Monday, December 18, 2006

Calling Professor Chomsky

Don't go away, Professor Chomsky; your question is at the bottom. ldd

A Book About Language, With No Phoneme Unturned (nyt)

Mr. Dickson, down here on the outback the Gulf of Mexico, we await like birds in a nest for you smart-as-hell NYC boys to tell us what to think and how to write.

Imagine our dismay when you write a gaga article about a British Elmer Gantry of linguistics who breezes into NY and wows you with the hot tip that Portuguese Pidgin has replaced Indo-European in the linguistics racket.

I think Mr. Crystal's bushy wild-man beard seduced you. You NYC boys are pushovers for even vestigial marks of the Nobel Savage, especially one coming from the Mother Country.

Meanwhile, we Gulf-of-Mexico hillbilly prescriptive grammarians--the ones who know extant rules and naively apply them--must mark your departures from Standard English, which your bosses at the NYT purport to exemplify in its pages. I am sending this rat-out to Mr. Keller, who--now that somebody there finally had the guts to fire Judith Miller when he didn't--is supposed to be in charge of the quality of writing in the paper, one hears.

I shall mount your piece in my It's that bad.

lee drury de cesare
15316 Gulf Boulevard 802 Madeira Beach, FL 33708

Wait! I am not finished.

Mr. Chomsky, give us your assessment of your competition's lucubrations: those of Mr. Crystal. Is Indo-European out and Pidgin in? We need linguistic liturgy on this matter in our grammar Dogpatch. Also tell us what you think of Alan Dershowitz's demand that President Carter debate him on calling the conditions in the Jewish settlements "apartheid."
Thank you.

An outback fan,

lee drury de cesare 727-398-4142

By PAUL DICKSON Published: December 18, 2006

After laying out all the conventional wisdom on sign language (that is, it is no more than a system of sophisticated gesturing and not a real language at all; that there is just one sign language)comma he
declares all of it wrong.

You need a comma after the close of parenthesis for an introductory verbal phrase. The "after" phrase is adverbial with a gerund phrase as object. It that modifies "declares."

For example he tells us that every language spoken evolved from the large assortment of sound units of which the human voice is capable, but that no language uses all the sound units available to it.

The "for example" is a sentence modifier and requires a comma after it. You could transfer the redundant comma after "capable," which splits compound dependent clauses.

His evidence is that English has (in some accents) 44 sound units, Rotokas in the Pacific Islands has only 11 but !Xu in Southern Africa emits 141 different sound units when spoken.

The comma after "unit" marks a rotten-to-the-core comma splice. That's a grammar felony. You need a comma after "ll" for a compound sentence.

If there is a quibble to be made it is that Mr. Crystal occasionally seems to exceed his own speed limit and discuss key issues too quickly.

A comma goes after "made" for an introductory adverbial clause.

The question asked by anxious parents every day about which is the better way to teach a child to read — phonics or whole-word approaches — is addressed in a couple of paragraphs, noting that this debate has raged since the early 19th century. 42-word blowsy sentence

The comma after "paragraphs" is redundant: that participial phrase is restrictive.

Edit: "Anxious parents ask whether phonics or whole-word is the better method. The author notes that this battle has raged since the early 19th century. 11- and 13-word equals 24.

Then there is his balanced but all-too-brief presentation of the centuries-old battle between the advocates of prescribing grammar and usage versus those who simply describe what is actually being spoken and written.

There is no battle. The "prescribing" folks want to use current best English on the market in the history of language. The actually-being-spoken free-spirit layabouts say "to hell with the rules. I can't be bothered to learn them. I can use dangling modifiers if I don't know any better and write for the NYTimes, to boot." The which has become one of the many newspapers that let grammar and punctuation go to hell in its pages in breezy, illiterate apercus like yours.

Again, this is something he moves through as quickly as one can turn impact from a noun to a verb.

This exit sentence makes no sense. Not making sense is un-American.

Time and again a point is made and illustrated with a fact or anecdote that perfectly drives it home.

Your major style affliction is galloping passive-verbitis. Run this piece through the grammar checker to see how severe your condition is. "Crystal illustrates a fact or anecdote..." You suffer from wordiness as well.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Little Lord Fauntleroy Will

Subject: Little Lord Fauntleroy Will's Webb Attack

Lord Fauntleroy Hisses Webb Catcall
Pundit Lord Fauntleroy George Will hissed at Senator Jim Webb because Lord George claims Webb desecrated the English language and acted boor to Mr. Bush (“Already Too Busy for Civility” 10/30/06).

In Uriah Heep show of cringing fair play before baring his claws, Will admits that “in his novels and his political commentary, Webb has been a writer of genuine distinction, using language with care and precision.”

Webb’s exchange with the president that inflamed Will occurred “When Bush asked Webb about his Marine son in Iraq: "`How's your boy?’" Webb replied, "`I'd like to get them [sic (Will’s addition)] out of Iraq.’" When the president pressed, "`How's your boy?’" Webb replied, "`That's between me and my boy.’"

