Two (unrelated) items in my queue, on familiar topics: ambiguity and government by the nearest.
Archive for the ‘Government’ Category
From Bill Keller’s op-ed piece “Falling In and Out of War” in the NYT on 3/19/12:
(1) Policy makers should – and President Obama mostly has – put a premium on appraising alternatives to war.
A real-life example of a phenomenon discussed by Geoff Pullum and me in a 1986 article “Phonological resolution of syntactic feature conflict” (Language 62, on-line here): the verb form put (boldfaced above) serves simultaneously as two different inflectional forms of the lexeme PUT — as the BSE complement of the modal auxiliary should and as the PSP complement of the perfect auxiliary has. For almost all verb lexemes in English, these two forms are distinct (compare PLACE, with BSE place and PSP placed), so that the sort of reduced coordination in the Keller example apparently wouldn’t be possible, since there’s no available form that’s both BSE and PSP. For a fully parallel coordination, the distinct verb forms would have to be supplied:
(2) Policy makers should place – and President Obama mostly has placed – a premium on appraising alternatives to war.
But for about two dozen verb lexemes, of which PUT is one, the BSE and PSP happen to be phonologically identical, so that the conflict between the two feature values can be “phonologically resolved”, and the reduced coordination is (exceptionally) possible.
From a draft of a soliciting letter mailed to me recently, for my signature (details concealed):
[Institution X has made N grants to scholars over the years] – people who have and are making important contributions to [science].
(The problematic piece is boldfaced.) The draft was prepared by highly educated people who write a lot in their work, but still they came up with this example of a classic type of non-parallel coordination, with two conjoined complement-taking verbs (here, perfect have and progressive are) but a complement with a verb form appropriate only to the second, and not to the first (perfect have governs a past participle, progressive are a present participle: have made, are making). This is “government of verb form by the nearest”.
What I said to the colleague (and friend) who sent me the draft is that I have in fact studied the phenomenon, adding:
I don’t view it as a lapse in grammar, but a great many people do, and I would probably look foolish if this went out under my name. Grammatical sticklers would insist on:
… people who have made and are making …
Actually, I used to view such examples as lapses in grammar, but over the years I have softened my assessment. As far as I know, I don’t use this sort of government myself, but I have come to think that for many people it’s not an inadvertent error, as many usage advisers have thought, but just an aspect of a grammar somewhat different from mine — a variant construction.