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resumptive "that"?
Thread poster: transparx
transparx  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:48
English to Italian
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Oct 12, 2007

I am not saying that because he was a young student that someone decided that he was automatically supposed to be lazy.

The sentence above was taken from one of the books I am using this semester.

At first, I thought I'd found this sentence hard to read because of its garden path nature. On closer inspection, however, I realized that the second "that" need not be there at all.

Had I not seen other such sentences in other texts, I would simply assume that the extra "that" in the sentence above is but a typo. But lately I have seen this "resumptive that" pop up too often not to think it is (or is becoming) a widespread phenomenon.

I was wondering what others think of this peculiar use of "that." Does anyone find the sentence above acceptable? If so, to what degree? If not, why not?

[Edited at 2007-10-12 05:48]


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
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No, add "it was..." after the first "that" Oct 12, 2007

I am not saying that it was because he was a young student that someone decided that he was automatically supposed to be lazy.

The other two "thats" in succession seem OK to me. By the way, putting a semi-colon after the first "that" would make it mean that you WERE saying what followed but were not saying something else.


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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
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Two of the "thats" are actually redundant Oct 12, 2007

A fairly ghastly sentence, in my view.
In fact, two of the "thats" could be omitted altogether, making the sentence read:
"I am not saying that because he was a young student someone decided he was lazy".
It is still perfectly comprehensible and much less clumsy.

I've also noticed a recent fashion for repeating the word "is" unnecesarily in speech: "the trouble is, is that ..." is popular at present. Blair and Co. love it.
Regards,
Jenny.


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Marian Vieyra  Identity Verified
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Leave them all out????? Oct 12, 2007

'I am not saying because he was a young student someone decided he was lazy'. I think the meaning is still there. Sounds like all the 'que's' in the original language were transposed directly into English when there was no need.

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transparx  Identity Verified
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Thank you Jenny Oct 12, 2007

Jenny Forbes wrote:

I've also noticed a recent fashion for repeating the word "is" unnecesarily in speech: "the trouble is, is that ..." is popular at present.

Jenny.


Yes, [.. is, is ...] is very, very common. People around me use it all the time, especially with [the thing]:
the thing is, is that....

That doesn't really bother me. It's just informal, colloquial speech. But I had never seen that used this way in writing. That is why I asked.

[Edited at 2007-10-12 14:39]


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transparx  Identity Verified
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the original language <I>is</I> English Oct 12, 2007

Marian Vieyra wrote:

'I am not saying because he was a young student someone decided he was lazy'. I think the meaning is still there. Sounds like all the 'que's' in the original language were transposed directly into English when there was no need.


Hi Marian,

This is not a translation. The book was written in English by an American writer.


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transparx  Identity Verified
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thank you Jack Oct 12, 2007

Jack Doughty wrote:

I am not saying that it was because he was a young student that someone decided that he was automatically supposed to be lazy.

The other two "thats" in succession seem OK to me.


I am aware the sentence can be rescued in several ways. That was not my question. My question was, why do you think speakers/writers feel the need to repeat that?

Jack Doughty wrote:

By the way, putting a semi-colon after the first "that" would make it mean that you WERE saying what followed but were not saying something else.


Yes, that is why I said it could be considered a garden path sentence.
Garden path sentences are sentences such as The horse raced past the barn fell. This is perhaps the most popular example in the literature

[Edited at 2007-10-12 14:38]


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Chiara Righele  Identity Verified
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To my non-native-English eyes... Oct 12, 2007

...the sentence looked at first a bit difficult to read. I had to read it again, and I mentally added "it was" after the first that, in order to make it "smoother" (as suggested by Jack).

Anyway I definitely find it easier to read without the second that, and agree that the last one could either remain or be removed without any great difference. I wouldn't leave the first one, though. But I'm not native in English.

Chiara


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Kim Metzger  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 15:48
German to English
Lazy and sloppy writing Oct 12, 2007

transparx wrote:

That doesn't really bother me. It's just informal, colloquial speech. But I had never seen that used this way in writing. That is why I asked.


I appreciate your non-prescriptive approach to language, transparx, but since the sentence you quote comes from a book you're using in class, the sentence deserves to be evaluated from a stylistic point of view. In my opinion, your writer is lazy and sloppy.

From "Less Than Words Can Say", Richard Mitchell

Spirits from the Vasty Deep

Bad writing is like any other form of crime; most of it is unimaginative and tiresomely predictable. The professor of education seeking a grant and the neighborhood lout looking for a score simply go and do as their predecessors have done. The one litanizes about carefully unspecified developments in philosophy, psychology, and communications theory, and the other sticks up the candy store. The analogy is not perfect, of course, for the average lout seldom nets more than thirty-five dollars per stickup, and he even runs some little risk of getting caught. Nevertheless, the writing and the stickup are equally routine and boring. It’s not often that we find ourselves admiring these criminals, therefore. Once in a while, however, some unusually creative caper pleases us with its novelty or its audacity. So, too, with the works of the grant-seekers, perhaps because creative force is so much less common in grant-seekers than in other culprits.


[Edited at 2007-10-12 16:50]


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Evangelia Mouma  Identity Verified
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My mind boggled Oct 12, 2007

dear transparx, when I read the sentence. Wow!
First of all I must say I am not a native speaker of English.
Question: Why do you call it a garden-path sentence? In the phrase "the horse raced past the barn feel" we start reading, we form a sentence with "raced" as a verb and then here comes "fell" and we have to go back to the beginning again and give "raced" another role. In "your" sentence, one simply does not understand what is going on; it needs rephrasing, I believe, as Jack and Jenny said.

