ENGLISH SENTENCES WITHOUT OVERT GRAMMATICAL SUBJECTS.

This paper by Quang Phuc Dong* of the South Hanoi Institute of Technology** begins “There is an extensive literature dealing with English imperative sentences. As is well known, these sentences have no overt grammatical subject…” and ends “… it is clearly no accident that many quasi-verbs are homophonous with normal morphemes.” However, it is no ordinary linguistics paper, and if you don’t at least skim it you’ll be missing out on some great example sentences. And if you actually read it, you’ll learn interesting facts about some very common words.


*There is no such person.
** There is no such institution.
If you scroll all the way down past the paper itself, you will find the following among other elucidations:

“Quang Phuc Dong” is a nom de guerre (linguistique)… of James D. McCawley, who “created the interdisciplinary field of pornolinguistics and scatolinguistics virtually on his own.”

Comments

  1. South Hanoi Institute of Technology = S. H. I. T., in case anyone missed that.

  2. dungbeattle says:

    Definitely a biological problem that lacks a rudimentary dictionary.

  3. Wow, man. I’m having a flashback to the undergraduate linguistics class where I first read this paper, around 1973. The main text, IIRC, was Jacobs and Rosenbaum’s Transformations, Style, and Meaning. My professor (who later became a speech writer) captured my imagination enough to lure me into graduate work and an eventual dissertation in the discipline. Interesting fieldwork, but lousy job prospects.

  4. Didn’t read your posting carefully enough – spent a good few minutes trying to work out why ‘there is no such person’ is ungrammatical…
    having now read it – hahaha!

  5. Wow. Those are serious points. He really does establish a distinct syntactic class, with real and indisputable examples. Alert Culicover!

  6. Ingeborg S. Nordén says:

    For most of the examples given in the paper, I’d say that “I” makes the most sense as the understood subject: “(I) sh** on you!” makes good sense as an expression of contempt, and “(I) f**k you!” makes good sense as a metaphorical desire to humiliate someone through rape.
    Not convinced? English already allows “(I) thank you” and “(I) bless you” to express the opposite kind of reaction. Yet Dong never argues that “thank” or “bless” is anything other than a verb in expressions like those; why would “f**k” or “s**t on” be any different?
    By the way, “Hurray for X” isn’t really as similar as Dong thinks, since “hurray” has rarely been used in any way except as an interjection…and interjections do tend to appear either alone or in isolated phrases, none of which take verb-like objects as Dong’s other examples do.

  7. ‘Bless you’ is normally taken to be subjunctive, isn’t it, perhaps with presumed subject ‘God’? And when you add more examples like ‘sod this for a game of soldiers’, these other examples feel more like subjunctive too. Whatever the analysis, they form a distinct subclass that can’t just be assimilated to a larger pattern.

  8. This brings up the question of adverbial insertion, whereby ‘absolutely’ becomes ‘abso-fuckin-lutely’, ‘positively’ likewise ‘posi-fuckin-tively’, and ‘definitely’, ‘fuckin-A!’

  9. Ingeborg S. Nordén says:

    “God” does make sense as an understood subject for “bless you” (or “damn you” for that matter); but as Dong pointed out, that doesn’t explain why “Damn God” is grammatically acceptable and “*Damn Himself/*Bless Himself” are not. I’d still say that most of the time, “I” works best as the understood subject in constructions like those. A conflict between two understood subjects also seems like a plausible reason for these sentences from Dong’s paper being ungrammatical:
    *(You) Describe and (I) f–k Communism” (a sentence can have only one understood subject).
    *I told you to f–k you (“you” is being forced to act as a subject in the dependent clause, where only “I” should).

  10. I nearly hurt myself laughing at this paper. It took two inhalers and some self-discipline for me to recover. Highly recommended. I intend to enroll in a linguistics course right away!

  11. fuck off

  12. You know, normally I’d delete a comment like that, but in this thread I can’t really say it’s off-topic, now can I?

Speak Your Mind

*