I recenty bought the book English Syntax and Argumentation by Bas Aarts. Good book. On reading it, several questions sprang to mind and I wanted to see a syntactician in the flesh who could help me. I went to the University, to the Department of English Linguistics. I walked up and down the long and empty corridor, and had my nose around. This was the first time I had been there. After a while, I noticed a man approaching me. He sauntered aimlessly with a leisurely gait. He looked like someone who had time for me. "Here is my man," I thought. When he came close to me I addressed him: "Excuse me, do you happen to be good at syntax?" Well, with the benefit of hindsight, this must not be the most fortunate way of expressing myself. There was eerie silence shortly followed by his utterance snarled in a tone of blatantly obvious resentment and indignation. He did not give me the counsel I sorely needed. The rest of what happened I leave to the reader's vivid imagination. You know, there was not a strikingly conspicuous advertising gimmick attached to the man's body saying "Hey, I am a syntactician". As it turned out, I was speaking with the head of department, who wrote many authoritative books on generative grammar. I guess I managed to put my foot in my mouth. I told my story to my wife and she almost suffocated after she collapsed in a fit of laughter. She said my question was tantamount to asking "Excuse me, professor, do you happen to have the faintest idea of what you teach?" In my opinion, she is not correct as I might, with an equal degree of probability, be right in conjecturing that he was a professor in literature, or even the porter, who had been lost. I missed the professor's casual approach to handling the situation. It should have been obvious for him there was no malice in my act, only lack of good judgment.
Have I made a serious faux pas, in your opinion?
What were those questions which emerged from your reading? Were they worth making this alleged blunt?
Were they worth nosediving?
Your English is truly impressive !!!
Thanks guys for your comments. Often times it is hard to find the most appropriate style, especially when you have to do it on the hoof. I suck at it, on the hoof, off the hoof.
Hi Chomat, Mercie bien. My question was related to the elicitation of the subject in a sentence. There is a vague semantic notion as well as distributional tests (syntactic means) to which we can resort to lure the "S" out of its shell.
Consider this sentence:
Neither he nor I am rich.
According to the book I already mentioned, the subject of a sentence is identified by the unit which is being referred back to by means of the pronoun in the tag question. What tag can we append to this sentence to seek the hearer's confirmation of what is being stated? 'Neither' and 'nor' have negative values; negative statements attract positive tags; the operator is the correct form of 'be'; the pronoun refers back to 'he' and 'I', that is, to 'we'. Thus we might get,
Neither he nor I am rich, is he or (is) I?
Neither he nor I am rich, are we (= he and I)?
. In either variant, the two forms of 'be' do not tally. Should this not set alarm bells ringing? Is the tag, subject-operator inversion aside, not the reduced form of the sentence it is tagged onto?
I am at the end of my tether. There are many more tiny holes I can't fill.
In British English we nose around/have a nose around when looking around.