A syntactic blend

In gathering material for my posting on Zippy the Pinhead’s road trip to Kansas, I came across this sentence in the Wikipedia entry on Strataca, aka the Kansas Underground Salt Museum.:

There are 14 other salt mines in the United States, but none of which are accessible to tourists.

The intended meaning is clear, but the syntax is definitely off. The sentence looks like a blend of two different, though very similar, formulations of the idea:

(a) There are 14 other salt mines in the United States, none of which are accessible to tourists. [nonrestrictive relative clause]

(b) There are 14 other salt mines in the United States, but none of them are accessible to tourists. [conjoined independent clause with but]

Both are syntactically unproblematic (disregarding the disputed usage choice between none … are and none … is, which is identical for (a) and (b)). But it appears that the writer(s) began option (b), with the conjunction but, and then continued with the relative-clause syntax of option (a). A classic syntactic blend, it seems to me.

From a 10/29/12 posting on the expression razor tight, invoking the scholar Gerald Cohen:

Cohen is a scholar of syntactic blends, notably in his 1987 book, Syntactic Blends in English Parole, a substantial compendium of real-life examples, almost all of them inadvertent and quite plausibly resulting from a conflict in language production in which two contributors compete for a slot in planning, giving a hybrid expression with the first part of one contributor and the second part of the other

Despite these credentials, Cohen has long been given to postings on ADS-L in which he sees blends everywhere — and I dispute his claims there. In the case of razor thin, I wrote:

So, rather than a blend of two specific expressions conveying ‘very close’ (which could then be seen as competing with one another), what we have is an extension of the metaphoric modifier razor in razor thin for use with an adjective head other than thin, conveying both a reference to some relevant property of razors and also an extreme positive position on the corresponding scale for the adjective.

(and I provided a collection of other instances of this extension of the modifier razor).

Inadvertent syntactic blends certainly occur, and with some frequency, but the moral here is that not everything that could be analyzed as a combination of two different expressions is plausibly to be analyzed that way. The Wikipedia example above, however, is quite reasonably to be analyzed this way, especially since Wikipedia entries are the work of many hands, in a process that facilitates blending and similar errors in editing.

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