mass
wherein his priest had let him pass
the tests for priesthood awfully fast
and frocked him

The priest was quite a modern sort
he went to movies, followed sport
and loved that band, The rolling snort–
urr, Stones, that is

The Stones were calming down it seems,
they took up yoga, logged their dreams,
their art class used up reams and reams
(of paper)

Their teacher was a careful man
for everything he had a plan
like aprons for to save their pants
and shirts

But the lawyer down the hall was drunk
and of booze consequently stunk
hurled every insult ever thunk
or thinked, that is

So despised was the bum
that when his monthly cheque would come
the firm withheld a tidy sum
for “grievances”

Which is all just an immense aside,
I’ll try to get this knot untied
and cease to furthermore misguide
(besides which I am quite red-eyed)
some closure now I must provide,
(and please before you’re wont to chide
I mean it not as some bromide)
my purpose here is quite cockeyed,
my story a perverse joyride
(and this is where the reader sighed,
and rightly, he was quite shanghaied)
the characters here writ to elide
the tale of a dog, but one which I’d
describe as follows:

The dog the man the boy the priest the band the teacher the lawyer the firm docked mocked smocked rocked frocked stalked walked.

And that’s what they meant in Linguistics when they said humans can’t understand deeply nested, recursive sentences. That feeling you get when reading the final line, where your brain just gives up trying to put it together into a meaningful sentence, even though you know what the words mean, and even who the people are? That’s how a computer feels when it crashes. End of lesson.

© Johnathan Nightingale, 2005