double possessives

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Sep 30 01:55:51 UTC 2001

At 1:51 PM -0400 9/29/01, RonButters at AOL.COM wrote:
>Beautiful--thanks so much for the example.
>Of course, the fact that people use the construction regularly will not
>convince some formalist linguists that it is "grammatical."
Now, wait a minute, Ron.  If you're talking about prescriptivists,
fine.  But some of my best friends are formal linguists (I think
that's the same as what you're calling "formalist linguists", but
yours sounds more like a slur), and I can't think of any offhand who
would respond in the way you predict.  When double modals began to be
described, formal approaches to syntax undertook to describe the
various dialects by tweaking the description in various ways, but
nobody dismissed the data as ungrammatical.  Yes, if someone says
something on a given occasion without "using the construction
regularly", it might be treated as a performance error or as
performance technique ("playing around" with one's competence), but
well attested realities of regional or social variation are usually
if not always taken seriously in formal grammatical research, if the
researchers are aware of the variants in question.  (A more accurate
criticism might be that some grammatical researchers--say, someone
writing a description of the internal structure of English noun
phrases, or determiner phrases, whatever they're being called
now--would simply ignore the datum, but I think if you pushed them
they would concede that while grammatical, the datum would complicate
their analysis--not that it's ungrammatical, but that it provides an
unwelcome complication they can't deal with.  But this is at least as
true for descriptive grammarians like Quirk et al. as it is for
theoretical syntacticians who in my experience are often looking for
new constructions and complications to write a paper about.)


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