Having an abstract entity act as the phrasal/sentence agent
Thread poster: Christian Schoenberg

Christian Schoenberg  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:53
Member (2004)
Danish to English
+ ...
Feb 18, 2008

Hello All,

I've had this conversation more than once with a Spanish translator friend - and it would be wonderful to have it settled once and for all.

Is it grammatically/lexically correct to have an 'abstract' entity ("meeting") be the phrasal/sentence agent, as in e.g. "The Annual Stockholders Meeting voted in favor of the merger"?

The problem (if it is a problem) is that is not the 'meeting that voted' - the meeting, after all, is probably composed of attendees both for or against the motion - but a certain number of its participants or members that voted in favor.

Does anyone have a good grammar resource that argues for or against this practice?

Best,
Christian

Christian Schoenberg
www.tollund.com

[Edited at 2008-02-18 04:39]


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Andrey Reznikov
English to Russian
+ ...
It is a standard example of metonymy Feb 18, 2008

Christian,

Let me try to answer.

Grammar has nothing to do with this (and similar) phrase. It is a standard example of (one of the types of) metonymy - that is using a place instead of people who happen to be there. (There are other types of M., and we can talk about them if you are interetsed).

Here is a quote from Encyclopaedia Britannica:

Metonymy is standard journalistic and headline practice as in the use of “city hall” to mean “municipal government” and of the “White House” to mean the “president of the United States.”

Best,

Andrey Reznikov


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Anna Sylvia Villegas Carvallo
Mexico
Local time: 15:53
English to Spanish
Which means... Feb 18, 2008

"In their annual meeting, stockholders voted in favor of..."

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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:53
Spanish to English
+ ...
not always (I would say) Feb 18, 2008

Christian Schoenberg wrote:


It is grammatically/lexically correct to have an 'abstract' entity ("meeting") be the phrasal/sentence agent, as in e.g.:

"The Annual Stockholders Meeting voted in favor of the merger."



I would say not always, but in the example, definitely yes, becuase AGM is both the act and the people who attend the act. Possibly becuase over time "meeting" has acquired a meaning as a "set of people" in addition to the original verb meaning.

This isn't exactly "metonymy" as "metonymy" seems to refer to subsitutition/synonyms, that is, President of the USA = White House. Whereas the AGM is not a synonym for anything.

Going back to my comment "not always". For example, it wouldn't be right to say that "the company was present", when physically this is impossible, so it should be "a representative of the company was present". However, there may be verbs (none of which come to mind right now) that are not so physical, where the action is of a person acting on behalf and only on behalf of a company etc, where the company as an abstract entity could be the subject.


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Christian Schoenberg  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:53
Member (2004)
Danish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I'm not sure I follow you Feb 18, 2008

Tadzio Carvallo wrote:

"In their annual meeting, stockholders voted in favor of..."


Sorry, I'm not sure I understand. Is this in response to my question?


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Roy Williams  Identity Verified
Austria
Local time: 22:53
German to English
Executive board perhaps Feb 18, 2008

In such a case, wouldn't a more accurate use of M be: the board voted in favor of... in their annual meeting. Rather than the meeting voted ....

In Christians example I would use the stockholders as the phrasal/sentence agent.
"the stockholders voted in favor of... in their annual meeting" simply because the use of M doesn't seem to fit in this context. Unfortunately Im going on gut-feeling as I don't have a concrete reference.


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eesegura  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:53
Spanish to English
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Both Andrey and Tadzio are right, meaning Feb 18, 2008

...it depends on the individual context. There are certainly cases where the abstract entity is or can be appropriate. But in the example you gave, using the abstract entity 'meeting' is not correct, or at least doesn't sound natural in English; 'stockholders' is the appropriate choice. as Tadzio suggested.

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Zsuzsanna Koos
Local time: 22:53
English to Hungarian
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Yes, when the abstract noun stands for (a group of) people Feb 19, 2008

I agree with Andrey: it is clearly a metonymy. "Meeting" has acquired the meaning 'a group of people participating in a meeting' and therefore can be used as an agent in a sentence. I think it works like that in many (most?) languages.

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Andrey Reznikov
English to Russian
+ ...
Yes, metonymy is one of language universals Feb 19, 2008

Zsuzsanna Koos wrote:

I think it works like that in many (most?) languages.


Yes, metonymy is not restricted to any one language; we call such pehomena "language universals" in linguistics.

One final comment: it would be wrong to assume that metonymy is always about people/places; as I tried to say earlier, M. is a complex phenomenon: every time some things or persons (objects in a general sense) happen to be in the same place, we have metonymy. Often, we even do not notice it, so common it is, but when you say "I am reading Shakespeare" - you do use metonymy (M. here is in replacing the author for his works), or "The pen is mightier than the sword" (where "pen" represents words, and "sword" - military force).

AR


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Christian Schoenberg  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:53
Member (2004)
Danish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Object-used-for-user metonymy Mar 17, 2008

Thanks for all your suggestions.

I have been digging around a bit more and I find two explanations of the grammatical 'problem' of "The Annual General Meeting adopted a resolution..." particularly convincing.

One can either argue, I believe, that it is a case of metonymy -- more specifically object-used-for-user metonymy -- where "Annual General Meeting" replaces "the majority of stockholders present at the AGM" (or some such thing).

Or, alternatively, I think one might also interpret it as grammatical ellipsis where "majority of stockholders present at the" is implied or has been omitted from the sentence... "The [majority of members present at the] Annual General Meeting adopted a resolution".

In either case, I am not going to lose any more sleep on account of this.

Best,
Christian

www.tollund.com


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