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quote:
Originally posted by Valentine:
You and I disagree on what a description is.
She does not describe my mother.


Then according to you, these sentences are ungrammatical?

My mother is a she.
My mother is female.
 
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I don't think I've said that anything above is ungrammatical.

I've said that I wouldn't use such construction. I'll go further and call them all bad writing, at least out of context.
 
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I see. I thought you were arguing that Kalleh's sentence was not an example of apposition, and was therefore ungrammatical. My mistake.
 
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Picture of jerry thomas
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The old gray mare,
She ain't what she used to be
Ain't what she used to be,
Ain't what she used to be
The old gray mare,
She ain't what she used to be
Many long years ago.

Many long years ago,
Many long years ago,
The old gray mare,
She ain't what she used to be
Many long years ago.

The old gray mare,
She kicked on the whiffletree,
Kicked on the whiffletree,
Kicked on the whiffletree
The old gray mare,
She kicked on the whiffletree
Many long years ago.

Many long years ago,
Many long years ago,
The old gray mare,
She kicked on the whiffletree
Many long years ago.


Grammatical? Ungrammatical? Correct? Incorrect? Who cares? It's the way people talk --- and sing.
 
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According to Mark Liberman, it isn't appositive, it's called "left-dislocation" and dates from Old English.

And the reason it is not appositive is partially semantic, so you guys had a point about how she added no new information!

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Crikey! That article has been up on Language Log for less than a day, and has received 22 comments so far! Obviously, a lot of people are interested.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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Very interesting. Thanks for asking, z, though I think the comma adds a little more authenticity than without one. Still, I am glad to hear that the experts are right and that my classmate, Eddie, should have taken that teacher to a grievance committee. Would that there would have been Web sites then!
quote:
You shouldn't give in so quickly, Kalleh. None of the others of us around here ever do. You are in fine company.
This is why, z.

The fact remains, I'd never use that phraseology because I think it sounds awful.
 
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Perhaps worthy to note that the left-dislocation construction seems to require a comma. If so, then Kalleh's original sentence would be ungrammatical, wouldn't it?


Myth Jellies
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Well, it's nice to know its proper name. Huddleston and Pullum have this to say about dislocation:
quote:
A dislocated clause has a constituent, usually an NP, located to the left or right of the nucleus of the clause, with an anaphorically linked pronoun or comparable form within the nucleus itself. Compare for example, the non-dislocated [1.i]with the two dislocated versions given in [1.ii–1.iii]:

[1] i. Her parents seem pretty uncaring. [non-dislocated version]

ii. Her parents, they seem pretty uncaring. [left dislocation]

iii. They seem pretty uncaring, her parents. [right dislocation]
They give some other examples:

1. Her parents, I don't like them at all. (LD)

2. Her parents, I don't like at all. (complement preposing)

3. Her father, he didn't want to know about it. (LD)

4. As for her father, he didn't want to know about it. (marked topic)

Later, they discuss right location: (5) I gave him a dollar, that man back there.

Punctuation errors are not the same thing as grammatical errors.

[Addendum: The Wikipedia article on syntactic dislocation: "[L]eft dislocation is like clefting: it can be used to emphasize or define a topic. For example, the sentence This little girl, the dog bit her has the same meaning as The dog bit this little girl but it emphasizes that the little girl (and not the dog) is the topic of interest; one might expect the next sentence to be She needs to see a doctor, rather than It needs to be leashed. This type of dislocation is a feature of topic-prominent languages." (link)]

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Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Before we click on the links we have a question.

Are the "left" and "right" dislocations reversed in languages whose writing flows from right to left, like Arabic and Hebrew?

Now we'll see what the authorities have to say about that ... if anything.
 
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You might want to read up about dislocation in Biblical Hebrew (link); it starts around page 48. (Also, the Wikipedia article has some examples from Cantonese.) Here I also learned a more traditional term for the phenomenon, i.e., casus pendens.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Is this quote from Zechariah 9:9 an example of dislocation? :
"... your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
 
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quote:
Punctuation errors are not the same thing as grammatical errors.
True. However, when I first brought this up, so long ago (in terms of posts), I hadn't thought it a punctuation error, but I thought it a true grammatical error. That is, I didn't think having 2 subjects, where one clearly doesn't describe the other, was correct. I admit that I am wrong on this.
 
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That is, I didn't think having 2 subjects, where one clearly doesn't describe the other, was correct. I admit that I am wrong on this.

The most you should admit is that it is not considered to be ungrammatical by those who use the word "grammar" in its technical sense. Such usage is, in most cases, absolutely incorrect.

They also tell you that meaningless sentences can be perfectly grammatical. But I doubt that they would teach that it is correct to write or speak such sentences when trying to communicate (except to one another, in giving examples).
 
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It seems the disagreements in this discussion revolve around distinctions between written and spoken speech.

I suggest that if written speech is to communicate the sense given to spoken speech by pause, tone, and volume, it is important to reflect the emphasis by using dashes, all caps, quotation marks, etc. Otherwise one risks losing the intended shade of meaning, whether or not the resulting sentence is technically correct.
 
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those who use the word "grammar" in its technical sense

I direct your gaze to the the title of this forum: Linguistics 101. We are trying to use linguistic terms in the way that linguists do. That's all. Why is this such a bad thing? If I posted on a chemistry board about how there are only four or five elements or an astronomy board about how the Earth is the center of the solar system, I ought to expect some blow-back from the "experts".

Such usage is, in most cases, absolutely incorrect.

I'm afraid I cannot agree with you because not only is it perfectly grammatical, but it is also meaningful, though it is informal or colloquial. People use it all the time, and nobody has any trouble at all understanding them. Constructions of this sort also have a function, that of moving the topic of a sentence to a different location in the sentence for rhetorical effect. If I were teaching English as a second language and if it were a class for advanced students, I would take the trouble to tell them there are two major varieties of language: informal (usually spoken) and formal (usually written or read). It would be a disservice to my students to make them think that there is only one variety of English spoken in this or any other country.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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I suggest that if written speech is to communicate the sense given to spoken speech by pause, tone, and volume, it is important to reflect the emphasis by using dashes, all caps, quotation marks, etc. Otherwise one risks losing the intended shade of meaning, whether or not the resulting sentence is technically correct.

I agree, though with a couple of caveats. Writing systems, of which punctuation is a part, are separate from grammar. Pause, stress, tone, and even accent (in the sense of non-natives speakers or speakers from a different region) are part of the phonological system of language and they are used, along with different grammatical constructions, to give meaning to utterances. Spelling and punctuation are trying, however imperfectly, to represent those different acoustic phenomena. A big problem with punctuation is, there are many competing systems. For example, the one currently described in the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is not the one I was taught in primary and secondary school. Many editors are constantly trying to teach me not to use so many commas, etc. And, that's OK, and a proper activity for written, formal English, because I have worked most of my adult life as a technical writer. It's what I get paid to do. (They also have a damned time getting me to relinquish my Latin abbreviations, e.g., i.e., instead of that is.) Most places I've worked, use the CMS, but they do have local variations and we gather those together in a style guide used by the technical publications folks. But, never for a moment, do I believe in their bunkum, if one of them tells me the reason that one ought to use that in restrictive relative clauses and which in non-restrictive ones has anything to do with grammar or meaning. Likewise, telling somebody that It's me is incorrect, in spoken, informal English is just plain silly and may result in some contexts to a deviated septum.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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z: I didn't say that using grammar in a technical sense was bad. I've never said that "My mother she ..." is ungrammatical.

On your second point, I didn't say that such usage was always bad. If used for rhetorical effect, fine.

I don't accept your distinction between informal and formal speech, in this case. My mother she... is wrong in both types, in most cases.

And I certainly wasn't advocating teaching students that only formal speech exists.
 
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quote:
It seems the disagreements in this discussion revolve around distinctions between written and spoken speech.

Not to me. I wouldn't write, or say, "My mother she ..."
 
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quote:
Originally posted by zmježd:
If I were teaching English as a second language and if it were a class for advanced students, I would take the trouble to tell them there are two major varieties of language: informal (usually spoken) and formal (usually written or read).

I agree, except that I tell even low level classes that. It's essential. I always take the trouble to explain the correct register whenever I introduce new structures or new vocabulary.
 
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Is it possible for grammar to be incorrect - in the sense used in this forum? Surely, if someone uses it to communicate, it works. Who says such-and-such is incorrect? Grammarians? If the communication fails, because it's unclear or even incomprehensible, it can be rephrased until the idea is put across successfully, but was the original attempt wrong, or just poor?


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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BobHale: I agree that the distinction is essential, even in low level classes. But I hope you don't spend a lot of time explaining that the distinction exists. Don't your students mostly come with native languages that have such a distinction? I think all but the least evolved languages do.

Do you have, and announce, a standard, like: "Unless otherwise stated, I'll be teaching you formal English. When I introduce something that isn't used in formal English, I'll point it out." Or vice versa.
 
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We don't have a standard or policy on it, as such. What I normally do is much as you suggest. If I teach something that is non-standard or colloquial I tell them that it's not something they ought to put in a letter to their bank manager.
If I teach something that is formally correct but unlikely to be heard on the streets where they live I tell them that and, where possible, tell them what the colloquial equivalent is.

I would never actually set up a lesson on the subject, although at the highest levels I might introduce as a topic for discussion something like "why do we have different registers".
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Valentine:
I don't accept your distinction between informal and formal speech, in this case. My mother she... is wrong in both types, in most cases.


Except that it isn't. Plenty of examples of left-dislocation have been given:

The old gray mare, She ain't what she used to be (Jerry Thomas)

The Saturns, you can get air bags in them.
And heavy metal, it's noisy.
Well, my car, it's an eighty six. (examples given by Liberman)

Valerius, though a little Opposite at first, yet, upon his Mother’s pressing, and repeating how far my Happiness was the Object, if not the whole End of the Undertaking, he at last consented, and this my forced Marriage was resolv'd on that coming Day. (Jane Barker, Exilius 1719)

Left-dislocation is part of the grammar of English.

quote:
Originally posted by Valentine:
Don't your students mostly come with native languages that have such a distinction? I think all but the least evolved languages do.


I don't know what you mean by "least evolved languages", but since this is a linguistics forum, I must point out that there is no such thing as a least or more evolved language. All languages are roughly equal in complexity and expressive power. (The exception is pidgins, which have a restricted syntax and morphology compared to full languages.)

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My mother, she used to make a terrific cheese and potato pie. (Me, I miss those pies!)
 
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Left-dislocation is part of the grammar of English.

War. What is it could for? Absolutely nothing!

In the commentary to the Language Log post, somebody from Scotland said that right dislocation would used: She is good, my mother. I'd go further and suggest that left dislocation is a grammatical construction in English. Full stop. As with split infinitives, the that/which distinction, etc., it has been deprecated by normative grammarians as being "ungrammatical". Of course, I'd probably never use it in formal written English, for the reasons usually given: not wanting to be thought an uncultured rustic, getting the job, etc. And, I would punctuate it: comma, em-dash, full stop, depending on whim.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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goofy: I'm not sure I can say it any more clearly than I already have, but I'll try.

I have not asserted that "My mother she ..." is ungrammatical. I have not denied that left dislocation is part of the grammar of English, before or after we learned that name for it. I even gave an example of my own creation.

I do, however, applaud Kalleh's teacher for correcting the student who constantly used double subjects.

Evolved languages: I'll admit to not having a very evolved concept of what that means. Every language that I have much familiarity with has both formal and informal registers. But I think that there are probably those which do not, or do only to a much lesser extent than English does. Those without a written form, or those used by more primitive societies are likely candidates.

