Linguimericks—Book ९२ SpecGram Vol CXCII, No 2 Contents Attenborough to Receive Second Knighthood—But Can Linguistics Cope With It?—The Lord Earl-Baron of Ovathatopp-Taytles


Deedles D’Dee

A line of lexemesthat’s syntactic!
‘Cat sees dog’ and ‘dog sees cat’;
But don’t forget: that line’s elastic—
And syntacticians think ’bout that.
‘What the dog sees is the cat’
Is a fine example of just that.
So now,
Let’s go
And see what other syntax rabbits we can pull from the lingua hat.

Often lexemes line up neatly
One-by-one and in a row:
‘[I [eat [frogs legs]] [two times weekly]]’
With the brackets we can show
That lexemes gather into phrases
Which are subparts of the clause as
Which fit
In a nice, neat ordered line of lexemes senza gaps or traces.

Is all syntax of this order?
Let me tell you: it is not!
Lexemes like to cross the border
Off they journey, off they trot.
These discontinuities
Which speakers manage fluently
For those hungry theoreticians seeking out congruity.

Let us list some first examples
Of discontinuities:
Wh-; and when words scramble;
Topicalisationthat makes three.
Extraposition is a fourth
You may find others further north
But those
I chose
Are quite enough to illustrate in what we’ll say henceforth.

Extraposition: what might that be?
‘The rightward movement of material’.
Like moving a boat to the land from the sea,
Or removing the milk from a bowl of cereal,
Extraposition takes some string
And, usually for a processing win,
Drifts it
Shifts it—
Out to the right it flies on the wing of a discontinuity fling.

Here’s an example to concretise:
‘Something occurred [that was unexpected]’
A simple structure underlies:
From the N-head ‘something’ an NP’s projected
Being N plus the bracketed relative clause.
But here it would seem that the speaker chose
To send
To the end
Of the V the RC string where it sits from the head of its phrase disconnected.

(You might have noticed in the previous lines
More examples of extraposition.
One, which we tend to use all the time
Can be seen in the two-word line, line seven:
‘Send’ is a clear ditransitive verb
The object NP begins with the words
‘The RC ...’.
Can you see
How it sitsin the endto the right of the second object ‘Of the V[erb]’?

A second example in that self-same stanza:
In the final line, consider ‘sits’.
In a second discontinuity bonanza
There’s a second string which is a bit
Discontinuous: ‘sits disconnected’
These two lexemes are separated
It’s plain
Although the two are apart in the string, they’re syntactically related.)

That’s extraposition! Perhaps one more:
The one that everyone knows about.
It’s super central and centrally core;
The textbooks whinge and whine and shout
About its importance page after page
As if it were endlessly all the rage,
You know,
Many languages don’t exhibit it, let alone putting it center stage.

Of course, as you know, I’m talking about
The process often called ‘wh-
Movement or fronting’; without a doubt
It gets well covered on the textbook page.
‘Who(m) do you work for __?’; ‘Where’s the loo __?’
‘Why did you say that you want to sue __?’
The gap where the fronted wh- material used to go.

Now we won’t discuss the other two:
Scrambling and topicalisation.
There’s plenty of stuff, dear reader, for you
To find on these. We’ll simply mention
That the self-same operation,
So-called discontinuation,
A string of lexemes, occurs in these. And now to ‘explanation’.

Yes, in the realm of the theoretical
There’s models aplenty to account
For this behaviour which seems quite heretical
Appearing perhaps to maybe flout
The principle of constituency.
In both generative and dependency
There’s something here which is often considered syntactically noteworthy.

Of course in generativism we see
That the ever-present transformation
Which gets us from A to any B
Is the perennial explanation
For any string that puzzles us;
Quickly, simply, without fuss,
And state
A movement rule which sorts it out and then there’s simply no more to discuss.

But many theories are mono-stratal—
And that’s where my thoughts tend to sit.
Take RRG which sees as fatal
GG’s view that we should split
Some deeper structure from the surface.
Prof Van Valin got very nervous
Went on about two levels so he threw them both in the role and reference furnace.

The same would hold of CxG
(That’s of course Construction Grammar).
Lackoff, Fillmore and Paul Kay
Croft and Goldberg take a hammer
To the heart of Chomsky’s oeuvre:
‘Take this Chomsky, watch us serve ya,
Fast ’n’
CxG-y tennis balls that should, in truth, a little bit unnerve ya’.

So in these mono-stratal models
Our discontinuities
Need looking at through different goggles
Not with transformation trees.
RRG would simply plop
A wh- in the Precore Slot;
While C ...
... xG
Would go, I’m sure, with some new schema coz that’s what CxG-ers like a lot.

OK, the above is pretty sketchy—
I haven’t diagrammed it out;
But please, dear reader, don’t get tetchy
This here poem’s not about
A full and comprehensive model
Of the messiness and muddle
We’ve got
When strange discontinuities move in next door and start to cause some trouble.

So let’s bring things to some conclusion:
What’s been done and what’s been said?
We’ve not created some great fusion
Of the beast with many heads.
We’ve simply noted four nice ways
In which discontinuities
And tried
To look into some basic things that a subset of the syntax models says.

But note these discontinuities
Have a particular definition
Syntax asks you reader, please
To make a clear and sharp distinction
Between the forms of this discussion
And clefting, shifts and dislocation
Which are
It’s clear
A different beastthough there may be a certain kind of syntax-y relation.

But these are not for this occasion;
We’ve had a good ol’ look around
The rich and complex sub-domain of
Discontinuitiesand we’ve found
That syntax is not simple, friend:
It’s up the wall and round the bend.
But we
That just as discontinuities are at and on the edge,
This poem hasand none too soonnow reached its end.

LinguimericksBook ९२
Attenborough to Receive Second KnighthoodBut Can Linguistics Cope With It?The Lord Earl-Baron of Ovathatopp-Taytles
SpecGram Vol CXCII, No 2 Contents