Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Wrapped Carrots

Posted by Neal on February 29, 2016

The wife and I recently had occasion to spend a weekend at a resort in Cancun on someone else’s expense account, which was nice. I learned some Spanish vocabulary, including gorra “baseball cap”, estiro “sea urchin”, and ama de llaves “housekeeping” (literally “lover of keys keymaster”). But it being a resort that catered to a mostly American clientele, the menus were mostly in English, including the one we got a few weeks in advance so that we could choose what we wanted to eat at the dinner that our hosts were paying for. One of the dessert items was “wrapped carrot,” which piqued my curiosity. What would they wrap the carrot in? I’ve seen carrot sticks wrapped in bacon, but that didn’t really sound dessert-like to me, so I didn’t order it. Instead, I went with “textures of chocolate”.

At the dinner, I was pleased to see that my inferences was correct: My dessert was not merely the texture of chocolate, but some actual chocolate, in the form of some kind of mousse. Looking across the table, I saw the wrapped carrot that someone else had ordered. It looked like this:

A wrapped carrot

What?! How could they possibly call that a wrapped carrot? It wasn’t a carrot! It was some kind of cake (carrot cake?), with a thin, lengthwise slice of carrot wrapped around–

Whoa … it was a wrapped carrot! If you wrap a carrot around something, then there exists a thing around which that carrot has been wrapped. In other words, it’s a wrapped carrot. Isn’t it?

Wrap, like many other verbs, participates in a so-called diathesis alternation, more specifically a “locative alternation,” and more specifically still, the so-called spray/load alternation. Verbs that participate in this alternation have a couple of semantic roles associated with them. One is LOCATION, the role for the thing that stays more or less in place while other stuff is moved into or onto it. LOCATUM is the role for the stuff that gets moved to the LOCATION. It’s unfortunate that the names are so similar, but there you are. Anyway, verbs that participate in this alternation can be used in two kinds of syntactic frame. In one, the LOCATION is the direct object, and the LOCATUM as the object of with:

  1. We sprayed the wall with paint.
  2. We loaded the cart with apples.
  3. We wrapped the carrots with bacon.

The other frame has the LOCATUM as the direct object, and the LOCATION as the object of some other preposition:

  1. We sprayed paint onto the wall.
  2. We loaded apples onto the cart.
  3. We wrapped bacon around the carrots.

In addition to the frames that have a direct object and a prepositional-phrase complement, many spray/load verbs also have a simple transitive frame. The question is, which role shows up as the direct object in that frame? LOCATION or LOCATUM? For some verbs, either is OK:

We loaded the cart. / We loaded the apples.

For others, both roles are OK, but one is still better than the other. With spray, I tend to prefer a LOCATUM role:

?We sprayed the wall. / We sprayed the paint.

This intuition is supported by COCA: Doing a quick search, I found many more examples of simple transitives with water than with face. In contrast, the only role that works for wrap as a simple transitive verb in my grammar is LOCATION:

We wrapped the carrots. / [*]We wrapped the bacon.

The [*] indicates that the sentence is grammatical, but not with the meaning we’re looking for. In other words, it’s fine if you mean that you wrapped something else around the bacon, but not that you wrapped the bacon around something else.

So now I wonder: Is this a peculiarity of my own grammar? From my quick COCA searches, I don’t think so. I have yet to find an example of transitive wrap with a LOCATUM argument. So is this a case of negative transfer on the part of Spanish speakers writing an English menu? In other words, can the Spanish equivalent of wrap be used as a simple transitive with a LOCATUM argument? I don’t have anywhere near enough Spanish to know that yet. If you do, I’d love to hear the answer!

17 Responses to “Wrapped Carrots”

  1. Why not write a rap about it and call it the carrot wrap rap?

  2. palandri said

    Hmmm… I’d stick to English if I were you🙂. I believe that “ama de llaves” best translates to “owner of the keys”, or perhaps “keeper of the keys”. “Lover of keys” would probably be best translated as “amante de llaves”.

