Thursday, April 02, 2009

A possible nother one

Here's a neat one from the 10 a.m. news on your local radio:

Police in Belleville have a suspected gunman in custody and are looking for a possible nother one.

Same process as "it's a whole nother team with Lawson back," but it has a journalistic function that makes it a bit more interesting. Compare it with this lede from the Brave Newsless World today:

A suspected U.S. drone fired two missiles Wednesday in the attack near the Afghan border with Pakistan.

That doesn't mean "who was that masked drone?" (If the AP actually saw a drone fire two missiles at a Taliban hideout, you should put your money on "American" forthwith.) "Suspected" doesn't modify anything in particular; it's really sort of a sentence adverb, meaning more or less "This is what happened, but until someone official says it, we have to acknowledge that we don't know it for sure."

What does it have to do with the possible nother gunman? American news language doesn't have a systematic process for hedging. What we do is send up the occasional signal that something in a clause isn't certain, and it's not necessarily the thing that the adjective or adverb points to. The cops aren't looking for the Man Who Wasn't There. "Possible nother gunman" has that same sort of sentence-adverbial function; it writes out into something like "It's possible that there was another gunman," and listeners are on their own to attach it correctly to the idea that if there was, the cops are looking for him.*

The British have it easier.** Compare these heds:
Suspected US missiles hit alleged Taliban hideout (Globe and Mail, using AP)
Many killed in 'US drone attack' (BBC)
That's the attributional quote function remarked on earlier. It doesn't mark a direct quote, and it's not a mocking quote, after the fashion of "The 'stimulus' plan"; it means "the stuff inside the quotes is what's asserted." One of my favorites:

Writer is 'killed by face op'
We know there's a writer, and we know she's dead, and we know she had plastic surgery, but the causal relationship is the thing the survivors are asserting. Hence the quotes.

I don't think we'll get "a suspected nother case of salmonella poisoning," but you can't rule it out.

* Or her; it could, after all, be a female gunman. Though he or she is apparently no longer a "lone gunman."
** When they're not using AP suggested heds, at least.


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