The song made famous by Patti Page in 1953 asks a simple question that serves as an interesting model for describing problems in artificial intelligence. In essence, it is a query about the price of a dog. But how we get there is surprisingly complex. Let us parse…
QUERY: HOW MUCH?
How much what? How much does it weigh? How much does it fear cats? The construct “how much is” is accepted as a variant of the more grammatical “what is the price of.” It is further understood that the query is likely thinking in terms of monetary exchange — a number in local currency to be given as fair market value for the pooch. She likely has a price range in mind, or at least has a sense of what price would be unreasonably high.
SUBJECT: THAT DOGGIE
Clearly referring to a specific canine animal, apart from any other dog or thing. “Doggie” is a diminutive form that implies small, young, or innocently attractive (i.e., “cute”). This is reinforced by the next line in the song, apparently to differentiate the specific dog from any others: “The one with the waggly tail.” It is assumed at this point that if there are other dogs in the window, their tails are clearly not waggly, which ipso facto makes them irrelevant to our protagonist, for whatever reason.
QUALIFICATION: IN THE WINDOW
This is where it gets more interesting. We know that “in the window” refers to a public display area inside a shop, facing the street, so that passersby can see the products, find them desirable, and come into the shop to buy them. We understand that the dog is not literally “in” the window, but is visible behind the glass. The window forms a sort of frame in which the dog is seen, thus “within” the window frame. Other items within the display such as lighting, furniture, etc., may not be actual merchandise for sale, but is there to enhance the attractiveness of the salable products.
How do we know the question is not about a dog behind the window of a house or in a vehicle? It is implied by the query “how much.” One does not see a dog in a house or in a car and assume it’s for sale unless there is a sign nearby explicitly stating the fact, which is clearly not the case as we learn from the last line of the chorus: “I do hope that doggie’s for sale.” So “how much” and “in the window” work together to likely imply a commercial establishment that has a dog available for a price.
Further, to whom is the query addressed? We have established by the “how much” and “in the window” constructs that the dog is in a shop. But the line, “I do hope that doggie’s for sale,” casts some doubt on the whole scenario. Since there is apparently no definitive evidence that the dog is merchandise available for a price, perhaps this goes further to erode whether the window is in a shop at all. The song never resolves that issue or any other. It simply poses the question and describes why the woman is thinking of purchasing a dog (as opposed to some other pet). But at no point does it go beyond an internal musing. She is not posing the question to anyone other than herself.
So we never know if the dog is in fact for sale, or, if so, what its price might be, or if that price would be deemed acceptable.
Imagine posing such a query to a computer.
Curiously, the song is not about a woman who falls in love with a cute dog on sight, but is in fact about how she is looking for a guard dog to serve as a companion for and to protect her man from robbers while she’s away on a trip to California.