If I used a linguistic term of art, it was purely by accident. It seems I must have, because "I must point out that there is no such thing as a least or more evolved language. All languages are roughly equal in complexity and expressive power." are two examples, to me as a non-linguist, of perfectly grammatical sentences that are meaningless. Or, if not meaningless, completely wrong.

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Here's an analogy from a different field (computer science) that might explain how a linguist views utterances, grammaticality, and meaningfulness. Take a program being written in your favorite high-level programming language. A program may be syntactically correct (grammatical) if the compiler outputs a binary; cf. the hoary joke in some circles in IT: "It compiled; ship it!" That does not mean the program is meaningful. It doesn't even mean it's correct. (There could be uninitialized pointers being dereferenced, etc.; it might not do what it's supposed to do (e.g., allow one to send a fax or manipulate an image file). And since we're on about pedagogy, I always tried to make this distinction early on in intro programming classes to first year CS majors. Just fiddling blindly editing a program and getting it to compile is not a guarantee that it will run without crashing or do what the functional specification detailed. The big difference between natural and programming languages is that the latter have perfectly described grammars (in BNF), while the former do not (anyway not in any human-readable form I'm familiar with). That's how linguist use the term grammar. It has more to do with what is a morphologically and syntactically valid string (sentence) than what is a meaningful utterance. They are interested in meaning, too; that's what semantics and lexicography are all about. They just don't subsume it under grammar. And beating this analogical horse to death, punctuation is more like white space used to pretty print source code. Useful to a human trying to read the code, but totally unimportant to a compiler. (Except in some corner cases like make, Fortran, or Python.)


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Or perhaps, in the case of XML, the difference between well-formed, and valid.

But I think the analogy between punctuation and whitespace fails. Punctuation can change meaning, whitespace in most cases does not.
 
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Punctuation can change meaning, whitespace in most cases does not.

That's where we differ. I do not think punctuation changes meaning so much as help to discern what the intended meaning is by representing (partially) where prosodic patterns would be if spoken.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Eats, shoots, and leaves?

You are right in many cases. Punctuation can, however, reduce ambiguity. Whitespace doesn't.
 
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East, shoots, and leaves.

Eats shoots and leaves out of context is ambiguous. Given the context in which a sentence is embedded, almost no sentences are ambiguous. That's why for the most part communication occurs. IIRC, the title of Truss' book is Eats, Shoots and Leaves. She seems to be unaware of the serial or Oxford comma.

Punctuation can, however, reduce ambiguity. Whitespace doesn't.

Yes. I have never said that punctuation was a bad thing. Many writing systems have some sorts of punctuation. Many don't even have a writing system. What I have said, over and over it seems, is that punctuation is not grammar, and that our "system" is flawed; same with our spelling "system".

There are no ambiguous statements in programming languages. Whitespace just helps the non-compiler (i.e., human) to read and understand the code.

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Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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I didn't mean to imply that you thought punctuation was a bad thing. Nor was I arguing that punctuation is grammar.

My only point was that punctuation and whitespace aren't as closely analogous as you suggest.

My dog has fleas.
My dog has fleas?

Whitespace can't make that distinction.
 
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My only point was that punctuation and whitespace aren't as closely analogous as you suggest.

Ah, I see. I meant punctuation in natural languages is more like whitespace in programming languages. In programs, tokens which superficially resemble our punctuation marks are terminals in the grammar.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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It's interesting how my one little example created so much discussion. My teacher would have been proud.

Language Log's comment that the construction is "archaic" and "informal" helps me a great deal.

Interestingly, one reader on my Blog pointed out that I, the original complainant, had used the very same construction in my Blog entry. Here is what I had written:
quote:
On the other hand, those who have one point of view (and you can always predict what it will be), those who will argue their views on and on for days on end, those who don't pay any attention to other sides...they are anti-intellectual and probably not worth listening to.
 
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There are no ambiguous statements in programming languages

They've occasionally crept in and, of course, have had to be fixed. In the earliest versions of C the += operator was actually =+, so x=+a could be parsed as x = +a or x =+ a.
 
