13 April 2007

doubly headed DPs (or, why linguists can never explain themselves to writers and editors)

i swear this isn't a sports blog, but i'm a sports junkie and thus we have yet another post that's inspired by sports journalism of one type or another. this comes courtesy of a quote from The Mining Journal via mgoblog:

“It was The Eric Puls’ Show,” Marquette head coach John Tiziani said.
there's something wrong with how coach Tiziani's quote has been transcribed. looking only on the surface, the answer is quite simple: there is an extra apostrophe where there shouldn't be. but that little squiggle carries different weight on different levels. it is orthographically overt, phonologically null (to some at least...i would read [pʊlz] rather than [pʊlzəz]), and syntactically rich. it is, after all, a determiner.

i remember thinking that it was crazy when i was told that the genitive ending in English is actually a determiner akin to the, his, a, etc. yet the Mining Journal's extra apostrophe gives just the data necessary to prove it so. consider:
  1. The Eric Puls Show (1 Det)
  2. Eric Puls' Show (1 Det)
  3. ?Eric Puls Show (0 Dets)
  4. *The Eric Puls' Show (2 Dets)
(1) and (2) are both perfectly fine syntactically, even though they carry slightly different meanings. (3) is not so good, and (4) is right out, and for good reasons. there is only one DP, but two determiners: the and 's. a clear violation of one of the central principles of X'-theory, namely that every X0 head must have one and only one maximal projection and that each Xmax phrase must have one and only one head.

this is all well and good for syntacticians. now try to explain it to Mr. Bronz of the Alpena News who wrote this article. or to the editor of the Mining Journal. after all, he left the extra apostrophe in (or worse, added it himself). chances are quite good that they have no conscious knowledge of what a determiner is. then you have to convince them that 's is one. then you have to give them a crash course in phrase structure. by this time, they'll have erased and re-inserted the apostrophe three or four times. and if you're lucky they'll finally cave and say "yeah, there was an extra apostrophe. it's gone now. (crazy linguist...)"

1 comment:

Lucretia said...

Good for people to know.