quotation marks

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Fri May 10 12:03:28 UTC 2002

>I belive stress (which has intonational reperceussions of course) is
>the primary differentiater here.

SMOking fire (fire cased by smoking)


smoking FIRE (fire which is smoking)

remembering, always, that other factors (e.g., contrastive, emphatic
stress on 'SMOK-' in the latter) may overwhelm these canonical


>The MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News, April 29, 2002, ran this headline on
>the top of page 1:
>         Man killed in 'smoking' fire
>My first reaction to this headline was "Why quotes?" As soon as I
>mentally stripped them off, I saw why. Modifying "fire" as it does,
>"smoking" would be read as a participle -- 'a fire that smokes' --
>rather than a gerundive -- 'a fire due to [the act of] smoking'.
>In speech the difference in intonation is unmistakable, but in writing
>there is no established way to distinguish these homographic phrases.
>Compared to the participial use of the "-ing" form, the gerundive is
>infrequent enough that the problem rarely arises, and I suppose the
>usual solution is to recast the phrase: not an easy option in a
>Kudos to the headline writer for finding this novel solution.
>-- Mark A. Mandel
>    Linguist at Large

Dennis R. Preston
Professor of Linguistics
Department of Linguistics and Languages
740 Wells Hall A
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1027 USA
Office - (517) 353-0740
Fax - (517) 432-2736

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