June 16, 2017

"I mean, try to diagram that. And my point isn't a technical one about writing. It's: What's motivating you to get so contorted right there? It means something."

So I said yesterday, when I ran into this sentence from Camille Paglia:
Right now, too many secular Western liberals treat Islam with paternalistic condescension—waving at it vaguely from a benevolent distance but making no effort to engage with its intricate mixed messages, which can inspire toward good or spur acts of devastating impact on the international stage.
One reader [Clark] stepped up to the task. He sent me this:



Click to enlarge. Here's some instruction on diagramming sentences if you want to be ready for the next "sentence of the day."

ADDED: I think when a sentence is long and complicated, diagramming puts it to the test. And this sentence does stand up to diagramming.

But why write (speak?) something so complicated? Is it just to show off or overcompensate, to try to sound erudite? I think she's doing something more than that. She talks about "many secular Western liberals" who stand at a distance from Islam, but, ironically, the form of this sentence represents her distancing herself from the idea she gesticulates around. She is one of the "many secular Western liberals" who don't want to get too close to the subject.

She's also treating other secular Western liberals with the condescension she accuses them of having toward Islam. She says they make "no effort to engage," but what effort is she herself making? To point out that other people don't engage with X is not to engage with X. In fact, saying that other people don't engage is an aggravated form of nonengagement. Why not hold yourself responsible too?

In the end, it all peters out. Islam has "intricate mixed messages." Mmm. Yeah. It's complicated. That's what people who wave vaguely from a benevolent distance would say. There's good and bad, it could go either way — more verbosely, it "can inspire toward good or spur acts of devastating impact." That's really not saying anything more than the nice but lame people who don't want to get too close.

65 comments:

chickelit said...

That's kind of like the retro synthetic analysis of a natural product. It's obviously a skill you can learn in school and then show off.

But what's the bottom line, Althouse (and anonymous source)? What's the "deeper meaning" behind Paglia's sentence?

Caroline Walker said...

Oh, to know that you're out there somewhere, slashing through sentences like deft swordplay in the crusade to reclaim western civilisation. I curtsy.

Wilbur said...

I had not diagrammed a sentence since 6th grade until I encountered this gem in the Florida Statutes many moons ago:

"817.61 Fraudulent use of credit cards.—A person who, with intent to defraud the issuer or a person or organization providing money, goods, services, or anything else of value or any other person, uses, for the purpose of obtaining money, goods, services, or anything else of value, a credit card obtained or retained in violation of this part or a credit card which he or she knows is forged, or who obtains money, goods, services, or anything else of value by representing, without the consent of the cardholder, that he or she is the holder of a specified card or by representing that he or she is the holder of a card and such card has not in fact been issued violates this section."

Whoever composed this should be flogged.

Expat(ish) said...

I dodged that particular skill by a single year in grammar school. Thank god.

Oddly, as a computer programmer for many years, I used exactly that kind of analytical toolset to break problems down, and I was quite good at it.

Still, I was no compiler writer.

-XC

Fernandinande said...

I mean, try to diagram that.

Why, how come and what for?

Michael K said...

This skill, taught by nuns when I was in school, is part of the "who-whom" debate right now.

There are ignorami who want to end the use of "Whom" because they can't figure out how to use it.

They should learn to diagram sentences.

tcrosse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tcrosse said...

Maybe she's contorted because she's conflicted. She adds too much qualification.

rhhardin said...

The trouble with diagramming is that it produces a bad analysis of even just the grammar, but it's nice to teach that there are ways that words go together even if the actual thing just makes a convenience of it.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

OK, but you say it means something. What does it mean? That you don't say means something too.

rhhardin said...

Who/whom purists may or may not like a descriptive grammar approach

A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language

2000 pages, read a little every day for a summer.

It's a discovery of rules that you didn't know that you knew (and that trip up foreigners).

Descriptive grammar is a study of what sounds wrong and finding the rules.

rhhardin said...

