26 July 2007

Linguistic Frustration

I suppose it was a mistake listening to Alanis in the first place but in absence of my computer (Sony texted me today saying it should be with me tomorrow or on Monday), I've been listening to my iPod on shuffle and Head Over Feet (acoustic) cropped up yesterday (along with, coincidentally, a certain drive-time special by The Eagles).

As a linguist it pains me to listen to a certain line of the song as it violates a basic syntactic principle, namely that it fails the coordination test of constituency. Only constituents (the basic unit of X-bar syntax) can be coordinated and yet:

You held [your breath] and [the door for me]

The door for me is clearly not a constituent as it cannot stand alone (What did you hold? *The door for me), it can't be fronted without sounding like Yoda (*the door for me, you held) or clefted (*It was the door for me you held). Never mind that to hold one's breath is an idiom and shouldn't be coordinated with a separate clause that is trying to share the predicate.

Alanis obviously isn't a Chomsky fan (not that I am, I suppose, so fair enough).

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