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There is a song called "Alive", by Pearl Jam. The opening line is:

Son, she said, have I got a little story for you

Despite the subject-auxiliary inversion ("have I"), which would be expected in an English question, the subordinate clause is affirmative. What is the function of this inversion?

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I think it's to add emphasis to what I am going to say; the emphasis, of course, being on the I. –  Bill Sep 19 '11 at 23:50

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

None of the causes of inversion mentioned on Wikipedia seem to apply: there is no strong negation like never, nor a strong limiting adverb like so and only in first position.

We can only be sure after some historical research. But, after some reflection, I think the most likely explanation is that it echoes an hypothetical question. I imagine it came about like this:

  • Hector: Achilleus, you are a worthless warrior.
  • Achilleus: I am a worthless warrior? How dare you! Die!

In an indignant reply, the original statement may be echoed as a rhetorical question, but without inversion. Notice that the perspective changes as would be expected: you changes into I.

  • Achilleus: Hector, can you win this war, you think? Come on, just give up.
  • Hector: Can we win this war? Of course we can, and we shall! You have no idea how powerful Aphrodite is, our protector-goddess.

The question is echoed as a half-question, half-exclamation. In casual writing, !? could be used.

  • Telemachus: Did you fight any Trojans? Have you got a story for me?
  • Odysseus: Boy, have I got a little story for you. It was a huge spectacle of attack and retreat, honour and cowardice. Let me begin...

When this rhetorical question is used in a casual manner, in a well-known formula (cf. how do you do), it may lose some force and be pronounced and punctuated as a statement instead of a question. The remaining rhetorical force is expressed by the inversion: have I got a little story for you is stronger than I have got a little story for you, in that the story is suggested to be more remarkable.

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+1 for the reference to classical literature! –  Otavio Macedo Sep 20 '11 at 12:42

It's simply a rhetorical question for emphasis.

Like, "Have I got news for you?", meaning: not only do I have news, but it's really interesting or juicy. The statement "I have got news for you" seems rather bland and uninteresting in comparison.

Also, "Do I not like orange", Graham Taylor's famous quote. He really didn't like orange.

To return to the quote, "I have got a little story for you" is something a journalist might meekly say their editor, whereas, "Have I got a little story for you" really gets the listener/reader interested. I'd agree with Ken about the reason for adding "little" to the sentence in this context though.

Great song - Pearl Jam rock!

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I agree with @Bill - emphasis is provided to the I. Wikipedia defines SAI as occurring in declarative sentences when restrictive elements are formed; in this case, the emphasis props up the restrictive property of the I.

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The inversion turns the statement, "I have a little story for you," into a question. In common verbal usage (e.g. have I got a deal for you) the inversion is used to indicate that the following information is important enough to pay attention to. I'm guessing that this is because a statement doesn't necessarily need a response, but the listener has to at least consider responding to a question.

In the song, it's probably as much because the lyric gives Vedder a nice opportunity for some complex syncopation :)

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But the inversion of the statement isn't creating a question, has it? To say "have I got a deal for you!" is not a question; it's still a declarative statement which doesn't require an answer. –  simchona Sep 20 '11 at 2:09
    
Sure, it's used like a statement most of the time, but I'm pretty sure it's grammatically a question like, "have I got a sturgeon?" –  Ken Sep 20 '11 at 2:22

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