LINGUIST List 4.844

Fri 15 Oct 1993

Disc: That'll teach you

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  1. Paul T Kershaw, That'll teach you

Message 1: That'll teach you

Date: Tue, 12 Oct 1993 19:52:08 That'll teach you
From: Paul T Kershaw <>
Subject: That'll teach you

Context of discussion: (1) can have any of the readings described in (2):
(1) That'll teach you to come early.
(2) a. As a result of some consequence of your actions, you have learned it is
wise to come early.
 b. As a result of some consequence of your actions, you have learned it is
wise not to come early.
 c. The item diectically referred to (e.g., a computer) has been designed so
as to show you the wisdom and methods in coming early.

Contrast data:
(3) a. That'll teach you about coming early.
 b. That'll teach you about not coming early.
(4) a. That'll teach you to not come early.
 b. That'll teach you not to come early.

I chose the example in (1), which is new to the discussion but of the same
structure as previous examples, because it is easy to create contexts where
either (2a) or (2b) is possible (ignoring, as has been wisely suggested, (2c),
which is another linguistic issue). That is, (2a) is the more obvious reading
in context (5a), while (2b) is more obvious in (5b):
(5) a. A: The party was at eight o'clock, but when I showed up at quarter-past
all the food was already gone.
 B: That'll teach you to come early.
 b. A: The party was at eight o'clock, and when I showed up at quarter-til,
Chris wasn't quite ready so I had to help out getting things ready.
 B: That'll teach you to come early.
Do we wish to say that (2a) and (2b) reflect an ambiguity on the part of (1)?
On the surface, it might appear so (and has been suggested so), but I think
not. In both cases, we have the basic structure: You did X. X had bad
consequences Y. In the future, you will do the opposite of X.
 Put more specifically: There is a question as to whether one should come
early or not. There are two possible actions: come early, or don't come
early. Try one of the two actions. Witness negative results. Conclusion: do
the other of the two actions.
 The difference is in whether the postive or negative action is being
referred to as the original action is dependent on context. Notice further
that the inclusion of the negative element does not effect the logic in the
above paragraph, since this is a binary example -- either you come early, or
you don't (therefore if you don't not come early, you come early). The same
can be said for telling lies, come to faculty meetings, or just about any
other action.
 It seems that the intonation pattern in (5aB) and (5bB) is different: in
(5aB) the usual (I think) pattern ends high, with greatest stress on "ear",
while in (5bB) the greatest stress is on "That". There is another possiblity
(for me):
(5) c. A: The party was at eight o'clock, and when I showed up at quarter-til,
the cake was unfrosted so I got to frost it AND lick the bowl clean. I love
doing that.
 B: That (sure wi)ll teach you to come early.
Here the situation is again not too different. Here, instead of negative
results, we witness positive results, and conclude that we should continue the
original action. However, the fourth possibility (don't do, positive results)
is not possible:
(5) d. A: The party was at eight o'clock, and when I showed up at
quarter-past, the food was just out of the oven, so I got the best pick without
having to do any work.
 B: !!That'll teach you to come early.
(unless, of course, we have a Wayne's World "... NOT!", implicit or said by A
in response).
 So what do we have? Three-way ambiguity (do it, neg results; don't do it,
neg results; do it, pos results)? Or can my algorithm above be made to jive
with the data?
 Notice than in all three possibilities, we do X at some point, either as a
cause, as a result, or both (assuming the implication that we will at some
point in the future have the ability to do X or not. This would be a problem
in "That'll teach him to stand at Ground Zero during nuclear testing", assuming
do it/neg results.) That is, we have:
 Came early? Results Conclusion
(5a) No Bad Next time, come early
(5b) Yes Bad Next time, don't come early
(5c) Yes Good Next time, come early
 !!(5d) No Good Next time, don't come early
That is, in (5a-c), the issue of "coming early" is present at some point,
whereas in (5d) it isn't (only the issue of "not coming early" is).

This analysis is more addressed to discussions, not the original query, which
asked merely why (2) and (4) acted like (3) when logically it shouldn't. I
responded to the original querent, but let me reiterate my comments (quickly)
here: the participle/infinitive alternation in English sometimes cause a
difference in meaning and sometimes doesn't. Cf. (6) and (7):
(6) John remembered to lock the door.
 John remembered locking the door. (difference in meaning)
 (7) It is nice to help poor students.
 Helping poor students is nice. (No appreciable difference in meaning).
It may be that while the context in (1)/(3) seems to beg an analysis parallel
to that in (6), it may be that for some reason it has acquired an analysis
parallel to that in (7). I don't know.

Another frame, by the way, that exhibits similar behavior: I'm having trouble
with... This caught my ear when it was said by my wife a few days back:
(8) I'm having trouble with losing my voice today. (=I'm losing my voice, and
I'm trying not to.)
Contrast this to:
(9) I'm having trouble with doing these Calculus problems. (=I'm not figuring
them out, and I'm trying to.)
I'll save comments on that for other postings.

 -- Always have been and still am, Paul Kershaw, Michigan State University,
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