A More Interesting Observation
Than You a Response
Aloysius Vinicius Perle
Western Nebraska Community College,
Recently, in the process of perusing a particularly brutal piece of syntactic analysis, we were reliably informed in a footnote that “Pico wrote a more interesting novel than Brio wrote a play” is an eminently asteriskable production—or, rather, non-production, as it supposedly would not be spontaneously produced outside the confines of syntacticians’ offices and insane asylums. Curious that, for not 24 hours earlier we encountered a statement on Facebook, “Everything’s bigger in Texas! Our state has more miles of unfinished roads than all other states together have finished!” Granted, this might simply be yet another consequence of the fact that Texas English has greater expressive resources than the straitened, heavily regimented variety favored in the Northeast that underlies such absurd statements from such quarters as the claim that English doesn’t allow multiple modal verbs in one verb phrase, in which case all one can say is, “Bless their dear old hearts, they really might shouldn’t ought to have said that.”
A bit of Internet snooping found several works on “Attributive Comparative Deletion.” However, after a couple of pages it seemed better to let them lie, for while gazing into one’s own navel is an all-too-common vice in certain circles, peering fixedly into others’ is at the very least unsavory and unseemly and in some jurisdictions a criminal act. Besides, in most navels all you’ll see is lint, or in the case of some navels opened to the public gaze as novels, a bowl of Cap’n Crunch. We then decided to test this claim by saying to the first syntactician we encountered the next morning, “I was reading Syntactic Theory last night, and I have to say, Emmon analyzed syntax more baroquely than Johann Sebastian wrote music.” The poor woman’s head bobbled up and down like a more rapidly oscillating floater above a hook, line, and sinker swallowed by a red herring than Wilhelm Friedemann’s laryngeal prominence when drinking another of his father’s cantatas as she replied, “And Emmon made semantic distinctions more rigidly than Richard portrayed seagulls woozily!”
Already we had obtained readier results than Johann Christian developed an organ technique, but we then ran into sociolinguistic difficulties when trying to replicate the results: (1) As our informants were syntacticians, some1 of them looked at us blankly and said, “Yo ho ho on sabbatical for music? What? Have we finally gotten rid of you for a while?” (2) Some2 of the rest said, “Emmon? Huh? [After a quick identification.] Oh, that’s right, he was pre-minimalist. Can’t say I ever needed to read him.” (3) The remainder: “Ø.” We then turned to more normal people like a few physicist friends and said, “Weber wrote a better concertino than Webster derived an equation,” to which the usual responses were: (1) “True, but Hugo wrote less interesting symphonies than Hannes discovered plasma waves.” (2) “Not only that, but George Whitefield wrote more charged music than James discovered a particle!” (3) “Indeed, just as Sergei wrote more transcendental études than Aleksandr produced publications, but less transcendental études than Aleksandr discovered results.”
Thus, we here at Speculative Grammarian would urge you to remember that just as Carl Philipp Emanuel inspired more great German composers than Barbara married Beatles, so culture has a stronger impact on a speaker’s full use of a language’s resources than a grad student downs a drink Friday evenings.
1 Well, one.
2 Well, one.