This touching Sara Lautman pun cartoon from the 10/14 New Yorker:

(#1) “You know, sooner or later we’re going to have to let her go out unaccompanied.”

It all depends on what you mean by unaccompanied.

From NOAD:

adj. unaccompanied: [a] having no companion or escort: no unaccompanied children allowed. [b] (of a piece of music) sung or played without instrumental accompaniment: an unaccompanied violin elegy. [c] (of a state, condition, or event) taking place without something specified taking place at the same time: the political change was unaccompanied by social change.

The cartoon plays on senses a and b. Solicitous parents will be anxious about having their young daughter out alone on city streets at night, even in what looks like a lovely gentrified-brownstone neighborhood. They will not want her to be unaccompanied-a. These partocular solicitous parents have chosen to remedy things by ensuring that she isn’t unaccompanied-b: they’ve supplied her with a back-up band, a strolling quartet of guitar, bass, accordion, and a flute or recorder.

[Musical digression. Small muscal groups like this one can be composed of various assortments of instruments. A quick search on the net brings up three more groups with accordion and guitar: a quartet of violin, bass, guitar, and accordion; a quintet of accordion, flute, mandolin, guitar, and bass; and a quartet of accordion, flute, cajón, and guitar.  From Wikipedia:

A cajón (Spanish: “box”, “crate” or “drawer”) is a box-shaped percussion instrument originally from Peru, played by slapping the front or rear faces (generally thin plywood) with the hands, fingers, or sometimes implements such as brushes, mallets, or sticks.]

The linguistic history begins with accompany, originally a verb having to do with travelling with companions (sense 1 in NOAD, below), this generalized metaphorically to occurring or being together (sense 2) and, separately, specialized metaphorically to serving as a musical companion (sense 3):

verb accompany: [with object] 1 go somewhere with (someone) as a companion or escort: the two sisters were to accompany us to New York | he was at the banquet accompanied by his daughter. 2 [a] be present or occur at the same time as (something else): the illness is often accompanied by nausea | (as adjective accompanying the accompanying documentation. [b] provide (something) as a complement or addition to something else: home-cooked ham accompanied by brown bread. 3 play a musical accompaniment for. ORIGIN late Middle English: from Old French accompagner, from a- (from Latin ad ‘to, at’) + compagne, from Old French compaignon ‘companion’. The spelling change was due to association with company.

All three uses are transitive in syntax, with the Subject denoting a subordinate, a companion or accompaniment, and the Direct Object denoting the anchor or primary participant in the relationship: Frank accompanied me to my brother’s wedding [1]; Nausea often accompanies an inner ear infection [2a]; Cranberry sauce accompanied the roast turkey [2b]; Gerald Moore accompanied Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau at the piano [3].

From the verb accompany, we get the PSP form accompanied (as in the passive I was accompanied by Frank; An inner ear infection is often accompanied by nausea; etc.); this is then usable as an adjective, in all three senses (I’ve always preferred an accompanied singer to a solo one, etc.); unaccompanied is then the negative derivative in un-, again in all three senses (An unaccompanied singer sounds incomplete to me, etc.).

Musically unaccompanied. The cultural facts are complex, but certain kinds of music are conventionally accompanied, by an orchestra, a smaller instrumental group, a guitar, an organ, or a piano. Depending on the type of music, a performance lacking the usual accompaniment will be described as solo, a cappella, or unaccompanied (and similarly for a piece of music written with such a performance in mind).

In this set, unaccompanied stands out because it is explicitly negative in form, and so is inclined to be understood not merely negatively, but privatively. From NOAD:

adj. privative: (of an action or state) marked by the absence, removal, or loss of some quality or attribute that is normally present.

So Stella walked to school unaccompanied by a street band carries with it the implicature that Stella normally, or at least often, is accompanied by a street band on her way to school. So that, without context, it would be a surprising thing to say.

And the title of Bach’s suites for unaccompanied cello carries with it the implicature — accurate, in this case — that such suites normally have an accompaniment (typically, a keyboard accompaniment that supplies polyphonic texture). In later Classical and Romantic music, cello sonatas (like violin sonatas, flute sonatas, clarinet sonatas, and many others) normally have an accompaniment, usually a piano, so that the lack of such a part will probably be indicated by unaccompanied in the title.

In any case, the unaccompanied nature of Bach’s suites is remarkable, a considerable achievement on his part, in fact. From Wikipedia:

(#2) 1958 vinyl reissue of historical recordings from 1936 and 1938-9

The six Cello Suites, BWV 1007-1012, are suites for unaccompanied cello by Johann Sebastian Bach. They are some of the most frequently performed and recognizable solo compositions ever written for cello. Bach most likely composed them during the period 1717–23, when he served as Kapellmeister in Köthen.

… These suites for unaccompanied cello are remarkable in that they achieve the effect of implied three-to-four-voice contrapuntal and polyphonic music in a single musical line.

… Due to the works’ technical demands, étude-like nature, and difficulty in interpretation because of the non-annotated nature of the surviving copies, the cello suites were little known and rarely publicly performed until they were revived and recorded by Pablo Casals in the early 20th century. They have since been performed and recorded by many renowned cellists and have been transcribed for numerous other instruments … including the violin, viola, double bass, viola da gamba, mandolin, piano, marimba, classical guitar, recorder, flute, electric bass, horn, saxophone, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, euphonium, tuba, ukulele, and charango. They have been transcribed and arranged for orchestra as well.

Conventional collocations. One more step. In the case of unaccompanied ‘without companion or escort’, there’s a further layer of semantic specialization, in which the conventional collocation unaccompanied minor is used to refer to children (who are legally minors) without a companion in two specific contexts: for migrant children; and for children in commercial travel.

Wikipedia on the first, specific to contexts of migration or refuge-seeking:

An unaccompanied minor (sometimes “unaccompanied child” or “separated child”) is a child without the presence of a legal guardian.

And Wikipedia on the second:

(#3) A UM in transit

An unaccompanied minor (sometimes “unaccompanied child” or “separated child”) is a child traveling without the presence of a legal guardian. In airline policy an unaccompanied minor is typically an airline passenger aged between 5 and 14 years old (airline regulations vary) who travels without an accompanying adult.

The opposite of unaccompanied minor in these two cases is accompanied minor, referring to what are just the normal situations, so it’s used in situations where we might expect a child to lack a companion, and there are some. But the girl in #1 is an accompanied minor in still another sense, one that’s not impossible but really socioculturally silly.


One Response to “Unaccompanied”

  1. [BLOG] Some Sunday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Zwicky looks at the different meanings of […]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: