December 10, 2007

VPE three-way

Ordinarily I'd have appended this to my last posting on Verb Phrase Ellipsis, but I think that this three-way example (from "The Rhinoceros" by Michael Flanders and Donald Swann) deserves a posting of its own (ellipses indicated as before):

Yet a sensitive heart the Rhinoceros owns.
If you doubt it, here's the proof;
That thing on his nose is for taking stones
Out of a horse's hoof:
He seldom, if ever meets a horse
(It is this that makes him sad)
When he does then it hasn't a stone in its hoof,
But he would ___ if he did ___ and it had ___!

(Hat tip to John V. Burke.)

The ellipses are, in order: base-form VP take stones out of a horse's hoof, base-form VP meet a horse, and NP a stone in its hoof.  The last of these really works only in British English, where "possessive have" can function as an auxiliary, as you can see by the negative inflection in it hasn't a stone in its hoof (where current American English would have it doesn't have a stone in its hoof -- and the last line would go But he would if he did and it did, which isn't as entertaining as the Flanders and Swann version).

Flanders and Swann were wonderfully playful with language, as Mark Liberman noted a while back in a discussion of syllepsis.

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at December 10, 2007 10:50 PM