Data points: missing P 9/18/11

Overheard at the Gordon Biersch restaurant in Palo Alto on 8/11/11:

[about AT&T Park in San Francisco] That ballpark, it’s just fun to go.

I found the lack of a complement to go — to go to or to go there — notable, and several speakers agreed with me. And a search on {“it’s (just) fun to go”} nets plenty of examples with to, there, home, and out, but none without a complement.

So the example seems to be missing the P to. (The adverb there functions like the PP to that place.) An example from my files with missing in:

It’s very important what direction that the national parks are going. [caller to NPR’s Science Friday, 9/3/04]

Now, there are quite a few different ways in which a complement P can be missing: there are “preposition cannibalism” cases — the term is Fowler’s — in which a later instance of a P is swallowed by an earlier instance of the same P (“going in a direction that we feel the field is going [in]”); “preposition absorption” cases in which the missing P is omitted because it is selected by the verb (“we began running out of surfaces for affixing flags [to]”); P omission that might be motivated by avoidance of stranded Ps (ending a sentence with a preposition, as it’s commonly termed); P omission that might arise from a speaker or writer losing track of the fact that they didn’t use a fronted P; (standard) P omission in adverbial relatives (“the place (that) we are going (to)”, “the place where we are going [to]”); and still more. Many examples, in particular those with go, might illustrate more than one of these possibilities at once.

The examples with go tend to hover at the edge of acceptability for some people, no doubt because they might show the combined effects of P absorption, avoidance of stranded P, and P omission in adverbial relatives.


7 Responses to “Data points: missing P 9/18/11”

  1. Jan Freeman Says:

    I’m actually OK with “what direction are you going?” (though not “I’m going that direction”). Maybe because it echoes “what way are you going”? On the other hand, I can’t get used to the cannibalized “as” in “Jamie, as he is known [as]” — and most people don’t register it at all. It’ll be interesting to see how responses break down.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Language Log looked at cannibalized as some time ago. Not only don’t I register the single as, I find the double one bizarre.

      I fear that a study on usage with go — even people’s explicit judgments, never mind actual behavior — would be a forbidding enterprise.

    • Ellen K. Says:

      For me, “I’m going that direction” is totally normal.

      “What direction the National Parks are going” sounds like something missing.

      The difference in meaning (literal movement, versus metaphorical) apparently makes a difference for me.

  2. Jan Freeman Says:

    Yep, I was part of that Language Log colloquy. It’s not that I actually like “as she is known as” — it’s just that I hear the missing “as” as a defect. “She is called Peg” = “She is known as Peg”; so “Peg, as she as called” should become “Peg, as she is known as,” clunky though it is. (I know, I know. I’m hoping to lose this sensitivity in the very near future.)

  3. Jan Freeman Says:

    I’ll be happier, but don’t worry about the others; I don’t inflict my tiny usage tortures on innocent bystanders!

  4. The Ridger Says:

    I can happily leave out the “to” or “there” (which I think is what I’d put if I had to fill a blank after “That ballpark, it’s just fun to go ___”). It seems similar to “Would you like to go see that movie? – Yeah, I’d like to go.” Clearly, it’s a PP or an Adv, not a VP (with, I realize now, a “missing” to in it), but it seems as natural not to end the statement on anything but “go”.

    I couldn’t say “It’s fun to to go that ballpark”, but once you front the direct object I think you (certainly I) can drop more of the sentence. Certainly I wouldn’t say “to that ballpark it’s just fun to go”.

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