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Many ancient languages were written without punctuation or whitespace. The ancients managed to understand each other.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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I only brought up the punctuation issue because it is not uncommon for people to use grammar to imply a wider range that includes punctuation.

It seems that a written component would help to standardize elements within a language. I would not be surprised to find that "proper English" would have a close correlation to English that could be more effectively and less ambiguously represented in the written form.

A lack of punctuation would tend to limit your written communication options.

Are apostrophes and hyphens considered part of grammar or punctuation?


Myth Jellies
Cerebroplegia--the cure is within our grasp
 
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quote:
Are apostrophes and hyphens considered part of grammar or punctuation?

Spelling, I'd have thought. I've also no doubt that there is disagreement.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Valentine:
goofy: I'm not sure I can say it any more clearly than I already have, but I'll try.

I have not asserted that "My mother she ..." is ungrammatical. I have not denied that left dislocation is part of the grammar of English, before or after we learned that name for it. I even gave an example of my own creation.

I do, however, applaud Kalleh's teacher for correcting the student who constantly used double subjects.


You said it was wrong and I was trying to show that it wasn't wrong.

quote:

Evolved languages: I'll admit to not having a very evolved concept of what that means. Every language that I have much familiarity with has both formal and informal registers. But I think that there are probably those which do not, or do only to a much lesser extent than English does. Those without a written form, or those used by more primitive societies are likely candidates.


Many languages used by "primitive" societies have very complex levels of formality. For instance, Toda has a register that is used only by speakers when they are in a trance.

quote:

If I used a linguistic term of art, it was purely by accident. It seems I must have, because "I must point out that there is no such thing as a least or more evolved language. All languages are roughly equal in complexity and expressive power." are two examples, to me as a non-linguist, of perfectly grammatical sentences that are meaningless. Or, if not meaningless, completely wrong.


I was simply repeating what is stated in an intro linguistics course. What do you not understand about it?

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Whether intentionally or not, you have missed my point on all three responses.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Valentine:
Whether intentionally or not, you have missed my point on all three responses.


I'd love to know what I missed if you want to explain it to me.
 
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It may seem self-evident to the experts who have kindly offered to teach this course that there is a divide between “language” and “linguistics”—the subject, in fact, of Saussure’s opening chapters—and that students need to temporarily check their knowledge and usage of language at the door. But pesky questions about artistic taste, social class, and even hierarchy and empire among nations, tend to crop up at every turn. In order to put them on the back burner—to suspend credibility and simply go for the pure academic understanding, I find myself asking:
“Why Linguistics?”

So far, I observe that linguistics is the development of a math-based, scientific shorthand with which to describe human language. The motive for rendering natural phenomena and forces in mathematical terms is evident. Once one has established the terms, one can begin to manipulate them, in order to predict practical outcomes with a high degree of accuracy, before taking physical risks (or in order to avoid them). But that leads me to ask, in linguistics, what outcomes are we attempting to predict and why?

Psychology, like linguistics, attempts to render math out of human chaos. Looking on as psychological “math” is used to derive everything from judicial verdicts to insurance payments can be frustrating; conclusions defy common sense as often as not. The public may even view psychology as the beginning of a slippery slope toward social acceptance of ‘evil,’—the refusal to sanction anti-social behavior—like when the psychologist takes “bad” behavior and re-defines it as “dysfunctional”. But the stakes of “bad” social behavior are high, and worth the struggle to explore causes, predict outcomes, attempt remedies.

Linguistics can look similar to the public: an attempt to ignore social consequences—to eliminate moral judgment by adopting a scientific posture. But viewing linguistics from that angle trivializes it, I believe. The consequences of using “bad grammar”—or writing poetry of unsound verbal structure—though interesting, and worth study, do not compare. What can the experts tell us are the implications of manipulating the “math” of human speech? What were Saussure’s motivations, do you think, and where have we taken them so far?
 
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