Orro, master or wordplay.

rhhardin said...

master of wordplay

Jamie said...

Expat(ish), exactly! Diagramming sentences (which in my case was no part of my normal education, but which the elderly nun who taught me Latin insisted - in a pretty standard class-time digression - that we all learn, at least a little) is one of those skills that teaches CRITICAL THINKING and LOGIC, but that modern education seems to reject.

It's actually brilliant: 1. Start with a medium your students know intimately: their birth language. 2. Use this almost reflexively understood medium to demonstrate far less well-understood processes: critical analysis, categorization, flow-charting. 3. Once students understand these processes through their interaction with the familiar medium, introduce the idea that the processes can be applied to other media that require more active learning than the students' birth tongue: foreign languages, programming, music, math, I daresay law...

But instead, modern education seems to think that the best way to teach how to break down a problem into its components is first to create some kind of symbolic language that students must learn and THEN start breaking it down. Why? Is it because educators feel it's unfair to give native speakers (and different-learners, I guess) this leg up? It seems to me that starting with diagramming mother-tongue sentences requires of non-native speakers the same extra step as the "first learn a brand-new symbology" school of thought, yet also continues to impart to them very useful instruction in the language of the place where they are.

Virtually Unknown said...

"Zso, I notice zat you haff not mentioned your mother..."

D said...

Is the unconscious-antenna-spinning part of the sentence: "Right now" - doesnt that part suggest current treatment is a Temporary Thing?

I read over the sentence a few times, and then looked at the breakdown. That caught my eye in the breakdown - an important but lonely branch. The "right now" suggests maybe she thinks it can (or WILL) change.

bagoh20 said...

What matters is that communication should communicate. It does that just fine for me. I understood her meaning exactly on the first read, and I'm just a hillbilly near the bottom of the curve missing numerous teeth.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Caroline Walker said...Oh, to know that you're out there somewhere, slashing through sentences like deft swordplay in the crusade to reclaim western civilisation. I curtsy.

Cake: Shadow Stabbing

Adjectives on the typewriter / he moves his words like a prizefighter

Michael K said...

"Is it because educators feel it's unfair to give native speakers (and different-learners, I guess) this leg up? "

No, I think teachers, and especially Ed school professors, are bored with teaching reading or grammar. They want some new toys to play with.

Unfortunately those toys handicap a generation of kids who never learn to read well.

It's like Phonics. Or simple math like times-tables.

bagoh20 said...

As someone who discusses all kinds of issues with people who speak English as a second language, often poorly, I have come to realize that proper grammar, structure, and even pronunciation are far less important than you would think, and can even handicap your ability to communicate with many people. I still wish I had those skills, but they are no substitute for flexibility, exposure, and concentration.

Michael K said...

"I have come to realize that proper grammar, structure, and even pronunciation are far less important than you would think"

Until you try to find a better job. If you have a good trade, I agree with you.

LTC Ted said...

I see a lot of high-flown language used in an effort to demonstrate erudition, or to be very precise.

Curious George said...

"Click to enlarge"

Except it doesn't.

William said...

"All the major religions can inspire good deeds, but only Islam has the depressing ability to inspire so many psychotic mass killers. If I say this obvious truth aloud, my career is over, so I hint at it in a thcket of dependent clauses."

gspencer said...

A nun, Sister Berten, forced me, a 7th grade transfer into the local Catholic school, to learn this diagramming stuff. Let it be said that her teaching style and my learning style were not in sync. Diagramming sentences, whose usefulness I can somewhat see (but never to the foolish levels of the RC schools), was among the things she tried to drill into me.

I certainly remember that nun. And not fondly.

William said...

English, as a language, was not developed at court or by the clergy. It is the language of working men and has always shown a preference for pragmatism over grammatical rules. It's said to be one of the easier languages to learn.....I've tried to read some of the German philosophers. Try to diagram some of their sentences. That way lies madness.

Ken B said...

It's simple. You cannot, in one interview, praise Trump, deny the reality of sex change, and forthrightly criticize Islam and then expect to get home safely.

gspencer said...

Lemme do a little fix-up,

"All the major religions can inspire good deeds, but not Islam."

There.

Sam Harris once said that Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas. {Though he walked that back when he found himself at the end of PC whiplash. That only shows his gutlessness, not the invalidity of his statement.]

Virtually Unknown said...

Trying to read technical documentation that is ungrammatical is difficult when the ambiguity shows up in just the wrong spot and you can't just ask them to say that again.

Rocketeer said...

I dodged that particular skill by a single year in grammar school. Thank god.

Everyone's experiences will vary, of course, but diagramming sentences in English made learning foreign languages significantly easier for me as a kid. In fact, it was so obvious that I actually realized at the time.

Earnest Prole said...

Paglia's printed sentences seem more an artifact of her breathless, run-on verbal style than of a truly complex grammar.

Unknown said...

It means something to call a system/tradition one helped create, even if only in modest terms such as being an American means you are helping (and presumably have helped) in creating what I call America, ridiculous.

As with the Chili Peppers doing "Californication" so they could say fornication, so go others with the use of dic in ridiculous.

I used to post as Guildofcannonballs but can't no more morally.

I am rich in the obscurity of non-valued opinions not being mistaken for something more.

Clark said...

We were taught to diagram by nuns. Diagramming sentences was a popular activity in my school. (Maybe I am just remembering how I and my circle of friends thought about it.) Routine, simple sentences were boring. We longed for sentences like Paglia's.

The analytic process of diagramming definitely gives one a leg up when it comes to learning foreign languages. Western languages, that is. I wonder if it would help for learning eastern languages? Maybe the structure of those languages is different.

Unknown said...

"Adjectives on the typewriter / he moves his words like a prizefighter"

Mike Rosin throughout years opened his show with those mentioned lyrics.

"Saying somebody, has got to say it all"



Fred Drinkwater said...

I was an engineer for 20 years, most spent working with non-native English speakers. My maxim was: Do not write to be understood. Write so you cannot be misunderstood.

tcrosse said...

Diagramming helps an English-speaker to make sense of complex sentences in German.

DKWalser said...

One of my favorite classes as an English major (before I gave that major up to study something that might result in a job) was English grammar. Grammar is something far different from what most of us understand it to be. Grammar is descriptive, not proscriptive. Grammar describes how words relate to each other. Thus, there is no such thing as an ungrammatical sentence.
That's usage. Usage tells us how words (and punctuation) should be used. Grammar tells us how they were used.

That thought was prompted by the discussion of sentence diagrams. I learned how to diagram a sentence in my grammar class. I found it fun in the same way I enjoy doing a sudoku puzzle. Generally its a pointless exercise, but I sometimes find it useful in trying to parse a particularly difficult legal document.

Unknown said...

I agree with your overall suspicions about the sentence. But it does warm my heart to see the subject/verb/direct object right next to one another in the main clause of the original sentence -- and each word articulating a halfway clear concept.

I'd like the verb to be less neutral, but I'll take it.

Achilles said...

Not to be mean but:

I can't diagram a sentence.

I can write callback functions.

One of these skills has a future. I don't really understand the purpose of diagramming a sentence in modern era except for nostalgic purpose. Paraphrasing and summarizing would appear to be more useful to aid comprehension? And before you say it I hate lawns.

Bob Loblaw said...

I didn't find that sentence particularly convoluted. I'm surprised "you, a law professor" wouldn't have run across far worse.

The diagramming brings back nightmares. I had an English teacher in high school who was an absolute stickler for diagramming. He would mark you off if your dotted lines weren't even, or if your 45 degree lines weren't exactly 45 degrees. It was all a big, stressful waste of time.

David Baker said...

Diagramming is women's work. Who never produced a Hemingway or Nathaniel Hawthorne. But did claim Jane Austen, who eschewed the sentence and embraced the run-on paragraph.

