December 07, 2007

Recursive news

The latest nominee for the prestigious Trent Reznor Award for Tricky Embedding is Michael Sneed in the Chicago Sun-Times ("Stacy told clergyman Drew killed ex", 11/29/2007):

Sneed hears Stacy Peterson told a clergyman in August that her husband had claimed to have killed his former wife Kathleen Savio and made it look like an accident.

A source close to the investigation tells Sneed the 23-year-old, who had been pregnant and living with Peterson when Savio was found dead in an empty bathtub in 2004, also told two other people close to her about her husband's statements regarding Savio's demise.

The trickiness here is mainly epistemological. (Michael Sneed often needs epistemological camouflage -- for example, she was the author of the anonymously-sourced false story that last April's VA Tech shooter was Chinese.)

The clausal embedding is only three levels of communication verbs plus a causative in the first sentence, and a different stacking of the three communication predicates in the second sentence, along with a two-level relative clause for lagniappe -- but it does illustrate the theory that the evolutionary force behind syntax is gossip:

[Sneed hears
   [Stacy Peterson told a clergyman in August
      [that her husband had claimed
           [to have killed his former wife Kathleen Savio and made
                 [it look like an accident] ] ] ] ]

[Hat tip -- Headsup: The Blog]

Posted by Mark Liberman at December 7, 2007 08:05 AM