July 29, 2004

How (that) now, brown cow?

Trevor at Kaleboel has responded to our responses to his response to ... oh, never mind.

In my last post on the subject, I admitted that I could accept subject-drop in a noninverted declarative, but not in a noninverted interrogative:

  1. That ain't how God planned it.   →   ø Ain't how God planned it.
  2. Ain't that how God planned it?   →   *Ain't ø how God planned it?

Taking advantage of this admission, Trevor writes:

If you listen to other recordings by Chuck D, I think you may find that he doesn't use intonation to distinguish between questions and statements in the way that speakers of standard English do. That makes me slightly curious as to why we're so sure he's nervously asking us "Ain't how that God planned it?" instead of rounding off the section by telling us emphatically--as his tone suggests--"Ain't how (that) God planned it!"

Consider the line right before the debated part of the lyric again:

All I want is peace and love on this planet

Trevor is suggesting that the line following this one is the emphatic assertion "Ain't how (that) God planned it!", with (I assume) the implicit subject and wh-comp analysis that Trevor originally suggested. So, the whole lyric "should be":

All I want is peace and love on this planet /
That ain't how God planned it!

But what does the "that" (i.e., the implicit subject of the line actually sung) refer to? If Chuck D. is asserting that something is not going according to God's plan, what is that something? Here are the likely phrasal possiblities from the preceding line that could substitute for the implicit subject:

  1. [All I want is peace and love on this planet]S
  2. [Peace and love on this planet]NP
  3. [This planet]NP

Consider now how each of these fits in the line:

  1. [That [all I want is peace and love on this planet]S]S' isn't how God planned it!
  2. [Peace and love on this planet]NP isn't how God planned it!
  3. [This planet]NP isn't how God planned it!

Only the third of these seems to fit in the line in a way that makes sense in the context of the whole lyric; as my wife Karen has suggested to me, one can imagine "this planet" standing for "the situation on this planet, lacking peace and love", given the context of the whole lyric.

I'm still not persuaded, though. The interpretation I imagine for the interrogative fits much better in my mind:

Ain't [peace and love on this planet]NP how God planned it? (where "it" = "things (to be)")

(Besides, I still stand by my claim that the unreduced vowel in Chuck D.'s "that" is pretty strong evidence that it is the demonstrative [ðætˀ], not the complementizer [ðǝtˀ]. Trevor is right to point out that Chuck D.'s intonation is not going to give us much in the way of clues, but I'm pretty confident about the unreduced vowel thing.)

So, in my view, we're back to my original question (sort of, since I'm restating it in the light of subsequent discussion): did Chuck D. say "how that" (specifically, wh-subject)? If so, is that an error or a point of variation? If not, what did he say? -- We are obviously having a hard time coming up with alternatives that don't leak.

[ Comments? ]

Posted by Eric Bakovic at July 29, 2004 02:57 AM