LING 001 -- Homework 5

(Due 11/02/2011)


1. Identifying (tensed) clauses and levels of clausal embedding.

Over the past few hundred years, there's been a general trend in English-language writing towards sentences that are not only shorter, but also "flatter", with few layers of clausal embedding. A weblog post "Inaugural embedding" illustrates this for the inaugural addresses of three U.S. presidents.

Your task is to do a similar analysis on two state-of-the-union addresses from different time periods. You can find a complete set of SOU texts here.

Here's the sort of analysis we're asking you do, applied to the first sentence of George Washington's 1796 SOU:

0 In recurring to the internal situation of our country 
1 [since I had last the pleasure to address you],
0 I find ample reason for a renewed expression of that gratitude to the Ruler of the Universe
1 [which a continued series of prosperity has so often and so justly called forth].

Background: English sentences often contain several clauses with independent tensed verbs. For the purposes of this exercise, a subordinate clause introduced by a word like because, although, before, etc., should be treated as introducing a new level of embedding, whether it follows or precedes the main clause:

0 She's stinks at tennis
1  [although she's an excellent pitcher]]
1  [Although she's an excellent pitcher] 
0 she stinks at tennis

Similarly for relative clauses, both "restrictive" and "non-restrictive":

0 The game 
1 [that she prefers]
0 is badminton
0 The game of badminton 
1 [which was invented in India]
0 is her favorite

And likewise for those words (adjectives and nouns as well as verbs) that take tensed clauses as complements:

0 I predict 
1 [that the Phillies will win]
0 I'm confident 
1 [that the Phillies will win]
0 My prediction 
1 [that the Phillies will win]
0 is based purely on sentiment

Note that the content of a subordinate clause can often be conveyed using a noun phrase:

0 He missed the midterm 
1 [because his grandmother died]
0 He missed the midterm because of his grandmother's death
0 He missed the midterm because of his grandmother dying

In a full syntactic analysis, these structures are similar to tensed clauses except for the node labels. But for the purposes of this question, we only want you to identify embedding of full clauses with tensed verbs.

For the purposes of this exercise, do not treat parallel sentences conjoined with and as clausal embedding.

0 She's an excellent tennis player and she also collects antique cars

2. Inferring constituent structure

Use the principles found in Beatrice Santorini's chapter on Syntactic Consituenthood to determine the constituent structure of one of the sentences from the SOU messages that you've analyzed in (1). Pick a sentence that contains at least one subordinate clause.

Represent the resulting structure as a syntactic "tree". Since the cited chapter does not try to explain to you how to label the non-terminal nodes (those that don't correspond to words in the text), you don't need to introduce any constituent labels (though you won't be penalized for attempting to do so).

Briefly justify the choices you made.

3. Identifying the passive voice.

You'll often hear the passive voice denigrated as weak or evasive, usually by people who are deeply confused about what the passive voice actually is. For more about the confusion than you could possibly want to know, read this page and the links therein, especially "How to defend yourself from bad advice about writing", and "When men were men, and verbs were passive".

If you're not sure how to tell whether an English verb is in the passive voice or not, the Wikipedia article may help you.

Demonstrate your mastery of the terminological question by marking all the cases of passive voice (in tensed verbs) in your chosen State of the Union addresses. What percentage of tensed verbs were passive?

Which of the sentences containing passive verbs, in your opinion, would have been better if re-written to use active-voice verbs?