Linguistics 001      Fall 2003     Homework 6     Due We 11/05

The three problems in this week's homework all require you to find and analyze some linguistic examples from on-line text.

In addition to presenting your finds in the way that each question tells you to, please print out the text(s) from which the examples came. In the case of short newspaper articles, you should just print the whole article; if the original text is too long, print at least a few paragraphs before and after each selection.

1. Quotative inversion

Here are some examples of quotative tags (in red):

"I think he was initially upset a little bit," Mathews said.
"The feeling is relief," said Penn coach Al Bagnoli.
“I haven’t heard them say they’ll surrender,” he told journalists at Nis airport.
"This boy had the good Lord riding on his shoulder that day," testified Dr. Martin Eichelberger.

Such tags provide attribution for a quotation that precedes them. They typically involve verbs of saying, such as "say", "tell", "explain", "testify", "whisper" and so on.

In some cases, the tag's subject precedes its verb: "Mathews said", "he told journalists". In other cases, the verb and subject are inverted: "said Penn coach Al Bagnoli", "testified Dr. Martin Eichelberger.

Looking in one or more on-line news sources, such as The Philadelphia Inquirer or The New York Times or Google News, find at least 10 instances of quotative tags with inversion of subject and verb, and 10 quotative tags without it.

In each case, show the sentence as it originally appeared, and also with the other inversion option, as in the examples below:

"I think he was initially upset a little bit," Mathews said. "I think he was initially upset a little bit,"said Mathews .
"The feeling is relief," said Penn coach Al Bagnoli. "The feeling is relief," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said.


If the other inversion option does not seem possible to you (because it is not grammatical in normal English writing), try to create the "impossible" form anyway, and indicate that it is ungrammatical by prefixing it with an asterisk, e.g.

"That's how it is," he told me. *"That's how it is," told he me.

If the modified version seems dubious to you, but not strictly impossible, you can use a question mark instead of an asterisk.

[Extra credit:] In the cases where both options might be possible, can you find any systematic patterns in the choice of one alternative over the other? This is by definition a stylistic issue, so keep in mind that some authors or publications might tend to prefer (or even to insist on) one alternative, while others might choose one or the other depending on the nature of the case.

2. Passive voice

Many English sentences can be presented in either an active or a passive form.

When this is possible, the transformation from active to passive (or passive to active) systematically re-arranges the noun phrases that are dependent on the main verb of the sentence. The subject of the passive version corresponds to the object of the related active sentence. The subject of the active sentence may be expressed in a by-phrase in the related passive sentence.

James Gentile was saved by his bulletproof vest. His bulletproof vest saved James Gentile.
Key communication hubs were damaged by fire. Fire damaged key communication hubs.
Three workers were reportedly overcome by the fumes. The fumes reportedly overcame three workers.
That question has been asked repeatedly in recent weeks by Condoleezza Rice Condoleezza Rice has asked that question repeatedly in recent weeks.

For each of the three sentence-pairs given in the table above, mark the subject and object in the active version.

Now find ten new passive sentences in some on-line text. In each case, present the original passive version, and a version that you recast in active form, as I have done in the table above.

Note that passive sentences often lack the by-phrase. In that case, put a "dummy" subject in square brackets in the active version that you create, as in the examples below:

The number of civil defense troops is expected to triple [someone] expects the number of civil defense troops to triple
the bodies of two victims were found in their cars [someone] found the bodies of two victims in their cars
FGFR3 mutations were detected in 27 of 32 G3 tumors [someone] detected FGFR3 mutations in 27 of 32 G3 tumors


You should be able to find plenty of passive sentences in journalistic prose, but if you want some richer ore, try scientific writing, for example the abstracts that you can find through PubMed.

[Extra credit:] One obvious reason to use the passive voice is to avoid having to specify an agent: "Mistakes were made". Can you think of some other reasons? Can you find evidence for them?

3. Possessive antecedents

Earlier this year, there was a fuss over a grammatical question that the Educational Testing Service had used in last fall's College Board exams:

Toni Morrison's genius enables her to create novels that arise from and express the injustices African Americans have endured.

Read Geoff Nunberg's explanation of the construction in this article, and then find at least five new examples of the controversial construction in on-line journalistic prose. For example, in this article we can find:

The meeting had been designed to allow communication in only one direction, and even in this it failed. Saddam's speech was meaningless to his listeners. Khodada despised him, and suspected that others in the room did too.


Their squabbles are interrupted by the good king's death and their realization of his greatness and importance.

and also

But dark forces invade the kingdom. Infidel outsiders pillage and destroy the village, aided by Zabibah's jealous and humiliated husband, who rapes her.

(I found these by searching in my web browser for the pattern 's -- I didn't have to look at many examples.)

In each of your examples, mark the possessive antecedent and the pronoun that refers to it:

Their squabbles are interrupted by the good king's death and their realization of his greatness and importance.

[Extra credit:] Nunberg observes that

If you accept that logic, you'll eschew sentences like "Napoleon's fame preceded him" (rewrite as "His fame preceded Napoleon").

Rewrite each of your five examples according to this prescription. Does the result work as well in the original context as the original wording does? Better? Worse? Why?


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