Fernandinande said...

Bob Loblaw said...
I didn't find that sentence particularly convoluted. I'm surprised "you, a law professor" wouldn't have run across far worse.


It's actually a pretty simple sentence if you remove the rather poor description of "paternalistic condescension" from the middle of it:

"Right now, too many secular Western liberals treat Islam with paternalistic condescension, which can inspire toward good or spur acts of devastating impact on the international stage."

"Paternalistic condescension" has a clearer meaning than Paglia's attempted elucidation of the phrase: WTF does "waving at it vaguely from a benevolent distance" mean?

Richard Dillman said...

This style of diagramming died out in the 70's except among traditional grammarians. The field of English has been powerfully influenced by theoretical and applied linguistics, and traditional grammar has been de-emphasized. It was replaced by linguistic style tree diagramming, and by the widely used practice of sentence combining which mimics some elements of composing. Traditional and modern diagramming are both analytic procedures. Sentence combining stresses synthesis.


The sentence you refer to resembles the cumulative sentence with its specific rhetorical patterning.
This is the sentence type described in depth by Francis Christensen in his "Notes Towards a New Rhetoric."
It is one of the most common sentences types in modern American prose. In the past, this sentence type was called the loose sentence to distinguish it from the classical periodic sentence.



Cumulative sentences can be excessively long and unwieldy. Most of Faulkners cumulative sentences are usually grammatical even if very long.To visualize the cumulative sentence in its more effective and excessive form see the prose style of Faulkner, particularly in "The Bear."

Sebastian said...

I mean, why try to diagram that? And my point isn't a technical one about interpretation. It's: What's motivating you to get so contorted right there, to evade the obvious substance and instead focus on form? It means something.

I think it means: the truth about Islam must not be discussed in polite company, or anywhere for that matter.

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

Fred D.: "Do not write to be understood. Write so you cannot be misunderstood."

I like that.

DougWeber said...

I fear she has spent too much time talking to academics. I remember going to a lecture at reunion in the 90s where some senior produced a sentence with more dependent clauses than Carter has liver pills. He was so proud and his professor was just as happy. I do not know if there was any content in the statement since it would have taken hours to decipher what was actually being said.

Ann Althouse said...

Check post update.

Expat(ish) said...

@Jamie - I took five years of Latin and once i realized that declinsons/conjugations were like lego coloring, I could decode anything that wasn't too heavily laden with slang I hadn't memorized.

English is not like that, natch, so the positionality is so critical.

-XC

PS - Can we talk about pre fix and post fix math next?

Owen said...

Michael K: "...new toys to play with." Yes. And more completely, "new toys to buy and sell, and play around with."

Fred D: "Write so you cannot be misunderstood." For software coders, yes. For engineers, yes. For lawyers, sometimes. For poets, not so much. Meaning means something different in C++ than it does in verse.

n.n said...

Stream of thought chaos.

urbane legend said...

David Baker said...
Diagramming is women's work. Who never produced a Hemingway or Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Some woman did produce a Hemingway or Hawthorne. It wasn't by diagramming.

Jamie said...

Achilles, my point was that diagramming sentences could be a doorway into coding, along with a lot of other useful subjects - a doorway that uses an already-known language.

Another, far less effective way to learn the same basic paradigm: Back in the dot.com era, I was working for a poor unfortunate "company" that ran out of money at the same time as its web development/db consulting firm went out of business, and my boss and I had to go buy (actual paper) books on SQL-7 and ASP and Javascript and try to do the thing ourselves. It took me a WHOLE DAY at the beginning to figure out how to set a cookie because the book I was using for reference did not make clear what things were required syntax and what things were stand-ins for variables, etc.

Of course, I didn't feel I had time to study the subjects in proper order, so I was trying to use these books as I would a cookbook - look in the index for a subject, flip to the first page involving that subject, and follow the steps. This method did not work overwell. Fortunately once Cookie Day was over and I was dripping with sweat and beaming in triumph, having through trial and error figured out syntax vs variable and so forth, things got a lot easier...

