Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Coordination Meets Quotative Inversion

Posted by Neal on June 7, 2006

Last summer, I added to my list of Friends in Low Places coordinations a couple that I got from a posting on Blogslot, written by Bill Walsh, a copyeditor for The Washington Post. Walsh read my post quoting him, and had this to say in a comment:

I have a similar problem with a common fiction device:

“I don’t love you anymore,” she said, and turned away from me.

She said it, but she didn’t turn-away-from-me it. I think another “she” is required after “and.”

In other words, these coordinations have the form [A B C] and [D], but are to be interpreted as [A B C] and [B D]. The element B that is trapped inside the first coordinate still manages to be part of the second one. In Walsh’s example, A = “I don’t love you anymore”; B = she; C = said; and D = turned away from me. A few months later, I wrote about some other coordinations in English and German that were formed in much the same way, and inadvertently produced one myself:

“Hmmm…that’s a good point,” I acknowledged, and said no more.

This kind of coordination gets even more interesting when the direct quotation portion is phrased with quotative inversion, so that the subject appears after the verb, as in this example:

“I won’t,” promised Henry, and got back into the car.

Here, instead of [A B C] and [D], we have [A C B] and [D], with the subject B, Henry, pushed even deeper into the first coordinate and still managing to escape in order to serve as the subject of D, got back into the car. (Read more about quotative inversion in this Language Log post.)

In Walsh’s view, the non-parallelism in these coordinations should be eliminated by inserting a subject into the second coordinate, so that the whole phrase becomes a parallel coordination of two complete sentences, instead of a nonparallel coordination of two verb phrases (VPs). However, I’m inclined to call this an atypical but grammatical way of coordinating VPs, just as I like coffee, and my friend, tea is an atypical but grammatical way of coordinating material surrounding a verb. (The technical term for the latter, BTW, is gapping.) Though it’s certainly not wrong to repeat the subject for the second coordinate, the effect you end up with is (to my ear) the same as what you get when you repeat the subject for VPs that are coordinated in more parallel fashion:

“I don’t love you anymore,” she said, and she turned away from me.
“Hmmm…that’s a good point,” I acknowledged, and I said no more.
“I won’t,” promised Henry, and he got back into the car.

Furthermore, I’m seeing this kind of coordination from seasoned writers, who presumably looked carefully at these coordinations (at least some of them) during the editing and deemed them acceptable. One such writer is Beverly Cleary. She uses them a lot, in fact, or at least in the last couple of books of hers that I’ve been reading to Doug and Adam. The Henry example above came from Henry and Ribsy, where all of the following non-parallel VP coordinations can be found:

    (Without quotative inversion)
  1. “Boy, is he mad about something!” he exclaimed, and ran over to the driveway. (46)
  2. “Wuf,” he said mildly, and waited patiently while Beezus frantically pried Ramona’s fingers loose from his tail. (64)
  3. “Hi,” she answered, and entered the kitchen with her arms full of packages. (73)
  4. “Ow,” he exclaimed, and pulled away. (78)
  5. “Wuf!” he said, and looked hungrily at the lunch box. (129)
  6. Come on, salmon, bite, he thought, and tossed out his line.
    (With quotative inversion)
  1. “I won’t,” promised Henry, and got back into the car. (15-17)
  2. “I have come to haunt you,” said Henry in his hollow voice, and let out a groan. (19)
  3. “I just stepped into the market to buy a pint of milk to drink with my lunch,” began the officer, and went on to explain what had happened. (30)
  4. “Wuf,” said Ribsy, and went to the refrigerator to show that what he really wanted was another piece of horse meat. (37)
  5. “Day in and day out,” said Mrs. Huggins, and laughed. (39)
  6. “Aw, keep quiet,” answered Henry, and grinned. (70)
  7. “Oh, it’s nothing,” said Henry modestly, and bared his teeth. (90)
  8. “Ribsy!” yelled Henry, and grabbed his dog by the collar. (94)
  9. “Try and get it,” taunted Scooter, and began to laugh. (96)
  10. “I wonder if…” began Mrs. Huggins and paused. (100)
  11. “O.K., you old dog,” muttered Henry, and steeled himself for the meeting with Scooter and Robert. (103)
  12. “Good old Ribsy,” said Henry, and hugged him. (111)
  13. “Wuf,” answered Ribsy, and worried the rope. (112)
  14. “Better not count on it,” said Mr. Grumbie, and yawned. (148)
  15. “Don’t lean out,” said Mr. Huggins sharply, and rewound the rope. (167)

How do these coordinations strike you?

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13 Responses to “Coordination Meets Quotative Inversion”

  1. Rachel Klippenstein said

    They strike me as being perfectly fine.

  2. hh said

    they’re a-ok by me too. — hh

  3. Rachel Klippenstein said

    I chanced to spot a non-parallel coordination today; I’m not sure of the exact definition of a FLoP coordination to know whether this fits it. I found it on a Canda Post Xpresspost envelope. It says:

    “Purchase and apply signature sticker here.”

    Clearly that’s supposed to mean:

    a) Purchase signature sticker
    and
    b) apply signature sticker here

    Not

    a) Purchase signature sticker here
    and
    b) apply signature sticker here

    and not

    a) Purchase [intransitive]
    and
    b) apply signature sticker here

  4. Neal said

    Rachel: Either it’s a FLoP coordination, or it’s a zeugmatic use of here. In the former case, here means “at this place on the envelope”, and goes only with the second coordinate. In the latter case, here goes with both coordinates; with purchase it means, “in this Canada Post facility”, and with apply it means “at this place on the envelope”. As to which meaning is more likely the intended one, it would depend on whether the message was intended to be read in a Canada Post facility. Was it?

  5. They strike me as perfectly acceptable; in fact, I use them myself. The only problem is that I was taught not to put a comma before the “and”, although I will admit I observe the rule only inconsistently.

    Do you mind if a post a link to your blog from mine (atheneglaukopis@livejournal.com)? I think some of my readers would be interested.

  6. Whoops, portmanteaued my email and blog addresses there…

  7. Rachel Klippenstein said

    I imagine the text would be most likely but not necessarily read in a Canada Post office, since it is possible to buy an Xpresspost envelope and take it away from the office and mail it in a mailbox.

    The placement of the words on the envelope (right next to a spot that’s clearly designed for a sticker to be put on it; an arrow also indicates the spot but from the other side) strongly implies that they are meant to indicate the spot on the envelope, and not the place of buying.

  8. All the sentences sound acceptable to me. That seems to be more a problem with the theory/analysis than the language itself. It’s actually this kind of data that gives the most insight into the working of a language: the ones that don’t fit.

  9. Neal said

    Rachel: Then we have another FLoP coordination!
    Marc: I”m with you on all three of your points.

  10. Ashe said

    Apparently, whether or not these coordinations sound acceptable can vary as one grows older. At age 14 my best friend and I decided that we were going to write the Great American Science Fiction Novel. We had a fairly good idea for a plot but never made it past the first chapter because we had a bitter argument over just this issue. At the time I insisted on repeating the subject, but twenty years later it sounds a little clunky to me.

  11. [...] Now, compare those sentences with these, from a post from back in June. These are from Cleary’s Henry and Ribsy, published in 1954: [...]

  12. Teresa said

    They strike me as perfectly okay to use, but with the mental warning that you have to be careful. Although I don’t have any examples, I think there’s a danger that you can end up with some very odd mental images if you aren’t quite careful about making sure which bits go with which verb is clear. These are all good (as they should be, having been presumably proofread by an editor) but I’m fairly sure I’ve seen some around that aren’t.

  13. […] reading aloud here, from Dr. Seuss and books about barnyard animals when they were in preschool, to Henry Huggins, Harry Potter, and other YA stuff when they were older. Now that Doug and Adam are teenagers, I can […]

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