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is whereas becoming a transition?
Thread poster: transparx
transparx  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:33
English to Italian
+ ...
Mar 19, 2007

I have noticed that some of my students (native speakers) use whereas in the following way:

1) Mary is rich. Whereas, John is poor.

In other words, they use whereas as if it were a transition (or transitional expression, or conjunctive adverb...).

As far as I know, whereas is a subordinating conjunction, used to express either concessive or contrastive relationships. Unlike most subordinating conjunctions, whereas is preceded by a comma and should be used as illustrated in (2).

2) Mary is rich, whereas John is poor.

Question:
Do you think that sentence (1) reflects a change in progress, or is it just an example of informal writing?


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Patricia Rosas  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:33
Spanish to English
+ ...
I've never encountered that ... Mar 19, 2007

as far as I can remember (and I edit English writing by native speakers).

"Whereas" is a subordinate conjunction. Some coordinating conj. -- like "and," "but," and "so" -- can start sentences, but "whereas" isn't in that category.

The only exception I can think of is "legalese," where clauses of contracts or articles of constitutions start with "WHEREAS, blah, blah, blah" but that is technical writing, not prose for the general public.

I'll be interested to see what others say...


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transparx  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:33
English to Italian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
yes... Mar 19, 2007

Patricia Rosas wrote:

The only exception I can think of is "legalese," where clauses of contracts or articles of constitutions start with "WHEREAS, blah, blah, blah" but that is technical writing, not prose for the general public.



thank you, Patricia!

I thought so, too. But this is definitely not legalese. I teach linguistics, and students are asked to answer several questions on a weekly basis.

The first time I saw whereas being used this way, I just assumed it was an error. However, given that some students who otherwise write fairly well have used it, I'm starting to think that there is something else going on.


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JaneTranslates  Identity Verified
Puerto Rico
Local time: 09:33
Member (2005)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Informal writing, or just bad writing? Mar 19, 2007

transparx wrote:

The first time I saw whereas being used this way, I just assumed it was an error. However, given that some students who otherwise write fairly well have used it, I'm starting to think that there is something else going on.


If there is, please nip it in the bud!


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Hipyan Nopri  Identity Verified
Indonesia
Local time: 20:33
English to Indonesian
+ ...
Subordinating Conjunction Mar 19, 2007

Hi Trans,

I agree with you. In this case, it serves as a subordinating conjunction to compare or contrast two facts. Sentence 1) simply indicates a grammatical error.

Nevertheless, as has been said by Patricia, in legal, official documents 'whereas' may be used at the beginning of a sentence to mean 'because of the fact that . . .'.


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transparx  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:33
English to Italian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Hi Jane Translates, Mar 19, 2007

JaneTranslates wrote:
Informal writing, or just bad writing?

If there is, please nip it in the bud!


I agree with you that such things shouldn't be encouraged. However, being a linguist, I just can't help but wonder...

By the way, I prefer to use informal writing as a euphemism.... I'm not here to judge, but to understand why native speakers (in all languages) resort to ungrammatical forms when there are grammatical alternatives available to them.


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Angela Dickson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:33
French to English
+ ...
hi transparx Mar 19, 2007

Two things:

1) if this were in a text that I was editing, I would change it (probably create one sentence where there had been two, as in your example).

2) You could well be right about the shift - though I would wonder about the written/spoken language divide here. Might these students simply be unaware of the punctuation rules for these conjunctions? In any case, what would be the ramifications of such a shift?

Despite the fact that this forum is called 'Linguistics' you are unlikely to find much descriptive wisdom here, I'm afraid... in our jobs we have to be prescriptivist, and that mentality is hard to shift. Most of your responses will be from people whose primary concern is 'good writing' which is probably not what you are most worried about...


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 16:33
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
descriptive vs. prescriptive grammar Mar 19, 2007

The former should be applied to natives, the latter reserved for foreign students.
All languages and all grammer change all the time. If natives start to use some vocabularity in a new and creative way, it has to be accepted.
Though it makes me wince very often too, there is nothing to be done about it.
Cheers
Heinrich


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Margit Enzenmuller
Local time: 14:33
English to German
+ ...
Comment Mar 19, 2007

No 2 is correct. No1 is not only in conflict with comparison but also with the full stop. The tendency to use shorter sentences for clarity is progressing yet only computed text can afford such drauma. You might want to give your students some work during classes to be handed in on leave.

