Over the past three months, contributors to ADS-L have been looking at a series of English examples involving of in English modifier constructions, in what I’ve called EDM (Exceptional Degree Modification) and closely related constructions. (ODM — Ordinary Degree Modification — in a very big dog, EDM in [-of] how big a dog and [+of] how big of a dog.) Most of the examples are ones I’ve discussed in ADS-L or Language Log postings over the years and then posted about on this blog, but this history seems to have vanished from the group’s memory, so we get fresh reports of old phenomena, sigh. I have now assembled a Page on this blog with an inventory of some postings on EDM and related phenomena, along with quotes from and comments on the postings. Unfortunately, people can’t consult this resource if they don’t know about it. I don’t know any way to fix that, but I’m not going to repeat discussions of EDM from my publications and postings over the past 20 years. Instead, I’ll make brief references to this material, reminders that this stuff is out there (and easily accessible).
Archive for the ‘Modifiers’ Category
Heard in passing on KFJC’s Norman Bates show Saturday morning, Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) to Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) in the 1939 movie of Gone With the Wind, what I heard as:
No, I don’t think I will kiss you, although you need kissing, badly. That’s what’s wrong with you. You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how.
I’m interested in the third sentence, boldfaced above. Transcribed as here:
Two modifiers of kissed in the VP: often and by someone who knows how. These modifiers can be tightly adjoined (in speech, not set off prosodically; in writing, not set off by punctuation) or loosely adjoined (in speech, set off prosodically; in writing, set off by a comma); and the modifiers can be syntactically unmarked, or marked as coordinate (with and). The version in #1 has both modifiers marked with and, with the first tightly adjoined, but the second loosely adjoined.
My question about these matters is to what extent they involve linguistic structure, and to what extent they are (more or less literally) choices in performance, options indicated in writing in the fashion of stage directions, or options taken by actors.
In an NYT opinion column on Sunday (the 5th), a Jenny Wilkinson piece about her sexual assault at U.Va., including this:
The weak punishment meted out to the student whom the university found responsible for assaulting me doesn’t seem to have been unusual; as far as I know, no one has been expelled after being found responsible for sexual assault by the university.
The crucial part is bolfaced: in the intended reading, the VP being found responsible for sexual assault is modified by by the university (alternatively: being found responsible by the university for sexual assault). But in fact the boldfaced material has another potential reading, in which by the university modifies sexual assault. This would have the modifier by the university parsed with preceding material by Low Attachment (LA), and LA is, ceteris paribus, the default parsing, but in this case that reading is preposterous, so High Attachment (HA) applies, and presumably readers don’t even notice the possibility of LA.
From a public service announcement on television about the closing of the Golden Gate Bridge this weekend:
(1) The bridge is closing to install a moveable median barrier
I wasn’t entirely comfortable with this wording, which sounded danglerish to me (though its intent is clear). The version on the bridge’s site uses a subjectless nominalization (which is impeccable) rather than a subjectless purpose adjunct:
(2) Jan. 10-11, Golden Gate Bridge CLOSED for Installation of Moveable Median Barrier
My speculation is that subjectless purpose adjuncts (at least the sentence-final ones) are less obtrusive when they are more telegraphic in form, especially when they are framed as headlines; the idea is that readers are accustomed to supplying omitted material in headlines.
Down in an NYT story yesterday, “Political Divide About C.I.A. Torture Remains After Senate Report’s Release” by Scott Shane, with the crucial bit boldfaced:
one notable exception to the Democrat-Republican split, for many years and again on Tuesday, was Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who repeatedly called for the Senate report to be made public. His experience being tortured as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam has made him perhaps the most outspoken foe of torture in Congress.
Very few readers will have noticed that the boldfaced NP is in fact ambiguous, according to how the modifying PP in Congress is parsed with the remainder, either as modifying the whole preceding NP (High Attachment) or as modifying only the noun torture (Low Attachment):
HA (High Attachment): [ the most outspoken foe of torture ] [ in Congress ]
LA (Low Attachment): [ the most outspoken foe of [ torture in Congress ] ]
Of course, McCain would oppose Congressional torture, but in fact he opposes torture in general