LINGUIST List 8.1567

Fri Oct 31 1997

Sum: Sentence Acceptability (8.1555)

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  1. Carsten Breul, Sentence Acceptability (8.1555)

Message 1: Sentence Acceptability (8.1555)

Date: Fri, 31 Oct 1997 10:39:33 +0000
From: Carsten Breul <upp20aibm.rhrz.uni-bonn.de>
Subject: Sentence Acceptability (8.1555)

Dear LINGUIST-listers

Thank you very much to all who have responded (and perhaps
will continue to respond) to my sentence judgement task.
This is the result - with some of the comments or ratings
squeezed into one of the 3 categories 'acceptable',
'unacceptable' and '?' in which the latter stands for
'cannot decide'/'intermediate'/etc. (I have taken into
account the responses which reached me till Friday 31st
morning (here in Germany)):

1) Who did you buy recently that beautiful picture of?
acceptable: 1 ?: 2 unacceptable: 40

2) Of whom did you buy recently that beautiful picture?
acceptable: 2 ?: 2 unacceptable: 39

3) In which park did you say there could be seen last
week that huge portrait of Chairman Mao?
acceptable: 22 ?: 7 unacceptable: 14

4) Who did Bill purchase for last week an all expense
paid ticket to Europe?
acceptable: 1 ?: 2 unacceptable: 40

5) I don't remember which of his sisters Bill bought for in
Europe a fourteenth-century gold ring.
acceptable: 0 ?: 0 unacceptable: 43

6) This is the woman who Bill purchased from last week a
brand new convertible with red trim. 
acceptable: 2 ?: 4 unacceptable: 37

These sentences are from a book by M.S. Rochemont & P.W.
Culicover (_English Focus Constructions and the Theory of
Grammar_, Cambridge et al.: 1990) from chapt. 4 "NP Shift",
apart from a modification in 1),2), 3). Their versions are:
1/2a) '... buy yesterday a beautiful picture of.' 
3a) '... be seen last week a portrait of Chairman Mao.'

Rochemont & Culicover's judged all of these sentences '*',
i. e. unacceptable/ungrammatical, with slight reservations
(if I understand them correctly) for 3-6 (see ib.: 190, n.
30). 

What the sentences were supposed to test/illustrate is the
(un)possibility of shifting a direct object NP to the right
of an adverbial - 'recently', 'last week', etc. - in
certain constructions which involve wh-raising (as in
questions such as 1-4 and relative clause constructions
such as 5-6). Thus, the unshifted versions are as follows
(and assumed to be judged 'ok', if themselves partly
awkward, unlikely to be produced, very formal, very
colloquial, or semantically strange etc.):

1') Who did you buy that beautiful picture of recently?

2') Of whom did you buy that beautiful picture recently?

3') In which park did you say there could be seen that huge
portrait of Chairman Mao last week?

4') Who did Bill purchase for an all expense paid ticket to
Europe last week?

5') I don't remember which of his sisters Bill bought for a
fourteenth-century gold ring in Europe.

6') This is the woman who Bill purchased from a brand new
convertible with red trim last week. 

Somehow, I wasn't convinced that it should
always/principally/regularly lead to unacceptability to
shift the respective direct object NP to the right of an
adverbial. As always, the matter turns out to be much more
complicated than I hoped for it to be. What shall I make
of these results? Perhaps I should issue a new query,
asking for 'natural' examples of sentences structured
analogously (in the relevant aspects) to the ones above in
which the respective direct Object IS shifted to the right
of an adverbial. Then, however, I would have to explain
exactly what I mean by 'structured analogously (in the
relevant aspects)'. And this is not an easy task.

Dr. Carsten Breul
Englisches Seminar
Universitaet Bonn
Regina-Pacis-Weg 5
53113 Bonn
Germany

e-mail: c.breuluni-bonn.de
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