Friday, March 02, 2007

Headed back again

Back in December, I discussed Richard Firsten's analysis of "She's headed for the beach." In his newest Grammatically Speaking column, he tries to explain that in the last column, he didn't mean that headed was an adjective, but merely that it was being used "adjectivally". It's not really clear what he means here, but it seems that, following this example, he would consider all participles in passive constructions like 'he was eaten' and all in progressives like 'he is eating' to be an "adjectival phrase". I don't find this either convincing or helpful.

Richard goes on to say that "is headed for the beach" is a statal passive. According to Huddleston's Introduction to the Grammar of English, "a statal passive ... attributes a certain property to the (subject), that of being in the state resulting from (an) event." Huddleston goes on to say that the participles in statal passives can also appear after other copulative verbs, as in "the vase appeared / seemed / looked broken." Neither of these properties hold true for our headed example. Being headed for the beach is not the result of an event, nor can we say "She seems headed for the beach" (a web search will turn up thousands of hits for "seems headed", but all appear to be headlinese.)

[Update: Upon further consideration, I think this IS a statal passive. I was having serious trouble dissociating the movement entailed in heading for something from the grammatical properties of the sentence. After some thought and research I now think that a defining characteristic of statal vs. dynamic verbs is that you cannot refer to a point inside dynamic verbs without using the progressive. States, in contrast, allow such reference. So we have
  • At 2:00 she was headed for the beach. (2:00 is a point inside the state)
  • At 2:00 she walked to the beach. (2:00 cannot be a point inside the dynamic occurrence)
To my chagrin, I now believe my initial analysis was incorrect.]

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