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Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo

This wiki page asserts that the sentence comprised of n "buffalo" (for all n) is a valid sentence. E.g. "Buffalo!" and "Buffalo buffalo." are valid sentences.

How exactly does one parse the n-buffalo sentence? For example, how would one parse the sentence "buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo" (n = 20)?

There is nothing special about eight "buffalos"; indeed, a sentence with "buffalo" repeated any number of times is grammatically correct (according to Chomskyan theories of grammar). The shortest is "Buffalo!", meaning either "Bully (someone)!", or "Look, there are buffalo here!", or "Behold, it is the majestic and grand city of Buffalo!"

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marked as duplicate by Matt Эллен, Jasper, aedia λ, Alain Pannetier Φ, simchona Sep 24 '11 at 21:19

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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@MattЭллен Not a duplicate. Asking about all possible values of n. –  Jeremy Sep 24 '11 at 20:37
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@Jeremy - the question I call this a duplicate of asks to break down the buffalo sentence - which in turn reveals the answer to this question. It is the same question in disguise. Good answer, though. –  Matt Эллен Sep 24 '11 at 20:55
    
For n = all multiples of √(-1), they are all sentences. But imaginary. –  JeffSahol Sep 24 '11 at 23:40
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I would draw the line at a noun phrase containing more than 5 buffalo. So that would mean that you can't have more than 11 buffalo in a sentence: "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo." If you want to translate that into less repetitive noun phrases, I think "Little green men nerdy astronauts study live on Mars." is okay, but "Little green men nerdy astronauts NASA funds study live on Mars." is not. The verbs are starting to pile up the way they do in German. –  Peter Shor Sep 24 '11 at 23:48

2 Answers 2

The 8-buffalo sentence is a valid sentence, but for a long time I thought "This is just wishful thinking. This is only valid if you phrase it right or add linking phrases in between." It eventually clicked for me that it was totally right. Anyway...

You could use induction to show that buffalo of any length is right. This would take a while, so I'll just do a high-level overview of the logic.

The meaning of the full sentence is, substituting different words for buffalo, is...

"Chicago bison Chicago bison bully bully Chicago bison."

i.e. "Chicago bison that Chicago bison bully themselves bully other Chicago bison."

But it's easy to add even more to this, say...

"[bison bully] Chicago bison Chicago bison bully bully Chicago bison" to get to n=10...

"[bison bully] Chicago bison Chicago bison bully bully bison" to get to n = 9...

"[Chicago bison bully] Chicago bison Chicago bison bully Chicago bison" to get to n = 11...

And you can keep doing this inductively to add more and more clauses. This is the grammatical equivalent of something like...

"The man walked with his friend, who walked with his friend, who walked with his friend, who walked with his friend..."

That is, it's syntactically valid by the rules of our grammar, even if it would be considered invalid in any kind of writing or even spoken conversation.

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It is talking about using buffalo in three forms (proper noun, noun, and verb), and making a grammatically correct sentence out of them. Since a noun can replace a noun phrase and vice versa, you can adjust the grammar tree to different numbers of words.

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