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Re: master 1d4862e: Fix English grammar in some doc strings and comments

From: Stephen Berman
Subject: Re: master 1d4862e: Fix English grammar in some doc strings and comments
Date: Mon, 04 Nov 2019 22:47:05 +0100
User-agent: Gnus/5.13 (Gnus v5.13) Emacs/27.0.50 (gnu/linux)

On Mon, 4 Nov 2019 22:37:41 +0100 Juanma Barranquero <address@hidden> wrote:

> On Mon, Nov 4, 2019 at 9:34 PM Joost Kremers <address@hidden> wrote:
>> Says who? The original examples all sound perfectly natural, more
>> natural than the corrections, in fact. Looks like one of those
>> rules up with which we should not put.
> My thoughts exactly. That seems like the kind of prescriptivist "rule"
> out of Strunk & White and the like, blindly and eagerly adopted by
> style guide's writers everywhere, but not based in any objective fact
> about the English language. Like the idea that you shouldn't split
> infinitives, or end sentences with prepositions, and passive must be
> avoided at almost any cost.

The following passage from _The Cambridge Grammar of the English
Language_ (Huddleston, Pullum, et al., (c) 2002, pp590-591) is apropos:

  When /only/ precedes the focus and the latter is contained within the
  VP, /only/ is commonly non-adjacent, functioning syntactically as
  modifier to the whole VP, as in [We only found one mistake].  There is
  a long-standing prescriptive tradition of condemning this construction
  and saying that in writing /only/ should be placed immediately before
  its focus. It is recognised that one needs to distinguish here between
  speech and writing, because in speech the focus will usually be
  prosodically marked (as noted above, the scopal focus usually
  coincides with the informational focus). In writing, however, there is
  generally no analogue of stress, and hence no comparable way of
  marking the intended focus. For this reason, the prescriptive argument
  goes, the focus should be marked by placing only immediately before

  This is another of those well-known prescriptive rules that are
  massively at variance with actual usage, including the usage of the
  best writers. The more empirically based manuals recognise this, and
  cite numerous literary examples that violate the rule, such as those
  in [51], where the focus is marked by underlining:

  [51] i I [only saw Granny _at carefully spaced intervals_].
      ii Boris doesn't eat shanks so, of course, I [only cook them _when
         he's away_].

  Examples of this kind are clearly impeccable. There is no grammatical
  rule requiring that /only/ be adjacent to its focus. And all that can
  validly be said from the perspective of style is that the general
  injunction to avoid potential confusion or misinterpretation should be
  respected as usual. In the absence of contextual indications to the
  contrary, /saw/ and /Granny/ in [i] are not plausible candidates for
  the status of focus: it is not necessary therefore to place /only/
  adjacent to the PP to indicate that it is the intended
  focus. Similarly, in [ii], the context provided by the first clause
  together with the connective /so/ makes it obvious that /when he's
  away/ is the intended focus, and it is therefore quite mistaken to
  insist that /only/ must be placed after /cook them/. Such examples may
  be contrasted with those in [52], where there is significantly greater
  potential for misinterpretation, and hence a stronger case for
  recommending that /only/ be placed next to the intended focus:

  [52] i You can only access the web at this workstation.
      ii Last Christmas he only gave money to his children.

  In [i] either /the web/ or /this/ might reasonably be taken as focus,
  yielding an ambiguity between the readings "At this workstation
  accessing the web is all you can do" and "This is the only workstation
  at which you can access the web". And in [ii] both /money/ and
  /children/ might be plausible candidates for focus: "He didn't give
  his children anything execpt or more than money" or "His children were
  the only ones to whom he gave money". But of course, the issue of
  whether there is any realy danger of misinterpretation will dpend on
  the context in which the sentences are used.

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