Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Archive for the ‘Coordination and quotation fronting’ Category

Coordination and Quotation Fronting in the 1800s

Posted by Neal on January 21, 2011

Last week, Grammar Girl ran a guest script I wrote on one of the topics I’ve written about here on occasion: when coordination and quotation fronting clash. This is what happens in sentences like “No,” he said, and turned away. As you know if you’ve read some of my other posts on the topic, this kind of sentence is syntactically interesting because it’s an example of a construction in standard English that does not use parallel structure. To the left of the conjunction, we have an entire clause: “No,” he said. To the right, we have only a verb phrase: turned away. Semantically, though, the conjunction is joining two verb phrases: said “No” and turned away. It’s just that the syntax of English allows this kind of rearrangement in this kind of sentence, so that things look non-parallel on the surface.

However, there is the idea in some quarters that this kind of sentence ought to be revised so that it does have a parallel structure on the surface. You do it by repeating the subject (or more likely, a pronoun referring back to the subject): “No,” he said, and he turned away. Now, the conjunction has a full clause on either side. Though I’ve seen indirect evidence of this kind of prescription, the only place where I’ve seen it explicitly articulated is in Bill Walsh’s Lapsing into a Comma. So when I tweeted about this Grammar Girl episode, I called out Bill Walsh, saying, “‘Fraid @TheSlot ‘s not gonna like this one.”

He didn’t.

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Posted in Coordination and quotation fronting, Prescriptive grammar | 36 Comments »

Harry Potter and the Attributive Adverbs

Posted by Neal on July 27, 2009

“I’m mad, Dad,” Doug said. He has been wanting to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, preferably with some of his friends, but I’ve been dragging my feet about putting any kind of outing like that together. Unlike when the other HP movies came out, this time Adam is old enough to appreciate it, and I’d like him to be along to see it, too. He hasn’t wanted to see the other ones until recently, but now that he’s been watching them on video with us, I don’t want to leave him out of a family outing to see this one in the theatre. And I don’t want to go as a family when one or two of us has already seen it, either. I’m not going to boycott what sounds like a great movie if some of Doug’s friends invite him to see it with them first, but I’m not going to make a special effort to make that happen.

In that case, why haven’t we gone ahead and seen HP6 as a family? Well, before we do that, to maximize Adam’s enjoyment of it, I want him to have read — or more accurately, heard read aloud — at least the first five Harry Potter books. We listened to Goblet of Fire last summer, but did we then go right on to Order of the Phoenix? No, we did not. I put it off and put it off, and now we find ourselves listening to it in the car, the longest of the seven books in the series, while Doug waits for his chance to see Half-Blood Prince in the theatres. Oh, well. There are plenty of kids who will have to wait for the video, or won’t even be able to see it at all, so I don’t feel too bad about making Doug wait.

Jim DaleAnyway, as I listen to Jim Dale read the book aloud, I stand in awe of his talent. I’ve read articles here and there (usually when a new Harry Potter book was published) about all the voices he’s created for the hundreds of characters, and hearing them for myself, I am amazed at the job he’s done. I don’t think he’s created hundreds of distinct voices, but it’s certainly in the dozens, and even the voices that sound similar he uses consistently. When I read to Doug and Adam, I use my regular voice for the protagonist; then I bring out my Bert voice, my Marvin the Martian voice, my Howard Sprague voice, my gravelly creaky voice, my Cruel Shoes voice, my Simpsons teenager-with-acne voice, very occasionally my Grover/Yoda voice or Mr. Creosote voice, and a few other voices I don’t have names for, by choosing them on the spot when we meet a new character. But if the character disappears for a few chapters and reappears later, I rarely remember what voice I used for them. From now on, I’m going to take my reading aloud up a notch by recording a sample sentence on my iPod for each character to reference later, a technique I read about in one of those articles on Jim Dale.

However, hearing Jim Dale read the books aloud has raised my awareness of a complaint I’ve heard about J. K. Rowling: that she uses too many adverbs. I wrote before that I’d never noticed this, but I am finding it disconcerting as I listen to Jim Dale read the book — sometimes. It sticks out most when she uses them with verbs of attribution, as she does here:

“Keep muttering and I will be a murderer!” said Sirius irritably, and he slammed the door shut on the elf. (p. 110)

I didn’t find it awkward when I read the book myself, but I do now. Is it because I’m now familiar with the complaint about Rowling and her adverbs? Maybe, but here’s what I think is really going on. When I read the book to myself, an adverb like irritably after said is informative. Sure, fiction writers may say, if an author does their job well enough, then it should be obvious how a character says something, and the adverb will be superfluous. But sometimes, a single adverb does the job more quickly than a sentence or two of “show, don’t tell”. However, when Rowling says someone says something sarcastically or loudly or doubtfully, Jim Dale actually says it that way, and you can hear it, and the adverb really is superfluous. By contrast, when he reads that someone performed some non-speech action distractedly or slowly or however else, it still sounds just fine to my ears.

I’ve noticed a couple of other interesting things while listening to the audiobook. Still on the subject of adverbs, Rowling uses a couple of them often enough for me to have noted Jim Dale’s unusual pronunciation of them: dully and shrilly. These adverbs, of course, are formed by suffixing the adjectives dull and shrill with the suffix -ly. Because of a rule of English orthography, we don’t write dullly or shrillly, with three L’s in a row, but that’s how I think of them, and I pronounce them (I think) with an /l/ at the end of the first syllable and an /l/ in the onset of the second one. In phonetic terms, I have a geminate /l/. Dale, however, degeminates the double /l/, pronouncing dully to rhyme with Tully, Sully, and hully gully; and shrilly to rhyme with frilly, silly, and Milli Vanilli. You can see the difference on a spectrogram as well as hear it. I recorded myself and used Praat to find out that my dull-ly and shrill-ly took about 0.6 seconds to pronounce, while dully and shrilly took 2/3 to 3/4 of that time.

Now that I think about it, though, why shouldn’t we get degemination here? It happened with fully and really long ago. Another adverb that Rowling used often enough for me to notice Dale’s pronunciation is coolly, and that one Dale seems to pronounce sometimes with a geminate /l/, and sometimes without. (I wonder how he’d pronounce Pooland.)

As for the other interesting thing I noticed, look at these other sentences with quotations:

“Department of Mysteries,” said the cool female voice, and left it at that. (p. 135)

“I’m going to get started on some homework,” said Ron angrily, and stomped off to the staircase to the boys’ dormitories and vanished from sight. (p. 294)

Did you catch that? No, not the angrily; I’m talking about the unusual (for J. K. Rowling) construction she used in these passages. Follow the last link and this one to see what I’m talking about.

UPDATE, 11 Aug. 2009:

“Now!” said Mrs. Weasley, and withdrew. (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, p. 95)

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Posted in Coordination and quotation fronting, Phonetics and phonology, Prescriptive grammar | 6 Comments »

More on Coordination, Quotative Inversion, and Beverly Cleary

Posted by Neal on January 14, 2009

“So how was school today?” I asked Doug as we walked from the bus stop.

“Good,” he said. Then he remembered something: “I checked out Strider at the library today!”

“For me?” I asked. “Wow, that was really thoughtful of you, Doug! They let you check out two books?”

“No, but I had this one book, and while we were standing in line to check out, I noticed Strider on the shelf, and I rushed out of the line to ask if I could switch books –”

“You sacrificed your own library book so I could get my hands on Strider!” I said. “That was really nice of you, Doug.”

“No, not really,” he said. “I didn’t really want the other book anyway.”

Eventually, Doug will learn the finer points of situations like this, and get the hang of saying, “Aw, that’s OK,” and “I didn’t mind,” to maximize the favored party’s indebtedness. Too late this time, though!

