Gluten, Lactose, and Nonconstituent Coordination
Posted by Neal on September 28, 2011
Longtime reader and occasional blogger Blar sent me an unusual coordination, complete with a picture:
The meaning of this phrase is clear enough: The kefir (whatever that is) is gluten-free and for the most part lactose free. (Actually, does 99% lactose free mean that 1% of the kefir consists of lactose, or that 99% of whatever lactose was there has been removed? Either way, I’ll just leave it as “for the most part lactose free”.) But the syntax is so, so bad! It just goes to show that you can’t always factor out the common part of two coordinated phrases and end up with something assume that the resulting coordination will be grammatical. Just because you can replace John sang and Marsha sang with John and Marsha sang doesn’t mean you can replace gluten free and 99% lactose free with gluten and 99% lactose free. But why not?
Let’s take a look at gluten-free and 99% lactose free separately. Gluten is a noun; free is an adjective; and together they form the compound adjective gluten free. The compound adjective lactose free is composed in the same way. In addition, the noun 99% modifies the compound adjective lactose free to create the bigger adjective 99% lactose free. In the diagram, this structure is shown by having lactose and free under one roof, or in syntactic jargon, forming a constituent. 99% lactose free is a larger constituent, all contained under the bigger roof.
99% lactose, however, is not a constituent. So maybe gluten and 99% lactose don’t coordinate well because 99% lactose isn’t a constituent.
Unfortunately, that alone won’t explain the ungrammaticality, because nonconstituent coordination (NCC) happens a lot, in phrases like I sent the package by UPS and the tax return via the postal service. The package by UPS is not a constituent, and neither is the tax return via the postal service. NCC tends to flow more smoothly when the coordinated pieces have similar structures (i.e. when they’re “parallel”), as in this example, with both coordinates consisting of a noun phrase naming a thing sent and a prepositional phrase naming the deliverer. Gluten and 99% lactose, in contrast, are not parallel in this way.
So what happens if we make them parallel? How about:
100% gluten and 99% lactose free
Nope, still no good for me. How is it for you?
This entry was posted on September 28, 2011 at 11:03 pm and is filed under Food-related, Zeugmatic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.