Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

And/Or Multiple-Level Coordination

Posted by Neal on March 4, 2009

National Grammar Day, eh? I don’t know … to me, March 4 will always be Exelauno Day, a day my Ancient Greek professor at the University of Texas declared because the Greek verb εξελαυνω means “march forth”. Get it? Besides, every day is Grammar Day here at Literal-Minded. So I’ll just carry on with the kind of stuff I always talk about…

Well, how else was I going to illustrate and/or?In a post from November, I wrote, “And that reminds me of yet another multiple-level coordination I found just today, one that’s different from any others I’ve found. But that’s a different post.” Here it is:

I am not employed by the Knowledge Is Power Program, involved with it in any way, and do not have a child in a KIPP school. (Michelle Appelbaum, letter to the editor, The Columbus Dispatch, Nov. 29, 2008)

Here we have an adjective phrase (more specifically a passive participial phrase, employed by the Knowledge Is Power program), another adjective phrase (involved with it in any way), and then an entire verb phrase (do not have a child in a KIPP school). That much is like plenty of other multiple-level coordinations I’ve written about. What’s different is how this coordination would look if you expanded it out to be fully parallel. With a typical example, like this canonical one –

Be pompous, obese, and eat cactus.

– the simplest way of making it parallel would be to put in another and, like this:

Be pompous and obese, and eat cactus.

Now we have one and coordinating two adjectives, pompous and obese; and another and coordinating two verb phrases: be pompous and obese, and eat cactus.

However, as Beavers and Sag point out in the analysis I wrote about, if we take there to be a silent conjunction between the first two coordinated elements in a multiple-level coordination, then how do we account for the fact that the silent conjunction must always be the same as the overt conjunction before the last element? That is, how do we account for the fact that Be pompous, obese, and eat cactus means “Be pompous AND be obese AND eat cactus,” and not “Be pompous OR be obese AND eat cactus”? They develop their analysis to ensure that the missing conjunction is always the same one as the overt conjunction.

The and/or multiple-level coordination from the newspaper shows that Beavers and Sag’s analysis needs some adjustment. It’s probably significant that the understood or is in the scope of a negation (I am not). The fully expanded set of propositions could, after all, be controlled by a single conjunction, if we thought of it as

I am not employed… and I am not involved…, and I do not have a child in the school.

Since NOT(p OR q) is logically equivalent to ((NOT p) AND (NOT q)), we can turn the understood or into an and. Unfortunately, what I’ve just done is called (to use a technical linguistic term) “hand-waving.” What remains is to figure out exactly how the negation and or business would be formally implemented in Beavers and Sag’s system.

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10 Responses to “And/Or Multiple-Level Coordination”

  1. Glen said

    “Since NOT(p OR q) is logically equivalent to ((NOT p) OR (NOT q))…”

    Did you mean to say NOT(p OR q) is equivalent to ((NOT p) AND (NOT q))?

    If I say, “She’s not smart or beautiful,” that means she is not smart AND she is not beautiful, no?

  2. Glen said

    Oh, and nice choice of image for the post.

  3. Not that I agree with every aspect of Beavers and Sag’s analysis, but I have to say that what you mention in this post is not a problem for their account. The phrase in question can be generated as follows, without any hand-waving.

    (1) We start with conjoining two VPs, “am not involved with it in any way” and “do not have a child in a KIPP school”, using the conjunction “and”, and without deleting anything in the second conjunct. This gives us “am not involved with it in any way and do not have a child”.

    (2) At the next step, we conjoin the first VP “am not employed by the Knowledge Is Power Program” and what we obtained in the first step above, namely “am not involved with it in any way, and do not have a child in a KIPP school”. And when we do this, we delete the first two words in the latter, i.e. “am not”.

    This way, we end up with “am not employed by the Knowledge Is Power Program, involved with it in any way, and do not have a child in a KIPP school”, a VP that can be combined with the subject NP (“I”) to yield the sentence in question.

  4. Neal said

    Shuichi: You know what? I wish I could un-post this. I was thinking about the or that seemed to be required between the first two conjuncts so much that I missed the big picture: that the am not can fit the same slot in the template as the be in be pompous, obese, and eat cactus. Thanks once again for your input.

  5. Yeah, Shuichi’s right. Nice example, though.

  6. Mark Allen said

    The question on my mind, though, is how does one pronounce εξελαυνω, or exelauno, if we want to toss it out in conversation?

  7. Mark Allen said

    Oh, and very clever illustration. I first assumed the post would mention Andorra’s Olympic team.

  8. [...] most I myself had to say about NGD last year was a wary National Grammar Day, eh? I don’t know …. [E]very day is Grammar Day here at [...]

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