July 17, 2006

Another Direct-Object Knowledge

I was just talking about putting one friend in touch with another who is familiar with a place that the first will be going, and I wrote, "She might know some things for you to do...."

This is another knowledge-the construction, like "know the answer" and "know the facts."* The object of 'knows' is syntactically an NP rather than a clause, but the knowledge in question seems much more like "knowing what to do" than "knowing Sam" or "knowing city X"; more like knowledge of facts than knowledge by acquaintance.

Yet "know some things to do" seems a little bit unlike those others. Perhaps it's that it's a kind of practical knowledge rather than theoretical knowledge. (A distinction that I think can be maintained even if "knowledge how" is another form of "knowledge that.") The construction seems related to the question "What to do?" which is an unusual question (I don't know what the current views on its deep structure are). And it's hardly unprecedented, but in most of the hits for know some things 'things' seems to be unmodified, and when it is modified the modifier is usually 'about'. "I know some things done to me" doesn't count, since the speaker is a bot, but "know some things they can work on" is English (and I'd say related to the question, "What can they work on?").

A nice unified theory would be that "I know some things X" is related to the question, "What are some things X?": what are some things to do, what are some things they can work on, what are some things you like. But the most common, "know some things about," doesn't fit that template at all; "What are some things about X" generally sounds awful unless it's followed by a 'that'-clause or something similar. (As in, "What are some things about magnets that you find interesting?") Though this person's myspace profile does contain the sentence "What are some things about me..."

Still, my conclusion is that the syntax of "know some things" + modifer on "things" is slightly mysterious, to me.

*May I rant? WordPress archives that display only a limited number of entries per page are horrible. I knew (thanks to an entry of mine that I won't link, because it was dumb) that this entry was at the beginning of May, but I had to click through several archive pages to get there, because the "May 2004 archives" for TAR start at the end of the month and don't give you direct access to any individual page. For frequently updated sites like Pandagon this makes the archives pretty much unusable (though Pandagon seems to have lots of archive gaps anyway). WordPress gurus please take note.

Posted by Matt Weiner at July 17, 2006 12:49 PM

You're considerably smarter than I, but isn't "know some things" just a contraction of "know of some things"?

Posted by: mrh at July 17, 2006 07:38 PM

No, "know" can be (in fact usually is) a transitive verb.

Posted by: teofilo at July 17, 2006 09:43 PM

"What Is To Be Done?"

Posted by: Ben at July 19, 2006 12:41 PM

When I looked at Ben's comment in my blog-editor thingy, at first I thought it was responding to [facepalm].

Posted by: Matt Weiner at July 19, 2006 02:26 PM

And teo is right about the contraction thing (I think). There are lots of know + direct-object constructions, many discussed in the Weatherson entry linked in the post. In some cases "know" and "know of" will have different meanings.

For instance, "I know a proof of Fermat's Last Theorem" means I'm acquainted with the proof, roughly that I know how to prove it. "I know of a proof of Fermat's Last Theorem" means roughly only that I know that the proof exists (maybe how to find it). The latter is true, the former false.

That's a bit of a knowledge-as-acquaintance construction, arguably along the lines of "I know Bill Clinton." But I think the following minimal pair does not involve knowledge-as-acquaintance and still works:

(1) I know an explanation for the behavior of this construction.
(2) I know of an explanation for the behavior of this construction.

(1) means that I know what the explanation is, (2) means that I know that it exists.

Thanks for reminding me of "know of," though. Philosophers devote tons of attention to know that constructions, a fair amount to know-wh constructions, a bit to know+direct object constructions, but I know of no one who talks about know-of constructions. (I could be missing something obvious.)

Posted by: Matt Weiner at July 19, 2006 02:35 PM

Some spammer just posted a reference to the Black-Eyed Peas. You can't do that here. Comments are so closed.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at August 2, 2006 07:53 AM