semantics and pragmatics of to-contraction

Dan Everett Dan.Everett at MAN.AC.UK
Fri Aug 3 18:48:34 UTC 2001


Thanks for the suggestions. I didn't think anything in my proposal involved
'stipulating arbitrary connections', but if the frequency analysis turned
out to work, that wouldn't bother me at all. But gotta/getta facts are 'new'
and I do not see how they can be reduced to frequency.

I should correct an error in my original posting. I was mistaken in the
structures I proposed for RRG. This is a result of thinking for so long in
GB/MP terms. Old habits die hard.

In any case, the two constructions, 'Who do you want to see' and 'Who do you
want to see Bill' are, in RRG, different kinds of 'nexus'. The first one is
called cosubordination in RRG and the second one subordination. This may
explain the extraction facts without my claim about phonological salience,
though I am not sure.

Thanks again for your reply.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Dick Hudson" <dick at>
To: "Dan Everett" <Dan.Everett at>; <FUNKNET at LISTSERV.RICE.EDU>
Sent: Friday, August 03, 2001 1:42 PM
Subject: Re: semantics and pragmatics of to-contraction

> Dear Dan,
> An even better account, in my opinion, refers to frequency. As Joan Bybee
> has shown (in Phonology in the Lexicon, in Usage-based Models of Language,
> ed. Michael Barlow and Suzanne Kemmer), frequently used forms tend to
> shorten. This would explain why, e.g. "I('ve) got to ..." can shorten to
> gotta, in contrast with the presumably less frequent "I got to ...". The
> attraction of this explanation is that it avoids stipulating arbitrary
> connections such as the one you suggest. But of course it may be wrong, in
> which case its explanatory power dwindles to zero.
> Dick
> At 08:40 03/08/2001 -0500, you wrote:
> >Comments on the following would be much appreciated.
> >
> >In the early years of trace theory it was claimed that traces received
> >strong support from contraction facts. Recall that Chomsky proposed in
> >that traces
> >are left behind by moved elements, as in (1):
> >
> >(1) Mortimeri was seen ti by Bill. (Mortimer moves from the object
> >to subject position in the passive, leaving behind the trace, ti.)
> >
> >It was then noticed that although contraction is generally allowed
> >verbs and infinitival to
> >(and this is just part of a more general phenomenon: the cliticization of
> >function words in English and other languages, a quite common process),
> >in (2) and (3), it is not allowed if a trace intervenes, as in (4) and
> >
> >(2) a. Suzy promised [PRO to marry General Thade]. (PRO = understood
> >of infinitive in Government and Binding and other theories)
> > b. Suzy promistta marry General Thade.
> >(3) a. I want to go to town.
> > b. I wanna go to town.
> >(4) a. Whoi do you want PRO to see ti?
> > b. Whoi do you wanna see ti? (Contraction is OK across the PRO)
> >(5) a. Whoi do you want ti to see Bill?
> > b. *Whoi do you wanna see Bill?
> >
> > (5b) is ungrammatical according to this analysis because there can be no
> >contraction across a trace. (Traces are unlike PRO in being marked by
> >abstract, syntactic Case and being governed.)
> >
> >Pretty neat result. I certainly thought it was when I first saw it. But
> >other linguists (especially Geoffrey Pullum and Paul Postal, the two
> >principal critics of this proposal) were not so impressed. They brought
> >numerous facts which seemed problematic for the account. I
> >considered the issue unresolved and hadn't really thought about it much
> >years. However, Keren Everett in unrelated work on the phonology of
> >words in the Carnegie Mellon University automatic speech recognition
> >project, SPHINX, noted the following contrast, which made me rethink the
> >issue:
> >
> >(6) a. I got PRO to go. (meaning I have an obligation to go - notice that
> >isn't even clear this sounds right in the uncontracted form.)
> > b. I gotta go. (Sounds much better than (6a) to me.)
> >(7) a. I get PRO to go. (Indicating privilege.)
> > b. *I getta go. (Sounds terrible to me and may be unattested in the CMU
> >data base.)
> >
> >Chomsky's theory fails to predict the contrast between (6) and (7)
> >no traces are involved in either example.
> >
> >Note, too, the following additional contrast pointed out to me by George
> >Lakoff (email August 02, 2001):
> >
> >(8) a. I got PRO to go! (Past tense of get, indicating privilege,
> >for example, my boss let me go.)
> > b. *I gotta go. (The contracted form can only indicate obligation, not
> >privilege.)
> >
> >So, we have the following contrasts:
> >
> >(9) a. I wanna go.
> > b. *I getta go.
> >(10) a. I gotta go. (obligation)
> > b. *I gotta go. (privilege)
> >
> >Also, compare the following pairs (pointed out to me by Paul Postal email
> >08/03/01):
> >
> >(11) a. I ought PRO to go.
> > b. I oughtta go.
> >(12) a. I fought PRO to go.
> > b. *I foughtta go.
> >
> >The trace theory of movement has nothing to say about the examples in
> >(9)-(12). Therefore, it is too weak in this respect - it cannot handle
> >the facts. At the very least, we will need a separate account of other
> >of contraction.
> >
> >Let me tentatively propose a semantic account. Modal verbs involving
> >intention of the matrix subject may contract (form a single unit with)
> >infinitival. Otherwise contraction is not allowed.
> >
> >Now, how might we account
> >for the original contrast in (4) and (5)? In Role and Reference Grammar,
> >WH-questions are only possible of focused material in English (probably
> >universal). Objects (i.e. immediately postverbal arguments, since RRG
> >not recognize grammatical relations) are the unmarked focus position. For
> >subject to be questioned, however, it must be focused as well, but will
> >require a marked structure. This 'marking' is indicated by the phonology,
> >least in English. Now reconsider (4) and (5), repeated here as (13) and
> >(14), but without traces or PRO:
> >
> >(13) a. Who do you want [to see]?
> > b. Who do you wanna see?
> >
> >No special marking is needed for object questioning because of unmarked
> >English focus structure.
> >
> >(14) a. Who do you want [to see Bill]?
> > b. *Who do you wan[na see Bill]?
> >
> >In (14), however, RRG would disallow the contraction because it
> >the phonological salience indicating marked focus, a condition on
> >questioning subjects in RRG, as observed above.
> >
> >Therefore, the RRG (semantic/pragmatic) analysis seems superior to the
> >syntactic analysis.
> >
> >
> >Dan Everett
> >
> >
> Richard (= Dick) Hudson
> Phonetics and Linguistics, University College London,
> Gower Street, London WC1E  6BT.
> +44(0)20 7679 3152; fax +44(0)20 7383 4108;

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