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TSE  April 2003

TSE April 2003

Subject:

Re: Grammar--OT commentary in favor of

From:

Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Sat, 5 Apr 2003 13:17:51 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (72 lines)

Dear Carroll,

I'm afraid I totally disagree. Of course, in the post, it should have been
"whom" because it is the objective case.

[Warning: the following rant comes from my love of language and
commitment to the central value of grammar in all its fascinating forms, so
if that bores you, stop here.]

Much more important is that case endings and other forms of
morphological distinction make clear cues in writing for what is often
expressed in speech by tone or pitch or body language or volume or many
other cues.

I teach a course called "Rhetoric, Syntax, and Style," and one thing we
examine constantly is the way grammar and punctuation can utterly alter
meaning. These things make distinctions, sometimes obvious ones,
sometimes nuances. But everything in the language that allows for
distinction and therefore complication is wonderful. For example, in an
article by Kathleen Parker (with whom I never agree, but that is irrelevant
here) there is the following statement: "Muslims ever alert to any
perceived slight to their culture or religion have taken yet another hostage
in what appears to be a concerted assault on freedom of speech."
I asked my students to whom she referred and what would have been
meant if the modifying phrase from "ever. . . religion" had been set off by
commas. They all recognized that her statement as it is written is
restrictive and so does not mean all Muslims, but with the commas it
would mean all Muslims--a pretty important difference.

In speech, that would be clear from intonation. In writing, it requires a cue
for restrictive or nonrestrictive. In the case of "who" or "whom" there is a
very clear value because it can often clarify which noun is the antecedent.
And it is so utterly simple that there is no reason at all for the fairly
frequent air of dismay or annoyance about it. Any place that takes "I"
takes "who," and anyone who speaks English has no trouble with "I" and
"me." It is only the need to recognize that the issue is the word's role in
the clause that matters. The lack of most morphological distinctions
originally in Anglo-Saxon makes modern English depend extremely on
word order, and in the example sent, the order is inverted. Grammatically,
the "who" means the mermaids are about to do something because they
are cued as the subject. But of course they are not, so the reader
encounters a momentary glitch. Getting rid of the case distinction would
simply eliminate one of the remaining cues to who acts and make word
order even more rigid.

Every written cue allows and creates nuance. For example, NBC places
"Operation Iraqi Freedom" in quotation marks. Fox does not. That is a
pretty major distinction between a claim and an assertion of simple truth.

The reason Orwell has the language of 1984 stripped of distinction and
differentiation is to make complex thought impossible. We keep doing the
same out of astonishing notions that it is too much trouble to learn simple
differences. And we are left with less and less possibility.

And yes, I know language keeps changing and adding new words and
possibilities, and no I am not calling for reifying language. But the
application of linguistic studies of speech to pronouncements about writing
leads to less rather than more possibility.
Nancy



Date sent: Sat, 5 Apr 2003 10:22:15 -0600
Send reply to: "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
From: Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Re: Grammar
To: [log in to unmask]

Anything which even remotely contributes to the eventual disappearance
from English of "whom" is to be admired.

Carrol

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