Request for good syntactic examples

Carl.Mills at UC.EDU Carl.Mills at UC.EDU
Fri Jan 29 18:16:46 UTC 1999

>Date:          Fri, 29 Jan 1999 09:35:33 -0800
>From:          David Parkinson <davpark at MICROSOFT.COM>
>Subject:       Request for good syntactic examples
>Reply-to:      David Parkinson <davpark at MICROSOFT.COM>
>Hello Funknetters:
>A friend is seeking to convince some colleagues of the (at least partial)
>independence of syntax from semantics, and is looking for good and
>reasonably incontrovertible examples of syntactic phenomena or alternations
>which are hard to explain as deriving from their semantic content. If you
>have a favorite cocktail party or classroom example of the donate/give or
>"*who do you wanna read the books?" type, please send it along to me. I will
>post a summary to FUNKNET as appropriate.
>(Incidentally, I won't be unhappy if people try to argue that such examples
>are in principle nonexistent... but maybe these arguments would be best
>posted to the list, in the interests of sparking discussion.)
>David Parkinson

I suspect "that such examples are in principle nonexistent."  A more basic problem stems from characteristics of
the very example that David Parkinson cites:  *who do you wanna read the books?   and others, originally from
David Lightfoot, I think, like Who do you wanna succeed? 'who do you want to follow?' vs. *Who do you
wanna succeed? 'who do you wish to see emerge successful from this endeavor?'  Frankly, I find myself saying
_wanna_ in both cases.  That is, the starred examples are not starred in my dialect or in the dialects of many
people I overhear every day.  These sorts of examples ( and the, sometimes unwarranted, conclusions drawn
from them) are why I have been giving papers on grammaticality and acceptability judgments for the past 20
years.  And while I like the  work of people like Cowert and Schutze, I do not think the robustness of such
judgments is well supported.  But of course, the real problem stems from relying on Gedankeneksperimenten to
establish which sentences are, out of context, grammatical or ungrammatical and then arguing points of linguistic
theory from such shaky "data."

Carl Mills
University of Cincinnati

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