Chomsky’s trace theory, Home Depot, wanna contraction, Semisonic

In Home Depot today with CJ.  In-store soundtrack dominated by 90s guitar pop, e.g. R.E.M.’s cruelly underrated “Stand” and Semisonic’s forgotten-by-me-until-this-afternoon “Closing Time:”

Payoff lyric of the song is

I know who I want to take me home

which is notable for being a really good example of Chomsky’s theory of the trace and wanna contraction.  Per Chomsky, the second clause of this sentence starts life as “I want [who] to take me home,” and subsequently the “who” is dragged to the front by a transformation.  But the silent syntactic “trace” of the word “who” remains in between “want” and “to,” and prevents you from contracting to

I know who I wanna take me home

as you would do (especially were you an overemoting 90s rock vocalist) in other situations where “want” and “to” were adjacent.

I’m impressed with Semisonic if they did this on purpose.  Even more so if they’d gone whole syntax hog and made the lyric

I know whom I want to take me home.

You know what piece of forgotten 90s guitar pop would have fit well on the Home Depot in-store sountrack?  “Valerie Loves Me.”  Jim Ellison, who wrote and sang this, committed suicide in 1996.  Let us listen to this great record and forget about transformational grammar for a while.

Tagged , , , , , ,

6 thoughts on “Chomsky’s trace theory, Home Depot, wanna contraction, Semisonic

  1. JSE says:

    Do not comment here to point out that “Stand” was actually released in late 1988, not in the 90s. I know. Also do not comment here to deny that “Stand” is cruelly underrated, because that would be incorrect.

  2. Frank says:

    Is it just the concerts I’ve been to, or does R.E.M. never perform “Stand”, or for that matter any of the non-morose songs from “Out of Time”, live?

  3. JSE says:

    R.E.M., like many people, cruelly underrate “Stand.”

    This website

    gives a pretty interesting view of which songs they play in concert most frequently. “Losing My Religion” is top, natch, but would you have guessed “Pretty Persuasion” would make the top 10?

  4. Frank says:

    That is fantastic. I never understood why they’re so big on “Finest Worksong”, but they more than make up for it by playing “Begin the Begin” and “Driver 8” all the time.

    Also, the bottom of the list is fascinating. I would have liked to have been there for the (single) performance of Folsom Prison Blues.

  5. Hmm, I was unaware that most people didn’t love “Stand” — it’s certainly one of my favorite REM songs. But then I’m married to a geographer, so maybe that gives me a soft spot for that song…

  6. ericapiper says:

    I stumbled upon this post after googling trace theory in an attempt to explain it to someone (when my own memory of it was a little too hazy). Totally geeked out explaining it to him, especially with the amazing Semisonic example!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: