Future English & Future Britain

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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Nathan » 09 Jun 2013, 22:58

Despite being a translator and hence somebody who really should know this sort of thing inside out, I still sometimes struggle with underuse or overuse of commas and knowing where to put them! The first way 'looks right' to me, too.

Is the example you found American English? I believe the American way is that the comma always goes directly after the last word in a prepositional phrase, regardless, but the British style guide I use as my ultimate arbiter does things differently. I can't find an exact parallel sentence, but what do you think about this one?

"The only emperor", writes Wallace Stevens, "is the emperor of ice cream."


Another quotation from the same link that you might like:

G. V. Carey wrote:I should define punctuation as being governed two-thirds by rule and one-third by personal taste. I shall endeavour not to stress the former to the exclusion of the latter, but I will not knuckle under to those who apparently claim for themselves complete freedom to do what they please in the matter.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Gavin » 09 Jun 2013, 23:33

This is one that has cropped up between Andrea (my American wife) and me. Like Elliott, in most cases I would not put the comma inside the inverted commas. I was almost as amazed when I saw this done as I was when I saw them keep red wine in the fridge in Japan - but this, as Nathan says, seems to be way they're taught in America.

I think it's wrong (viz. logically inferior). A comma is a pause, so I think one needs to consider whether the pause is part of the quoted speech or not, but this does just seem to be stylistic difference between American and English prose.

The Clockwork Orange example looks completely wrong to me while the emperor example Nathan gives looks fine.

What do people think about commas before "and"? I generally try to avoid them, but I have loosened up a little on that of late, again on the logic that they simply indicate a pause.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 10 Jun 2013, 00:31

Nathan, I like that quote from GV Carey!

"The only emperor", writes Wallace Stevens, "is the emperor of ice cream."

I have to say that that doesn't look right to me, but it's probably just because I'm not used to it. With speech I am very used to the comma coming before the closing quotation mark. As Gavin says, you would naturally break speech up at the speaker's pauses, so it makes sense to have the comma inside the quotation.

Re. Gavin's general point about using commas, I try to get rid of them where they are not necessary (for example, before the words "but" and "and") but I sometimes keep them if there is a natural pause.

One thing I've recently started doing is this sort of thing:
It was clear that from then on, things would have to change.

It was clear that, from then on, things would have to change.

I don't know what the technical term is for the clause "from then on" but I read a few months ago that it is bad practice to only include the closing comma in such a clause. I reflected and realised that this is true: if you omit the opening comma, the reader doesn't get psychologically geared up for the closing one. The down-side of including the opening comma is that you do end up peppering your text with more commas. Perhaps we need a general, all-purpose rule that, if it isn't essential, don't do it.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Mike » 10 Jun 2013, 00:59

Elliott wrote:This might be blasphemy, but...

I think this punctuation:
In "A Clockwork Orange", the droogs

is better than this punctuation:
In "A Clockwork Orange," the droogs


Apparently the second version is the correct one. I don't like this.


Nope. You are right and that article is wrong.

The difference between the phrase you quoted and something like this:

"The most important thing," he added, "is to escape while we still can."


...is that in the latter case, a direct quote is interrupted by the narrator (with "he added"), to be continued later in the sentence, whereas in the example you mentioned the quote is finished. In that case the comma does go outside the quotation marks.

That's actually quite a good example of how the desire for grammatical accuracy, when taken beyond its proper limits, becomes pedantry. People sometimes latch onto "a rule" and apply it even in cases where it has no relevance.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 10 Jun 2013, 01:04

Oh - great! Thanks, Mike. :)
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Mike » 10 Jun 2013, 01:09

Elliott wrote:Oh - great! Thanks, Mike. :)


No problem. I wouldn't call myself an authority on English grammar, but those years of ESL at least taught me something. :)

Gavin wrote:What do people think about commas before "and"? I generally try to avoid them, but I have loosened up a little on that of late, again on the logic that they simply indicate a pause.


