Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Culture FLoP

Posted by Neal on February 7, 2005

My brother Glen of Agoraphilia has found my next attestation of a “Friends in Low Places” coordination. He was reading a post at The Marginal Revolution, which quoted a New York Times article, and in the quotation was this sentence:

Led by France and Canada, a majority of countries are asserting the right of governments to safeguard, promote and even protect their cultures from outside competition.

If this were an ordinary coordination, it could be paraphrased like this:

…the right of governments to:

  • safeguard their cultures from outside competition
  • promote their cultures from outside competition
  • protect their cultures from outside competition

But that paraphrase is clearly not what the writer intended. In Glen’s words: “The phrase from outside competition definitely modifies protect, and it might modify safeguard, but it definitely does not modify promote. This is a FLoP coordination, no?”

You bet it is! And not only that, it’s the first example I’ve seen of a FLoP coordination with more than two coordinated elements. Furthermore, if the writer really did intend for from outside competition to modify safeguard, skip over promote, and also modify protect, then it’s the first example of what I guess I’d call a FLoP sandwich.

Glen’s message arrived just minutes after I’d finished composing this page showing how to derive a FLoP coordination in a formalism known as categorial grammar. In my last post about FLoP coordinations, I said I’d discovered that under one analysis of coordination, no extra rules were needed to license FLoPs–it would take extra rules to rule them out for speakers for whom they are ungrammatical. Well, I spoke too soon. The rule I was thinking would license FLoPs was an axiom called Mixed Associativity, which David Dowty used in an analysis of coordinations such as I gave a book to Kim yesterday and to Robin today. As it turns out, I need a different flavor of Mixed Associativity to generate FLoPs. In other words, an extra rule is needed after all. I’m still poking around to see if adding this new rule allows the grammar to generate all kinds of other stuff that isn’t even marginally grammatical in English. If it does, then I’ll need to find some other means of accounting for the apparent existence of FLoPs in some people’s grammars.


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