Re: Things not to put after a full stop.

Subject: Re: Things not to put after a full stop.
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 23 Jul 2002 10:05:57 -0700


Dick Margulis wrote:

Whether we say it violates a rule of copybook grammar or is simply an utterance that would not be produced by a generative grammar, we still know it's wrong.

You've parsed "rules," but I also think that "wrong"needs to be parsed, too.

There are at least two different senses of "wrong." On the one hand, a sentence in which subject and verb don't agree is wrong because the lack of agreement reduces clarity, especially in a longer sentence.The wrongness lies in the fact that the error interfers with the sentence accomplishing its aim - to communicate.You could say that the error is noise in the signal, so you could call this type of wrongness "noise."

On the other hand, there are sentences that are wrong because they don't conform to the arbitary rules that prescriptive grammar has inflicted on the language: they start with a conjunction, or split an infinitive, to give two examples. In such cases, the wrongness does not necessarily interfer with communication. In fact, as some other posters have pointed out, breaking these arbitrary rules may actually make communication more effective.I'd call this type of wrongness "arbitary wrongness."

I suggest that skilled writers need to be very concerned with noise. Clear communication is, after all, a important feature of effective writing. In contrast, I suggest that skilled writers need to pay very little attention to arbitrary wrongness. They need to know that some people believe the arbitrary rules are as important as those for clarity, and know when to change their writing style to fit this audience, but otherwise arbitary wrongness has very little to do with effective writing. You can never go very wrong attempting to avoid noise. However, you can easily write an ineffective or dysfunctional sentence while trying to avoid arbitary wrongness.

If things were otherwise, then grammar checkers would be useful, and writers could be replaced by engineers, as Dick suggests.

--
Bruce Byfield bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com 604.421.7177

"One thing is clear:
Unpaid parking tickets lead to terrorism."
- Dan Bern


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Re: Things not to put after a full stop.: From: Dick Margulis

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