Re: Dangling Modifiers

Subject: Re: Dangling Modifiers
From: "Firetail Documentation" <firetail_documentation -at- hotmail -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 09:05:13 -0500


> Not really. Borrowing a word and borrowing a grammatical structure are
> not the same thing.

Really? Why not?



> English borrows words freely.

It also borrows grammatical structures -- Irish Gaelic, Dutch, and
French in particular have lent grammatical usages, particularly in the form
of idiom, to English in the last three hundred years, and been widely
accepted. The only difference is one happened at the street level and the
other in centres of learning. I don't see why one is legitimate and the
other not -- if not learned people, then who SHOULD set the standards for
formal writing?



However, it is much
> more resistant to borrowing grammatical structures,

Most languages are. That doesn't mean it never happens or that it's
unnatural when it does.


> >Does it matter from where the grammar (or the
> >word) comes, if it's commonly accepted?
> >
> In the case of grammar, it matters a great deal. Latin's structure, for
> example, is very different from English and the Germanic languages that
> English derives from. For this reason, trying to impose Latin structures
> on English is a Procrustean exercise, ignoring common English useages,
> and stretching them in improbable ways to conform to the artificial
> standard of Latin. The result is extremely artificial.

All human language is an artifice; a string of abstract symbols which
certain groups of people imbue with particular agreed-to meanings and
uses -- how we use it is utterly a matter of choice. How language develops
over time is a progression from form to form based upon influences from
within and without. To reject a feature of language merely because it
originates from without is isolationist, and a language with such policies
doesn't typically advance or win users in other linguistic circles -- note
this rearguard action as French declines in importance. To argue today that
it is illegitimate to adopt foreign grammatical standards we admire is to
argue in the 17th century against "inkhorn terms". It's also to imply that
we need have no regard for different standards in different uses of the
language. It may be fine to sing "She don't love me no more" in an R&B
song, but it's not the sort of language one expects to see in a manual.
People became convinced quite some time ago that dangling modifiers were
acceptable in day-to-day speech, but should be avoided in formal writing;
today, that simply is the higher standard, like it or not, and regardless of
its source. As such, it's no longer "artificial". That said, it's also
unnatural for English to use the Latin alphabet -- twenty-six letters, some
of them duplicates, representing a language with an internation received
standard for forty-three sounds. Should we perhaps go back to the runes?



>
> >This is how people have come to
> >expect a formal English sentence to be written, regardless of the
> >'ethnicity' of the concept.
> >
> Not really. The idea that a sentence shouldn't end in a preposition is
> probably the weakest of the arbitrary prescriptivist rules that were
> inflicted on English during the Eighteen Century.

It might have been arguable at that point, but two hundred years of use has
fairly entrenched the practice in the language to the point that it's
expected. Again, there was a vogue just previous to this where people
argued against the intrusion of foreign words into the language; some
languages, like German, are still rather steeled against the practice.
Obviously, that's an issue we got past. It doesn't bother me where our
standards of formal writing originate any more than it bothers me where
words in the vocabulary originate. I'm not prepared to be a purist and roll
the language back to pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon times just to squeeze out all
usages people don't like because they require some thought. I feel free to
end a sentence in a preposition when I'm just talking among people. I don't
so much when I'm communicating formally, because people expect us to aim
higher when we do. You may see it as artificial; I see it as the reason I'm
employed.

Todd G. Sutherland
Firetail Documentation

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Follow-Ups:

References:
RE: Dangling Modifiers: From: Dana Worley
Re: Dangling Modifiers: From: Michael Feimster
Re: Dangling Modifiers: From: Firetail Documentation
Re: Dangling Modifiers: From: Bruce Byfield

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