Uneasy anaphora

From today’s New York Times, in a death notice, “Yoko Nagae Ceschina, Countess and Fairy Godmother to the Arts, Dies at 82” by Margalit Fox:

I used to play 120 concerts a year,” [the violinist Maxim Vengerov said. “She would follow me — not to all of the concerts, but to the most important ones, which were probably about 80 or so. I would go to Chicago; she would be there. I would go to Japan; she would turn up there. Then she finally announced that she would like to be my grandmother.”

And so, in effect, she became, on one occasion flying to Switzerland to bring Mr. Vengerov, ill with pneumonia in a hotel room there, an immense fur coat.

The crucial bit is boldfaced.

I read this at first as an anaphoric ellipsis of the complement of became (with so as a sentence-introducing adverb: ‘as a result, consequently’). Then it occurred to me that the so might have been intended as the complement of became: ‘that she became, she became that (i.e., his grandmother)’. The first structure is just impossible for me, and the second is very awkward.

Anaphoric ellipsis. In some very complex set of circumstances, English allows anaphoric ellipsis of verbal complements, in particular direct objects:

They told me to sign the form, so I signed ____.

(with zero as an alternative to anaphoric it). But become doesn’t take direct objects — instead, predicatives.

Much better understood is so-called “Verb Phrase Ellipsis”, in which an auxiliary verb can have zero-anaphoric complements. Somewhat confusingly, the main verb be counts as an auxiliary verb for this purpose (this fact requires some terminological straightening up):

I wanted to be a priest, but I never could be ____.

(conveying ‘be a priest’). But become isn’t an auxiliary verb). So by neither route can we get:

*I wanted to become a priest, but I never could become ___.

Explicit anaphoric element. English has a big quiver of explicit (non-zero) anaphoric elements that can serve as complements of verbs: definite pronouns, demonstrative that, indefinite one, adverbial so, etc.:

They told me to sign the form, so I signed it.

They said that Kim was a spy, but I don’t believe it/that.

I wanted to become a priest, but I never could become one.

They said that Kim was a spy, but I don’t think so.

The Ceschina context is:

he saidshe would like to be my grandmother”, [and] she became X

The possibilities for X include: it, her, that, one, so. One and so (or such) seem to me to be too indefinite for the context (though Margalit Fox apparently went for so, with inversion — possibly using so as an anaphor and as a sentence connective simultaneously), and the others just sound awkward, though comprehensible. The copyeditor in me says: avoid anaphora! Go for:

he said “she would like to be my grandmother”, and she became my grandmother

 

 

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