May 19, 2007

Re-doubled prepositions

Following up on a series of previous posts -- "A note of dignity or austerity" (5/3/2007), "Back to the future, redundant preposition department" (5/4/2007), "A phenomenon in which I'm starting to believe in" (5/14/2007), "Could preposition doubling be headed our way?" (5/15/2007) -- several readers have contributed interesting examples and observations.

Peter Howard reported an example from the BBC News website ("Tarrant jokes about curry arrest"), which originally read:

Speaking on Monday, Mr Tarrant's spokesman said he had jokingly dropped cutlery onto the table of a couple with whom he had been chatting to.

On Friday, May 18, this sentence was revised to remove the final "to".

Evan Bradley sent in another example with different prepositions fore and aft, from a post on a college sports web forum:

In addition, people like Davies who is a bit undersized could possibly be used a hybrid LB/S for which Peters is being groomed as.

Nuria Yáñez-Bouza contributed a historical sketch of linguistic scholarship on the double-preposition contruction in relative clauses, "A Note on Double Prepositions". This is drawn from the material in her forthcoming dissertation, to which I'm looking forward to.

Simon Musgrave sent in an extraordinary example from "Second Report of the Ad Hoc Group" in L'affaire Wolfowitz (p. 45-46), where there is an initial that as well as the pied and stranded prepositions:

As President, he bore principal responsibility for safeguarding the institution and establishing the ethical standard that to which the staff would be expected to adhere to.'

Geoff Pullum's comment: "This is the neatest quote that of which I have had the pleasure of being apprised of in quite a long time! I love it."

Leaving relative clauses behind us, "Neddie Seagoon" points out that the search pattern {"of mostly of"} turns up quite a few examples:

This league consists of mostly of players who have about 10+ years of Soccer experience,
This page started out as a collection of pictures of mostly of abandoned lines in the Bruce Peninsula.
One particular type of mudrock consist of mostly of white colored smectite clays and colloidal silica.

The pattern /P ADV P/, where the first preposition seems redundant, is also frequent with other prepositions and adverbs:

For example, the plant cell wall is composed of largely of carbohydrate polymers, cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin.
The terrain consists of largely of rolling piedmont hills.
Growth in non-revolving debt, made up of largely of auto and education loans, has been slowing...

...the rear-facing elevation consisting of partly of glazing and partly glass blocks.

The hot dogs have been distributed to mostly to grocery stores in east Georgia and west South Carolina...
A movie that will appeal to mostly to children and grandparents, it is the gentle tale of an average man with an impossible dream.
That the film makes such impact is due to partly to the men in the supporting roles but mostly to Dench and Blanchett.

..we travel with mostly with repeat travelers and word-of-mouth referrals.
They worked with mostly with local singers and rappers to pay the rent on their lofty Melrose Place address.
I think we can all agree that NN4 is not a problem when used with mostly with HTML presentation layouts.

I just lose sight of sometimes of what I must do and focus on obsessing about what she is doing or not doing.

Credit cards came along in mostly in the 1970s.
The procedure has been used in mostly in college classes...
The Second Vermont Battery Light Artillery, "Chase's Battery," served also in mostly in the Department of the Gulf of Mexico.

We are striving to accomplish this goal through mainly through the spoken and written word...
The second is about memory, written through partly through flashbacks.
Homeopathy or even some conventional treatments may work through partly through the placebo effect.

As in the case of phrases like "world in which we live in", my first impulse is to see these as simple mistakes: errors of inattention in writing, or the results of careless editing. But if something is "an easy mistake to make" it's probably also a case of "performance variation from which language change could evolve". And it can be hard to tell where in this process we are.

This question has come up here before, for example with respect to "un-X-ed" and overnegation.

Posted by Mark Liberman at May 19, 2007 07:09 AM