Archive for the ‘Syntax’ Category

Rowling’s ESOC

February 21, 2015

From Ben Zimmer, this whom from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (p. 311):

Krum, whom Harry would have thought ___ would have been used to this sort of thing, skulked, half-hidden, at the back of the group.

The position that the relative pronoun fills in this sentence — as the subject of a subordinate clause (itself functioning as the object of the verb thought) with VP would have been used to this sort of thing is marked by the underlines. In now-standard, but somewhat misleading, terminology, the pronoun is “extracted” from the subject position of an object clause, a configuration I’ve labeled ESOC (for Extracted Subject of Object Clause).

The fact that the pronoun functions as a clausal subject would predict, in most syntactic frameworks, that it should be nominative case (who). However, it immediately follows a verb, a position where an accusative pronoun is often called for; it “looks like” an object, and ESOC pronouns are often marked as accusative: whom (as in the Harry Potter sentence).

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Quotative moments

February 7, 2015

Yesterday, Geoff Pullum posted an xkcd strip citing Patricia Cukor-Avila on “quotative like“, I linked to it, and lots of people on Facebook were impressed by the concept. So here a few words about quotative constructions, beginning with a wonderful exchange in a song from the 1996 album Love Is Dead by The Mr T Experience:

I’m like “Yeah”
but she’s all “No”
and I’m all “Come on baby, let’s go”
and she’s like “I don’t think so”

(with the quotative elements bolfaced). The guy and the girl go back and forth between quotative like and quotative all in their bargaining.

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McCosh on NomPred

February 5, 2015

From the Princeton Alumni Weekly on 2/4, an entertaining note from the 1/25/46 PAW:

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Sunday NomConjObj

February 4, 2015

In the NYT Sunday Review on February 1st, an interview by Kate Murphy. Background:

Michel Nischan is a two-time James Beard Award-winning chef who founded and now runs Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit sustainable food advocacy group that has forged partnerships with health care providers nationwide to prescribe and make farm-fresh produce available in low-income communities.

And then in the section on “Playing”, Nischan says (relevant bit boldfaced):

While I didn’t get to know James Beard, I did end up meeting one of my childhood heroes, Jacques Pépin, and we became very dear friends. He’s the one who turned my wife and I on to pétanque, which is kind of the French version of bocce. We caught on quickly enough — Jacques doesn’t like playing with people who can’t play — that he invited us to join his league and we play every other Sunday during the summer. It’s a really social and remarkably fun game.

A nominative conjoined object (NomConjObj) my wife and I, which struck me as perfectly ordinary these days; indeed, the prescriptive standard alternative my wife and me struck me as somewhat awkward in this context — and I’m someone who doesn’t use NomConjObjs. What might be going on here?

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A syntactic blend

January 28, 2015

In gathering material for my posting on Zippy the Pinhead’s road trip to Kansas, I came across this sentence in the Wikipedia entry on Strataca, aka the Kansas Underground Salt Museum.:

There are 14 other salt mines in the United States, but none of which are accessible to tourists.

The intended meaning is clear, but the syntax is definitely off. The sentence looks like a blend of two different, though very similar, formulations of the idea:

(a) There are 14 other salt mines in the United States, none of which are accessible to tourists. [nonrestrictive relative clause]

(b) There are 14 other salt mines in the United States, but none of them are accessible to tourists. [conjoined independent clause with but]

Both are syntactically unproblematic (disregarding the disputed usage choice between none … are and none … is, which is identical for (a) and (b)). But it appears that the writer(s) began option (b), with the conjunction but, and then continued with the relative-clause syntax of option (a). A classic syntactic blend, it seems to me.

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diabetic X

January 18, 2015

Dee Michel wrote me a little while ago with the Adj + N phrase diabetic socks, which he found entertaining: how could socks be diabetic? The short answer is that though diabetic is an adjective in this phrase, it functions semantically like a noun, in particular like the noun diabetic ‘someone suffering from diabetes'; diabetic socks are ‘socks for diabetics’. From Wikipedia:

A diabetic sock is a non-binding and non-elasticated sock which is designed so as to not constrict the foot or leg. Typically sufferers of diabetes are the most common users of this type of sock. Diabetes raises the blood sugar level, which can increase the risk of foot ulcers. Diabetic socks are made to be unrestrictive of circulation.

(I am in fact wearing diabetic socks as I write this posting.)

So diabetic here is a type of non-predicating adjective, a type known in the trade as a pseudo-adjective: an Adj in form, but interpreted by reference to a N.

In the case of diabetic, we have not one, but two, pseudo-adjectives — one evoking the noun diabetic (as above), one evoking the noun diabetes (as in diabetic coma ‘coma caused by diabetes’).

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Subjectless purpose adjunct

January 10, 2015

From a public service announcement on television about the closing of the Golden Gate Bridge this weekend:

(1) The bridge is closing to install a moveable median barrier

I wasn’t entirely comfortable with this wording, which sounded danglerish to me (though its intent is clear). The version on the bridge’s site uses a subjectless nominalization (which is impeccable) rather than a subjectless purpose adjunct:

(2) Jan. 10-11, Golden Gate Bridge CLOSED for Installation of Moveable Median Barrier

My speculation is that subjectless purpose adjuncts (at least the sentence-final ones) are less obtrusive when they are more telegraphic in form, especially when they are framed as headlines; the idea is that readers are accustomed to supplying omitted material in headlines.

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-ee

January 9, 2015

After I posted on presentee (vs. absentee), commenters on Facebook wondered about the derivational suffix -ee, and I noted that there was a fair amount of literature about it. Here I cite some of this, including a famous proposal (well, famous in linguistics) that will take us to a strange and unexpected place: ergative-absolutive languages (vs. nominative-accusative languages).

The great resource on -ee is a 1998 paper by Chris Barker in Language (74.695-727), “Episodic -ee in English: A thematic role constraint on new word formation” (stable URL here), which uses a database of “fifteen hundred naturally occurring tokens of some five hundred word types” to analyze the semantics of the suffix; it also has a full bibliography of relevant literature on the subject. I’ll come back to Barker after a detour into ergativity.

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so few of a words

January 4, 2015

Reported (from memory) by Jon Lighter on ADS-L on the 2nd, from historian Douglas Brinkley on CNN:

(1) It’s amazing how much Lincoln could say in so few of a words.

I haven’t found the quote on-line and don’t know if it’s been altered in the transcript. So few of a words could just be a speech error, but it could be the result of a series of extensions and innovations in the syntax of modification in English.

This discussion will unavoidably get pretty technical; read with care.

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NomConjObj from Jack Straw, in writing

December 22, 2014

In the NYT this morning, in a notable photo taken by Ruby Washington for the paper back on 2/14/03 and reprinted on the occasion of her retirement: showing a congratulatory note from British foreign secretary Jack Straw to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell:

The British media are reporting you and I as ‘fighting back’ against the ambiguity of the Blix reports.

A Nominative Conjoined Object with the pronoun form I where the prescriptive standard has me. One of a collection of such examples from public figures (among others, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, U.S. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, HRH Prince Andrew, and candidates Mitt Romney and Joe Biden in the last presidential election.

In the prescriptive standard, a conjoined pronoun has the same form that it would have in isolation, but for some considerable time there’s been a competing system that uses nominatives in coordination, even for grammatical objects. This system tends to be used in informal contexts, especially in speech, but it also appears in informal writing, as above.

On the choice of pronoun forms, see this recent posting, where I carefully distinguish the catalogue of forms, which can be labeled by arbitrary names, from the principles for choosing among them in syntactic constructions, principles that have to be discovered by examining actual usage(s).


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