Consider Teaching Fair

Have a look at this image of an announcement of an event, tweeted by Rob Drummond:

Screenshot 2019-10-09 at 12.29.31

Rob’s response – “Hmm, ok” – is to a particular interpretation of consider teaching fair, namely the reading in which it is an imperative clause, i.e. ‘you should consider teaching a fair thing (to do)’. I think most readers would probably read the announcement in this way, as one of the Twitter replies indicates: “I shan’t”.

But of course, the wording is ambiguous, and this is not the intended meaning. More about that in a moment.

Let’s first take a closer look at the grammar of the announcement.

Under the interpretation just discussed we have a special grammatical construction, namely one that has a verb, followed by a noun (teaching) and an adjective (fair). (I have simplified things a little bit here: they are arguably a noun phrase and an adjective phrase, respectively.)

What are the grammatical functions of the noun and the adjective? The noun clearly functions as direct object, but what about the adjective? Well, this takes on the function of object complement, a unit in grammar that attributes a property (in this case the property of ‘being fair’) to the direct object. Using brackets the grammatical structure is as follows:

[verb consider] [noun/object teaching] [adjective/complement fair]

But what about the other interpretation, the one that was intended by the organisers of the event being announced? Under this reading people who are considering becoming teachers are invited to a fair, at which, presumably, they will be given information about the teaching profession. We can use brackets to show the intended interpretation:

[[consider teaching] fair]

The wording of the announcement is linguistically very unusual because we have a verb+object combination (arguably a verb phrase) modifying the noun fair:

[noun phrase [verb phrase consider teaching] fair]

(With thanks to Rob for posting the image.)

PS After publishing the post above an interesting further possible interpretation emerged (see below). Let me know your thoughts!

Screenshot 2019-10-10 at 09.45.40

One thought on “Consider Teaching Fair

  1. Your interpretation seems plausible. The sadly obsolescent convention of hyphenating a phrasal premodifier would have removed the ambiguity.

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