Special Need and Transitive Need: Two Verbs in One!
Posted by Neal on August 3, 2010
Wow, here it is August and it’s almost time for back to school. We got a letter from Doug’s school today, telling us when to drop by the school to pick up his class assignment, and oh, by the way, pay his $30 in school fees, too. Actually, they didn’t need to send that letter. I’ve had that date, and his first day back at school, marked down since the newsletter they sent home on the last day of school in June. But it was still interesting to read the letter. Check out this line:
Enclosed in the assignment packet will be several forms that need your attention and returned during the first week of school.
One sentence with two items of linguistic interest in it!
First, there’s the needs done construction, in forms that need … returned.
Second, there’s the fact that this needs done syntax is part of a coordination: needs your attention and returned. In this verb phrase, needs is acting as an ordinary transitive verb (needs your attention) and as this special needs that takes a past participial verb phrase for a complement (needs returned during the first week of school). Diagrammed out, this VP would be something like this:
The question marks point out the problem with all non-parallel coordinations: If the things being coordinated don’t have to have the same category, how different are the categories allowed to be? Actually, I have a way of doing it so that your attention and returned… do have the same category, but you wouldn’t be interested in seeing that…
What? You say you would? Welllll, oh-kay, you twisted my arm. Here it is:
Here’s how it works: needs has a compound category. One part is VP/NP, which means that it looks for an NP on its right, and when it finds one, forms a VP. (In other words, it’s a transitive verb.) The other part is VP/PastPart, which means that it looks for a past participle on its right, and when it finds one, forms a VP. (Its “special” category.) Meanwhile, via some derivation steps that I didn’t show, your attention is not a mere NP, but something that looks to its left for a verb that has precisely this double category that we’ve given to needs, and when it finds one, forms a VP. Returned, likewise, is looking to its left for a verb with this double category. Now these two words have the same category, so that’s the category of the coordination your attention and returned.
Now at least some of you are probably asking, “Isn’t that phrase just a mistake? Why bother giving it an analysis?” Maybe it is, and maybe it’s not. It may be that this is completely normal syntax for the whoever wrote the letter. If there are any needs done speakers reading this, what do you think of this sentence?
The school faculty also wants us to buy Doug’s official day planner, which they call an agenda, which will be an important communication tool between the parents and teachers, as well as being the place where Doug records all his homework assignments, and doubling as his hall pass. That’s what they said last year, too, but the only reason Doug ever took his planner to school was so that he could get permission to go to the bathroom. Otherwise, it was a waste of paper. I hope they make better use of the agendas this year. But anyway, here’s what the letter said when it brought up the agendas:
School agenda’s will be on sale for $3 each….
Now there’s a mistake!