Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

More Coordination with Half-Negation

Posted by Neal on May 30, 2005

A while back, I wrote about these two sentences:

I nodded so hard I’m surprised [my neck didn’t snap] and [my head fall to the floor]. (Yann Martel, Life of Pi, p. 37)

I hope [she didn’t die] and [nobody told me]. (Greg Larson)

In each case, two clauses (indicated with square brackets and boldface) are coordinated; the first one contains a negation that scopes over both clauses, not just the one that contains it. That is, Yann Martel is surprised that NOT((neck snap) & (neck fall to floor)), and Greg Larson hopes that NOT((she die) & (nobody tell Greg)). I also mentioned how question markers could behave the same way, in sentences such as, “Do you want to ask for a raise but you’re afraid to do it?” And in fact, I now notice in Martel’s example that even the tense marking does this: The didn’t in the first clause must be taken to convey past time not only for clausemate snap, but also for fall in the second clause.

Now I have a couple more of these coordinations, again involving negation (instead of question formation or tense-marking). The first one is another one from Greg:

I’m really looking forward to this job. But like I have said before, I hope [I don’t work there], and [they pull off a mask, and go, “BLLLAAAAUURRRGHHH!!!” and be some horrible place]. If they do, they sure had me fooled good.

The next one is from a posting on a listserv concerning autism. I find this one especially interesting, since the negation here isn’t in the form of an auxiliary verb, as in the previous examples, but in the form of the subject no one:

In the true work force there is a nondiscrimination policy – [no one measures I.Q. points when you apply for a job] and [you are then paired with fellow employees who are of your mental ability]. You are mixed with the smartest of workers as well as some who might be more challenged to keep up though still typical.

These coordinations remind me of the FLoP coordinations: Where those have something trapped in the last coordinate that really belongs to all the coordinates, these have something trapped in the first one that really belongs to all of them–i.e. the negation, question-marking, or tense-marking. For an example of all three of these at once, we could have:

[Didn’t he get the job] and [the boss fire him a month later]?

I might even call these anti-FLoPs, but that name’s been taken.

3 Responses to “More Coordination with Half-Negation”

  1. […] it’s a modal plus a negation. The last one involves just negation, and I’ve collected a few of those too: I nodded so hard I’m surprised my neck didn’t snap and my head fall to the floor.I […]

  2. […] I’ve been accumulating some more examples of coordinations in which some operator, such as a negation or question-marking is clearly intended to apply to all the coordinated elements in the […]

  3. […] is one of two events that we should hope for. This sentence reminds me most of the one from this post, where the negation inside the quantified subject scopes over two clauses: No one measures I.Q. […]

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