Tag Archives: semisonic

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.

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