On the Beverly Cleary trail

In an earlier posting I passed on a little puzzle from Neal Whitman, about coordinate sentences with quotations in the first conjunct. Neal had asked about a proscription in Bill Walsh’s Lapsing Into a Comma (2000) against things like

(1) “I’m finished”, Kim said, and left the room.

Neal hadn’t found an earlier explicit statement of such a proscription, but he was pretty sure it had been in the air, since he’d uncovered some indirect evidence of it — in the children’s books written by Beverly Cleary; latest posting from Neal here. (These are charming books, so doing research on them is scarcely onerous.)

The point is that for man’y years Cleary almost always failed to repeat the subject in the second conjunct of examples like (1) — writing


rather than


(so blithely violating Walsh’s proscription) — but that in her 1990 book Muggie Maggie (well before Walsh’s book was published) she switched to 100% subject repetition.

Then Neal got a chance to look at the 1991 Cleary book Strider and discovered that it went back to nonrepetition. So in 1990 someone (an editor, a stand-in for Cleary, or, least likely, Cleary herself) cleaved to no-subject-repetition. Investigations continue.

I’m going to put that issue aside here, and look at the way the parts of these speech reports are put together. The reports have three parts:

A: a subject, referring to the person speaking (SUBJECT);

B: a verb (most commonly, say) of report (SAY); and

C: a representation of what was said (QUOTE).

A and B always stay together, in either order, so there are four ordering possibilities, along two dimensions:

Quotation Fronting (QF): whether C appears in its default place, following B in a predicate that combines with A (-QF), or whether C appears in clause-initial position (+QF).

Quotative Inversion (QI): whether B appears in its default place, following A (-QI), or whether the subject and main verb are inverted (+QI).

[Neal uses “quotative inversion” as a label for QF, though this isn’t the standard usage in the literature on types of inversions of subject and main verb.]

The alternatives are then:

1 (-QF -QI): A + B + C (SUBJECT-SAY-QUOTE)  Kim said, “I will go”

2 (+QF -QI): C + A + B (QUOTE-SUBJECT-SAY)  “I will go”, Kim said

3 (-QF + QI): C + B + A (QUOTE-SAY-SUBJECT)  “I will go”, said Kim

4 (+QF +QI): B + A + C  (SAY-SUBJECT-QUOTE)  Said Kim, “I will go”

As far as I can tell, these are truth-functionally equivalent. But they’re not equivalent with respect to the way information is organized in them or with respect to style. And they are somewhat different syntactically (beyond the ordering of their parts).

1 and 2 are neutral stylistically, but differ in what gets highlighted, A or C.

3 sounds journalistic, a version that’s unlikely to occur in speech, except in circumstances where A (the SUBJECT) is long or complex and is better postponed until the end of the clause. [There’s a considerable literature on Complex NP Shift, under various names (in things like “I saw yesterday a dog that was larger than any I’d ever seen before”, in contrast to the very dubious “I saw yesterday a big dog”). But what’s interesting here is that a construction that normally has stylistic associations can be recruited for other ends — in this case, to put off material that’s difficult to process or produce.]

Finally, 4 is very mannered, very “literary” in character (Quoth the raven, “Nevermore”.)

Now, the syntax. QI fractures a verb (B) from its subject (A) and, apparently, in so doing makes B inhospitable to premodification:

1 Kim rapidly said, “I will go”

2 “I will go”, Kim rapidly said

3 ?? “I will go”, rapidly said Kim

4 ?? Rapidly said Kim, “I will go”

Postmodification is ok in the 3 and 4 cases (as in the other two):

3 “I will go”, said Kim rapidly

4 Said Kim rapidly, “I will go”

This means that (integrated) adverbials that pretty much must be premodifiers are out in 3 and 4:

3 * “I will go”, always/never said Kim.

4 * Always/Never said Kim, “I will go”

In addition, QI is a “main-clause phenomenon”; contrast

2 “I will go”, we believe Kim said.


3 * “I will go”, we believe said Kim

4 * We believe said Kim, “I will go”

No doubt there are more syntactic differences here between +QI and -QI.

In any case, treating -QF and +QF as separate (and incompatible) constructions, and similarly for -QI and +QI, while allowing the compatible constructions to combine freely, gets the syntactic forms right and gets their association with truth-functional semantics right (I think), but it provides no place to “hook” stylistic differences to — and types 3 and 4, in particular, are quite different in this respect.

What I suggested in a paper some time ago is that sometimes combinations of constructions can have lives of their own: they are composites, with discourse-structural, stylistic, or sociolinguistic values of their own, sometimes with semantics not entirely predictable from that associated with the combining constructions, and often with syntactic peculiarities of their own. (Similar moves are made in other flavors of “construction  grammar”.) So, on this view, type 3 is a composite of -QF (the default ordering of A, B, and C — a special case of the default ordering of subject, verb, and direct object) and +QI, the combination being associated with one set of values, and type 4 is a composite of +QF and +QI, with the combination associated with a different set of values.

Such a view allows us to say that “the same” construction can have a variety uses. For instance, Subject-Auxiliary Inversion (exhibiting the order of auxiliary verb, subject, and complement of the auxiliary) is “used” in a large number of other constructions; the semantics is that of Subject-Predicate Clause, plus whatever semantics is contributed by each of the constructions that use SAI: several types of main-clause questions, several types of frontings (obligatorily with fronted negatives, so/such-phrases, and some others, optionally with certain fronted comparatives, etc.). There are extensive inventories of these SAI uses, along with accounts of the specific semantics associated with the uses and of the way they signal information structure and values of various sorts.

9 Responses to “On the Beverly Cleary trail”

  1. Rick S Says:

    Sorry to niggle, but 2 should be (QUOTE-SUBJECT-SAY) and 3 should be (QUOTE-SAY-SUBJECT). The reversal threw me for a moment.

    I’ve learned a lot of linguistics terms from your and others’ blog posts, but I still don’t see how you manage to keep all this complexity organized. So many features, on so many levels, interacting with one another in so many ways, with so many exceptions! And that’s just for ENGLISH! (How complex IS English syntax, in comparison with other languages, anyway?)

  2. Neal Says:

    This is interesting stuff. I hadn’t thought about modification and embedding of these structures.

    When I wrote the first post on this subject, I used quotative inversion to refer only to subject-verb inversion, as in “Yes,” said John, but in reading up on the issue was unable to find a consistent usage (or any definition at all) of the term that clearly specified whether inversion referred to inversion of subject and verb, or of verb and complement (with possible further inversion of subject and verb). But it sounds like quotative inversion is more often used to refer to the S-V inversion in these constructions. Is Quotation Fronting the usual term for this?

    Meanwhile, I saw a copy of a 2005 book by Cleary in Adam’s classroom last week, called Two Times the Fun. It was published in 2005, but was a compilation of 3 or 4 short stories written at different time periods. I skimmed through the first one and found 100% repeating of the subject; I skimmed through the second one, and found 0% repeating of the subject. The stories were originally published about 20 years apart, IIRC, with the first one in the early 60s. It looks like, once again, an individual piece of Cleary’s work had to pass by an editor who insisted on parallel structure.

  3. arnoldzwicky Says:

    To Rick S: yes, the identifications were switched, in a transfer from a hand-written version of this posting. Now corrected.

    As for keeping the complexity organized, well, that’s what we learn to do in graduate school and in our careers. Languages — all languages — are wonderfully complex. That’s often hard for people who aren’t specialists to appreciate, because we mostly manage these things without thinking about them.

  4. arnoldzwicky Says:

    To Neal: “‘Yes’, said John” has both kinds of “inversion”. “Quotative inversion” is the customary label for the inversion of subject and main verb (parallel to other subject-main verb inversions, as in “Into the room came three little pigs” and “In the garden stands a fountain”). The fronting of the QUOTE is independent of this inversion, and has no standard label, though “Quotation Fronting” seems reasonably transparent.

  5. mollymooly Says:

    My intuitions disagree with your statements that 2 is neutral stylistically, and that 3 sounds journalistic. For me, 1 is the only version that sounds neutral in speech; 3 is better than 2 not just in journalism but e.g. in narrative fiction, where the subject is a noun phrase rather than a pronoun. (With pronoun subject 3 is literary and 2 is neutral.) I don’t know if I’m misinterpreting what you claimed, or overgeneralizing from the example you gave; or perhaps this is a dialectal difference.

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