To my mind it depends on the length of the sentence. One of my "jobs" while I was Year Advisor at my school was proofreading all the kids' reports. (This put some of my colleagues' command of English in a rather poor light, I might add.) There seemed to be a general aversion to commas, and although I agree that they can be over-used, sentences that contain four or five clauses generally need a comma somewhere to prevent the reader from getting lost in the syntax.

My students are always a bit surprised (well, stunned) when I tell them that the Romans didn't use punctuation at all, that it was introduced in medieval times to make reading Latin easier. "How did they read anything, then?" "Well, if you're used to it..."
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Paul » 10 Jun 2013, 03:47

Elliott's first example seems the correct one to me - the comma is placed outside and after (and preceding) the speech marks.

The example by Mike has thrown me. I've never heard the rule about changing the format because of interruption, but on thinking about it, this rule seems valid, and works better.

But I was generally taught (1970s O level) that a comma must always be placed before and after any example of 'he wrote' or 'he said' or 'he remarked' and thus closing and thence preceding any specific quotation of actual speech. Such commas always go outside the speech marks, or so I would have said.

As regards 'and' I was always told it was incorrect to precede or follow the word with a comma. But as has been said, it sometimes feels more natural to do so and thus I break that rule now and again.

I am confused about where to put the full stop at the end of a sentence that terminates with speech. In the examples of full sentences given here, I notice the full stop is placed within the closing speech marks. This doesn't 'sound' right to me. It doesn't ring true, probably because it is contrary to the general comma rule, as noted above. But, if I put it outside the speech marks then somehow it doesn't look right.

I flitter about with the position of full stops/speech marks to seemingly no real order! Help!

What about the words 'while' or 'whilst'? I've noticed a few of the former in this thread, whereas I would prefer the latter. Is the latter just an old-fashioned version?
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Jonathan » 10 Jun 2013, 08:06

Caleb wrote:However, they take people who have never stepped in a classroom before, and train them in a week or week and a half. Within a few months of experience, the teachers have more or less hit their stride or they haven't.


That's a very interesting observation - I'm not sure what to make of it. I think I'll stick that into the back of my mind until that happy day I have children in primary school, when I'll have a chance to put it to the test.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Jonathan » 10 Jun 2013, 08:14

Elliott wrote:This might be blasphemy, but...

I think this punctuation:
In "A Clockwork Orange", the droogs

is better than this punctuation:
In "A Clockwork Orange," the droogs




I'm a programmer by vocation, and the second one gives me an internal syntax error because you're not popping the stack in the same order you pushed it. My brethren will know what I mean. This is an explanation of a habit, not an argument for its correctness.

In addition, I also stick the period outside the quotation marks when they end the sentence. Example: He said "bla bla bla". Otherwise, I feel as if the sentence has no period. The one inside the quotation marks doesn't count, because it's part of the quotation, not the quoting sentence. When the quotation is obviously a long sentence which has obviously just reached its end, I still put the period outside the quotation, but then I feel a bit naked.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Caleb » 10 Jun 2013, 08:23

Jonathan: I think that in other times or places, it may really have required/require something special to be a primary school teacher. My observations are just of fairly young people from within the Anglosphere (many of those I've encountered from North America here in Taiwan don't seem to be much different from those I encountered in Australia). The content (not just in English) doesn't seem to require particularly smart people. You seem to be able to write a decent sentence, so you'd have the English under control. Any grammar and so on you would need to know would only be in terms of the nomenclature. If you can solve simple mathematical problems in your head and explain your steps you'd be set also. For example, a cake is divided between three people. Mary gets a third, Simon gets a quarter. How much does Peter get? (1 - 1/3 x 1/4 = ?) That sort of thing, or converting fractions to decimals or percentages or vice versa. Science, social studies and so on involve pretty straight forward concepts. At that age, most kids aren't really able to think abstractly (and those who can must find it insufferably boring), so everything is very much descriptive with a minimal amount of thinking and analysis. Most content you'd already know, or be able to pick up extremely easily. Honestly, you'd probably be fine in many English speaking countries as a primary school teacher. Most people at this site probably would. I think it speaks volumes that kids who are home schooled in America by non-professionals (their parents) routinely out perform their government schooled peers.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Caleb » 10 Jun 2013, 08:36

Paul wrote:I am confused about where to put the full stop at the end of a sentence that terminates with speech. In the examples of full sentences given here, I notice the full stop is placed within the closing speech marks. This doesn't 'sound' right to me. It doesn't ring true, probably because it is contrary to the general comma rule, as noted above. But, if I put it outside the speech marks then somehow it doesn't look right.


