X-Ing It Up: Meandering
Musings of a
In the closing minutes of a final year class on the Binding Theory the other week, one of the less attentive but ever lycra-clad students, Charleene (yes, three e’s) piped up “I’m yoga-ing it up all this coming weekend, y’all.” As a British visiting professor at a southern US University, I was unable to reply for some seconds due to the online processing load of “y’all”. The other students were quicker to reply. Masie (who intriguingly is always first to submit the online exercises but is always late to class) wanted to know where and with whom—and whether she could come too. Mike was effusively over-positive: “Oh that’s simply great, Charlz; you’re gonna have an amaaaazing time!” Stephan, however, ever serious, had this to say: “I thought a pronoun derived its interpretation from an antecedent in a specific syntactic configuration with that pronoun. So: what is it?”
This got me thinking. What’s the it in “yoga-ing it up all weekend”? As a denominal verb, yoga-ing could be argued to retain some covert nominal features which allow it to act as antecedent for it. However, by Condition B (and I knew this as I’d just been teaching it) it cannot have a local antecedent, even if yoga-ing is covertly nominal. In any case, removing the it from the same clause as yoga-ing (i.e. *“I’ve been yoga-ing with Mary who agrees that it up”) does nothing for interpretability.
Perhaps, I thought, it is non-referential. “It seems ...”, “It is necessary ...”, and “It is held to be true that ...” are all well understood uses of non-referential it. It shouldn’t (there we go again!) be antithetical to the formative to cling so tightly to yoga-ing. But then, these forms alternate freely with non-non-referential forms: “I seem to be digressing” ~ “It seems that I’m digressing”. But no such alternation is yogically available: *“It yoga-s I’ve been up” is not remotely grammatical.
My thoughts alighted on the fact that it is in object position—not dissimilar to quasi-idiomatic expressions such as “She’s made it in business” where it is arguably non-referential. I had just jumped over the hurdle of the irrelevance of “He’s made it all up” and was just about to join the syntactic dots when I was wakened from my reverie by the very Masie who had meandered in earlier at 5 past the hour, demanding to know when the online exercises would be released. Alas, I realised, my musings had not waited for the lecture to end but had bubbled forth there and then in front of the students. Stephan was standing, bemused, still expecting an answer; Mike was telling someone else how “fantaaastic” her new haircut was; Charleene had left, with all her e’s, to Yogaville, one assumes.
Anyway, my musings punctured by the bare phrase structure necessities of administration, marking and grant proposals, I was unable to find the time to return to thoughts regarding Charleene’s yoga-ing it up and I regret to say that my understanding of the syntax and semantics of it in this structure is and will remain in inverse proportion to Charleene’s probable skill at Downward Dog. I fear I’ve X-ing-it-upped it up as much as I can for one career—perhaps you or someone you know would like to take up the challenge.