Why Can’t You Call Him and He Picks Up?
Posted by Neal on January 5, 2010
On one of the news channels this morning, they were talking about the “Tiger Woods syndrome”: thinking that, if even seemingly steadfast and true Tiger Woods could have cheated (and cheated so much) on his wife, your significant other could be cheating on you, too. They had some marriage counselors talk about their increased business since the Tiger Woods scandal broke, and then they brought on a private investigator who specialized in infidelity and had written a book on the top signs your SO is cheating on you. After an increased attention to personal fitness, and heightened possessiveness of cell phone and/or computer, the PI mentioned an increase in overtime hours at work. He asked,
If he’s at work, why can’t you call him at the office and he picks up?
Hey! I thought. That one’ll go right onto the examples page of my handout!
This is precisely the kind of coordination that I’ll be talking about at LSA this Thursday, and which longtime readers know I’ve blogged about on numerous occasions. Syntactically, it looks like a question (Why can’t you call him at the office?) coordinated with a declarative (he picks up), but of course it’s really one big question, asking why a particular set of events cannot occur; specifically, you calling him at the office, and him answering the phone when you do.
This coordination is a triple threat: It’s not just a wide-scoping modal (as in They must have escaped and no one noticed), or negation (as in A player should learn how salaries aren’t as great as they seem or last as long as expected), or question (as in Why am I working and you’re just sitting there?). Nor is it just a modal plus a negation (as in You can move this and these’ll move, but you can’t move these and this’ll move), or a negation and a question (as in Didn’t he get the job but they fired him a month later?), or even a question and a modal (as in Can you feed the cats and I’ll take out the trash?). No, indeed: It’s all three at once!
This reminds me that I really need to finish up my slides tonight. I’ll put a link to them here when they’re done.