Following up on my posting on “Obsolete syntax”, about parallel correlative coordination (in that case, or … or, rather than the modern either/whether… or), some notes on the marking of coordination in English.

1. Narrowing the focus. I’m going to concentrate on three coordination markers: and (with the semantics of logical conjunction, CON), or (with the semantics of logical disjunction, DIS), and nor (with the semantics of logical negated disjunction, NDIS ‘neither/none of’), when these are used to link, or chain together, two or more constituents of the same category.

[Note 1: All three of these markers have other meanings and uses.]

[Note 2: Missing from the set is a marker for logical negated conjunction, NCON ‘not both/all’. Despite the usefulness of a nand-like connective in mathematical logic and computer science, English, famously, hasn’t lexicalized this meaning.]

[Note 3: I’ve referred to DIS as “logical disjunction”, but of course there are two kinds of logical disjunction, inclusive and exclusive, and their relationship to coordinators in natural languages is complex and controversial; see the inventory of postings on the semantics of or here. For my purposes here, DIS will serve as a cover label for disjunctions of all sorts.]

[Note 4: The set of coordinators is at least a bit bigger than these three. In particular, some uses of but should certainly be included, but I exclude it here because it’s not used in chains of parallel constituents. Sentence-connective adverbs like so and yet sometimes act like marginal members of the category, but, again, they aren’t used in chains. And sentence-connective for acts in some ways like a coordinator and in some ways like a subordinator, but, again, isn’t used in chains. Plus there’s more.

There’s an English-teacher tradition of listing the English “coordinating conjunctions” via the mnemonic FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), but as Geoff Pullum said pointedly back in 2006, these seven markers don’t form a natural class.]

[Note 5: There are more correlative markers in English, but they come strictly in pairs: for instance, if … then/Ø, when … then/Ø (When you touch the button, (then) the box will explode), and not only … but also. Also not covered here.]

2. Initial marking. The first element in one of these chains can be marked or (in some cases) unmarked.

2.1. Marked initials. These are: for CON, both; for DIS, either; for NDIS, neither. In modern standard English, the coordinators and, or, and nor cannot serve as initial markers. (That was the point of my earlier posting, and I’ve now put out feelers to colleagues about the history of such parallel correlatives in English; they are certainly common in other languages.)

2.2. Unmarked initials: the Ø option, avvailable (in general) only for CON and DIS.

3. Later marking. Later elements (after the first) in chains can have any one of three treatments.

3.1. Asyndetic coordination: no non-initial element is marked. This option is standardly available only for CON and DIS. Invented written examples (these are much more common in speech):

We ordered pea soup, seviche, lamb stew, green salad. [CON]

As a side dish, you can have a green salad, coleslaw, French fries, mixed sauteed vegetables. [DIS]

3.2. Final-only marking: only the final element is marked. Available for CON, DIS, and NDIS.

3.3. ATB marking: across-the-board marking, in which all non-initial elements are marked by a coordinator. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

4. The default in English is unmarked initial plus final-only marking. The other possibilities have further semantic, pragmatic, or stylistic values.

[Note on punctuation. This is a separate matter, but the bare bones of standard usage is to use no commas in coordinations of two phrases; to use a comma in coordinations of two sentences; to use a comma between elements otherwise (except that the last, or Oxford, comma is to be omitted, according to some style sheets, or is obligatory, according to others); and to use semicolons instead of commas in an assortment of situations.]


One Response to “Correlatives”

  1. Correlative coordinators in parallel « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] By arnold zwicky Still more on or … or and its kin (previous postings here and here), from OED3. None of them is current, but or … or and nor … nor seem to have lasted […]

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