If we put the phrases in brackets, we get:
I am not saying [that [because ... student] (that ????) someone decided that he was ... lazy]. This second "that" is the odd man out.

The word "resumptive" may be the answer: although resumptive pronouns are used in movement cases, here it is used because of the complexity of the sentence. The writer is using it because the first "that" is a whole sentence apart ("because....") from its own sentence, so he needs it in order to continue, to put the threads together. It does not play a syntactic role, I think.
Just a guess.
E.


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transparx  Identity Verified
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Thanks, Kim. I agree, but <i>lazy and sloppy</I> is not all, I don't think... Oct 12, 2007

Kim Metzger wrote:

I appreciate your non-prescriptive approach to language, transparx, but since the sentence you quote comes from a book you're using in class, the sentence deserves to be evaluated from a stylistic point of view. In my opinion, your writer is lazy and sloppy.



The fact that I have a non-prescriptive approach to language does not entail in the least that I am contemptuous of good style --and, more generally, of good writing. When it comes to creative writing, for instance, I appreciate conscious -and successful- efforts to "break the rules," so to speak. Hubert Selby --one of my favorite writers-- is just one name that comes to mind in this respect. On the other hand, when it comes to academic writing, I believe writers should adhere to the basic rules of grammar and style.

Unfortunately, the issue with this sentence is not just style, but also structure. Because he was a young student is an adjunct (an adverbial clause expressing a specific semantic relationship: cause & effect) and its deep structure position (if we are still allowed to use the term deep structure) is sentence-final. In other words, before movement takes place, we have something like I am not saying that someone decided that he was automatically supposed to be lazy because he was a young student. We may not like this sentence, but we must admit that it is syntactically impeccable. We may suggest, as some have done, that all the instances of that be dropped (after all, the complementizer that in English is often, but not always, optional), but we can't argue that they must be dropped. Now, unless I am terribly mistaken, the because-clause under examination can be moved to a higher position; more specifically, it could be moved either to the structural position immediately following the first that or to the one immediately following the second that. As far as I can see, the sentence would still be acceptable, although two commas, one before and one after the because-clause, would make it much more readable.

I am not a writer, but a syntactician. What I am interested in exploring is why some language users feel that this sentence is not okay unless they insert an extra that --the one we have all identified as the offending one. As I said before, if I had only encountered this one sentence, I wouldn't even have thought of starting a thread. However, for some reason, this semester many of my students have produced similar (I should say, structurally identical) sentences, which seems to indicate that the phenomenon is much more widespread than one would expect. In addition, seeing the same type of error in the book that the department has selected makes me wonder how I should go about addressing the problem.

[Edited at 2007-10-12 18:51]


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Kim Metzger  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 15:48
German to English
Mea culpa Oct 12, 2007

transparx wrote:
The fact that I have a non-prescriptive approach to language does not entail in the least that I am contemptuous of good style --and, more generally, of good writing. When it comes to creative writing, for instance, I appreciate conscious -and successful- efforts to "break the rules," so to speak. Hubert Selby --one of my favorite writers-- is just one name that comes to mind in this respect.



Yes, and forgive me for digressing from your topic and misquoting you as well. I realized after I had posted that you had made it clear that you were not bothered by it in "informal, colloquial speech." And of course, teachers do need to make an effort to understand "why" people write the way they do. I just couldn't resist quoting one of my favorite pundits on writing. Now I'll sit back and try to learn something about linguistics.


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transparx  Identity Verified
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Hi Evangelia, Oct 12, 2007

Evangelia Mouma wrote:
Question: Why do you call it a garden-path sentence? In the phrase "the horse raced past the barn feel" we start reading, we form a sentence with "raced" as a verb and then here comes "fell" and we have to go back to the beginning again and give "raced" another role. In "your" sentence, one simply does not understand what is going on; it needs rephrasing, I believe, as Jack and Jenny said.


I said "garden path nature." I am not really into garden path sentences (nor am I into psycholinguistics, for that matter), but it seems to me that one might, at first blush, think that the sentence has an entirely different structure. For example, one might construe the first that as a demonstrative pronoun: I am not saying that because he was a young student. Seeing that the sentence continues, one might further assume that what is still to be read will not clash with his/her first assumption. A possibility would be the following: I am not saying that because he was a young student who did not know any better. Instead, at some point, the reader has to go back, reread the whole sentence, and reinterpret the first occurrence of that , as you yourself explained.

Evangelia Mouma wrote:

The word "resumptive" may be the answer: although resumptive pronouns are used in movement cases, here it is used because of the complexity of the sentence.


That really depends on whether or not you adopt a movement analysis. On a representational view, there would be no movement to begin with, but just a dependency between, say, two pronouns. But I know what you mean. The word resumptive usually refers to relative pronouns, which are essentially different from complementizers.

Evangelia Mouma wrote:
The writer is using it because the first "that" is a whole sentence apart ("because....") from its own sentence, so he needs it in order to continue, to put the threads together. It does not play a syntactic role, I think.

Agree. It definitely plays no syntactic role. In fact, it destroys the syntax of the sentence.


[Edited at 2007-10-13 05:26]


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transparx  Identity Verified
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... Oct 12, 2007

Kim Metzger wrote:

I just couldn't resist quoting one of my favorite pundits on writing.


thanks for the quotation then.


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