Thursday, October 25, 2007

I believe you that it's terrible

Let me start out by saying I don't expect the title of this post to be well-formed for everyone. Feel free to comment if you view it as ill-formed. But at least for me, this is indeed well-formed, and has a specifically different meaning from "I believe that it's terrible." The verb "believe" can take several different types of complements: a simple NP such as "you," a clausal complement such as "that it's terrible," or a PP like "in you." We're only concerned with the first two here. I'd say most of the time you would pick just one of these possibilities, but at least some of the time I'll come out with something like the above "I believe you that it's terrible." Semantically it's pretty straightforward: a combination of the sentences "I believe you" and "I believe (that) it's terrible." But how would we parse this syntactically?

In today's binary branching G&B X'-theory trees, I think the idea that the V "believe" takes two complements, "you" and "that it's terrible" (and two complements of different types, mind you) would be pretty much rejected out of hand. I suppose I would probably parse it as VP --> V' --> V' CP, where that second V' is "believe you" and the CP is "that it's terrible." Still, this doesn't seem quite right because "believe you" is a constituent, as it should be, but "believe that it's terrible" is not. It's as if the V "believe" is simultaneously taking two complements, either of which can be dropped, but as far I know there's no way to represent that in X' theory.

Just to wrap up, I'll clarify what the different between "I believe that it's terrible" and "I believe you that it's terrible" is, for those who would never use this construction. The former is simply a statement of belief, without reference to the interlocutor or anyone else, whereas the latter is stressing the fact that I believe what the speaker is saying, in addition to restating whatever it is that he's saying. "I believe that he won" is merely saying that I think it is the case that he won, whereas "I believe him that he won" is expressing that he told me he won, and I believe him.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks heaps, Ryan, for the post.I've benefitted from your thoughts on linguistic issues in general.


Ayed, Riyadh, Saudi Arabian.