Gordon P. Hemsley

Linguist by day. Web developer by night.

Posts Tagged ‘subject’

wh-movement and T→C movement in English interrogatives

Posted by Gordon P. Hemsley on June 9, 2010

While I was doing my take-home syntax final exam (why do I feel like the modifier order is off in that phrase?) a couple of weeks ago, one of the questions got me thinking. The section of the exam was testing our knowledge of wh-movement and T→C movement in questions, and one particular sentence was giving me a little bit of trouble. To try to figure out where things were supposed to move to, I wound up creating what I’m calling a trace table. That is, a table comparing various related sentences and demonstrating the motivation for various movements. (It’s called a trace table because it allows for an easy comparison of the locations of the tracers and the tracees. And yes, I did just make up those words; and no, I didn’t bother to figure out which is which.)

The particular sentences I used for this trace table all had to do with a man, a cat, and the act of stealing.

I haven’t mentioned yet precisely what about the test question was giving me trouble. It was the fact that, in certain situations, T→C movement does not occur in interrogatives. (Questions in English are normally formed using T→C movement, otherwise known as subject–auxiliary inversion.) So, I decided to figure out exactly what that environment was. We’d previously (accidentally) referenced the situation in class before, but we never went into detail. (Someone happened to ask about a sentence where T→C movement did not occur, and the instructor admitted that she’d been trying to avoid those sentences, so as to avoid overly complicating the lesson.) Beyond that, though, I don’t know what research, if any, has been done regarding these situations. (I assume there has been research, but my extremely brief search did not turn up any.)

Anyway, once the semester was over, I decided to formalize and prettify my trace table and put it up on the Web for all to see.

wh-movement and T→C movement in English interrogatives

The dedicated page goes into more detail, but what it seems to boil down to is this: T→C movement does not occur when there is a trace in the subject position (SpecTP) of the main clause.

I greatly encourage feedback about this, but please read the whole page first, as it has much explanation and background, as well as a more in-depth description of my conclusions. (And please pardon my extensive use of parentheticals in this post; I’m rather tired at the moment, and my brain is wandering all over the place.)

Advertisements

Posted in Linguistics, Web Development | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“Patton and I”—Object or Subject?

Posted by Gordon P. Hemsley on February 2, 2010

[Note: I know I haven’t posted in a while. That’s the kind of relationship I have with my blogs. I also know that, when I do post, I post about computer stuff. But this is my blog, about my life. And my life also involves linguistics stuff. So here’s the first of what will likely be a number of posts relating to linguistics. If that bothers you… deal with it.]

Last night, while at the Grammys, Al Yankovic (you know, Weird Al) tweeted a picture with a caption that read:

Patton and I having a last-minute brawl before the show.

Knowing that he is usually as much of a stickler for grammar as I am (perhaps even moreso), I tweeted to him:

@alyankovic Patton and *me*, Al. Come on! You know better!

I was hoping to get a response from him, but I instead got a response from Jacinta of New Hampshire. (Not having much evidence to go on, I’m going to assume this person is female for the remainder of this post.) Here’s what she said:

@GPHemsley sorry, but Al is right… it’s Patton and *I*

To that, I replied with:

@Jacinta716 Not it’s not. “Patton and I” is the object of the untensed sentence fragment, so it should be “Patton and me”. #linguistics

As an aside (and another attempt to get Al to weigh in), I also tweeted:

I may have just started a grammar war on Twitter about a simple caption for a photo @alyankovic took. #linguistics

After that, Jacinta really let me have it. She devoted five tweets in a row to supporting her claim:

@GPHemsley “Patton and I” is the SUBJECT of this sentence; Al is correct.

@GPHemsley You use the same pronoun as you would if you had a singular subject in the sentence.

@GPHemsley Patton is texting like a 12 year-old girl. I am texting like a 12 year-old girl. Patton and I are texting like 12 year-old girls.

(I realized later that this was referencing another tweet that Al had made afterwards.)

@GPHemsley “Patton and I” is not the object. If you said “someone is throwing incorrect grammar rules at Patton and me” then you’d be right.

@GPHemsley “Patton and I” is not part of a sentence fragment. Although this is. And so is this. Which is why Al is right. And you are not.

And then she added:

@GPHemsley I wouldn’t call it a war. It’s…an educated discussion. It’s a lot better than most of the crap that people put on Twitter! 😉

Originally, I started tweeting back to her:

@Jacinta716 “Patton and I” is not the subject of the sentence. The subject of the sentence is implied; it refers to the picture.

@Jacinta716 The difference with these examples is that they are tensed. In that last sentence, “Patton and I” is indeed correct.

I was going attempt to diagram the sentence using bracket notation and go on to further support my claim. But when I went to phpSyntaxTree to diagram it for real, I realized I had a problem. The way I was diagramming it did indeed put “Patton and I” in the subject position of the subordinate sentence (which is still untensed):
[S [NP This] [Aux ] [VP [V is] [NP [NP a picture] [PP [P of] [S [NP Patton and me] [VP [V having] [NP a last-minute brawl]] [PP before the show]]]]]]
However, the point of view I was arguing was that the picture itself was the subject and “Patton and I/me” was the object. (I originally tweeted the sentence that included the implied part, but I later deleted it. I used that sentence in the diagram.)

Now, here’s the problem. I still think I’m right in saying that “Patton and I/me” is the object of the sentence and that it should be “me”, not “I”. But right now I’m at a loss to explain why. It doesn’t help that my diagram doesn’t take full advantage of X-Bar Theory and its extensions/improvements (and, thus, uses ternary branching to attach an adjunct), nor that I haven’t drawn the semantic relationships between words. But I wanted to get this down in a format longer than 140 characters so that a proper discussion could be had.

So… Is “Patton and I/me” the object or the subject? Is it both? Is there a different implication that could be had that could change the answer to those questions? What is the grammar of picture captions, specifically, and sentence fragments, in general?

This post seems to raise more questions than it answers, but it’s quite likely that I’ve made a mistake somewhere in my diagram that would lead me down this path. Please correct me if you can. Otherwise, let the discussion begin!

Posted in Linguistics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »