Saturday, June 6, 2009

Syntactic constituents

I recently saw a KFC ad that gave me pause: Mix it in your bucket. Why is "mix" highlighted? My guess is that their ad campaign consists of a number of similar slogans, with the initial verb highlighted. Okay, so why did this strike me as odd? Because "it in your bucket" isn't a constituent. A syntactic constituent is, narrowly, a group of words which is entirely and exhaustively dominated by a single node, i.e., there is some syntactic node which dominates all of and only that group of words. More practically the domination doesn't have to be exhaustive: we could certainly say that "mix it" is a constituent, even though the IP node also dominates "in your bucket". But "it in your bucket"? Not even close. The most general parsing of the sentences would be [mix it][in your bucket], and most narrowly would be [[mix [it]][in [your [bucket]]]]. There's no way to derive a constituent "it in your bucket".


Margrete Dyvik Cardona said...

While your account of the sentence's syntactic structure is interesting and appropriate, I don't see how the commentary is relevant for the example in question. I doubt very much that the design of slogans such as that one are meant to, or required to, reflect the syntactic structure of the sentence. It is also not uncommon in everyday speech to 'highlight' certain semantic elements, event when they're not a syntactic constituent. Example: "Should I scratch it with this pin? -No, POKE it with the pin."

Anonymous said...

I don't think you should comment on one of their slogans, guessing that their other slogans accentuate other verbs, until you've seen other slogans or ads. I think they highlight "mix" because they've been trying for so many years to get away from the "fried" in "Kentucky Fried Chicken," since frying anything has become a no-no in current nutrition dogma. This way they can shout about their grilled chicken, and still keep their original product in the consumer's mind by encouraging him/her to MIX the two together in their trademark bucket.

Steve Politzer-Ahles said...

Like Margrete says, I think your first intuition is right--"mix" is probably highlighted because it's meant to be contrasted with some other verbs. "Mix it in your bucket", "eat it in your bucket", "squish it in your bucket", etc. You could even say them out loud and add stress on each of the verbs.

Circeus said...

I think this is a "virtual" oddity. I'm not clear why the mere fact that this is an imperative instead of a statement should cause the structure to change:
[[you][mix]][[it][in your bucket]]

Although one could arguably move the limit from between "mix" and "it" to after "it", "mix" and "it" are still obviously separate elements in the sentence, so why should that mysteriously change when it goes to imperative? (unless of course I'm misunderstanding your sense of "constituent")