LINGUIST List 5.1414

Thu 08 Dec 1994

Disc: Native speaker intuitions

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  1. Marilyn Silva, Re: 5.1380 Native speaker intuitions
  2. "Jules Levin", RE: Use of 'of' as a "verb"

Message 1: Re: 5.1380 Native speaker intuitions

Date: Sat, 3 Dec 1994 21:14:23 -Re: 5.1380 Native speaker intuitions
From: Marilyn Silva <>
Subject: Re: 5.1380 Native speaker intuitions

In my recent summary on native speaker intuitions I attempted to
represent what seemed a sensible set of replies to my initial query
about the variability of intepretation of a sentence that I had always
seen as straightforwardly unambiguous, namely "John asked Mary to
leave." Responses to my summary seem to me to be a bit off the point,
however, because respondents to my query were attempting to make
sense of the variability. I agree with those who claim that Mary will
do the leaving in the example. That is my intuition, too. The question
I posted, however, dealt with the difficulty variability in interpretation
poses for the teaching of syntax--perhaps even for syntax itself. As a
linguist, I cannot tell my native-speaking students that their intuitions
are ridiculous. I am not after all a prescriptive grammarian. I construe
my role as helping students make sense of English syntax. And I do not
really want to resort to "we all have different grammars," lest we end
up with a linguistics in which there is no text, and then there is no role
for us!

But to get back to the matter of which NP in a sentence controls the
infinitive for those of you who have replied to my summary with strong
feelings that only Mary can do the leaving in "John asked Mary to leave,"
I offer a few other interesting examples. I will assume that _ask_ and
_tell_ when followed by an NP-infinitive string will exhibit object
control of the infinitive:

 John asked Mary to leave
 John told Mary to leave

That is, Mary will leave. I suspect that most of us get that interpretation.
But why is it that adding a _wh_ element to the infinitive clause will
result in a switch in the implicit subject of that infinitive? Thus:

 John asked Mary what to wear (John will wear whatever)
 John told Mary what to wear (Mary will wear whatever)

Or what about what happens when the infinitive verb is passive:

 John asked Mary to be assigned to the task (John will be assigned)
 ?John told Mary to be assigned to the task (Mary will be assigned)

In the passive examples, the second is peculiar because one cannot
generally tell someone to do something that is in the hands of
someone else (at least that's my take on it). What's interesting
about these examples is that they seem to be analogous to the
original example, and yet the subject of the infinitive in these
cases will be the same as the subject of _ask_. Perhaps it is the
existence of these sentence types that enables native English
speakers to see "John asked Mary to leave" as being just another
example of the same phenomenon.

These kinds of things make my head spin.

Marilyn Silva
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Message 2: RE: Use of 'of' as a "verb"

Date: Mon, 5 Dec 94 16:20:45 PDTRE: Use of 'of' as a "verb"
From: "Jules Levin" <>
Subject: RE: Use of 'of' as a "verb"

In Message Fri, 2 Dec 1994 23:19:30 -0600,
 The Linguist List ( writes:

)Tony Bex raises some very interesting questions in the posting
)about native speaker intuitions. However, there are at least
)two other possible explanations for `could of' spellings which
)plausibly might be offered by naive and not very literate
)native speakers of British and American English:
) 1. the `of' segment may be a pure homophone which is both
)a verb and a preposition without any link other than pronunciation
)between them. I think most people would hesitate, for example,
)to claim that
) a) He might of said that and
) b) The queen of hearts
)use the string pronounced `of' in the same way.
) 2. `of' in `could of' might be some kind of preposition
)rather than a verb, along the lines of `up' in `wake up the baby'
)and so on.
)Either of the above might be the native speaker's understanding
)of `of' - it would be interesting to know if anyone has ever
)queried this by asking native speakers of English in some fashion
)or other.

I do not believe that 'of' is or can be considered a verb here, just because
it replaces the orthoepic 'have' auxiliary.
It is an abduction or erroneous hypercorrection of the construct forms
'woulda', 'coulda', etc.
I have been collecting samples of the latter in "standard" prose, i.e.,
newspapers, magazine articles, for 20 years, intending to write about the
construct in "future English", since that may be the telos of this form.
It is steadily rising in acceptibility, having appeared even in a Wm Buckley
column (even if the latter would insist he was being ironic). The problem
is that as these constructs become more and more widespread, ordinary
letter-writers to the newspaper, trying to upgrade their prose style from
a *no longer analyzable* coulda, shoulda, etc., but knowing that the latter
are somehow not strictly kosher, expand or reanalyze them to a false 'of'
construction: "He should of stood in bed..."
Therefore I submit that 'of' here is nothing at all structurally, it is like
the 'b' in debt. The real linguistic question is the status of the
constructs vis-a-vis their original compound aux structures. Instead of
engaging in the typical amateurish asking of native speakers what they think
about it, devise a long sheet of sample sentences with 'have' constructions
mixed in with 'of' constructions, and see if native speakers can
non-randomly pick them apart.
If Ida read my email sooner, Ida sent this earlier.
--Jules Levin
 "Drinka glassa milka day." --Slogan from British milk board, c. 1975

University of California
Riverside, CA 92521
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