April 14, 2004

Via in chains

The inventive q_pheevr uses world knowledge to construe Geoff Nunberg's headline example "Tribe Homer Barrage Salvages Split":

I think I can figure out Nunberg's example, although I couldn't have done it without being told the identity of the newspaper. Tribe has to refer to the Cleveland Indians, and so "Tribe Homer Barrage" is a large number of home runs hit by them, which means that Salvages must be the verb (aha!) and Split the direct object. So the headline can be paraphrased as "Large number of home runs hit by the Cleveland Indians rescues Croatian port."


Now here's another problem. The headline (as Geoff and Q both note) was originally discussed by Peter Trudgill, from whom Geoff learned about it. So perhaps I should have called it "Peter Trudgill's headline". But what I really wanted to write was "Geoff Nunberg's Peter Trudgill's headline".

Of course I can't, and didn't. But why is the typically blogophrastic expression "headline via Trudgill via Nunberg" fine?

Here's a typical example of this "chained via" construction:

Keeping Current Via Tenant Via Librarian in Black Via The Shifted Librarian

Just found this when I clicked to Jenny's post about the Librarian in Black's post about RSS which lead me to her note about Roy Tenant's article for Library Journal about keeping current with new technologies. Pretty darn cool.

I shouldn't really even call this a "construction", it seems just like a recursive use of via. So will someone please explain to me why I can't use recursive "X's Y's Z" the same way?

It won't make me happy to tell me that the normal parsing is "(X's Y)'s Z". In the first place, that just restates my question. In the second place, it ain't necessarily so. In "Marcel Gagne's User's Guide for Linux", for instance, it's the guide and not the user that is construed to be Marcel's.

I'm probably just being dense. I have a really bad cold and probably shouldn't be allowed at the controls of a web browser, much less a finely tuned linguistic analysis. I'm certainly not capable of navigating the index of the Cambridge Grammar. So a little help will be much appreciated, thank you in advance.

Posted by Mark Liberman at April 14, 2004 09:47 PM