21 April 2008

LL made me do it

look at this here, a new post.  back from the dead.  Eric Bakovic posted a call for comment on a couple sentences over on Language Log, and I couldn't resist putting in a quick two cents.  i'm sure his comments will be more in-depth, but here's a quick shot before i head to bed.

the sentences in question are the following:
I’ll never forget how he must have felt. (overheard)
Aren’t you glad you archived instead of deleted? (over-read)

1. I'll never forget how he must have felt.
yeah, this is definitely semantically odd.  the intent and necessary pragmatic context seems pretty obvious to me, and i doubt that i would do a serious double-take at hearing it.  the oddity lies in the complement of forget, "how he must have felt."  there's no syntactic trouble, since similar constructions like "i'll never forget how that sunset looked" are unproblematic.  there is a semantic disconnect, though.  the predicate forget includes a presupposition, namely that whatever is to be forgotten was at some point known or experienced by the subject.  this is not realized in the complement "how he must have felt," because the experiencer in the complement is not the same as the experiencer of forget (the forgetter, if you will).

nevertheless, i can come up with two scenarios where this sentence could be used felicitously.  the first, and i think more plausible, interpretation is that the sentence means "i will never forget witnessing/experiencing his outward reaction of how he felt."  for example, someone just dropped a full cup of coffee all over himself; he makes an unforgettable yelp and a look of shock comes over his face.  it's an event not to be forgotten, and furthermore the onlooker has a pretty good idea of how a hot cup of coffee in the lap feels.  the second, and a little more strained, interpretation is that the forgetter has had a strikingly parallel experience, and therefore "how he must have felt" actually refers to the forgetter's experience, which is in keeping with the requirements of the predicate.  an example scenario: "his brother died of cancer last month.  i'll never forget how he must have felt (because my brother died of cancer too)."

2. Aren't you glad you archived instead of deleted?
maybe i've just been organizing my email too much recently, but this seems perfectly normal to me.  of course, if i look at it, i can see the object drop that's going on, which is uncommon for english.  ew, i thought simple reconstruction would do the trick, but that just creates more syntactic problems.  taking "your email" as the understood object of each predicate gives
*aren't you glad you archived your email instead of deleted your email/it?
bad, bad, bad.  this is definitely WTF coordination.  the closest grammatical paraphrase with reconstruction would be something like:
aren't you glad you archived your mail instead of deleting it?
the question then is whether this is still perceived as an oddity with truly unaccusative predicates.  are the following weird?
aren't you glad you walked instead of ran?
aren't you glad you whispered instead of shouted?
the walked/ran sentence seems more natural to me; it might have something to do with the fact that the forms are not morphologically parallel.  anyway, there is something about the "instead of..." clause that wants a tenseless verb form.  i'll leave it to Eric to flesh that out further.

more posts to come soon in the future?  maybe.  because i quit blogging when it starts to feel like work.  but when i have papers to write, blogging definitely becomes a preferable form of writing.  (huzzah, procrasti-tasks!)

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