    • Neal said

      Ha! Actually, before I tried to look it up, I thought the literal translation was “soul of the keys.” When I tried, I couldn’t find “ama” in my Spanish-English dictionary at all, and when I looked up “soul” in the English-Spanish part, I found that Spanish for “soul” was “alma”. Google Translate didn’t help, either, at least not with the literal meaning. So finally I just Googled “ama de llaves” and “literal meaning,” and an apparently less-than-reliable source gave me “lover,” which I took to be an etymologically related synonym for “amante”. At your tip, I ran “owner” through Google Translate and got “amo”, and if you assume all housekeepers are female, that gets you “ama”. Out of curiosity, though, do you know if a male housekeeper would be called an “amo de llaves”? For that matter, would a stay-at-home father be an “amo de casa”?

      • MarkP said

        That’s right. Most nouns in Spanish (especially those referring to titles or professions) are genderized with an ‘o’ (masculine) or ‘a’ (feminine) ender. So, yes, if it were a man, it would be “amo”, not “ama”. In the case of unknown individuals, or mixed groups, the masculine prevails (e.g. “amo[s]”), which is beginning to irk some of the more egalitarian minded younger folk here in Spain. I’ve noticed the increasing use of ‘@’ as a neutral gender ender (e.g. “am@[s]”) to get around this problem; rather clever really; it’ll be interesting to see if this usage takes off or not.

  3. Ran said

    > In other words, can the Spanish equivalent of wrap be used as a simple transitive with a LOCATUM argument? I don’t have anywhere near enough Spanish to know that yet. If you do, I’d love to hear the answer!

    I don’t either, but I tried Google-searches for various permutations of forms of envolver (“to wrap”) with papel (“paper”) and hojas (“leaves”), figuring that paper and leaves would almost have to be locatums (locata?); but all I found was cases where they were nonetheless locations (e.g., being wrapped in felt), plus a few cases where the syntax was a bit contorted by a relative clause or similar.

    So all told, I think that envolver not only has the same restriction as “wrap”, but seemingly doesn’t even have the spray/load alternation that “wrap” does. Because I didn’t see any examples like *”envuelva hojas aromáticas acerca del pescado”, either (whereas “envuelva el pescado en hojas aromáticas” is normal).

    • It’s always fun to see how items on menus are translated into English, and this one was a puzzler. I began thinking about what it might have been in Spanish, and the only thing that occurred to me was “enrollado de zanahoria” which literally means “wrapped of carrot,” and which I would have translated as a “carrot wrap” instead of wrapped carrot. This is definitely a case of negative transfer: trying to use the past participle in English the same way as in Spanish. The translator knew that “wrapped of carrot” would sound odd and did not realize that an English speaker would interpret the “wrapped carrot” as a savory dish with the carrot inside instead of outside.

  4. ari said

    Can I ask I very basic question? What’s your definition of a direct object? I always hear the same definition: the part of the sentence that receives the action. For whatever reason, that’s always felt somewhat off the mark — though, i can’t quite say why. I’d be grateful to hear your definition if you have a moment.
    THANKS.

    • Neal said

      That’s actually a rather complicated question, if you’re taking a view across languages, slightly less so if you’re limiting your focus to just one language. I’m thinking about doing a blog post on it. In the meantime, you might want to read the post “Ergative English.”

  5. ASG said

    Apropos your final joke there, my former partner and I would descend into gales of laughter whenever it was dinnertime for our pets. “It’s time to feed the cats,” one of us would say, then pause ominously and wait for the other to add, “TO THE WOLVES!”

  6. You wrote: “Looking across the table, I saw the wrapped carrot that someone else had ordered.”
    Au contraire, Pierre, you looked across the table and saw the wrapped carrot that someone else ORDERED, not ‘had ordered’.
    I was persuaded before and I am persuaded still that you have an unacknowledged ‘had’ problem. You DO put ‘had’s in front of past tense verbs, as do many writers and speakers on both sides of the Atlantic.
    Note that I mean by “past tense verbs”, verbs which are BY THEIR FUNCTION past tense verbs.
    You ARE unaware, but you don’t have to care.

