failures of parallelism

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Mon Jul 5 19:37:38 UTC 2004

i've been collecting examples where parentheticals, postnominal
modifiers, and coordination set things up for what are, on reflection,
errors.  these include cases of "determination by the nearest" (in
agreement and government) and several kinds of failures of parallelism
in coordination.  here's a new type of example, involving the
triggering of negative-polarity "any":

(NYT Week in Review, 7/4/04, p. 6, "Strange Bedfellows: 'Imperial
America' Retreats from Iraq" by Roger Cohen)
It was a low-key exit, reflecting problems that Mr. Bremer, and perhaps
any American, could not resolve.

this has a parenthetical conjunct NP "and perhaps any American", with a
negative-polarity "any" in it that is apparently triggered by the
negative VP "could not resolve".  the problem is that when we unpack
the coordination into two relative clauses, we get:
   problems that Mr. Bremer could not resolve
   problems that perhaps any American could not resolve
the second of which is ungrammatical, or only very marginally
acceptable, because the "any" precedes the trigger "not":  it's the
same problem as
   *Any American could not resolve these problems.

fixing the second to
   problems that perhaps no American could resolve
no longer allows it to combine with the first in such a way that two
subject NPs are coordinated:
   *problems that Mr. Bremer, and perhaps no American, could (not)

there *are* solutions, with "conjunct raising" (nonconstituent
coordination) --
   problems that Mr. Bremer could not, and perhaps no American could,
or with a postposed negative tag --
   problems that Mr. Bremer could not solve, nor perhaps could any
   problems that Mr. Bremer could not solve, and perhaps no American
or with a postposed noncoordinate parenthetical  --
   problems that Mr. Bremer could not solve (perhaps no American could).
but the first is awkward (conjunct raising in general seems to present
perceptual difficulties that constituent coordination does not) and the
other two don't put Mr. Bremer and Americans in general into a direct
comparison.  all three are also longer than the version that appeared
in the article.

so: go for a punchy direct comparison, and you fall afoul of NPI

arnold (zwicky at

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