A characteristic property of certain types of sentence embedding in English, the Sentential Complementation, is the deletion of the initial Noun Phrase of the Sentential Complement. The study of complementation involves the detailed investigation of the different types of clauses that follow specific semantic classes of predicates. Obviously, complement forms vary greatly across languages; in English, they include bare infinitives (I saw John eat a cookie, Mary made John eat a cookie), gerunds (I hate waking up early), as well as instances where the complement clause is introduced by the complementizers that, wh, Poss-ing, to, and for to respectively.

Examples of this phenomenon are the following sentences:

(1) John condescended to go.
(2) John defied Bill to go.
(3) Seeing you there caused Bill to wonder.

The infinitival constructions in these three sentences and the gerundive construction in the sentence (3) are the residue of more complete sentences which have been embedded and systematically altered. A speaker of English will ordinarily have no difficulty in, identifying the implicit initial Noun Phrase of the embedded sentences.

For example, the deleted Noun Phrase in the sentence (1) must be “John.” The deleted Noun Phrase in the Sentential Complement of the sentence (2) is “Bill.” Finally, the deleted Noun Phrase in both the gerundive and infinitival Sentential Compliments of the sentence (3) is “Bill. ” Two conclusions may be drawn from these observations.

First, the identified Noun Phrases must be present in the structure underlying the example sentences, in the “deep structure” in Chomsky’s sense. Second, the identity of these Noun Phrases with some Noun Phrase in the Main Sentence is a necessary condition for deletion. It is also apparent, however, that this identity relation is not a sufficient condition for deletion since the distribution of the relevant Noun Phrase in the Main Sentence relative to the Sentential Complement is variable. Thus, a sufficient condition for determining the deletion must specify which Noun Phrase in the Main Sentence must be identical to the initial Noun Phrase of the Sentential Complement in order for the deletion to proceed.

Sentences (1), (2), and (3) by no means exhaust the constructions which exemplify the phenomenon of the initial Noun Phrase deletion in Sentential Complementation. Sentences (1) and (2) are instances of Verb Phrase Complementation, where a Sentential Complement S is immediately dominated by VP in the underlying phrase structure. In sentence (1), the Verb “condescend” is intransitive and is contiguous with a Sentential Complement 1. In sentence (2), the Verb “defy” is transitive and an Object Noun Phrase “Bill” intervenes between the Verb and the Sentential Complement. The underlying structure of these two sentences can be roughly represented in terms of the following diagrams (4), (5).

Sentence (3) is but a special case of Transitive Verb Phrase Complementation in which the underlying subject of the main sentence is itself an instance of Noun Phrase Complementation. In Noun Phrase Complementation, the constituent NP immediately dominates the Sentential Complement. The diagram (6) presents the phrase structure which underlies sentence (3).

In the light of the structures which underlie sentences (1), (2), and (3), it is possible to observe precisely which Noun Phrase in the Main Sentence must be identical to the initial Noun Phrase of the Sentential Complement when the deletion of the latter is defined. For sentence (1), the initial Noun Phrase of the Sentential Complement must be identical to the underlying Subject Noun Phrase of the Main Sentence. For sentence (2), the initial Noun Phrase of the Sentential Complement must be identical to the underlying Object Noun Phrase of the Main Sentence. Similarly, for the initial Noun Phrase of the Noun Phrase Sentential Complement and for the initial Noun Phrase of the Verb Phrase Sentential Coinplement in the sentence (3), the relevant Noun Phrase in the Main Sentence is the Object Noun Phrase. As a first approximation to a description of initial Noun Phrase deletion in the three sentences under study, we might consider three distinct transformational rules of the following form (7).

This rule applies to the structure presented in the diagram (4) and yields the following structure:

DS: John – past – condescend – [John – go]

This rule applies to the structure represented in diagram (5) and yields the following structure:

DS: John – past – defy – Bill – [Bill – go]

This rule applies to the structure represented in (6) and, along with rule (8), operates on this structure to yield the following structure:

DS: It – Bill – see – you – there – past – cause – Bill – [Bill – wonder]

The transformational rules (7), (8), and (9) are empirically adequate in the sense that they correctly describe the deletion of the initial Noun Phrase in the Sentential Complements.

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Devika Panikar has been teaching English Language and Literature for 14 years now. She is an Assistant Professor with the Directorate of Collegiate Education under the Government of Kerala. She teaches at the Government Colleges coming under this directorate and is now posted at the Department of English, H.H. The Maharaja’s Government College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram. This website is a collection of the lecture notes that she prepared by referring various sources, for her students’ perusal. It has been compiled here for the sake of future generations.

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