Archive for the ‘Constituency’ Category

Science, charity, and adverbial ambiguity

April 5, 2019

Through a chain of people on Facebook, who passed it from one hand to another, this painting (captioned by an unknown wag):


Ah, in a different genre of art, a version of this joke that I’ve posted on a couple of times:

(#2) A One Big Happy strip


Syntext: basic concepts

February 10, 2018

Continuing my 1/23/18 posting “Syntax assignments from 20 years ago”, now with a section of these materials on some basic concepts in syntax.


Briefly: a demented p.r. pitch, an off-the-rails headline

June 18, 2017

In the past few days, some tidbits from Facebook friends: from Margalit Fox, another demented p.r. pitch in her mail; from Jean Berko Gleason, an unfortunately ambiguous headline.


The Congressional Brain Injury Task Force

April 6, 2017

The U.S. has such a thing, and its name is a compound with three possibly relevant parsings into constituents (for in the glosses conveys something like ‘to investigate’):

(1)  [ Congressional ]  [ [ Brain Injury ] [ Task Force ] ]

‘ a task force, associated with Congress, for brain injury

(2)  [ [ Congressional Brain ]  [ Injury ] ] [ Task Force ]

‘a task force for injury to the Congressional brain

(3)  [ [ Congressional ] [ Brain Injury ] ] [Task Force ]

‘a task force for Congressional brain injury

(1) is the intended reading. (2) has an entertaining sense involving a Congressional brain, a brain that Congress has (or is otherwise associated with). (3) involves (a) brain injury that is associated in some way with Congress. I’m much taken with readings (2) and (3), especially (2), which reminded me of the October 1980 Doonesbury sequence “The Mysterious World of Reagan’s Brain”.

The intended reading is entirely clear, but sportive readers will play with the alternatives


Data points: RNR 1/22/11

January 22, 2011

In the “reduced coordination” construction known as Right Node Raising (RNR), a constituent on the right (final) end of a clause is combined with a loose coordination of two non-constituents, while being interpreted as being in construction with each of them. A simple example:

Kim discovered, but Lee publicized, the Disappearing Cat Effect.

The Disappearing Cat Effect is the shared constituent on the right. The two preceding conjuncts, Kim discovered and Lee publicized, are not themselves constituents; each is a clause missing a direct object.

RNR examples have different prosodies, and some are much more syntactically complex than this one. Today’s datum, from a KQED-FM begathon in which the announcer was asking people to phone in pledges to volunteers:

That’s what they came here, and that’s what they gave up their Saturday morning for.

Here, the shared constituent on the right is the single P for, the whole sentence being understoood as ‘That’s what they came here for, and that’s what they gave up their Saturday morning for’. You have to wait a long time for that for.

So, grammatical, but notable.


Spem in alium

December 20, 2010

A few days ago, my iTunes brought me Thomas Tallis’s magificent motet Spem in alium (ca. 1570), as performed by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge — causing me to stop what I was doing and just listen to this extraordinary 40-part masterpiece (eight choirs of five singers each) for 11 minutes. I’ve never experienced a live performance of it, much less a performance with the singers arrayed in a horseshoe around the listeners. (Understandably, it’s not often performed, because of the extraordinary demands it makes on the singers.)

I bring it up here because of the name Spem in alium — the first three words of the Latin text, which begins

Spem in alium nunquam habui praeter in te ‘I have never put (my) hope in any other but in You, I have never had hope in another beyond/besides/except in You’

That is, spem in alium ‘hope in another’. Without the context you can’t tell that this phrase is not in fact a constituent in Latin; it’s not spem in alium ‘hope in another’ functioning as a NP, but rather the sequence of the NP spem ‘hope (acc.)’ and the PP in alium ‘in another’, both functioning as complements of the perfect verb habui ‘I have had’. So it’s a part of a VP constituent but not a constituent on its own.

A while ago, Geoff Pullum collected examples of non-constituent book titles, for example Andrew Holleran’s Dancer From the Dance (like Spem in alium, a non-constituent of the form NP + PP); see Language Log postings here and here. He observed that such titles seem to be pretty rare in English. I’d imagine that the practice of referring to Latin texts by their first few words will yield many more Latin examples, especially given the famously free word order of Latin.