January 29, 2007

Monday morning mailbag

I've gotten a bunch of notes about missing prepositions.

From Jan Freeman: a literary reference.

So, Mark, here I am reading Trollope at bedtime, avoiding all thoughts of usage and grammar, and I find this sentence on page 88 of "The Warden" (Signet), where our hero is uncomfortably pondering his treatment by the local scandal sheet, the Jupiter:

"Was he to be looked on as the unjust griping priest he had been there described?"

That gets us to 1855, but no doubt someone will send you a respectable, scholarly 15th-century cite in a day or two.

The obvious search strategies on LION don't turn anything up for me, so I'll wait for people who are better at crafting such searches, or respectable scholars who have noted examples in their own bedtime reading. But meanwhile, it occurs to me that "as" is not the only thing that might have been elided in examples like this one -- Trollope's sentence might also be an elliptical form of something like:

"Was he to be looked on as the unjust griping priest he had been there described to be?"

Google gives 43,000 hits for the search {"described to be a|an"}. Among them is a news story on a "four course beer dinner", from which I can't resist quoting this sentence:

The beer lovers will then be treated to a Caribbean-infused duck, which will include ancho chili rubbed duck breast and coconut curry duck confit, which will be paired with Dogfish Head's Raison D' Etre, an ale that is self-described to be "a deep mahogany ale brewed with Belgian beer sugars, green raisons [sic] and a sense of purpose" and was voted American Beer of the Year by Malt Advocate Magazine in January 2000.

(That [sic] is mine -- the Dogfish Head folks spell it more conventionally as "green raisins" in their description of Raison d'Etre Ale. There's a joke in there somewhere about green raisons steeping purposefully, if I only had time to work it out.)

From Arnold Zwicky: an alternative term, an example from his own writing, and a list of examples from others:

Locally we call the phenomenon "absorption"; I'm not sure where the term came from.

A somewhat different case, which i think really *does* involve haplology:

It's fascinating as an art object as well as a presentation of large amounts of information. [AZ writing here]

I'm uncomfortable with "as well as as a presentation..." and so left the sentence as you see it, after some thought.

Back on the absorption front: the examples range from ones that are, for me, absolutely fine, though some grayish area, to truly wretched stuff. Here's a small collection of examples.

From Margaret Marks, a typically insightful observation:

I can't give an informed view of this, but when I was teaching English to Germans, I used to call 'as' in 'as X is known' a relative (Quirk does that in 15.55). I don't know if that's true or not, but there are definitely situations where 'as' does more than one would expect.

In the examples you mention, it seems to me not that the second 'as' is missing, but that the first 'as' is taking on a bigger function.

From Russell Lee-Goldman: some serious linguist-talk on the topic.

My ears prick up when anyone mentions AS, as you certainly did over the weekend.

The question of the missing AS in the sentences you described on the 27th is really interesting, and I actually gave a brief summary of that data in presentation on so-called movement paradoxes involving AS ("Parenthetical as* (and movement paradoxes)", Berkeley Syntax and Semantics Circle, 9/29/2006). Other well-documented paradoxes include "that linguistics is going down the tubes, we could talk about for hours," where the fronted that-clause could not appear after ABOUT. But the AS case is slightly different, since people do say (or at least write) "..., as X is known as, ...".

It's also different in that the first AS (the one that seemingly introduces the finite clause) is plausibly analyzed as a relative proform, not as a preposition, though the second one clearly is one. In any case two ASs are clearly different (though of course historically related), so this might really be more like haplology/RMC than whatever cannibalism might be.

AS also gives rise to other paradoxes in some of its other uses, like "as you may have heard (about) __" and "as you may be aware (of) __", where you can seemingly gap either a that-clause or (if you include those parenthetical prepositions) a noun phrase, though in both cases what is semantically missing is a state-of-affairs.

[As an aside, there are also some interesting semantic issues going on. The syntax and semantics of a use of a name and a mention of a name are different, but with this "as" (I call it Name-as, to contrast it with the uses in "as I said" and "as I can"), you can get a type-shifting effect. So for "Kcat, as she is known to her friends, reports...", Kcat is an entity for the matrix clause, but a name for the as-clause. [cf. Kcat as/which/*who I call her, reports...]]

[Update -- David Beaver comments on the last bit of Russell's note:

i) This has nothing to do with names per se. Parenthetical comments often address metalinguistic aspects of the rest of the utterance. E.g. I could have added "to use a technical term" anywhere in the phrase "often address metalinguistic aspects of the rest of the utterance" except right after "of" or "the". These comments may address naming conventions, as in your example, but may even address spelling. If I said "I'd like to introduce Mark, with a `k' not a `c', who will talk to us about...", would you want to say that "Mark" is type-shifted so that it has one contribution as a written form, and one as a referring expression? You could do, but in that sense, anything can have type-shifted meanings, including "metalinguistic".

ii) Chris Potts actually does analyze similar cases as involving type shifting, in his book "Conventional Implicature", and draws trees where names (etc.) first contribute something picked up by an apositive (like the "as" phrase), and then get shifted into their referential sense in order to combine with the rest of the main clause. For Potts the apositive contribution is a conventional implicature, and is kept separate from the "at-issue" meaning.

Russell's handout references Potts' work... But I have to apologize to non-linguist readers, for whom this is more "inside baseball" than we usually indulge in here.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at January 29, 2007 08:22 AM