A recipe for WTF coordination
Kathryn Campbell-Kibler wrote me (on 8 June 2005) with an example from
the most recent Cook's Illustrated
where a bit of recipe register has escaped into otherwise ordinary
English prose, yielding a decidedly odd coordination, and causing me to
reflect some on what it means to say that this example is "telegraphic".
Kcat, as she is known to her friends, reports:
In the "Quick tips" section, it says
"Instead of letting any of the smoothie left behind in the blender melt
and go to waste, Marya Skrypiczajiko of Nelson, British Columbia,
freezes it in Popsicle molds (or 3-ounce waxed paper cups). She
lets the "pops" freeze partway before placing a Popsicle stick in the
middle, and freezes them till firm and someone wants a quick snack. "
Two issues here. One is the importation of a feature of the
recipe register into otherwise ordinary English prose. This sort
of thing happens a lot: features of other dialects, other styles,
special registers, other languages even, find their way onto novel
terrain, where they are deployed for some effect. Sometimes, for
example, people talking or writing about cooking will inserts bits of
recipe register into their discourses, in effect quoting the register
and evoking its careful instructional tone.
In this case the feature is Recipe Subject+Copula Omission (RSCO for
short), in which till firm
understood as till SUBJECT
for contextually appropriate values of SUBJECT
Note: I'm going to sidestep the question of whether RSCO is a
construction of its own or a register-specific extension of ordinary
SCO, illustrated in free adjuncts like those below:
While turning the handle, Kim noticed a
crack in it.
Though finished with the talk, Terry remained on the stage.
While/Though persistent, Sandy was no match for the baby.
What's important is that till firm
in freezes till firm
recipe-register thing, a bit of "telegraphic" English not normally
found outside abbreviated written instructions.
Now, the syntactic issue, which concerns
(1) ??till firm and someone wants
a quick snack
in which an AdjP firm
conjoined with a clause someone
wants a quick snack
. The intended interpretation is that of
(2) till they [the "pops"] are
firm and someone wants a quick snack
That is, the pops are to stay in the freezer until both these
conditions are satisfied.
(Please do not write me about till
vs., ugh, 'til
. If till
troubles you, just replace it
in all of its
occurrences in my text and read on.)
A coordination of parallel predicatives would certainly be possible:
till firm and wanted as a quick snack
(with shared understood subjects). And so would the version in
(2), with distinct, but explicit, subjects. The problem is that
the omitted subject doesn't match the explicit one.
The point is that the anomaly of (1) is just what we'd expect if RSCO
was simply a construction of English, one that happened to be limited
to occurrence in certain discourse/social contexts. It would be
like ordinary SCO examples in nonparallel coordinations:
??While turning the handle and Alex
looked on, Kim noticed a crack in it.
??Though finished with the talk and Alex was ready to speak, Terry
remained on stage.
??While/Though persistent and the rest of the family was supportive,
Sandy was no match for the baby.
The anomaly of (1) is unexpected only if you take the idea of
"telegraphic" language very literally -- if you assume that what is
said or written is MERELY
an abbreviation of a longer
expression, in the way that $4
is a mere abbreviation for four
and has the same external syntax as it. On that
assumption, (1) is just an encoding of (2), so that the anomaly of (1)
is a surprise.
In general, register-specific constructions are fully integrated into
the language -- just as register-specific lexical items are -- and must
fit into the syntax of their surroundings. No doubt very few
people have thought otherwise, but it's always nice to have an argument.
zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu
Posted by Arnold Zwicky at June 21, 2005 06:03 PM