I watched School of Rock last night and came to a profound realisation: Jack Black is an annoying person.

But I also noticed something in a line that threw my grammaticality nerve a bit. The scene involved the principal of the school informing the multiple sets of parents that all the children in the class were… missing (I’m paraphrasing):

Ladies and gentlemen, it seems that all your children are missing (laughs)

The noun phrase all your children is what threw me. I don’t quite remember how to transcribe it in formal logic terms, but I think it’s ambiguous between two quantifications. On one side, it could mean every person that is a child of any of the addressees (therefore including children that aren’t in the class or even the school), or it could mean the children of all adressees (which is understood to be restricted to only those in the class). The difference boils down to whether the possessive has scope over just the pronoun you or the entire determiner-phrase all you. Here is how I see it:

[all [your children]] versus [[all you]-r children]

The first of these seems intuitive when you look at its simplicity, but I reckon the second is an option, and was clearly the option used in this scene – otherwise it would have included the parents’ other kids too, which wouldn’t have made much sense.

I’ve been pondering this one sentence now for a while and can no longer give a definite answer as to whether or not the second of these is grammatical for me, but given that it immediately set something off when I heard it, I’m guessing I have some syntactic issue with it.

We know that the possessive -’s is a phrasal clitic (the Queen of England’s crown), or at least has been since a few hundred years ago, but what of the possessive pronoun forms. Can our, for instance, be analysed as being composed by the pronoun us plus an added phrasal clitic -’s? i wouldn’t have thought so, but if a sentence like all your children are missing can be analysed as ‘the children of all of you’, then the scope of the possessive must at least be considered to be broader than the phonological word that it is a part of.

Perhaps some brilliant syntactician out there can lend a little expertise to this rather awkward and brief outline.

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