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Seminar 1

Constituents, Phrases, Ambiguity

1. What is a constituent? Are there any tests to determine whether a certain string of words
makes up a constituent or not? Use these tests in order to decide whether the following
underlined words count as constituents:
(i) The little boy from next door fed the cat without a tail.
(ii) I believe that they are invited.
(iii) Joh is very fond of Mary.
(iv) He returned from his travels wiser than before.
(v) They arrived at the concert hall more quickly than they had expected.
(vi) Ordinary cats detest the smell of oranges.
(vii) Cats are funny animals; The cats are thirsty.
(viii) She will write a book; She said that she wrote a book.
(ix) She will write a book.
(x) They threw in the towel; They threw the towel in the closet.

2. a. Find the NPs in the following contexts (from Mc Intyre 2014).


(i) They invited a group of interesting people to the party, but the person with the machine gun
was not on the guest list, to my knowledge.
(ii) I am glad that you remembered to buy the children presents, but if you give six year olds
Samurai swords, you’re not fostering harmonious interaction at the playground.
b. Find the VPs and the NPs in the following sentences:
(iii) Mary obviously reads the paper every day, but John also knows a lot.
(iv) Someone sent a book to Mary’s home, but she never received it.
c. Find the PPs in the following sentences
(v) Nearby there was a hole where a nail had been pulled out of the wall or had fallen out.
(vi) In the book in every chapter it is claimed without specific evidence that most of the
population cannot think for itself and will put faith in any frequently repeated claim.
d. Find the APs in the following sentences
(vii) Francine’s idea of a luxurious Sunday afternoon is to have a very hot bath while consuming
immoderately large amounts of affordably cheap French champagne or reading some articles
relevant to her work.
(viii) It is totally unfair that that large an amount of mind-numbingly boring work gets assigned
to her on an almost daily basis.

3. Here is a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, „Inversnaid”

This darksome burn, horseback brown,


His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fa´wn-fro´ th
Turns and twindles over the broth

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Of a pool so pitchblack, féll-frowning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew


Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft


Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

There are many words in this poem whose meaning we don’t know, but, surprisingly,
establishing the word class to which they belong is unproblematic. Determine the word class of
each of the italicized words in the poem, and give reasons for your choices. (from Aarts, p. 50)

4. Discuss the ambiguities that arise in the examples and identify the linguistic elements
that give rise to the multiple interpretations. After you have dealt with the examples one by one
try to classify them in terms of the cause of the ambiguity (from Haegeman 2006)

(1) Jackie Child’s youngest daughter was just two when she was jailed for manslaughter nine
years ago. (Guardian, G2, 27.7.2001, p. 10, col. 1)
(2) If you feel threatened in a taxi, firmly ask the driver to stop and get out. (based on Guardian,
G2, 7.3.2003, p. 7, col. 2)
(3) “I can’t get used to wearing my engagement ring yet. The other day I even scratched my nose
with it because it’s so big – the ring I mean.” (based on “Diana, a tribute.” Sunday Times
Supplement, Style, 7.9.1997, p. 11)
(4) In the survey, 200 couples were asked to keep reading diaries for three weeks. (Guardian,
27.5.2002, p. 8, col. 8)
(5) We need more robust measures. (Headline, Guardian, 29.11.2003, p. 20)
(6) Error lets bad meat trader off the hook. (Headline, Guardian, 24.5.2004, p. 6, col. 7
(exercise from Haegeman 2006: 47)