Monday, 30 August 2010

Co-ordination fail

One of the first topics in intro syntax classes is the notion of constituency, including a variety of tests which can be used to determine constituency. One of these tests is the co-ordination test: generally only items of the same syntactic category can be conjoined. Thus the following examples are fine: fresh and clean (coordination of adjectives), mad dogs and Englishmen (coordination of nouns [DPs]), (to) serve and protect (coordination of infinitive verbs). But verbs can't be conjoined in the same way with nouns, e.g. *I like mad dogs and to serve is bad; and prepositional phrases don't conjoin with nouns, e.g. *I like mad dogs and on top of the Empire State Building is also bad.

Here's a label I noticed which violates the co-ordination constraint:
*[DP Side Dish], [DP Soup Mix], [PP Over Rice]


  1. Recently, I noticed that an Indian English speaker may have been put in charge of the marketing campaign for Santitas, a Frito-Lay-owned brand of tortilla chips. For the last year or so, all of the packages have loudly proclaimed: "$2 Only!"

  2. No, that's just Strunk and White, or something similar.

  3. @Matt: Yes, that looks like definite Indian English. Indian products are often advertised as "Rs 50 Only!"

    @John: What is just Strunk and White?

  4. The insistence on placing only right after what is being marked as singulative. For example, the absurd claim that "I only hit him once" means that I alone hit him exactly once, whatever others may have done.

  5. Is this really in Strunk & White? I have the opposite intuition: in (standard, non-Indian) English, only can only apply to something in its c-command domain. Thus, in "I only hit him once", only could apply to hit or him or once, but not to I.

    Interestingly, in Hindi, the common word for only, sirf also occurs before the word it modifies. The Indian English use of only occurring *after* the word it modifies seems to gloss the Hindi particle , which is an enclitic (attaching to the right edge of what it modifies). , in fact, doesn't mean precisely "only"; it can add a meaning like "only", but it also has a more general emphatic use: which presumably accounts for some of the other differences between Indian and non-Indian English uses of only.