Adj + N + N

Today’s Zippy dwells on a parsing ambiguity:

Two parsings for the Adj + N + N permanent laundry markers:

(1) Adj + [ N + N ] ‘laundry markers that are permanent’ (Griffy’s intent)

(2)  [ Adj + N ] + N ‘markers for permanent laundry’ (Zippy’s understanding)

We’ve been here before — notably, in a Language Log posting from 2008 on Big Penis Book, which turned out to have been a volume that was both a big book about penises and a book about big penises, though the latter reading was the one the publishers had in mind (the primary audience for the book being people interested in big penises).

As I wrote then,

The ambiguity of big penis book is a familiar one in English linguistics; little girls’ school is a much more decorous textbook example.

And I went on to discuss the syntax of (1) and (2). Very briefly, (1) is a Nom, composed of an Adj and a N (which is a compound N, thart is, N + N); but (2) is a N, composed of a Nom (Adj + N) and a head N; what’s notable is that a Nom can serve as the first constituent of a N. Details in that posting.

My files contain a few other Adj + N + N intended with constituency (2) that are risible if understood with constituency (1):

wearable computing engineer, rechargeable battery tycoon, off-leash dog walker

Welcome to the world of wearable engineers, rechargeable tycoons, and off-leash walkers of dogs.

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