April 11, 2005

Still more WTF coordinations

Mark's post on FLoP and anti-FLoP coordinations reminds me that I've been meaning to follow up on my own post from last month, in which I commented on WTF reaction to an odd coordination that I read. I got several comments on it, some with more examples attached. And I have a couple more examples of my own.

As I noted in an update to my original post, Neal Whitman wrote to tell me about his recent article in Language 80.3 (pp. 403-434) on this topic, entitled "Semantics and Pragmatics of English Verbal Dependent Coordination" (sorry, access to Project Muse required for the link to work). (Mark Liberman also wrote to remind me of his original post on FLoP coordination, which is of course due to Neal's work.)

Neal also provided the following additional examples:

It makes it hard for him to get [his stuff done] and [to bed on time].
She wants [an engagement ring] and [her boyfriend to stop dragging his feet].
Don't eat [fast food], or [at restaurants, food-service companies, or caterers].

The last of these examples is perfectly fine for me, underscoring the apprehensiveness I had about saying that only phrases with the same syntactic category can be conjoined: [fast food] is a noun phrase, and [at restaurants ...] is a prepositional phrase. The other two examples are different, though; my knee-jerk WTF reaction is to give the first a question mark (by which I mean that it's somehow borderline between grammatical and ungrammatical) and the second a star (by which I mean that it's ungrammatical -- except that it improves somewhat if a for is added before the second conjunct).

Russell Lee-Goldman wrote and noted the similarity of my example to Right Node Raising constructions. (This is basically what Mark just wrote about.) Russell provided a couple examples:

I have a liking [ ] and want to eat [chocolate].

Here, 'of' or 'for' is missing ("I have a liking of/for chocolate"), which is similar to the anti-FLoP examples Mark talked about. Those are all bad for me, but Russell also provided this other type of curiously good example:

I like [to eat chocolate / eating chocolate] but rarely can [ ].

Mike Pope also wrote to comment:

Would you say that this is a form of zeugma? The small child of a friend of mine once said "The sun makes you hot and sneeze," which seems at least similar in spirit to what you've got here.

As explained here, zeugma is "A construction in which a single word, especially a verb or an adjective, is applied to two or more nouns when its sense is appropriate to only one of them or to both in different ways, as in He took my advice and my wallet." (I'll assume that the "two or more nouns" part is overly restrictive; a better definition might say "two or more complements".)

This [my advice] and [my wallet] (noun phrase and noun phrase) example is fine for me; Mike's [hot] and [sneeze] (adjective and verb) example is not (but it must have been fun to hear a kid say it). If they're both just examples of zeugma, why is that? WTF?

Paul Howard wrote in with this nice example for The Boston Globe (emphasis added):

Justin Sherrod, called up for the day from minor league camp, homered in the eighth, accounting for the decisive run. Sherrod was wearing No. 13, previously assigned to Roberto Petagine. The homer sent the scribes looking for a roster and the Sox home happy.

Finally, two additional examples I've come across. One was in a story on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday this past weekend. (Here's a link to the audio for the full quote; here's a link to just the bolded part.)

Robinson is one of the top twenty schools in the state. It's more known for its students fighting to get into the best colleges than each other, but students in this class say even here the daily shuffle in their crowded hallways can lead to the occasional angry shove.

Two different kinds of fighting. Another example of zeugma?

Now consider the following example (from Life of Pi, pg. 37):

I nodded so hard I'm surprised my neck didn't snap and my head fall to the floor.

When I first read this a few months ago, I had an even bigger WTF reaction than for any of the others. But I immediately reasoned through it and now find it almost perfectly grammatical. All that it took was the recognition that the negation expressed by "didn't" in the first conjunct takes scope over both conjuncts ...

NOT [ [my neck snap] and [my head fall to the floor] ]

... and that this means something subtly different from having two negations, each taking scope over one of the conjuncts ...

[ NOT [my neck snap] and [ NOT [my head fall to the floor] ]

as in:

I nodded so hard I'm surprised my neck didn't snap and my head didn't fall to the floor.

Which is ambiguous (as my colleague Andy Kehler pointed out to me) between a reading in which the neck-snapping causes the head-falling and one in which there is no causation (as pragmatically odd as that might be); in other words, causation between the first and second conjuncts is not necessary in this second sentence while it is in the original.

Andy also reminded me of Arnold Zwicky's post from last August about grammatical and ungrammatical coordinations, itself sparked in part by a suggestion by Neal Whitman. Just another day in Language Log Plaza.

[ Comments? ]

Posted by Eric Bakovic at April 11, 2005 11:48 PM