Will condemned Webb’s “patent disrespect” to the president for Webb’s swat at Bush’s breezy reference to Webb’s “boy.” Webb’s boy and other sons risk their lives in Bush’s War, waged to iron out oedipal kinks in the dauphin’s relationship with his father.
Which is more boorish: lying a country into a war that kills and maims thousands of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians or Webb’s swat at Bush’s condescending banter about Webb’s son’s Iraq service, coming from a draft dodger who didn’t serve in his own war but hid out in the National Guard?

As soi-disant guardian of the purity of language, Lord George then complains that “just days after winning an election,” Webb “was turning out slapdash prose that would be rejected by a reasonably demanding high school teacher.”

Since I am such teacher, having taught 28 years of college freshman-sophomore English, I assume command from here on in Will’s complaints about Webb’s “slap-dash prose.” I begin by red-penning Will’s feeble passive verb in the foregoing sentence.

Will’s first swipe at Webb’s writing is the feline “sic” inserted in “I’d like to get them [sic] out of Iraq.” Will preens grammar erudition by pinpointing Webb’s pronoun-antecedent agreement error: Webb's referring to “boy,’ singular, with “them,” plural. Will’s grammar bomblet ranks dud because Webb is talking, not writing. Unless a person falls into gross solecisms in speech, such fugitive lapses in grammar as pronoun-antecedent agreement pass muster in that context.

However, if a person makes a pronoun-antecedent error in writing, he deserves nailing. Teacher stands adamant on this point.
Will condemns an error that he himself makes unwittingly. Will has a pronoun-antecedent error in the first sentence of his homily: “That was certainly swift.” Will’s demonstrative pronoun “that’ points back to empty space. It altogether lacks antecedent. Teacher’s red pen marks the blooper.

Lord Will delivers diatribe against two adverbs that Senator Webb used in a piece in the Wall Street Journal: “literally” and “infinitely.” He fixates on what he claims is Webb’s not knowing what the adverbs mean and quotes Alice in Wonderland about assigning words arbitrary meaning. “Words have meanings that not even senators can alter,” bugles Will.

However, Teacher points out that the chief problem doesn’t involve adverbs’ meaning but the plethora of them: Will’s, not Webb’s.

Most people used a small jewel in freshman English: Strunk & White. It condemns superfluous adverbs. While Will castigates Webb’s two adverbs, he piles them up himself: “unfortunately,” “certainly” twice, “particularly,” “suddenly,” “incessantly,” “reasonably,” “only” twice, “actually” three times, “quickly,” “especially,” “newly,” “incessantly,” “insufficiently.”

Superfluous adverbs bestrew Will’s prose hey nonny nonny.
Will’s glut of adverbs make Mr. Strunk and Mr. White roll over in their graves.

Then there are Lord Will’s problems with commas: he overuses them. In “…asked a civil and caring question, as one parent to another,” the comma after “question” ranks redundant. “As one parent to another” is a restrictive adverbial prepositional phrase. My blog has featured Mr. Will’s abuse of commas before and will do so again.

Despite Will’s calculated pose of young pundit blade adorned with perpetual bow tie and blow-dried Fauntleroy hair, the pundit is no longer young. Thus, his use of youthful slang argot— out-of-date slang such as “earth to Webb” or “make waves”—makes him look like an old guy who’s trying to pass for a young guy.

Nothing ranks more ridiculous than a fellow long in the tooth's resorting to slang to disguise geezerdom in his Viagra years. Will should abandon dated jive talk as he approaches King Lear country. This pathetic practice of invoking moss-grown slang makes young people roll their eyes and snicker behind Will’s back.

As to Will’s accusations that Webb admires “his new grandeur,” is one of those leaders who are “insufferably full of themselves,” and comes off a “pompous poseur,” one yields to Lord Fauntleroy Will’s expertise in those areas. George Will swamps all competition for pompous poseur on the written page.

Questionable is Will’s fear that Webb “already has become what Washington did not need another of, a subtraction from the city's civility and clear speaking.” A measure of Washington’s civility is the slurs Will throws at Webb in this pouting piece. To gauge the “clear speaking” of Washington, Will should read Frank Rich’s recent “Has He Started Talking to the Walls?” on Bush’s gutting language of meaning. Bush has used the bully pulpit to convert language into Kafka-speak in Washington and on trips abroad. His abuse of language links with his destruction of Iraq. Webb has little room to gut language of meaning after Bush’s depredations.

Reasonably demanding Teacher will see Master Will in her office after class.

lee drury de cesare
Madeira Beach, FL 33708 727-398-4142

C: Senator Webb

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Predicate Adjective Mess-up of Sullivan WashingtonPost

But this case, she said, may make people feel differently about the Russian presence...


Ms. Jordan, Mr. Sullivan: You need the adjective "different," not the adverb "differently," after the linking verb "feel" in your sentence.

lee drury de cesare
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