Extraction and insertion

(The main content is fairly technical stuff about syntax. But there’s a side discussion of gay pornstars, their bodies, and their roles in man-man sex, so probably not suitable for kids.)

From the Boys in the Sand website (an appreciation of men’s bodies, mostly in gay porn), this arresting sentence from a  posting on pornstars Micah Brandt and Rocco Steele:

(1) Which porn star does Micah Brandt think its’ a shame hasn’t fucked him? (Yet)

(apostrophe as in the original; but punctuation is not my topic here).

(1) strikes many speakers of English as plainly ungrammatical, though with some work you can figure out what question it’s asking (and the answer is: Rocco Steele). The problem with (1) is that it violates a constraint on “extraction” of material (in, among other constructions, Information, or WH, questions — as in (1) — and relative clauses) from within cerrtain sorts of embedded clauses, one of them being extraposed clauses, as in:

(2) Micah Brandt thinks it’s a shame [OR: it’s surprising] Rocco Steele hasn’t fucked him.

The extraposed clause is underlined, and the constituent questioned in (1), the subject in the extraposed clause,  is boldfaced. It turns out that two structural features are crucial to the phenomenon: that the questioned constituent is in a particular sort of subordinate clause (an extraposed clause in this example); and that the questioned constituent is the suject of that clause.

Background 1. Hat tip to Phil Jensen, who, encouraged by my July 28th posting on pornstar Jeff Quinn, explored the Boys in the Sand site I quoted there — and discovered the treasure in (1).

Background 2. Later in this posting, I’ll write more about the pornstars, noting here only that Micah Brandt is a big, black, bubble-butted bottom — a B boy all around, though I don’t know whether he’s into break-dancing — that Rocco Steele is a “megahung” (reputedly 10″ long x 7″ around) gay daddy, a serious top who took up doing gay porn after 40. and that, despite their obvious complementarity, Steel has not yet fucked — inserted himself into (little linguist joke here) — Brandt.

Background 3. The general constraint here is in the family of “Ross constraints”, due to Haj Ross:

John R. Ross, MIT PhD dissertation, Constraints on Variables in Syntax (1967), distributed in 1968 by the Indiana University Linguistics Club, reprinted by Ablex as Infinite Syntax! (1986)

Ross saw his constraints as entirely syntactic, as conditions on how unbounded “movements” or “extractions” (using two related metaphors for anaphor-gap relations) can work in certain syntactic configurations, stretching potentially over many levels of  clause subordination, without bound, as in WH questions. With the position of the gap indicated by underlines and the anaphor indicated by boldfacing

(within a clause) Who did Micah fuck ___?

(one level of embedding, in an object clause) Who did they say Micah fucked ___?

(two levels of embedding, in an object clause within an object clause) Who do you think they said Micah fucked ___?

And so on, without bound.

(The little joke is then that the linguistic facts have to do with the extraction of a constituent from within a clause, while the sexual acts referred to have to do with the insertion of one man’s penis into the body of another. Of course the linguistic facts aren’t in any way specific to clauses with the verb fuck in them, but are quite general.)

Background 4. Though the judgments of (un)grammaticality reported on here clearly have to do with structural configurations of different sorts, not everyone shares them. A fair number of speakers find all kinds of examples to be acceptable, without much regard to the syntactic structures involved, so long as they can figure out what the examples might have been intended to convey.. Such speakers’ judgments are (relatively) structure-independent, and their own productions mirror this; they will write, and speak, examples like (1) with impunity; for them, such examples are normal, not some kind of production error that they would correct.

Background 5. The Ross constraints, or island constraints (as they are also known, from the metaphor that certain clause types act like islands from which (certain) things can’t be exported — that is, from which (certain) constituents can’t be extracted) have been formulated or reformulated in various ways, most notably by Chomsky and his followers, who have sought to understand these apparently very structure-specific constraints as consequences of much more abstract, extremely general, indeed universal, conditions on syntactic structures.

A very different approach to the Ross constraints takes them to follow from processing considerations: in this view, the “unacceptable” examples are actually grammatical, just very hard to parse correctly, because of the structures in them. Of course, mixed positions, with some contribution of “hard” structural conditions and some  of fuzzier conditions having to do with strategies for parsing, can be advanced, and have been for some time (see, for example, Alexander Grosu’s 1972 Ohio State PhD dissertation, The Strategic Content of Island Constraints). I have great sympathy with a mixed position — I was, after all, Grosu’s thesis adviser — but for my presentation here, I’ll formulate the conditions in purely syntactic terms.

Simplifications. I’ll now simplify the original example in various ways to make points more clearly.

