grammar checkers.

Subject: grammar checkers.
From: DAVID IBBETSON <ibbetson -at- IDIRECT -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 8 Jul 1996 18:19:26 -0400

Techwr-L rejected this the first time round because I failed to give a
subject. Apologies in all directions. David Ibbetson

>Date: Mon, 08 Jul 1996 17:49:17
>To: Copyediting, Techwr-L, WordPlay
>From: DAVID IBBETSON <ibbetson -at- idirect -dot- com>

>Recently a student wrote to one of these groups, I think COPYEDITING-L,
asking for experience in the use of Grammar checkers. A small number of
negative replies were posted. Since then the following article, which was
published in The Economist last year, has come to my attention. I am posting
>Techwr-l and Wordplay, because I consider it to be at once amusing and
instructive. If you don't find it so I apologise. (I scanned it in and then
proofread it. I hope I haven't made any mistakes, but experience shows I'll
be lucky if I haven't.

>It is for articles like this, as well as its outstanding coverage of world
affairs, that I strongly recommend a subscription to the Economist to
anybody who can't afford to be ill-informed.

>David (the idiot) Ibbetson
>Nerds' English

>TO BETTER write proper English, people are turning to grammar checkers.
>Some hope that these tools will help themselves avoids making errors, however,
>the technology is far from perfect. If Churchill was alive today, would his
>processor prevent him ending his sentences in a preposition?

>The previous paragraph is obviously rife with grammatical errors, including a
>split infinitive, a comma splice, a disagreement of subject and verb, an
>pronoun before a gerund and a misuse of the subjunctive. Yet one of the most
>popular computer grammar checkers failed to find anything wrong with
>anything that was actually incorrect. Instead Grammatik expressed concern that
>the adjective "alive" was misplaced and suggested changing "far from
perfect" to
>"far form perfect". That was all. Clearly, the program is not very good at
doing its

> The grammar checker also turns clear, powerful prose into a turgid, choppy
>mess. Poor Thomas Jefferson does not stand a chance. He wrote:

> When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary
> far one people to dissolve the political bonds which have
> connected them with another, and to assume among the powers
> of the earth, the separate and equal station to which
> the laws of nature and nature's God entitle them, a decent
> respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should
> declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

>The grammar-checker "corrected" America's Declaration of Independence to read:

> During human events, it becomes necessary for one person
> to dissolve the political bonds that have connected them with
> another. They take among the powers of the earth, the separate
> and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's
> God entitle them. A decent respect to the opinions of humankind
> requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to the

>Many of the changes to the Declaration of Independence were done
>automatically by the computer; some, like changing from passive to active
>constructions, had to be done by hand after the program complained. The result
>is a document that the grammar checker enjoys and the reader abhors.

>The problem is that computers are unable to parse language; they are able to
>guess only at the structure of a sentence -- and then apply a rigid set of
>euphony and style notwithstanding. If there are too many words in a sentence,
>the grammar checker comments that long phrases are hard to understand. If a
>gender-specific noun is used, the program pounces. (It is made in America,
>all.) When the rules get more complex, the computer makes more errors in
>applying them. For instance, the sentence in the opening paragraph of this
>article, ("Some hope that grammar checkers will help them avoids...") has a
>disagreement of subject and verb -- a mistake which the program is supposed to
>be able to correct. The grammar checker fails in its task because it
believes that
>"hope" is the subject of the sentence.

> Unfortunately, grammar checkers have not been improving. The lat-
>est version of one product was well received not because it worked any better,
>but because it was not as condescending as the previous model. Until computers
>can make more sense of the vagaries of language, grammar checkers are
products up with which we will not put.

>The Economist July 15th 1995, page 72.

David Ibbetson ibbetson -at- idirect -dot- com
133 Wilton St, #506, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5A 4A4
Phone (416) 363-6692 Fax (416) 363-4987

Standing among savage scenery, the hotel offers stupendous revelations.
There is a French widow in every bedroom, affording delightful prospects.
---- Gerard Hoffnung, supposedly quoting a letter from a Tyrolean
landlord. in speech at the Oxford Union, 4 December 1958

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