So why did I want to find a copy of this book Strider, anyway? It started about a week earlier, during our read-aloud time. I’m remembering it now …

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Posted in Coordination and quotation fronting, Inversion, Kids' entertainment, Prescriptive grammar | 5 Comments »

Tolkien, Rowling, and Quotative Inversion

Posted by Neal on August 31, 2007

Yesterday I finished reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to Doug and Adam, and that’s enough Harry Potter for a while. I haven’t decided what we’ll take up next, but I did read them a little bit out of The Hobbit tonight to see how they liked it. We read only five and a half pages, but look what I found:

“We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. …I can’t think what anybody sees in them,” said our Mr. Baggins, and stuck one thumb behind his braces, and blew out another even bigger smoke-ring. (p. 7)

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Posted in Coordination and quotation fronting, Inversion, Kids' entertainment | 3 Comments »

More Harry Potter Grammar

Posted by Neal on August 7, 2007

There! I’ve finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, including the epilogue. You won’t get any spoilers from me, unless you wanted to find out for yourself that J.K. Rowling still makes all her interactions of coordination with quotative inversion strictly parallel (not that there’s anything wrong with that). In the whole book, I don’t remember coming across any sentences like, “It’s me,” said Harry, and walked in, and I’m pretty aware of them now. She always diligently puts in the subject of the second verb phrase — “It’s me,” said Harry, and he walked in — so that it becomes a parallel coordination of two entire clauses.

On a matter of morphology, who notices the nonstandard(?) grammar in Harry must defeat He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named? Q-Pheevr does!

As for dialectal variation between British and American English, I remember that the first Harry Potter book referred to “boogers” twice: once regarding Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavor Beans, and another time regarding the end of a wand that had been jammed up a troll’s nose. In the movie version, it was “bogies,” which was my first clue that this lexical variation existed. In Deathly Hallows, though, the American publishers don’t bother changing it anymore: It’s bogies. I wonder if the British also use this term to refer to over-par golfing, or suspicious items on a radar screen.

And now here’s a bit that fits right in with my last few posts, where a coordination of dissimilar things forces a word to be parsed in two ways. This is a spoiler only if you haven’t read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Adverbial nouns, Coordination and quotation fronting, Morphology, Variation | 7 Comments »

Harry Potter and the Grammar Police

Posted by Neal on June 18, 2007

I finished reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to Doug and Adam tonight. As I’ve read it for the past few nights, I’ve been paying special attention, seeing if it’s really true that, as Jan Freeman writes, “Even Harry Potter’s most loyal fans would concede that his creator, J.K. Rowling, has a weakness for adverbs.” I’ve heard this said before, but it’s never been something I really picked up on. Of course, it’s hard to know how seriously to take the criticism when, as Freeman demonstrates, some of the complainers don’t seem to know what an adverb is. In her column, Freeman quotes one ignorant reader who seems to think that adverb means “word that ends in -ly,” and who criticizes Rowling for having an adverb — deathly — right in the title of the final Harry Potter book.

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Posted in Coordination and quotation fronting, Kids' entertainment, Morphology, Prescriptive grammar | 11 Comments »

Coordination and Quotative Inversion Meet Again

Posted by Neal on December 13, 2006

I’ve been reading another book by Beverly Cleary to Doug and Adam. This one is Muggie Maggie, which was published in 1990. As I read it, every now and then I notice a sentence that, although perfectly good standard English, strikes me as unusual style for Cleary. Finally, I decided I had to go through the whole book and find all these sentences. Luckily, the story is only 70 pages, so within ten minutes I had picked out:

  1. “Many letters start up slowly, just like a roller coaster, and then drop down,” she said, and she traced over the first stroke of each letter with colored chalk. (14)
  2. “Today we practice our signatures,” she said, and she looked at Maggie. (32)
  3. “Well, it’s wrong,” she said, and she sighed so hard that Kisser looked anxious. (61)
  4. I will not enjoy it, thought Maggie, and she said, “All those loops and squiggles. I don’t think I’ll do it.” (8-9)
  5. “Oops,” said Mr. Schultz, and he closed his loops. (20)
  6. “Good for you, Goldilocks,” said her father, and he rumpled her hair. (43)