First, I’ll reduce the two actual pornstars to fictional characters named Micah and Rocco, and all the WH questions will mention Micah and have the expected answers referring to Rocco, regardless of their roles in sexual acts.

I will, however, preserve fuck as the transitive verb in the relevant clause, for its attention-getting and entertainment values.

Second, I’ll simplify the WH-constituent in the question, from one with a WH-determiner, which pornstar, to plain who, and I’ll disregard the possibility of whom for extracted objects (a feature of much more formal styles than the ones we’re looking at).

Third, (1) is a negated question; it’s about which porn stars haven’t fucked Micah. It’s well-known that negation makes for processing complexity, so I’ll just eliminate this feature.

On with the program. Each presentation has statement, then question, and (direct) object example before subject example. The boundaries of subordinate clauses are marked off with square brackets.

In a main clause, both the object and the subject can be questioned:

Object: Micah fucked Rocco. Who did  Micah fuck?
Subject: Rocco fucked Micah. Who fucked Micah?

In an object clause, both the object and the subject within that clause can be questioned (though the examples get harder to process as you get more levels of embedding):

Object: Tony suspects [ Micah fucked Rocco ].
Who does Tony suspect [ Micah fucked ___ ]?

Subject: Tony suspects [ Rocco fucked Micah ].
Who does Tony suspect [  ___ fucked Micah ]?

Object: They think [ Tony suspects [ Micah fucked Rocco ] ].
Who do they think [ Tony suspects  [ Micah fucked ___ ] ]?

Object: They think [ Tony suspects [ Rocco fucked Micah ] ].
Who do they think [ Tony suspects [ ___ fucked Micah ] ]?

In an extraposed clause, only an object can be questioned:

Object: It’s surprising / a shame [ Micah fucked Rocco ] ].
Who is it surprising / a shame [ Micah fucked ___ ]?

Subject: It’s surprising / a shame [ Rocco fucked Micah ].
*Who is it surprising / a shame [ ___ fucked Micah ]?

Object: They think [ it’s surprising / a shame [ Micah fucked Rocco ] ].
Who do they think [ it’s surprising / a shame [ Micah fucked ___ ] ]?

Object: They think [ it’s surprising / a shame [ Rocco fucked Micah ] ].
*Who do they think [ it’s surprising / a shame [ ___ fucked Micah ] ]?

This last example is structurally parallel to the original example (1), but with assorted simplifications. The larger generalization seems to be that extraction of subjects is fine in subordinate object clauses, but not in other subordinate clauses (which are less tightly bound to the clause they’re embedded in). So two structural features are relevant: subject vs. object and object clause vs. other subordinate clause. Of course, there’s more, but this will do for now.

The pornstars. Side remarks on Micah Brandt and Rocco Steele. First, we have (1), which is the Boys in the Sand header for a report on tweets on 11/2/15  between the two men, which went:

Michael Brandt (@MrMicahBrandt: Its really a shame that i haven’t been fucked by @RoccoSteeleXXX yet

Rocco Steele: yeah Im not happy about that!!!!

That was back in November. They’re a natural pairing, receptive and insertive, so maybe they’ve been put together on video by now.

Brandt offering himself, in tough mode and romantic mode:



Steele in a publicity shot:


#1 and #2 show off Brandt’s big selling point; to experiece Steele’s big selling point, you need to go to AZBlogX and view “Rocco Steele’s famous tool”, in a hotel room selfie that shows his celebrated cock to good advantage (#1 there). It’s not only long and thick, but it suits his body well, and definitely gets votes from me in the beautiful dick competition.

There are, of course, lots of sites celebrating big dicks, and even beautiful ones, though these are mostly expressions of one person’s opinions. For instance, Zach on the Str8UpGay Porn site produced an 8/13/14 posting with his opinions:

This ranking of Gay Porn’s 30 Best & Biggest Cocks Right Now is based on an algorithm containing several key components: Shape/symmetry, proportion of shaft to head, overall aesthetic (discoloration, veins, wrinkles), ability to remain fully erect during scenes, time in industry (i.e., number of scenes on which the cock can be judged), overall length/thickness, and my subjective opinion. So, please keep in mind: These cocks are not necessarily ranked purely in order of their size, but rather a combination of the aforementioned factors. And, as usual, if you don’t like this list, you’re free to start your own blog and make your own list.

Rocco Steele makes the list, but just barely: #29, with two photos, one of his daddy dick in action (#2) and another display shot, this one professionally posed (#3).

Zach is apparently a great fan of pornstar Tommy Defendi, and ranks him #1. Defendi looking cute can be viewed in #1 in a July 23rd posting on this blog, with links to harder stuff on AZBlogX.

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