David Baker said...

urbane legend said..."Some woman did produce a Hemingway or Hawthorne. It wasn't by diagramming.

Good point. I should have said:

Diagramming is women's work. It (diagramming) never produced a Hemingway or Nathaniel Hawthorne.

mandrewa said...

It has been a while but I taught both my son and my daughter grammar.
In the process I learned grammar myself because at the public schools
I attended we were never taught grammar except at a superficial
level.

So I learned sentence diagramming like the example above and I didn't
like it and I don't think it helps that much to see the structure of
a sentence. In fact, I find it kind of pretentious and I assume that
the pretentiousness of English teachers is unfortunately why this
method has survived. So I came up with a better way of diagramming
sentences. It's the same idea, it is just more compact and I think
significantly easier to read, once you learn how to do it.

I took advantage of Microsoft's Rich Text Format which is a simple
text editor which allows different colors for the text and you want
to use this with a monospaced script because you need to be able
to line up markers underneath.

Now if you try to learn this all at once, it's going to look excessively
complicated but it isn't really. With my kids, they learned this in like
4th grade, and I would have them spend maybe 20 minutes a day on it. And
within a remarkable short time, like maybe two months, they would be able
to see and mark the structure of almost any sentence they would encounter
just about as fast as they could write the grammatical markers.

Now I say almost because once you learn the rules of English then you
can recognize what is unusual. And there are odd things out there.
Things that your intuition says is grammatically correct and yet there
is a different sort of grammar emerging. So after they learned the
main heart of English grammar I would look for sentences that were odd
that I would find in the 'wild' and that would challenge them.

But I'm not going to cover that here. This is just the basic rules.
And to start off with the five basic grammatical units of English are
each given a distinct color. Verbs are green, adverbs are olive, nouns
are blue, adjectives are red, and conjunctions are gray. Unfortunately
you can't see the colors here, but for instance below you'll see
'infinitive phrase' repeated three times, and that's because there is
a blue one, a red one, and an olive one, because infinitive phrases
can act as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb depending on context.

mandrewa said...

So here are the basic rules:


Linear Sentence Problems

Comic Sans MS font, size 11
Jarte wordpad processor

Verb, adverb, noun, adjective, conjunction, and other, interrupter, subject
verb rgb 0 128 0 hue/sat/lum 80 240 60
adverb rgb 128 128 0 hue/sat/lum 40 240 60
noun rgb 0 64 128 hue/sat/lum 140 240 60
adjective rgb 109 23 23 hue/sat/lum 0 156 62
conjunction rgb 128 128 128 hue/sat/lum 160 0 120

other rgb 0 0 0 hue/sat/lum 160 0 0
interrupter rgb 0 0 0 hue/sat/lum 160 0 0 bold
subject rgb 0 64 128 hue/sat/lum 140 240 60 bold
rgb 64 13 128 hue/sat/lum 178 196 66

Phrases
of the birds prepositional phrase
in the woods prepositional phrase

n""""""""""""""""n infinitive phrase
j""""""""""""""""j infinitive phrase
v""""""""""""""""v infinitive phrase

n::::::::::::::::n gerund phrase present participle
j::::::::::::::::j participle phrase present participle
j::::::::::::::::j participle phrase past participle

n||||||||||||||||n appositive phrase
v||||||||||||||||v temporal noun phrase (adverbial noun phrase)
o||||||||||||||||o out-of-place object phrase


Clauses
i................................i independent clause

n................................n noun clause
j................................j adjective clause
v................................v adverb clause

Complements and the indirect object
indirect object
subject complement (noun)
subject complement (adjective)
object complement (noun)
object complement (adjective)