Now, compare those sentences with these, from a post from back in June. These are from Cleary’s Henry and Ribsy, published in 1954:

  1. “Boy, is he mad about something!” he exclaimed, and ran over to the driveway. (46)
  2. “Wuf,” he said mildly, and waited patiently while Beezus frantically pried Ramona’s fingers loose from his tail. (64)
  3. “Hi,” she answered, and entered the kitchen with her arms full of packages. (73)
  4. “Ow,” he exclaimed, and pulled away. (78)
  5. “Wuf!” he said, and looked hungrily at the lunch box. (129)
  6. Come on, salmon, bite, he thought, and tossed out his line.
  7. “I won’t,” promised Henry, and got back into the car. (15-17)
  8. “I have come to haunt you,” said Henry in his hollow voice, and let out a groan. (19)
  9. “I just stepped into the market to buy a pint of milk to drink with my lunch,” began the officer, and went on to explain what had happened. (30)
  10. “Wuf,” said Ribsy, and went to the refrigerator to show that what he really wanted was another piece of horse meat. (37)
  11. “Day in and day out,” said Mrs. Huggins, and laughed. (39)
  12. “Aw, keep quiet,” answered Henry, and grinned. (70)
  13. “Oh, it’s nothing,” said Henry modestly, and bared his teeth. (90)
  14. “Ribsy!” yelled Henry, and grabbed his dog by the collar. (94)
  15. “Try and get it,” taunted Scooter, and began to laugh. (96)
  16. “I wonder if…” began Mrs. Huggins and paused. (100)
  17. “O.K., you old dog,” muttered Henry, and steeled himself for the meeting with Scooter and Robert. (103)
  18. “Good old Ribsy,” said Henry, and hugged him. (111)
  19. “Wuf,” answered Ribsy, and worried the rope. (112)
  20. “Better not count on it,” said Mr. Grumbie, and yawned. (148)
  21. “Don’t lean out,” said Mr. Huggins sharply, and rewound the rope. (167)

See the difference? In H&R, whenever (1) Cleary uses and to indicate a sequence of two events; (2) the verbs for each event have the same subject; and (3) the first event is one of speech or thought, Cleary regularly omits the subject for the second verb. Thus for example, “Boy, is he mad about something!” he exclaimed, and ran over to the driveway, and not “Boy, is he mad about something!” he exclaimed, and he ran over to the driveway. In the whole book, you will not find a sentence like that. In MM, however, a book half the length of H&R, there are the six such sentences reported above. Moreover, there is not a single instance of Cleary omitting the subject for the second verb when the three conditions are met.

What happened between 1954 and 1990 to cause such a complete flip-flop? My guess is that a prescriptive grammarian got to her, and convinced her that the non-parallelism of “Ow,” he exclaimed, and pulled away was ungrammatical (unlike the non-parallelism of, say, John came early, and Marsha, late). All you linguists out there reading books by Beverly Cleary, check out how she handles sentences like these. With enough books for data points, we can answer important questions such as: When did the switch occur? Was it gradual? Has she alternated between styles over the years? Hey, we could make this the Beverly Cleary meme! On second thought, let’s not. If I launched a meme, then I’d feel guilty about ignoring memes I get tagged with.

Posted in Coordination and quotation fronting, Inversion, Kids' entertainment, Prescriptive grammar | 2 Comments »

Coordination Meets Quotative Inversion

Posted by Neal on June 7, 2006

Last summer, I added to my list of Friends in Low Places coordinations a couple that I got from a posting on Blogslot, written by Bill Walsh, a copyeditor for The Washington Post. Walsh read my post quoting him, and had this to say in a comment:

I have a similar problem with a common fiction device:

“I don’t love you anymore,” she said, and turned away from me.

She said it, but she didn’t turn-away-from-me it. I think another “she” is required after “and.”

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Posted in Coordination and quotation fronting, Gapping, Kids' entertainment, Semantics | 13 Comments »

 
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