And/Or Multiple-Level Coordination
Posted by Neal on March 4, 2009
National Grammar Day, eh? I don’t know … to me, March 4 will always be Exelauno Day, a day my Ancient Greek professor at the University of Texas declared because the Greek verb εξελαυνω means “march forth”. Get it? Besides, every day is Grammar Day here at Literal-Minded. So I’ll just carry on with the kind of stuff I always talk about…
In a post from November, I wrote, “And that reminds me of yet another multiple-level coordination I found just today, one that’s different from any others I’ve found. But that’s a different post.” Here it is:
I am not employed by the Knowledge Is Power Program, involved with it in any way, and do not have a child in a KIPP school. (Michelle Appelbaum, letter to the editor, The Columbus Dispatch, Nov. 29, 2008)
Here we have an adjective phrase (more specifically a passive participial phrase, employed by the Knowledge Is Power program), another adjective phrase (involved with it in any way), and then an entire verb phrase (do not have a child in a KIPP school). That much is like plenty of other multiple-level coordinations I’ve written about. What’s different is how this coordination would look if you expanded it out to be fully parallel. With a typical example, like this canonical one —
Be pompous, obese, and eat cactus.
— the simplest way of making it parallel would be to put in another and, like this:
Be pompous and obese, and eat cactus.
Now we have one and coordinating two adjectives, pompous and obese; and another and coordinating two verb phrases: be pompous and obese, and eat cactus.
However, as Beavers and Sag point out in the analysis I wrote about, if we take there to be a silent conjunction between the first two coordinated elements in a multiple-level coordination, then how do we account for the fact that the silent conjunction must always be the same as the overt conjunction before the last element? That is, how do we account for the fact that Be pompous, obese, and eat cactus means “Be pompous AND be obese AND eat cactus,” and not “Be pompous OR be obese AND eat cactus”? They develop their analysis to ensure that the missing conjunction is always the same one as the overt conjunction.
The and/or multiple-level coordination from the newspaper shows that Beavers and Sag’s analysis needs some adjustment. It’s probably significant that the understood or is in the scope of a negation (I am not). The fully expanded set of propositions could, after all, be controlled by a single conjunction, if we thought of it as
I am not employed… and I am not involved…, and I do not have a child in the school.
Since NOT(p OR q) is logically equivalent to ((NOT p) AND (NOT q)), we can turn the understood or into an and. Unfortunately, what I’ve just done is called (to use a technical linguistic term) “hand-waving.” What remains is to figure out exactly how the negation and or business would be formally implemented in Beavers and Sag’s system.