caused traffic to snarl, as well as some injuries and accidents

The whole sentence, as it appeared in the Daily Post (central S.F. Peninsula) on 6/11/15, p. 38, in “Juror complains protestor trial is a waste of time” by Angela Ruggiero:

(1) The sudden blockade caused traffic to snarl, as well as some injuries and accidents.

This has the V caused in construction with some sort of DO + VP complement traffic to snarl (a kind of “accusative + infinitive”, to use traditional terminology) and simultaneously in construction with a direct object, a coordinate NP some injuries and accidents. We start with the observation that this is a kind of coordination of unlike syntactic categories: whatever the syntactic category of DO + VP is, it’s not NP.

Now, despite what some usage handbooks would have you believe, coordinations of unlikes are far from generally barred — but some types are markedly odd, at least for many speakers (and in this case, I am one of them; for me, (1) is one type of what the Language Loggers came to call “WTF coordinations”, for the characteristic reaction some people have to them).

Quick survey. The range of DO + VP sequences is considerable. Some types:

(a) V: cause / force / get … ; VP(INF) to VP (cause / force / get them to act) [“marked infinitive”]

(b) V: have / let / make … ; VP(BSE) (have / let / make them act) [“unmarked infinitive”]

(c) V: have / get / see … ; VP(PSP) (have / get / see them seached by the police) [“passive’]

(d) V: have / get / see … ; VP(PRP) (have / get / see them working on the project) [“progressive”]

These four types of constructions all have DO + VP. But there are similar constructions in which the DO is paired not with a whole VP but just with a predicative within a VP — for example, in make them happy, hammer them flat, consider him a fool, call me an idiot, want her out of here.

There is a tradition for treating these two families of constructions, the verbal ones and the predicative ones, as subtypes of an even larger family, comprising what are called small clauses. From Wikipedia:

In linguistics, a small clause [in this posting, a SC] is a frequently occurring construction that has the semantic subject-predicate characteristics of a clause, but that lacks the tense of a finite clause and appears to lack the status of a constituent. The structural analyses of small clauses vary in part based upon whether a flat or layered analysis is pursued. The small clause is closely related to the phenomena of raising-to-object, exceptional case-marking, accusativus cum infinitivo, and even object control.

The Wikipedia entry is artfully composed; it takes up matters that I won’t touch on here (for example, the claim that SCs are not constituents), and has links to other relevant pages.

For the most part, I’ll focus here on verbal SCs, as in (a) – (d) above.

Complications. Examples similar to (1) have come up a number of times on Language Log over the years. Unlike (1), some of these look jokey, playful; they call attention to themselves. And many of them, but not (1),  present another problem: they are sylleptic, with the shared V (cause in (1)) understood in one sense with the the NP object and in another with the A+C.

(1) has what can reasonably be claimed to have a single lexical item cause ‘make happen’ in it, which is able to occur in a number of different argument structures. From NOAD2:

verb cause [with obj.] make (something, typically something bad) happen: this disease can cause blindness | [with obj. and infinitive]: we have no idea what has happened to cause people to stay away | [with two objs]: you could cause them problems.

In this treatment, the different argument structures can themselves be associated with different pragmatic concomitants (like connotations), discourse functions, and sociolinguistic values; the complexities in the verb’s usage are a product of the properties of the lexical item and the angument structues it occurs in.

But things are often not this simple. An example with both characteristics — playfulness and syllepsis:

(2) … you’ll get the [traffic] ticket and your car searched (Wajnryb, Expletive Deleted, p. 234)

In context this is jokey, and also has the shared V (get) understood in two distinct senses: as ‘receive’ with the NP object a ticket and as an experiential verb with the SC (of the passive VP type), and that makes it especially noticeable.

I looked at a more extreme example in a Language Log posting “WTF small clauses” of 4/14/07, following up an example that had already been through the hands of Barbara Partee, Mark Liberman, and Eric Bakovic:

While Mr. Umarov has kept a low profile and his business running, thousands of immigrant market workers have closed their stalls across Russia.

(with a progressive VP SC). It seemed pretty clear that the keep of keep a low profile (roughly ‘maintain’) and the continuative keep of keep his business running were distinct items, and that fact made the example even stranger than just having a coordination of unlikes would have.

Responses to SC conjoined with DO. What I said in the 2007 posting was:

Slowly the examples come in, with maybe half of them deliberate [and, I’d now add, with some number of them sylleptic]. I suspect that I miss a fair number of routine coordinations of unlikes, but these SC cases really stand out for me.

So things continue to stand: I’m not quite sure what my response to these examples is.

Other people — some of my friends — find them uncomplicatedly acceptable, and others — some of my colleagues in linguistics — judge them to be grammatical errors that you can, however, get away with for an effect. My current belief is that there is variation here, with different people having somewhat different systems.

Back in 2004 I wrote a series of Language Log postings on “the thin line between error and mere variation” in which I took up these vexed issues:

6/29/04: The thin line between error and mere variation (part 1 of 2)

6/29/04: The thin line between error and mere variation II: going nucular

7/25/04: The thin line between error and mere variation, part 3: They started to saying

7/26/04: The thin line between error and mere variation, part 4: Do I misspeak?

Things pretty much unraveled as the series went on, and by part 4 I had a much-respected colleague explaining to me, in a rather patronizing fashion, that some construction types that I found entirely acceptable were just errors, and were necessarily so: if I just thought about the matter carefully, I would see that these constructions weren’t grammatical, and couldn’t possibly be, because they violated some general principle. At this point I threw up my hands and ceased to talk about variation with this colleague.

So here I am again, maintaining that some people have coordinations of SC and DO as parts of their grammatical systems and some don’t, and I’m not sure what I think about my own speech.

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