Thursday, August 14, 2008

Raising to object

Up until a few days ago, I was under the impression that objects (the grammatical function, rather than the physical entities, though those too I suppose) had to be nouns. Then I ran across an observation in the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language which pointed out that PPs can occasionally function as objects as in:
The police considered under the garage a likely hiding place.
It's nice to learn something new, but somehow frustrating at the same time. PPs aren't supposed to do things like that. Now I have to reorganize a bunch of ideas and find other evidence for certain arguments. While my brain was busy doing this, it reasoned that, if PPs can be objects, why not adverbs?
She wanted it done immediately. Looking at the situation, he considered immediately impossible, but said he'd be able to deal with it before lunch.
Adverbs as objects!? I object. But there you are. Apparently this is called raising to object, something I haven't come across before but will now have to find out more about.

9 comments:

circeus said...

I believe the first case is just that-deletion (although a bit unusual here), and the second case is a mention/use case: adding quotes around the adverb makes the sentence much more usual.

Brett said...

The first certainly couldn't be that deletion. If we insert that, we end up with an ungrammatical sentence:

*The police considered that under the garage a likely hiding place.

As for the second sentence, you may be right. When I passed it by Rodney Huddleston, he opined, "It has some similarity to metalinguistic usage, and I'd be half-inclined to put quotes round `immediately'. It (almost) requires prior mention: the second sentence wouldn't be acceptable if the first was `She asked when he would do it'."

circeus said...

Of course, a "was" was deleted alongside it. To me it's a reduced form of "The police considered [that] under the garage [was] a likely hiding place."

I'm not familiar enough with formal theory to know what principle, if any, is the cause of the deletion of "was".

Brett said...

I think this is much more neatly handled by assuming that consider is a complex transitive verb, in other words, it takes an object and a predicate complement, for example:

She considered him rude.

We can't assume a missing that here because of the case of the pronoun.

When we make assumptions about deletions, we need fairly strong evidence to back them up. Otherwise, we just get too many ad hoc explanations where we can assume pretty much anything we want.

Circeus said...

Maybe. I am thoroughly unfamiliar with that construction (even In French I could never remember it's technical name when doing sentence analysis back in secondary school)

Anonymous said...

Why aren't PPs supposed to do things like that? It seems easy to come up with other situations where PPs act as nominatives:

Under the bed is my favorite place to hide things.

If it can be a subject, why not an object?

Brett said...

Well apparently they are supposed to do things like that. I just hadn't conceived of it before. Yes, I was aware that they could be subjects, but I thought that they, like adjectives, could only occur after linking verbs as complements, not as objects. Anyhow, I was wrong. It's not the first time.

Q Higuchi said...

The construction in question is often said to involve 'raising to object', where an element functioning as subject in a complement clause gets 'raised' to become object in its higher, matrix clause. So, parallel to

I consider (that) he is honest

where he is clearly the subject of '(be) honest', you get

I consider him to be honest
I consider him honest


where him is syntactically the object of consider, while maintaining the semantic relationship to '(be) honest'. So, the subject of the subordinate clause has been 'raised to object' of the matrix clause.

(In grammars and even in syntax textbooks, you often find statements like 'him here is a semantic subject of the subordinate clause but a grammatical object of the matrix clause', which however doesn't - or rather, shouldn't - make sense, because 'subject' and 'object' are terms for grammatical functions. This is how confusing the construction is. I believe there is no direct counterpart to this construction in French ...)

So it is not too surprising that we find non-prototypical subject appearing as non-prototypical object in this 'raising to object' construction: Under the garage is a likely hiding place (PP as subject) / The police considered under the garage a likely hiding place (PP as 'raised' object).

Adverbs can be subject, too - which means they can be 'raised object' as well:

Slowly is exactly how he speaks [taken from Quirk et al. 1985:736]/
We all expect slowly to be exactly how he speaks

If there is any difference in acceptability, it is probably due to semantic restrictions associated with the 'raising to object' construction.

For more on the construction, CGEL p.1201 is a good start. For subjects other than NPs, take a look at Quirk et al. (1985:736) (A comprehensive grammar of the English language)

Circeus said...

Higuchi, there actually is (and I briefly alluded to it above) an exact equivalent in French: Je le considère honnête.. It even work with the same verb you use!

"Expect" wouldn't work the same, though, because the equivalent verb only takes a required indirect object.