January 21, 2008

More books with non-constituent titles

The new non-constituent book titles I have gathered since my previous post are listed below, with acknowledgments to the people who sent them. I am grateful to them all.

I removed from the list below a suggestion that Faith Jones made, about Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. It might perhaps be parsed as two separate adjuncts, an intransitive preposition and a subjectless gerund-participial clause; but William Ockham pointed out to me that a question like "Where's Jenny?" could be answered by "Out dancing." Mostly, normal well-formed answers to questions are syntactic constituents. So I decided that Out Stealing Horses is not a clear case. I also removed, after a rethink, a science fiction book called The Stars My Destination (Topher Cooper found textual evidence that it is a gapped clause, the same kind of constituent as "The stars are my destination"). For a list (still being updated) of the ones I currently think are clear cases, read on.

  1. Corinne Goss notes Every Book Its Reader by Nicholas Basbanes, a title which is also the terse and cryptic wording of one of Ranganathan's five laws of library science); I take it to be alluding to phrases like "we must find/give/assign every book its reader", where we have an indirect object followed by a direct object (not a constituent except perhaps for Kayne).
  2. Gabriel J. Michael notes the title of Philip K. Dick's novel (source of a recent movie and graphic novel) A Scanner Darkly (which is definitely not a constituent for anybody: it is a noun phrase followed by an adverb functioning as a manner adjunct; Gabriel notes that it is a reference to 1 Corinthians 13, verse 12: "For now we see through a glass, darkly").
  3. Simon Cauchi reminds me of Alan Duff's novel about violence among the Maori, Once Were Warriors (obviously suggested by sentences like "We Maori once were warriors").
  4. Levana Taylor notes a novel by Ford Maddox Ford entitled Ladies Whose Bright Eyes (noun followed by just the wh-phrase of a relative clause modifying it).
  5. Bob Ladd reports on a faux Kerouac-style novel by Peter S. Beagle called I See By My Outfit, which appears to be a clause minus an obligatory subconstituent (in the idiom ‘see by [NP] that [Clause]’ the complement clause seems obligatory). Joseph Ruby points out that the allusion is to a Smothers Brothers rewording of "The Streets of Laredo" which goes "I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy / I see by my outfit that I am one too".
  6. Peter Hendriks tells me that there is a 1909 Japanese novel by Natsume Soseki, Sore Kara in Japanese, translated into English as And Then. The story is that when Soseki was asked what he was going to call the novel he was working on, he just opened it and picked a couple of words at random. (Another case of a rather studied and deliberate choice of a non-constituent sequence: coordinator + adverb.)
  7. Mary Kuhner submitted Michael Bishop's And Strange At Ecbatan The Trees, noting that it is from a piece of poetry: "And strange at Ecbatan the trees / Take leaf by leaf the evening strange / The flooding dark about their knees / The mountains over Persia change". Excellent example.
  8. Mary Kuhner also found Michael Shea's fantasy In Yana, the Touch of Undying, which is from a part of the book's text: "In Yana, the touch of undying is given to all who ask for it" (this is the prophecy that gets the plot rolling). Double kudos to Mary.
  9. Richard Sabey points to David Bailey's If We Shadows (three words snatched from a line in the last speech of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream).
  10. John Baker proposes a particularly clear case: Property Of, by Alice Hoffman.

Still well under twenty case so far in all, adding in my previously collected cases If On a Winter's Night a Traveller (if + temporal modifier + subject), The Fire Next Time (NP + NP, though this is questionable, since it could be construed as a reduced clause — the meaning is "It'll be the fire next time"), Sometimes a Great Notion (temporal modifier + subject), Dancer from the Dance (NP + PP), and for good measure the play title Suddenly Last Summer (Adv + temporal modifier NP). This is out of hundreds of thousands (probably millions) of books published. As a percentage: roughly zero.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at January 21, 2008 01:28 PM