So, here's the first post. If this actually gets a lot of readers I may invest in an actual domain/web site, but as for now I thought I'd start on a free blogging site. I'd love to have other contributors, so if you're a fellow linguist let me know if you'd like to contribute. Really I'd like to expand this into a web site dedicated to teaching and learning linguistics, so if there's anything you as the reader don't understand or would like to know more about, let me know so I can post about it. Okay, on to the post.
A commercial last night caught my attention, one I had seen many times before but had never really paid attention to. It's a commercial for a birth control pill that promises shorter periods, and involves two girls texting each other. One says, "You mean I could have been at the beach?" The other replies, "You could." Not to say that I would process this as ill-formed, but it's definitely marked in my grammar. I would definitely say "you could have" in this context. The process at work here is of course VP deletion, whereby a verb phrase is deleted when it can be filled in through contextual clues, e.g., "You could (have been at the beach)."
Now, I'm not an expert on syntax, but as of now I've been taught that the modal verb occupies the I node, and each auxiliary constitutes the head of its own VP node, i.e., I' --> I (modal) VP, VP --> V (aux) VP, VP --> V' --> etc. In this case "could" would be the ultimate constituent in the I node, "have" would be the auxiliary in the V node of that first VP, and "been at the beach" would be the second VP. (In case it isn't clear from my vague notation, the first and second instances of VP are the same VP, and the third and fourth instances of VP are the same VP, i.e., the first of each pair shows how it is dominated, the second of each pair shows what it in turn dominates. If this was totally unclear in the future I can try to make illustrations for syntax trees.)
So we have two VP's, the first of which dominates the second: the first VP is "have been at the beach," while the second is just "been at the beach." Obviously it is this first, superior VP that the girl in the commercial is deleting. "You could (have been at the beach)." My personal grammar allows that as being well-formed, but would generate "You could have (been at the beach)." So it seems my grammar has a preference for deleting the lowest VP possible. This works for longer and longer VP chains as well. For instance, in response to "I must have been sleeping when you called," I would probably say "You must have been." Again the lowest VP is deleted, though I would also accept and probably say from time to time "You must have" or "You must." Though it makes sense, I had never thought about the fact that VP deletion can target any VP, which is especially striking when you have these chains of auxiliaries creating chains of VP's.
What about your grammar? Can you select any VP, or do you have to pick the highest, or lowest? For those who aren't syntax-minded, this translates to, would you say "you must," "you must have," or "you must have been" in response to the statement "I must have been sleeping"? My guess is that most if not all people would recognize all three as well-formed, but which do you prefer?
Jerome Stueart interview (pt. 3)
4 years ago