April 01, 2005

Odd landings

A couple of days ago, Eric Bakovic posted about an adverb that landed in the wrong phrasal slot: "I think that was clear from the day that I certainly met him." This morning, I heard another one in an NPR report on President Bush's Social Security roadshow in Iowa. Don Palmer, co-chair of the Linn County Republican Central Committee, expressing some skepticism about the plan, says "... there's a lot of still uh economic unrest here in Iowa..."

Palmer was not contrasting still economic unrest with sparkling economic unrest , obviously. He meant to say "there's still a lot of economic unrest here in Iowa", and the still just kind of slipped into the wrong slot.

If you look at a display showing how his words unfolded in time, and listen carefully to how he said them, you'll see and hear a little hesitation after "there's", where "still" didn't quite make it out in time, and then a longer pause after "still", when Palmer realized at some level that he'd messed up the order. Then there's an "uh" as he prepares to go on.

It's probably not an accident that the other plausible landing site for an adverb -- between "unrest" and "here in Iowa" -- also gets a pause: there's a definite correlation between the inter-phrase locations where adverbs tend to land, and the places where speakers tend to slow down or pause.

"There's a lot of still economic unrest here in Iowa" is not a reasonable order. But you often hear a pause in that sort of, uh, context. I wonder if that type of pause-for-reflection (or sometimes pause-for-emphasis) attracts adverbs, by performance analogy to the pauses-for-phrase-boundaries where adverbs rightfully land.


Posted by Mark Liberman at April 1, 2005 10:16 PM