Implied words
verb
adverb
noun
adjective
conjunction
subject

Predicate patterns
intransitive verb subject verb
linking verb subject verb subject_complement_noun
linking verb subject verb subject_complement_adjective
action verb subject verb object
action verb subject verb object object_complement_noun
action verb subject verb object object_complement_adjective
action verb subject verb indirect_object object
tritransitive verb subject verb indirect_object object complement_clause

The seven predicate patterns
subject verb adjective 'adjective predicate'
subject verb 'intransitive predicate'
subject verb noun_complement 'equals predicate'
subject verb object complement 'complementary predicate'
subject verb object 'standard predicate'
subject verb object noun_complement 'appositional predicate'
subject verb indirect_object object 'indirect predicate'

Predicate patterns with markings for complements and indirect objects
subject verb subject_complement_adjective
--intransitive; linking--
subject verb
--intransitive--
subject verb subject_complement_noun
--monotransitive; linking--
subject verb object object_complement_adjective
--monotransitive--
subject verb object
--monotransitive--
subject verb object object_complement_noun
--ditransitive--
subject verb indirect_object object
--ditransitive--

mandrewa said...

Identifying object complements
Object complements must follow their direct object, give
or take an adverb or two.
Object complement nouns are easy to spot: a verb phrase
followed by two noun phrases is either an indirect object
situation or it's an object complement noun situation.
Object complement adjectives that are simple adjectives
are also easy to spot, the standard order for a simple adjective
is to come before the noun it's modifying. If it's not, if it comes
after a direct object, then that's a pretty good clue that it's
a complement.
Where it gets difficult is when the adjective is a phrase like
an adjective prepositional phrase, an adjective infinitive phrase,
an adjective participle phrase, or an adjective clause, which
in all cases comes after the object it is modifying whether the
phrase or clause is a complement or not.
If this is the situation then we have two tools to separate the
adjectives which are complements from those that are not.
The first tool is to, in your head, drop the adjective and see if the
the sentence feels grammatically wrong, if it does then that should
be taken as evidence that the adjective phrase or clause is a
complement.
The second tool is to ask whether the verb is needed for or changes
the meaning of the connection between the direct object and it's
modifying adjective. If it does then its probably a complement.
Unfortunately this last test is somewhat subjective.
Here's an example of the first test:
I'd like you to meet Alex.
j""""""""""j
Dropping the infinitive leaves an ungrammatical construction and
so it must be a complement.
Here's an example of the second test:
I want him to know.
j"""""j
Dropping the infinitive leaves a valid construct but it has such a
different meaning that it suggests that want is necessary to
and modifies the connection between him and to know.
Here's an example where it may be in the eye of the beholder:
He resents me being smarter than he is.
j................j
j::::::::::::::::::::::j
Stripping out the adjective participle phrase, we are left with:
He resents me.
Which is grammatically correct and which also conveys a similar idea
to the original. The question of whether the participle phrase is a
complement or not hinges on whether you believe resents is necessary
to the relationship between me and it's adjective.

Unknown said...

Vanderluen had a quote at americandigest.com by somebody (Karl Popper?) along the lines of "it is impossible to write in a way so that you cannot be misunderstood" or something.

Michael K said...

""Some woman did produce a Hemingway or Hawthorne. It wasn't by diagramming."

Hemingway is something of a hobby with me.

I have been listening to an audio book on how he came to write "The Sun Also Rises." It would never have been written by a woman, even George Elliot.

He was kind of an asshole, what with taking up with the rich Pauline Pffiefer when Hadley had been there the whole time when he was struggling.

And he wrote a nonfiction version of a week at Pamplona and did not even change the names until the final version of the manuscript,

Plus, of course, he was KGB agent when he wrote "For Whom the Bell Tolls."

Fred Drinkwater said...

Unknown: Yes, it's true, just like when you try to make something foolproof, nature comes up with more powerful fools.
Mostly my problems were simple but serious. For instance, ex-pat Japanese had a tendency to add or omit the word "not" in important places.
Redundancy, and short declarative sentences, were my best friends.

SteveGW said...

D K Walser said "Grammar is something far different from what most of us understand it to be. Grammar is descriptive, not proscriptive. Grammar describes how words relate to each other. Thus, there is no such thing as an ungrammatical sentence."

That's not quite right. Grammar, as written in books, is certainly descriptive: it is an attempt to discover and describe the rules that are applied in a particular language at a particular time. There are, however, rules, and the rules are prescriptive. You will find that the native speaker of a language has an implicit understanding of the rules of his language that he applies almost perfectly - and recognises almost immediately when he or others have failed to follow them. The nature of those rules is very different from the rules written in the grammar books.

I like to compare the rules of language to the rules of an impromptu children's game - some kind of 'bullrush' or 'tag' which has no formal institutionalisation. The children are well aware of the rules which they have negotiated amongst themselves. They are prepared to alter the rules - with negotiation; they will reject some changes; they recognise errors in play; and so on Think of that game as like a language. The role of the grammarians with respect to language is like that of anthropologists who study the game and try to derive the rules. What they say the rules are has no normative force - but there are rules nevertheless.

mandrewa said...

It is really easy to construct an ungrammatical sentence. People do it all the time. For short sentences people are normally quite correct. Their implicit grammatical knowledge is enough to guide them. In a sense that's how we know what the rules are because almost everyone agrees on the rules for the short stuff.

But longer sentences? Most people are lost. It helps if they are a native English speaker for sure, but if they haven't really learned the mechanics of English formally, like what I described above, then they are quite likely to make a mistake in long complicated sentences with many different parts. And furthermore they are unable to articulate what is wrong with another person's complicated sentence even if as a native English speaker they are pretty sure there is something wrong.

What I wrote above is the essence of grammar. It's the hard part. It only takes a few pages to describe but once you learn it you are safe navigating long sentences. Now it throws people that this is not a complete description and that we have trouble articulating in a logically consistent way absolutely what the rules are for every situation. But the exceptions are really rare and by the way I think they all have to do with short sentences.

Now one of the curious things is that even though most people don't learn formal grammar and can't consistently construct long, complicated well-formed sentences to save their lives. Still, if they do learn it, they will be pleased with it, because it agrees with and reinforces their intuition about language.

It will change how they write because they will be able to detect the errors in their long constructions, which at some level they already know probably are there, but they don't know specifically what is wrong.

urbane legend said...

mandrewa said...
Now one of the curious things is that even though most people don't learn formal grammar and can't consistently construct long, complicated well-formed sentences to save their lives.

The interpreter kept his eyes fixed on Bismarck and replied: "Please, bear with me, Madam - I'm still waiting for the verb".

And the subject, and a reasonable use of commas, which is something ninety-nine percent of Americans cannot comprehend.

mandrewa said...

Yeah, I noticed that. I noticed it immediately after I posted it. I decided to leave the error as it was.

As you know, put a comma between 'lives' and 'still' instead of a period.

Now that is a nice, long complicated sentence full of many parts that flows both naturally and is grammatically well-formed and that I'm quite pleased with.

Jupiter said...

"She talks about "many secular Western liberals" who stand at a distance from Islam, but, ironically, the form of this sentence represents her distancing herself from the idea she gesticulates around."

Paglia presumably knows that people who make accurate public statements about Islam sometimes find out that they need bodyguards for the rest of their lives.

Jupiter said...

"which can inspire toward good or spur acts of devastating impact on the international stage."

There was a time, not so long ago, when "devastating impact" was something the West inflicted on the rest of the world, most emphatically including the camel jockeys. But our educated "elites" somehow convinced themselves that the remarkable things their ancestors did, which made their own soft lives possible, were shameful crimes for which they should apologize. This was news to the Muzzies, who have always believed that might doesn't just make right, might *is* right. But they were quick enough to see that anyone who regards them as equals can be made to regard them as Master. Paglia understands that the "international stage" on which "devastating impacts" are encountered now includes a lot of places she used to feel comfortable in.