Early Citations for "Cool"
Arnold M. Zwicky
zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Sat Oct 1 00:40:53 UTC 2005
On Sep 28, 2005, at 9:14 PM, Wilson Gray wrote:
> Ben, WRT "... the peculiar cleft construction 'what make it so cool'
> ...," what makes this construction so "peculiar" to you? I've used it
> and its congeners just about since I've been able to speak what I
> thought was English. Yet, somehow, the peculiarity of it has escaped
> my notice over all these years...
though it turns out that the peculiarity in question was this use of
"cool" back in the 30s, i have a different interest in the
construction, one that has nothing to do with "cool". if i translate
some superficial features of AAVE into the corresponding features of
my variety, and allow alternatives to "cool", i get things like the
following, which strike me as just fine:
What makes it so cool/neat/wild/amazing/great, he's going to look
just like me.
..., she's the sweetest wife God ever made.
call this construction "WhatXS".
for me, WhatXS is an is-less counterpart to an ordinary pseudocleft
(note that i'm not otherwise a zero-copula person) --
What makes it so cool/etc. is (that) he's going to look just like me.
or to a clearly paratactic "set-up + pay-off" construction, in which
you announce that you're going to supply some information and then
Here's/That's/This is what makes it so cool/etc.: he's going to
look just like me.
This makes it so cool: he's going to look just like me.
i'm not sure what the limits of WhatXS are for me. examples with
"so" in them are very very good, and perhaps that's because "so" + A
can introduce a result clause (with or *without* "that"):
He's so cool, people think he must be a musician.
so the question is, what's the status of things like the following?
What makes it cool, he's going to look just like me.
for me, not as good as the version with "so", but i warm to it after
a little acquaintance. is i alter the prosody a bit, i get something
i'd write with a colon instead of a comma, and it's fine:
What makes it cool: he's going to look just like me.
things get worse with somewhat different initial clauses (ending in a
pitch fall, indicated by a comma):
??What I like, he's going to look just like me.
??What amazes me, he's going to look just like me.
though with level pitch (indicated by a colon), things are fine:
What I like: he's going to look just like me.
What amazes me: he's going to look just like me.
i'm not sure what to make of these judgments. maybe i'm just being
for the AAVE variety represented by Hurston, though, the original
examples are probably pseudoclefts with the zero copula of AAVE. i
assume that there are parallel examples not involving "cool" (in any
sense) or result "so", things like the examples i'm (at the moment)
less than fully happy about.
there's a puzzle here, though. in AAVE, the copula is not omissible
in positions that would require it to bear some accent, and in my
variety of english, Auxiliary Reduction is subject to the same
condition. but pseudoclefts have a light accent on the copula, which
means that the copula (in pseudoclefts) isn't subject to reduction in
*What makes it so cool's(,) he's going to look just like me.
*What I see's a sparrow.
and shouldn't be omissible in AAVE. that is, we predict (in AAVE):
*What makes it so cool(,) he's going to look just like me.
*What I see a sparrow.
the first of these is attested, and sounds fine to wilson (and to me
in AMZE, for that matter). the second sounds pretty rotten to me,
but then i'm not an AAVE speaker.
several possibilities for AAVE: (1) not all pseudoclefts get a light
accent on the copula, or at least not all the time; (2) the accent
constraint doesn't apply in pseudoclefts (this would predict "What I
see a sparrow"); (3) the accent constraint doesn't apply in a
definable subtype of pseudoclefts; (4) we're dealing with a special
construction -- WhatXS -- that is just stipulated to have no copula
(that is, things like the Hurston examples don't involve the zero-
for AMZE, which lacks a general zero-copula construction, it looks
like (4) is the only way to go, though it's not clear what the
constraints on WhatXS are.
arnold (zwicky at csli.stanford.edu), getting a headache
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