    • Ran said

      I can’t tell if you’re serious. This is the ordinary use of the past perfect (or “pluperfect”), and has been part of Standard English for as long as there’s been a Standard English. How on Earth did you decide that there’s anything wrong with it?

      • Rand SPENT a weekend in Cancun. Brad REPORTED that Rand LOOKED across the table and SAW the wrapped carrot that someone else ORDERED. Ran OBJECTED. .

        So Ran, please tell me if you agree that all SIX of those verbs are past tense verbs. Then tell me which ones of the six you think should have ‘had’ in front of them. Some of them? half of them? all of them?
        The ones you want to put ‘had’ in front of, do they magically turn into past-perfect verbs, even though the meaning of the sentence remains unchanged? That is to say, if we put ‘had’ in front of ‘spent’ to get “Rand had spent a weekend in Cancun”, did ‘spent’ become ‘past perfect’?

      • Ran said

        You have to keep in mind that, most of the time, there are many correct ways to say something. For example, these sentences are both correct (with the same meaning):

        > I found out he was already there.
        > I found out that he was already there.

        (And we can also change “found out” to “learned” or “discovered”, and “already there” to “there already”, and so on.)

        Sometimes using the past perfect is simply wrong; it needs to be licensed by a past-tense reference to a later time in an earlier or containing clause. (So I can’t just say, “when I was a kid” and then start using the past perfect to describe what life was like when I was a kid.)

        Sometimes the simple past is simply wrong, or at least very uneducated-sounding; in a sentence like “We went to the Bahamas last year. We had a good time; we went with some friends who’d been there before, so they knew the best things to do”, you can’t change “who’d been there before” to “who were there before” without risking raising suspicions that you never finished high school, or at least, that you got some help from CliffsNotes.

        Other times, both are more-or-less fine, but with differences of register and dialect. Depending on the sentence, the past perfect may be more formal/literary, more British, and/or more old-fashioned, with the simple past being correspondingly more colloquial, more American, and/or more modern.

        > Rand SPENT a weekend in Cancun. Brad REPORTED that Rand LOOKED across the table and SAW the wrapped carrot that someone else ORDERED. Ran OBJECTED.

        This paragraph is very confusingly written, but the main problem isn’t the tenses, it’s that it keeps introducing new people without it being clear how they relate to what’s already been said. I’d suggest something like:

        > Rand spent a weekend in Cancun, and — according to Brad — one night he looked across the dinner table and saw that someone had ordered a wrapped carrot!
        > P.S. Some other guy named Ran, who I haven’t mentioned before this, objected to something, but I won’t say what. Or maybe “Rand” was a typo and he’s actually the same person as Ran.

        only you might as well drop the postscript.

        > That is to say, if we put ‘had’ in front of ‘spent’ to get “Rand had spent a weekend in Cancun”, did ‘spent’ become ‘past perfect’?

        In “had spent”, “spent” is the past participle. The two words “had spent” are together the past perfect.

        Note that you can’t always form the past perfect from the past tense by just inserting “had”; the past perfect of “go”, for example, is “had gone”, not *”had went”, because the past participle of “go” is “gone”, not “went”.

  7. Wow. You have a FOCUS problem of which you must be unaware. LOOK at all the rambling you did and, NOTA BENE, you did not answer the questions asked of you. Go back to the top and try it again, and try to not wander all around the barnyard. Just answer my questions.
    (YOU know who “Ran” is. We both know who Ran is. Why the smoke screen? Do you assume there are only morons on this thread? And that they’ll fall for it? Maybe they will, but I won’t.)
    You write: “Sometimes using the past perfect is simply wrong”. Put this in your pipe and smoke it: “Using the past perfect is NEVER wrong”. You can etch that in stone. You only think it can be wrong because you don’t know what it is.
    If you do, write it here; complete this sentence: “The past perfect is …

  8. […] so. I have yet to find an example of transitive wrap with a LOCATUM argument. So is this a case of Go to Source Author: […]

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