Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Carry or Hold Your Child’s Hand

Posted by Neal on February 8, 2011

Karen Davis (aka The Ridger) emailed me about an interesting coordination that’s been in front of her every day for years, but which she just took note of recently. “I know I’ve heard it before,” she wrote, “but today I noticed it. In the DC Metro system there’s a recorded message about how to take your stroller-riding child on the escalators:

If the elevator is out please carry or hold your child’s hand.

“It would be hard to carry your child’s hand without holding it, but I guess you could stuff it in a pocket or something…”

Indeed. My first reaction on reading this was to think of this song:

Karen has found a great example of a right-node wrapping, those non-parallel coordinations fitting the template A conj B C D, and meaning the same thing as if they had been phrased A C conj B C D. In this case, A = carry; B = hold; C = your child; and D = ‘s hand. The intended meaning (I assume) was “Carry your child, or hold your child’s hand.”

Most of the RNW’s I’ve collected have verbs for A and B, with a shared direct object for C, and an adverb or prepositional phrase to complete the meaning of B, but not all of them. This one is clearly not one of them, either, and I believe it’s the first one I’ve seen in which D contained the possessive sufffix ‘s. Like some of the other troublesome ones I noted in my paper, it is not generated by the analysis I proposed.

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