7

I'm taking a semester in London. Here's a sample of something I keep hearing:

John: My mum will be here later?

Susan: Is she staying for supper, your mum?

If Susan wishes to say, "your mum," why can't she just ask:

Is your mum staying for dinner?

Or, if Susan wants to clarify who that she in her sentence is (for which, in my opinion, there is absolutely no need), why doesn't she just say:

"Is she, your mum, staying for dinner?"

Is there anything in grammar that allows for putting an appositive not immediately next to what it's describing?

If so, how is it justified?

  • 5
    It is grammatical. People say it that way for two reasons: (a) they've always heard it said that way, and (b) quite often people don't see the need to clarify who she is until the end of the sentence, when they've seen the potential confusion. – Anonym Jan 18 '16 at 18:00
  • 4
    There is no reason why she shouldn't say either of the two things you suggest, though the second one would sound a bit formal for conversational use. It sounds to me as if she is just adding the last two words - your mum - for clarification purposes. i.e. she is speaking as she is thinking. Few of us use perfect syntax when speaking - not that what she has said is in the least ungrammatical. – WS2 Jan 18 '16 at 18:03
  • If I overheard those words I would have written them with parentheses: Is she staying for supper (your mum)? – Liam Jan 18 '16 at 22:36
  • When people say Yoda-speak is weird I often want to tell them to spend some time in London where normal English spoken by Englishmen sound very Yoda-like. – slebetman Jan 19 '16 at 2:16
11

Regard the following sentence:

  • Bob's a mighty fine guy.

The Subject of this sentence, clearly, is Bob. Now consider this one:

  • Bob, he's a mighty fine guy.

Here Bob has been shunted to the left of the clause. The word Bob is now like an announcement of the topic of the rest of the sentence. This is known as a left dislocation. Some constituent of the sentence has been dislocated to the left of the nucleus of the clause and then a co-referential pronoun, he, has been used to plug that gap. The grammatical Subject of this clause is now the word he.

Left disclocated elements do not always represent Subjects. Consider the following joke:

  • Men, you can't live with them and you can't kill them.

Here men is coreferential with the object of the preposition with. Again, it announces the topic of the sentence.

We can also have right dislocations too:

  • He's a mighty fine guy, Bob.

Here the Subject has been dislocated to the right of the clause. Right disclocations tend to affirm the identity of some co-referential element in the sentence, in this case the pronoun he.

The Original Poster's Question

Is she staying for supper, your mum?

This is a perfectly grammatical sentence. It is an example of a right dislocation. Perfectly grammatical though it is, we only tend to see this sort of construction in spoken English or quite informal writing.

  • Actually, in the sentence "•Men, you can't live with them and you can't kill them.", it's entirely possible that "Men" is defining who "you" is, acting as a noun of direct address ("Men, we need to take out the Kraut machine guns on those two hills!") rather than defining who "them" is. – Monty Harder Jan 18 '16 at 23:20
  • 1
    @MontyHarder Indeed so. Interesting interpretation. I think in that situation it wouldn't be regarded as a left dislocation, but as a kind of vocative. Hmmm. Interesting. – Araucaria Jan 18 '16 at 23:27
  • 3
    I am actually familiar with the old joke (I might have written that line with an exclamation point after "Men", as that sounds like a more faithful rendering, especially of the related song by the Forester Sisters with slightly-different wording.) But am mindful of how easily vocatives and appositives ("your mum" in the OP) can be confused in English (because it lacks an explicit vocative case). – Monty Harder Jan 18 '16 at 23:35
3

Yes, it's grammatically correct. It's an issue of syntax within grammar. It's called dislocation.

In syntax, dislocation is a sentence structure in which a constituent which could otherwise be either an argument or an adjunct of the clause occurs outside the clause boundaries either to its left or to its right as in English:

Your mum, is she staying for dinner?

Is she staying for dinner, your mum?

These two sentences say the same thing. The only difference is the direction of dislocation.

The dislocated element is often separated by a pause, a comma in writing, from a clause. Its place within the clause is often occupied by a pronoun like she does in your example.

There are two types of dislocation: right dislocation, in which the constituent is postponed as in your example, and left dislocation, in which it is advanced. Right dislocation often occurs with a clarifying afterthought, e.g., Is she coming to dinner. "Your mum" is added afterward to clarify exactly who they are.

  • 1
    What's the difference between syntax and grammar? – deadrat Jan 18 '16 at 19:17
  • In linguistics, syntax is the set of rules, principles, and processes that govern the structure of sentences in a given language, specifically word order. In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules governing the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term grammar refers also to the study of such rules, and this field includes morphology, syntax, and phonology, often complemented by phonetics, semantics, and pragmatics. – Benjamin Harman Jan 18 '16 at 19:22
  • Thanks. I generally consider phonetics too "early" to be considered grammar and semantics too "late." (And any pragmatics that isn't semantics but semiotics, as nonsense.) I just wanted to get an idea of your usage. – deadrat Jan 18 '16 at 21:17
1

According to TSPE, no, an appositive has to be next to the phrase with which it is in apposition. Compare:

Oxygen, the eighth element, causes iron to rust.
*Oxygen causes iron to rust, the eighth element.
The eighth element, oxygen, causes iron to rust.
*The eighth element causes iron to rust, oxygen.

Your example does not have an appositive, but as others have pointed out, is from right dislocation.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.