LINGUIST List 8.1581

Tue Nov 4 1997

Sum: Addendum sentence acceptability

Editor for this issue: Elaine Halleck <>


  1. Carsten Breul, Addendum sentence acceptability (8.1555, 8.1567)

Message 1: Addendum sentence acceptability (8.1555, 8.1567)

Date: Tue, 4 Nov 1997 09:10:04 +0000
From: Carsten Breul <>
Subject: Addendum sentence acceptability (8.1555, 8.1567)

Dear all (especially those who have kindly responded to my query on
sentence acceptability (8.1555) and the corresponding summary

First of all, I must apologise. Only now have I realised (by the help
of some of the responses) that I made a big mistake in constructing my
sentences (1) and (2), i.e. in modifying the original ones from
Rochemont & Culicover. In using 'that' instead of 'a', I made it
pragmatically/semantically impossible to construe the sentences so as
to ask for the person who is depicted in the picture. (The reading in
which the speaker asks for the person from whom the picture was bought
is NOT intended). I give the sentences once again:

i) Who did you buy yesterday a beautiful picture of? 
ii) Of whom did you buy yesterday a beautiful picture?

These are judged '*' by Rochemont & Culicover while the following ones
with the adverb and the direct object reversed are judged 'ok':

i') Who did you buy a beautiful picture of 
ii') Of whom did you buy a beautiful
picture yesterday? 

Now, what I am after is to find out if this contrast in acceptability
is really as strong as Rochemont & Culicover suggest so that we may
suspect a grammatical principle behind it. (I doubt that.)

Some of the responses seem to imply that it is NOT PRIMARILY the
adverb position in (4)-(6) which makes them unacceptable but rather
the intrusion of semantically ridiculous meanings. This is supported
by the fact that (4')-(6') (i.e. the versions with the adverb in a
more 'natural' position) is not considered to be much better than
(4)-(6) by a number of people.

To sum up: What I am after is the (non-)possibility of shifting the
direct object to the right of the adverb in such constructions. If
the unshift-versions are problematic/marginal/semantically odd/etc. in
themselves then it becomes difficult to decide if the unacceptability
of the shift-versions is due to a 'rule' which prohibits such a shift
or to an increase in pragmatic/semantic 'oddity' over an acceptability

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

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