Monday, December 28, 2009

was was syntax

After re-reading my post below I had a moment of syntactic beguilement at my own use of the was that what X was that X construction:  Our group consensus was that what he really meant was that a linguistic topic was "interesting" if it helped him make his argument.

I imagined four relevant sentences; two grammatical/acceptable and two ungrammatical/unacceptable according to my own most excellent judgment*.  My challenge to you, dear reader, is to explain why sentences (1-2) are grammatical/unacceptable and why sentences (3-4) are ungrammatical/unacceptable.
  1. our consensus was that what he really meant was X
  2. our consensus was he really meant (that) X
  3. *our consensus was what he really meant (that) X
  4. *our consensus was he really meant was X
 *having been schooled by a prominent typologist, I avoid using the term "ungrammatical" in any strict sense, grammaticality judgments being such slippery things.

2 comments:

The Ridger said...

3. *our consensus was what he really meant (that) X
4. *our consensus was he really meant was X

Well for #4, "meant" doesn't allow "was X" as a complement; in "what he meant was" the "was" goes with the "what". Likewise in #3, the cleft construction "what he meant" needs the "was".

If you pull out the "our consensus was" you'll have "what he really meant that" and "he really meant was" - those clearly don't work.

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