The rule for British English, as far as I know, is that if what is contained within the speech marks is part of a sentence, then the full stop goes outside. If the entire content of the speech marks is a complete sentence, the full stop goes inside.

What about the words 'while' or 'whilst'? I've noticed a few of the former in this thread, whereas I would prefer the latter. Is the latter just an old-fashioned version?


There are many words such as these where they are both correct. Other examples include toward/towards or dreamed/dreamt. Generally speaking, the simpler or more consistent version tends to be American. There were attempts made to simplify American English and make it more consistent, but the project was never completed. British English tends to contain more archaic or irregular spellings.

There are a number of things that constantly trip me up. The first is that I am surrounded by American English, both online and here in Taiwan. However, what really confuses me about American English is that many of the Americans I encounter (whether online or in person) do not even speak or write standard American English correctly. I hear some real clangers all the time. I've encountered "teached" and masses of other incorrectly conjugated past tense verbs more times than I can remember. Don't even get me started on past participles. "I never should have went..." is so common now that it will probably become "correct" within a generation. Americans seem to have an aversion to adverbs, and the adjectival forms will probably suffice within a generation also. There is also a ubiquitous abuse of pronouns. The worst one (which is actually taught in Taiwanese English textbooks!) is the following:

A: "I don't like apples."
B: "Me too."
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Jonathan » 10 Jun 2013, 08:50

Caleb wrote:"I never should of went..." is so common now that it will probably become "correct" within a generation.


Fixed it for you. :)
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Caleb » 10 Jun 2013, 09:37

Jonathan wrote:
Caleb wrote:"I never should of went..." is so common now that it will probably become "correct" within a generation.


Fixed it for you. :)


Nice! :D
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Mike » 10 Jun 2013, 09:38

"Who are we versing today at sport?"

:)
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Gavin » 10 Jun 2013, 09:38

I like considering the natural rules which we apply (or some of us apply) to grammar.

I think I would only include a full stop at the end of a quoted sentence if that sentence was quoted in isolation and without anything (such as "he said") added at the beginning or the end. So these would be right:

"I'm going into town" he said.
She did it for "comedy value".
"I didn't know."


I think I would apply this rule even in the case of quoted paragraphs:

"Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a Swiss farm, and live entirely surrounded by cows - and china" wrote Dickens.

As La Rochefoucauld once observed, "The passions are the only advocates which always persuade. They are a natural art, the rules of which are infallible; and the simplest man with passion will be more persuasive than the most eloquent without".


And in the above examples I'd say commas after or before the quotations respectively is optional. If I didn't put the full stop outside the quotation in case (2) the the over-all sentence would be left un-ended. True enough, La Rochefoucauld's own sentence is left un-ended like this, but if I gave him a full stop too, that would seem to be an excess of full stops! So I think this is the best compromise.

In my second paragraph above, I wrote "if that sentence was quoted in isolation". What about "was" and "were" in conditionals? I use "was" if the subject is singular. But we don't in the case of "if you were going"!

This is the difficulty of mastering a natural language, isn't it? There are rules, but there are also many exceptions to them. I do not think it therefore follows, however, as modern linguists would have it, that all rules should be thrown out of window. On the contrary, we could perhaps further refine our languages with better application of rules. For example (and sorry this post is so long) I think the American "Do you have any flour?" may be a logical improvement upon the English "Have you got any flour?". "Got" does often seem to me to be a bit of a redundant word.
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