non-head nominals and number agreement

Thu Jul 26 00:51:40 UTC 2007

        While I would probably use a singular verb in writing either
sentence, I can easily imagine saying "there have been no shortage of
stories."  In fact, I think I would be more likely to say that than
"there have been a series of incidents."  To me, at least, "no shortage
of" intuitively reanalyzes into "many" even more readily than does "a
series of."  It may be relevant that "series" takes the singular
modifier "a," and that it suggests a temporal or spatial succession and
not just quantity.

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
Of Laurence Horn
Sent: Wednesday, July 25, 2007 7:02 PM
Subject: non-head nominals and number agreement

It's standard for such constructions as "a lot of", "a number of", etc.
to take plural agreement, inidcating that the nominals in such
constructions are not heads but quantifiers (functioning essentially
like "many").  I've been hearing some new ones lately.  On ABC's World
News Tonight tonight, Charlie Gibson led off with a report on the report
of a commission to address the military health care scandal by uttering
(1) below.  Later in the same broadcast, he introduced another story, on
security breaches at airports around the country, by uttering something
like (2).  The latter doesn't strike me as particularly noteworthy; I'm
sure I've heard "A series of...
are/were..." or similar constructions without even noticing.  But the
former one, "There have been no shortage of Xes...", struck me as novel,
although not terribly shocking as a reanalysis of "a/no
shortage(s) of" as a quantifier.

(1)  There have been no shortage of stories about returning veterans

(2)  There have been a series of incidents at airports...

Any thoughts (from Arnold et/aut al.)?


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