Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Connecting the Gaps

Posted by Neal on April 14, 2005

The four of us went to the Statehouse yesterday for an autism-awareness rally, and what should one of the speakers do but coordinate a clause containing a subject gap with a clause containing an object gap. Yes, that’s right; she said:

…and the kids I don’t actually serve but are here today.

The first clause, I don’t actually serve contains the object gap, i.e., the missing direct object after serve. The second one, are here today, contains a subject gap, i.e., the understood subject for are. It stuck out at me because Arnold Zwicky recently remarked on how these coordinations are often considered ungrammatical (indeed, they often are ungrammatical), but sometimes turn up anyway, and don’t sound half bad. The above example sounded pretty good, in fact. Certainly not like this example that Zwicky comments on (coordination in bold, with gaps indicated by brackets):

So for people who I’m not going to give [] a cox-2 and [] also have a history of ulcers, the way around it is to take the anti-inflammatory and make it into a cream.

No, my example is more like this other of Zwicky’s examples, which goes through much better:

New Mexico, which the president leads [] but [] was still uncalled as of noon Wednesday

In all these examples, I personally would tend to put a(nother) who(m) or which before the second clause, so that I’m coordinating two relative clauses instead of two clauses inside a single relative clause. How would you do it?

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4 Responses to “Connecting the Gaps”

  1. Estel said

    Possibly relevant?

    (The) kids are here today.
    There are kids here today.

    (These) people have a history of ulcers.
    *There have people a history of ulcers /
    *There have a history of ulcers people.

    New Mexico was still uncalled as of noon Wednesday.
    ?There was still New Mexico uncalled as of noon Wednesday.

    (I think the second “New Mexico” example is okay, but I’m not quite sure. In any case, it’s much better than the second “ulcers” example)

  2. I don’t have any problem with the final example, because ‘which’ can act as either subject (‘which was still uncalled…’) or object (‘which the president leads’).

    And if I didn’t understand the difference between ‘who’ and ‘whom’ (as many English speakers do not), the second-to-last example would work for me, too. If ‘who’ can be either subject (‘who also have a history of ulcers’) or object (‘who[m] I’m not going to give a cox-2′), there’s no problem for me. Of course, I’m having to suspend my who/whom grammar to make this conclusion.

    Your first example (from the rally) differs from the two above, I think, because the speaker did not even include the pronoun intended to stand in both positions. Like the speaker in the cox-2, she apparently doesn’t recognize a who/whom distinction; although ‘who’ does not appear in the sentence, it could be inserted after ‘kids’ to form a sentence like the cox-2 example.

  3. Neal said

    Estel: The distinction you bring up has more to do with what are known as “Raising verbs”–i.e. verbs that allow you to use the dummy subjects ‘there’ and ‘it’. ‘Be’ is a raising verb (as are ‘seem’, ‘begin’, and others), but ‘have’ and ‘be uncalled’ are not.

    Glen: Right, if you still distinguish between ‘who’ and ‘whom’, then you can’t do the coordination using just one of the two. However, we don’t know whether the speaker has this distinction or not, since she chose to form her relative clause without a relative pronoun. For all we know, she would have put a ‘whom’ before the first clause and a ‘who’ before the second if she had chosen to use relative pronouns.

  4. [...] I could ask him, but hey, Geoff Pullum is a busy man. I’m sure he won’t mind if I just speculate a little. He’s a pretty tolerant guy, after all. Maybe he wanted the sentence to end with a stressed not for emphasis (which you don’t get if it’s swallowed up in the contraction aren’t) and it sounded better as but they’re not than but are not. Or, maybe he wanted to avoid having points fill different kinds of gaps in the two phrases. Sure, points corresponds to a subject in both he thinks [ ] are new and [ ] are not, but in the former, it’s the subject of the embedded verb after thinks that’s being left out, while in the latter it’s the subject of the main verb are. Perhaps in Pullum’s grammar, this kind of double duty sounds as strange as a noun corresponding to both a subject and an object in a relative clause, like some of the ones here. [...]

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