Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

College Dorm Right-Node Wrapping

Posted by Neal on April 20, 2010

I was looking at an online photo history of college dorms, and saw this caption:

Until the 1830s, Harvard students were required to purchase, chop and haul their own firewood back to the dorms (while dodging the livestock and pigpens that crowded the university’s campus).

What do you know? Another right-node wrapping. For those new to the blog, these are a long-standing interest of mine. What we have is a coordination of transitive verbs, starting with purchase and chop. Their shared direct object is their own firewood. The complication comes with the third verb in the list: haul. If the coordination were simply

Until the 1830s, Harvard students were required to purchase, chop and haul their own firewood.

…there’d be nothing more to say. However, the verb haul comes with not only a direct object, but a directional prepositional phrase (PP): back to the dorms. This PP comes after their own firewood, the direct object that all the coordinated verbs share. Once you hit something that the coordinated verbs share, that usually means you’re done with the coordination, and everything further down the line is also shared. Going by that rule here, the sentence should mean the same as:

Until the 1830s, Harvard students were required to:

  1. purchase their own firewood back to the dorms,
  2. chop their own firewood back to the dorms, and
  3. haul their own firewood back to the dorms

But you can’t purchase something to someplace, or chop something to someplace. Even though the PP is in a syntactic position to go with all three verbs, semantically it only goes with the last one.

4 Responses to “College Dorm Right-Node Wrapping”

  1. Ryan said

    Another example? “If they go home to eight hours of video games/TV, homes that have no reading material in them, parents who haven’t (and possibly can’t) read a book in their lives…”
    http://www.ginandtacos.com/2010/04/21/responsibility/

  2. Philip Whitman said

    I always assumed it meant this:

    Until the 1830s, Harvard students were required to: (1) purchase their own firewood, (2) chop it, and (3) haul it back to the dorms.

  3. Hello Fellow Language Lovers,

    I wanted to let you know that I have included your blog on a list of ten blogs that I think are worth visiting and I am awarding you with a “Vale a pena ficar de olho nesse blog” stamp.

    I received this award from another language blogger and part of the acceptance process asks that the recipient post the award picture with a link to the blog from whom the award was received and to add links to ten additional worthy blogs.

    I truly enjoy reading each of your educational and entertaining blogs.

    Cheers,
    Laura
    A Walk in the WoRds
    http://walkinthewords.blogspot.com/2010/04/blog-awards-portuguese-stamp-of.html

  4. GPHemsley said

    It’s late, and I can’t remember what was discussed in previous instances of right-node wrapping, but isn’t this somewhat of an argument for non-of PPs being complements to V-heads? This is something that I’ve been arguing in my syntax class all semester for less complicated phrases, as they seem to be much more tightly linked for me than they are for others….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: