Author Topic: Plural Subject + Singular Agreement (Implied Clausal Subject)  (Read 833 times)

Online Daniel

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Re: Plural Subject + Singular Agreement (Implied Clausal Subject)
« Reply #15 on: May 17, 2018, 10:05:11 AM »
I wouldn't think commonly used (although perhaps in the right context), but something you could say. The meaning would be a pair of beverages you'd drink together. For example, it would make more sense to say something like "Vodka and water is better to avoid a hangover", meaning you'd drink some vodka and then some water, and repeat. Not a mixed drink, but a related pair. It's a single concept, but not a single entity.

In fact, a good example here would be a wine and meal pairing. "Red wine and steak is/?*are good." or "White wine and fish is/?*are good." I don't see that as an ellipsis of any obvious longer phrase either, but it's one semantic concept. Arguably "The pairing of..." but that phrasing seems more forced than the original. And it's really quite awkward to my ears if not outright ungrammatical (in the intended reading) to have "are" instead of "is".

To me, this is a simple choice on the part of the speaker as to whether they want to package the information as a single semantic concept, and if so then singular agreement is appropriate. That doesn't happen in all pragmatic contexts, but if the speakers wishes to phrase it that way, it works. Other times of course they won't want to phrase it as a single unit and instead you'd get plural agreement just like you could say "Red wine and steak are good" referring to two separate concepts, both of which are (potentially independently) good.
« Last Edit: May 17, 2018, 10:09:29 AM by Daniel »
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nico

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Re: Plural Subject + Singular Agreement (Implied Clausal Subject)
« Reply #16 on: May 17, 2018, 10:36:17 AM »
I am not a native speaker of English, but I studied in the UK and lived there for a long time. To me, at least in the British usage "Vodka and water" refers to a cocktail. Otherwise one would say "Either vodka or water..." in your example. But then again, I might be biased. However, I think it's important to clarify where one comes from in terms of orientation. I am absolutely anti-chomskian. To me, analysis starts from what people acutually say and not from what they might say but never do.
« Last Edit: May 17, 2018, 10:37:59 AM by nico »

nico

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Re: Plural Subject + Singular Agreement (Implied Clausal Subject)
« Reply #17 on: May 17, 2018, 10:42:34 AM »
I agree with "wine and steaks is good", but then again, to me it implies an omission along the lines of "(a meal with)...". Otherwise how would justify it?

Online Daniel

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Re: Plural Subject + Singular Agreement (Implied Clausal Subject)
« Reply #18 on: May 17, 2018, 12:58:36 PM »
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I am not a native speaker of English, but I studied in the UK and lived there for a long time.
I'm a native speaker of US English, and these nuances of unusual agreement are areas known to differ in US and UK English, so that's worth being aware of in the discussion. I can't comment on UK English, and it might be different from what I'm saying (or even narrower dialectal variation).

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To me, at least in the British usage "Vodka and water" refers to a cocktail. Otherwise one would say "Either vodka or water..." in your example.
True, confusing example. It's hard to come up with a good one for what I wanted, but just assume the context makes sense. Like I said, where you're trying to avoid drinking too much alcohol without water. Or if you go to a party and they're offering both (and only) beer and wine, and most people have a preference and drink only that, but then you say "Come on everyone, beer and wine is best!"

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However, I think it's important to clarify where one comes from in terms of orientation. I am absolutely anti-chomskian.
I've been trained in a Generative framework, but I also find Constructional approaches to be useful. In my research I'm looking into ways of taking the most important aspects of both. (I don't think it's an either-or answer.) Admittedly it's much easier to find fault with both theories than to be sure about which aspects of either are definitely correct.

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To me, analysis starts from what people acutually say and not from what they might say but never do.
That's complicated-- in principle I agree with you (and reject 'armchair' approaches to things in favor of gathering real data), but it is also important not to overlook more peripheral types of usage in favor of only common expressions. And this is actually where Construction Grammar excels!
Personally the biggest problem I have is that I think many armchair style Generative analyses are not clear enough (or imaginative enough) about the contexts in which an utterance might be used, and therefore miss generalizations about grammaticality. I'd rather think of it not as whether a sentence is, outside of context, grammatical, but what it would mean if it were to be used. So something like we're describing here does have a clear intuitive meaning to me, even though it's a very rare sort of expression. (But as a whole, certainly not unused. Just rare enough it's hard to think of specific examples. Searching in a large enough corpus would surely generate some results under the right parameters! This isn't just hypothetical.)

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I agree with "wine and steaks is good", but then again, to me it implies an omission along the lines of "(a meal with)...".
I don't understand your insistence that there must always be a source construction (rather than as one potential analysis). As I've said, I believe it is citing a grouping as a general concept, which is in that sense not countable, and therefore gets singular agreement. It's grammatically like a direct quotation, shielded from external grammatical relations.
In this case, "a meal with" is not the appropriate substitution because it is a more basic concept than that. Maybe it's a snack. Maybe it's a smell. Maybe it's a look in a photo. Maybe it's a recipe. Maybe it's a taste of a meal but not a full meal. Or if you change those two items for some other combination it might be any other number of things. Just because you can paraphrase it doesn't make it ellipsis. It may be analogical to diachronic ellipsis (as you made a case for earlier), but not every combination like this needs a specific source construction.

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Otherwise how would justify it?
That's easy! It's just a concept. Like an infinitive form of a verb with no tense, this is an "infinitive" form of a noun phrase, with no number. It's not being counted, so the grammar isn't sensitive to that either. It's a concept, like "mac and cheese" or "steak and eggs". It's not a set phrase (binomial) like those, but it works the same way because "wine and steak" is a pairing rather than a plural group of two. If you really need it to come from ellipsis, then I suppose you could claim all of this is something like "[a set of] wine and steak", and the set is what gets singular agreement. But I just don't have that intuition, although I admit that such an argument isn't really testable or falsifiable. Either "ellipsis" or "abstract concept" would give us the same data.

The reason for my strong intuition is because of minimal pairs like the following:
"Red wine and steak is delicious."
"Red wine and steak are delicious."
Those have very distinct meanings to me, exactly as would be predicted from what I'm saying about the two distinct analyses. The second is sensitive to grammatical number specifically because it is semantically different from the first. The second is a list. The first is an idea.
« Last Edit: May 17, 2018, 01:00:45 PM by Daniel »
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nico

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Re: Plural Subject + Singular Agreement (Implied Clausal Subject)
« Reply #19 on: May 17, 2018, 03:12:35 PM »
Let's agree to disagree. "An idea" is no linguistic parameter, whatever approach one might embrace. I agree with you about the fact that some combos are entrenched as units with a singular verb (in specific contexts to be defined), but this has nothing to to with the OP any longer.
« Last Edit: May 17, 2018, 03:22:04 PM by nico »

Online Daniel

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Re: Plural Subject + Singular Agreement (Implied Clausal Subject)
« Reply #20 on: May 17, 2018, 07:39:23 PM »
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"An idea" is no linguistic parameter, whatever approach one might embrace.
Indeed! That's why I'm saying this isn't a grammatical issue, because it's semantic agreement.

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Let's agree to disagree.
That's fine. One aspect of this discussion that confuses me, though, is that my explanation seems better suited to a constructional approach, and if you weren't explicitly stating that you don't adhere to Generative Grammar, that's exactly how I'd be reading your analysis. But maybe if I interpret your explanation in a broader functional way, where "ellipsis" doesn't mean something in a derivational sense, we're really saying the same thing. But I still wouldn't call it ellipsis, and either way I don't know how we'd test for that.
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nico

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Re: Plural Subject + Singular Agreement (Implied Clausal Subject)
« Reply #21 on: May 18, 2018, 12:58:07 AM »
Then define and motivate semantic agreement, please (I have an explanation myself, but I'll wait for yours first). Ellipsis is not derivational, no (also cf. Evans). It's a process by which speakers start dropping units at whatever level. They might do so for different reasons. Sometimes omissions are one-offs, sometimes the community adopts them and they become grammaticalized in the course of time. It is not always possible to reconstruct the source, but in most cases there are several plausible ones. I'll give you an example about something that is happening in current German (blogs, chats etc). German requires the subject to be expressed. So "what do you mean?" would be "was meinst du"?. More and more users write "was meinst?" by omitting the subject. This is a case of ellipsis. The extent to which this will cause German to become a pro-drop language in many, many years is not predicable.
« Last Edit: May 18, 2018, 01:08:45 AM by nico »

Online Daniel

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Re: Plural Subject + Singular Agreement (Implied Clausal Subject)
« Reply #22 on: May 18, 2018, 03:41:33 AM »
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German requires the subject to be expressed. So "what do you mean?" would be "was meinst du"?. More and more users write "was meinst?" by omitting the subject. This is a case of ellipsis. The extent to which this will cause German to become a pro-drop language in many, many years is not predicable.
That example makes sense to me. But I get a completely different intuition for the English examples we are discussing. (And note that in English you can do basically the same thing as in German conversationally. e.g. "Got it?")

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Ellipsis is not derivational, no (also cf. Evans).
I don't see that as a meaningful term then.

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It's a process by which speakers start dropping units at whatever level.
That's not what my intuition is for these constructions.

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Then define and motivate semantic agreement, please
Compare:
"Your family was nice."
"Your family were nice."
The speaker is expressing a different perspective on the number, or indeed countability, of "family". It wouldn't make sense to me to say that one is elliptical (or both), although you could claim something like "the members of..." without any direct evidence, if you insist on the vague idea of "ellipsis" in a non-derivational sense. But that could apply to literally any construction that has unusual forms, just imagine some extra structure that would make more sense and say it's "elided".

In this case, speakers are mentioning the idea of "two doctors" (or "red wine and steak") or whatever, and then discussing that conceptually rather than referring to countable entities.

I have a strong intuition about this, and just saying "there's something missing" isn't evidence against it. I'm not sure how to falsify either approach, except inasmuch as mine predicts much wider productivity whenever speakers wish to speak this way, and that's what happens. Since there is always going to be some structure you could claim is elided, that's not a way to test for this. And arguably everything is elided in some sort of cognitive analogy in describing the world. But I don't see that as explanatory in this case.

I would be willing to consider this a sort of Constructional derivation where the internal grammar of the construction is irrelevant because it is being mentioned rather than embedded. If that's "ellipsis" then OK. But it's not literally eliding anything. It's just mentioning a concept.
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Re: Plural Subject + Singular Agreement (Implied Clausal Subject)
« Reply #23 on: May 18, 2018, 04:07:02 AM »
I think we are merging two aspects. Let us leave the ellpsis story aside, which would be of diachronic interest, as I wrote before. From a synchronic point of view, the sentence with the doctors is a grammaticalized one (in certain contexts). So, if you argue from a constructional point of view you need to relate a certain syntactic form to a meaning, otherwise you are not arguing constructionally. So I'd formulate it this way: subject 1 and subject 2 + 3sg verb + adjective/adverb. Meaning "two entities are evaluated as jointly (not) fulling a certain purpose".
"Not" obviously stands for negation.
« Last Edit: May 18, 2018, 04:09:33 AM by nico »

Online Daniel

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Re: Plural Subject + Singular Agreement (Implied Clausal Subject)
« Reply #24 on: May 18, 2018, 04:47:32 AM »
This isn't a specific grammaticalized construction. It's possible in any context where citing/mentioning a complex NP is pragmatically appropriate instead of referring to individual entities. Literally any sentence/construction you can imagine would permit this, although of course rarely does English mark grammatical number so that it would be contrastive. Basically it would only ever appear with subject NPs. I don't know whether other languages behave similarly.

If you were organizing a photo shoot for some kind of advertisement and trying to decide who to put in the photo with the product, and you wanted to explain to someone about who to put in the scene, would this be appropriate in Italian?
"Il bambino e la bambina รจ perfetto."
If not, Italian is different from English. If so, wouldn't the same sort of mentioning-rather-than-referring apply?

Actually going back to something you said earlier, we could think of this as a sort of grammatical metonymy: we refer to the singular concept of a collection of entities in the singular because that is how they are pragmatically relevant.
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Re: Plural Subject + Singular Agreement (Implied Clausal Subject)
« Reply #25 on: May 18, 2018, 06:15:10 AM »
I have several arguments which prove that we are dealing with a construction (the one with the doctors) with a number of restrictions in case you should be interested.

Online Daniel

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Re: Plural Subject + Singular Agreement (Implied Clausal Subject)
« Reply #26 on: May 18, 2018, 07:44:46 AM »
Sure. But how can you "prove" a construction? Regardless, having a specific construction wouldn't mean that in the general case this isn't just a 'citation'/mentioning form.

Still, I don't think either of us has a direct counterargument to the other's analysis, or any way to (potentially) falsify either one. So we can just leave both as plausible explanations.
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Re: Plural Subject + Singular Agreement (Implied Clausal Subject)
« Reply #27 on: May 18, 2018, 07:59:14 AM »
As you prefer. You can prove a construction by showing that it only works with some restrictions (see Goldberg). To me linguistics is not about "proving" things, but about accounting for some phenomena, whereby there might be equally plausible accounts which completely differ from one another.

Online Daniel

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Re: Plural Subject + Singular Agreement (Implied Clausal Subject)
« Reply #28 on: May 18, 2018, 08:51:16 AM »
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You can prove a construction by showing that it only works with some restrictions (see Goldberg).
Well, in the general sense, I don't think there are restrictions on this use of singular agreement for plural-structured concepts. But perhaps in this particular case there are exceptions to that. I didn't mean that you shouldn't enumerate them here. I just meant that in general it's fine if we agree to disagree, because the different proposals we're making don't seem to make any different empirical predictions.
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Re: Plural Subject + Singular Agreement (Implied Clausal Subject)
« Reply #29 on: May 18, 2018, 08:59:37 AM »
They do, but I won't bother you any longer with this issue.