Take and Put the Desk Away
Posted by Neal on November 12, 2007
If I’d known how many “Friends in Low Places” coordinations (right-node wrappings) would cross my path this month, I’d’ve saved them all for one post, instead of writing about one of them here and another one here. Oh, well, too late now. I’ll just put the last couple I found in this post.
First of all, here’s one from a mother of a kid at Doug’s school, on what the teachers did to help this boy pay attention better:
They ended up taking and putting his desk away from the other kids.
Read as strictly parallel, this one would mean, “They took his desk away from the other kids, and put his desk away from the other kids.” That would be saying pretty much the same thing twice, though. The more sensible reading is the one in which take just means “seize, lay hands upon”; the desk is the direct object of both took and put, and the end location is associated only with put — in other words, the RNW reading.
The other one I got from the instructions for a game that one of the boys got in his stocking for Christmas last year, which we never got around to playing until last week. Here’s what they said:
The number of L’s indicates the amount of chips to be passed to the player on the left.
The number of R’s indicates the amount of chips to be passed to the player on your right.
The number of C’s indicates the amount of chips to be placed in the center pot.
The DOTS are neutral and players neither pass nor place chips in the pot for any DOTS rolled. (link)
There are a couple of ways to parse the last sentence in a strictly parallel manner. One is to take pass as an entire verb phrase, coordinated with the other entire VP place chips in the pot, like this:
Thus, players don’t pass, and they don’t place chips in the pot. However, the preceding instructions show that pass does not have its intransitive game-playing sense of “forfeit a turn” here; it’s intended as a transitive, with chips being the items passed. The second parallel parse is to take pass and place as coordinated verbs, with chips in the pot to be dealt with shortly:
But in the pot is a problem: First of all, it should be into the pot to be syntactically well-formed as a directional prepositional phrase. Since we have in instead of into, the phrase has to be either an adjectival prepositional phrase modifying chips (“chips that are in the pot”) or an adverbial PP modifying pass chips (“pass chips while you’re in a pot”). Now that’s all just when we consider the pass. Whichever meaning you choose, it will be different from what you get with place: The meaning of place chips in the pot is “place chips so that they end up in the pot.” I won’t try to put all the syntax trees here; suffice it to say that using a single prepositional phrase in both these ways is borderline ungrammatical, at least for me. In any case, it wouldn’t make sense even if it were perfectly grammatical: The rules make it clear that in this sentence, to pass chips means to pass them to the right or the left, not either of the meanings we get when we insist on attaching in the pot to it. The intended meaning is for chips to be a direct object of both pass and place, but for in the pot to go only with place: neither pass chips (to the right or left), nor place chips in the pot.