Argument structure mysteries

From Ben Zimmer yesterday, this find:

“We now have seen the full flowering of the replacing of Alito for O’Connor,” says Walter Dellinger, former acting solicitor general in the Clinton administration. (link)

along with a Twitter message from Calvin Li about the quote:

“replacing of Alito” suggests Alito is being replaced, but “Alito for O’Connor” makes the meaning clear….

That is, the argument structure here is:

(1) replace NEW for OLD

in place of the standard argument structures for replace,

(2)  replace OLD by/with NEW

The argument structure in (1) is the one appropriate for substitute:

(3) substitute NEW for OLD

In (1), replace has the syntax of substitute — the opposite of cases of “encroached substitute“, in which substitute has the syntax of replace:

(4) substitute OLD by/with NEW

The question is where (1) comes from.

Here’s what I said on 4/28/12 on (3) and (4):

For substitute, there are two long-standing variants:

original substitute: substitute NEW for OLD
encroached, or innovative, substitute: substitute OLD with/by NEW

Original substitute has the virtue that it uses the substitutive P par excellence, for (as in I’ll speak for Kim, I’ll stand in for Kim, etc.), while with and by are merely agentive, but encroached substitute has the virtue of putting OLD before NEW, in line with general preferences for old information before new information in discourse organization.

The argument structure in (1) has the virtue of using substitutive for, but it has NEW before OLD, so the analysis I gave for encroached substitute doesn’t fully work here; we’d expect the innovation for replace to be not (1) but:

(5) replace OLD for NEW

And in fact this variant has been attested. On ADS-L on 8/28/08, Marc Velasco wrote, about examples in which instead of standard take, bring appears:

I wonder if this is a wholesale replacement of take for bring

That’s argument structure (5).

One possibility here is that, perhaps under the influence of the substitute case, some speakers have concluded that substitute and replace are essentially interchangeable.

For argument structure (1) in particular, another possibility is that replace is getting some of its syntax from place ‘put’, as in place/put Alito for O’Connor.

I have no idea of how frequent structures (1) and (5) are; thanks to the many uses of for, examples are very hard to search for.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: