Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Archive for the ‘Subject and object gaps’ Category

Two from The Ridger

Posted by Neal on May 9, 2011

Karen Davis, who blogs at The Greenbelt and frequently comments here using the handle The Ridger, emailed me a couple of interesting linguistic finds this week.

First up, a quotation from someone named Matt Smith on BBC America, on what is evidently a feature called “Dr. Who Insider”. He seems to have said it around April 23:

River Song sort of beguiles, infuriates, endears, and turns the Doctor on, all at the same time.

Karen had two things to note. First of all, there’s the unusual usage of endear. For her and for me, endear has to be used in the frame X endear Y to Z, in which X causes Z to like Y. In this passage, though, the frame is X endear Y, with X pleasing Y (or Y liking X).

Karen wondered if this might be something specific to British English. I don’t know. I haven’t found this usage in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, though I didn’t look through every hit. I did find one example of it in the British National Corpus:

Our impression over a two week jaunt round the Republic was of a country shedding the shackles of its tortured past without sacrificing its most endearing features. What endeared us most was the CRACK — convivial evenings of booze, banter and traditional music.

Leaving that aside, Karen’s second observation was that the whole coordination is one more example of right-node wrapping. All four verbs (beguiles, infuriates, endears, and the phrasal verb turn on) share the Doctor as their direct object, but the last one wraps around it. If we were to interpret this coordination as a parallel coordination, we would end up with ungrammatical phrases like *beguiles the Doctor on, *infuriates the Doctor on, and *endears the doctor on.

Karen’s next example is from a workplace flyer for an employee referral program. It says:

Think about getting eight hours paid time off or possibly up to $5,000 for every one of those people you refer and are hired.

She stumbled over the relative clause you refer and are hired. In the first part of it, the noun phrase those people is the understood missing direct object of refer, but in the second part, those people is the understood missing subject of are hired. As Karen puts it, the omitted relative pronoun in for the first clause is whom; for the second clause, it’s who. It’s another case of coordinated relative clauses with different kinds of gaps. Sometimes these sound OK; other times, like this one, they sound strange. Karen suggests that the problem is the case clash between who and whom, but I don’t think so — first, because these coordinations sometimes work; second, because whom is moribund, and many speakers, if they used a relative pronoun for the first clause at all, would use who; and third, because those relative pronouns aren’t there, so I don’t think they can cause a case clash. An example of this kind of coordination that sounds pretty good is this one from one of the other posts on this topic you’ll find under the relevant category at the bottom of this post:

New Mexico, which the president leads [] but [] was still uncalled as of noon Wednesday…

If any of you have some ideas on why this sentence sounds better than Karen’s example, comments are open. (Of course, they’re open in any case, but you know what I mean.)

Posted in Lexical semantics, Right-node wrapping ("Friends in Low Places" coordinations), Subject and object gaps, Variation | 19 Comments »

No Alcoholic Beverages

Posted by Neal on February 2, 2011

My dad (who BTW has a couple of new posts on his blog) wrote me a month or so ago…

Yesterday, I had lunch with [a friend] at a Lupe Tortilla restaurant not far from here. Anyway, on the way out afterward, I noticed a sign that is commonly seen in business establishments like restaurants in Texas. It said:

No alcoholic beverages to be brought into or leave the restaurant.

Now, I see signs like that frequently, but this time, for whatever reason, it struck me that there was something about that sentence that I didn’t like. However, I couldn’t see anything grammatically wrong with the sentence, because I could make two complete sentences from its parts, and both sentences would be all right, like this:

No alcoholic beverages to be brought into the restaurant. No alcoholic beverages to leave the restaurant.

Still, the sentence didn’t sound right to my ear. I would use a parallel construction, like so:

No alcoholic beverages to be brought into or taken out of the restaurant.

So does that mean that having sentence constructions that use non-parallel phrases in conjunction is a grammatical error?

I’ve written a lot of posts about non-parallel coordinations that are easy to process, and a few on parallel coordinations that are hard to process. At first, I thought the problem with this coordination was that the noun phrase no alcoholic beverages was acting as the subject of one of the verb phrases but as the object of another. This kind of coordination sometimes works, but sometimes sounds off. In this example from a post in 2006, it works, with information filling in for the subject of would tantalize, but as the object of wouldn’t need:

The trick was to give away information that [ ___ would tantalize hard-core fans], but [casual viewers wouldn’t need ___ ].

However, when I looked closer at Dad’s example, I saw that no alcoholic beverages was in fact the subject of both VPs, be brought into and leave. Next, I figured that no alcoholic beverages, despite being a subject for both VPs, was filling two semantic roles that are a bit too different to take in one go. For be brought in, a passive VP, it fills the patient role, the thing that’s being acted upon. For leave, on the other hand, it’s filling the agent role. Or is it? The subject of leave is the thing doing the leaving, right? But we know that alcoholic beverages don’t transport themselves anywhere, including out of restaurants; that it’s really something else that’s performing the action. Still, when we write no alcoholic beverages to leave, we’re figuratively thinking of them as the agent, aren’t we? I don’t know. In any case, filling both an agent and patient role was no problem for the noun information in the other example, so why should it be here? Especially since in this case, no alcoholic beverages also fills the role of theme for both be brought into and leave: The theme is the thing that changes state or location.

All I can say for sure right now is that the sentence would read a lot smoother if it had coordinated either passive VPs (be brought into or taken out of, as Dad suggested) or active verbs of motion (enter or leave). Or even more simply, something like this:

Posted in Lexical semantics, Subject and object gaps | 4 Comments »

Topicalization with Subject and Object Gap

Posted by Neal on January 6, 2009

Here’s something Doug said back in July. I put it in my drafts here, intending to write about it someday:

One of them I saw but got away. (Doug Whitman, July 9, 2008 )

Now I can’t even remember what it was he was talking about. Let’s see … we were standing at the top of the driveway, at the bush to the left of the garage door. Was he talking about some kind of bug? Or maybe something in a videogame?

Oh, well, so I can’t remember the content of what my son was telling me about. At least I can remember the important thing: He coordinated a subject-gapped clause with an object-gapped one! If you’re a regular reader here, you may remember a few posts where I talk about stuff like:

The trick was to give away information that [ ___ would tantalize hard-core fans], but [casual viewers wouldn’t need ___ ].

This example, like the examples in the earlier posts, contains a relative clause headed by a single relativizer, in this case that (though the zero relativizer occurs as well). The relative clause itself consists of a pair of coordinated clauses. One of them has a missing subject for the relativizer to correspond to; in this example, it’s [ ___ would tantalize hard-core fans]. The other has a missing object for the same relativizer to correspond to; in this example, it’s [casual viewers wouldn’t need ___]. Such coordinations aren’t always grammatical. You can’t just make one with any two subject-gap and object-gap clauses. Try this one on for size:

?This is the guy that [ ___ stole the cookies] and [Kim punished ___ ].

I suspect (without having done the research) that such coordinations are even harder to get away with in languages that have clear and distinct subjective and objective case markings on their relative pronouns. As for English, I’ve collected a few more since the last time I wrote about them:

  1. … the absolute best way to pitch his show — something [very few publicity-seekers do ___ ] but [ ___ dramatically increases
    your chances of getting booked]. (email from a publicity specialist)
  2. He’s the doctor [you always hope to see ___ ] but [ ___ only exists in the movies]. (Peggy Olsen, in the Oct. 19, 2008 episode of Mad Men)
  3. …stuff that [ __ gives you protection] but [you don’t really mind losing __ ]. (Doug to Adam, fall 2008, on player-vs-player worlds on Runescape)
  4. things that [ ___ might be quirky], but [you can deal with ___ , live with ___ , or get rid of ___ ] (Meredith VIeira, talking about house buying on Today, Nov. 21, 2008 )
  5. … books that [ ___ sounded good] but [I couldn’t get ___ off Net Library] (my mom, Nov. 22, 2008 )
  6. books [I looked up ___ ] and [ ___ were not available on Net Library] (my mom again, Nov. 22, 2008 )

But Doug’s utterance from the summer is unique among all my subject-gap/object-gap coordinations, because it doesn’t involve a relative clause. Instead, it’s a topicalization: Something is lifted out of a clause and put at the front of the sentence. What Doug apparently wanted to do was coordinate two clauses:

  1. I saw one of them.
  2. It got away.

But he also topicalized one of them, which was the subject of the first clause, and the object of the second. How about that?

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Posted in Fillers and gaps, Subject and object gaps, The darndest things | 3 Comments »

Linguistically Lost

Posted by Neal on October 23, 2006

I’ve run across two unusual chunks of syntax related to the show Lost in the past week. As is often the case on this blog, they involve coordination. First: We’re now three episodes into the new season of Lost, which ended its second season with three characters apparently killed by an explosion destroying the mysterious underground bunker known as the hatch. The disturbance was heard and felt all over the island, and even picked up by two chess-playing Russian dudes in a research station in Antarctica. Last week, we learned that (to give away as little as possible) at least one of these three characters (namely Desmond) survived, when the character Hurley found him naked in the jungle. Desmond described the events at the hatch to Hurley, who asked him:

Is that what made [the blender noise] and [the sky turn purple]?”

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Subject and object gaps, Zeugmatic | 4 Comments »

Subject and Object Gaps in Coordinated Relative Clauses

Posted by Neal on September 18, 2006

Last year, I wrote about reading Doug a book I’d read when I was his age and held onto all these years. At that time I found an unusual usage of the word enjoy where I’d have expected suffer from. Now I’m reading the same book aloud to Adam, with Doug listening in and keeping his spoilers to himself. And what do you know–I’ve found another linguistically interesting quotation in the book. Here it is:

In the another corner they’d found a creeper, which [Tubby had left behind], and [was particularly helpful].
(Clifford B. Hicks, Alvin’s Swap Shop, p. 32)

It’s another coordination of relative clauses in which one is missing an object (Tubby had left    ) and one is missing a subject (    was particularly helpful). Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Passive voice, Subject and object gaps | 3 Comments »

Connecting the Gaps

Posted by Neal on April 14, 2005

The four of us went to the Statehouse yesterday for an autism-awareness rally, and what should one of the speakers do but coordinate a clause containing a subject gap with a clause containing an object gap. Yes, that’s right; she said:

…and the kids I don’t actually serve but are here today.

The first clause, I don’t actually serve contains the object gap, i.e., the missing direct object after serve. The second one, are here today, contains a subject gap, i.e., the understood subject for are. It stuck out at me because Arnold Zwicky recently remarked on how these coordinations are often considered ungrammatical (indeed, they often are ungrammatical), but sometimes turn up anyway, and don’t sound half bad. The above example sounded pretty good, in fact. Certainly not like this example that Zwicky comments on (coordination in bold, with gaps indicated by brackets):

So for people who I’m not going to give [] a cox-2 and [] also have a history of ulcers, the way around it is to take the anti-inflammatory and make it into a cream.

No, my example is more like this other of Zwicky’s examples, which goes through much better:

New Mexico, which the president leads [] but [] was still uncalled as of noon Wednesday

In all these examples, I personally would tend to put a(nother) who(m) or which before the second clause, so that I’m coordinating two relative clauses instead of two clauses inside a single relative clause. How would you do it?

Posted in Subject and object gaps | 4 Comments »