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Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 15:33
Italian to English
English is not alone... Mar 19, 2007

Those of you who can read Italian might find this link interesting:

http://www.corriere.it/Rubriche/Scioglilingua/2004/19marzo.shtml

For those who don't, the correspondence concerns the use in the Milan area, and increasingly elsewhere in Italy and in the media in particular, of the contrastive subordinating phrase "piuttosto che" (rather than) as a simple coordinator (or).

The Corriere della Sera's language expert regards this "fashion" as being "in bad taste" and "ambiguous" but also points out that the only way fastidious speakers of Italian can combat it is to eschew its use.

FWIW

Giles


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:33
Spanish to English
+ ...
check in a corpus Mar 19, 2007

transparx wrote:

I have noticed that some of my students (native speakers) use whereas in the following way:

1) Mary is rich. Whereas, John is poor.

In other words, they use whereas as if it were a transition (or transitional expression, or conjunctive adverb...).

As far as I know, whereas is a subordinating conjunction, used to express either concessive or contrastive relationships. Unlike most subordinating conjunctions, whereas is preceded by a comma and should be used as illustrated in (2).

2) Mary is rich, whereas John is poor.

Question:
Do you think that sentence (1) reflects a change in progress, or is it just an example of informal writing?


I'm not sure what you mean by "change in progress", but another approach to language (as an alternative to prescriptive grammar) is usage, and to check usage you can refer to a corpus.

I just had a quick look at WHEREAS in the British National Corpus of Spoken English, and there are very few sentences that begin with whereas and/or that are punctuated as you indicate.

http://132.208.224.131/scripts/cgi-bin/wwwassocwords.exe


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Jackie Bowman

Local time: 09:33
Spanish to English
+ ...
Punctuation, connotation, sense of euphony? Mar 19, 2007

If this is a change in usage, doesn’t it stem less from a shift in the status of “whereas” than from a (let’s say) “unfamiliarity” with formal punctuation? And then the use of “informal punctuation” gives rise to a shift in the status of the word.

In other words, your examples 1 and 2 both say the same thing. Neither of them is hard to understand. It’s just that I have a little mental hiccup when I read sentence 1 and I don’t when I read sentence 2.

On the other hand, and in broadly similar terms, increasingly I see the same sort of thing with “however”. One example – a few days ago I got a message from my ISP saying “We are trying to fix this problem, however we cannot give a timeframe …”.

The comma, followed by “however”, causes me the same mental hiccup. Lots of things are probably happening here, but a few considerations always strike me when I see “however” used like this.

One is the possibility that the writer is avoiding use of the word “but”. Perhaps the writer (without thinking too much about it) senses that “but” is too blunt a contrast, that “but” has vaguely negative connotations in a corporate communication.

The second is the possibility that the writer feels that “however” somehow sounds posher, more sophisticated than “but”.

The third is the possibility that the writer has some residual memory of a high-school English teacher insisting that you should never start a sentence with “but”.

Perhaps something like that is happening with your “whereas”. If it were replaced by “but’ in your example 1 (without the following comma), it would cause me no hiccups at all.


[Edited at 2007-03-19 13:49]


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sarahjeanne
Brazil
Local time: 11:33
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Editorial Skills vs Conversation Mar 19, 2007

Transparx-

Are these high school students? College? Elementary? I find it hard to believe that this would be a new linguistic trend. My guess would be that these students perhaps haven't understood how to write a complete sentence (hence the fragment sentence). I find that many times when I am proofreading University level papers people tend to fall into a conversational mode and begin to write either run-on or fragment sentences. While this may be a result of a conversational line of thought, I believe that when the professor sees this in a paper, it is evidence of a lack of editorial skills, and not of a new linguistic mechanism.
To sum up, I believe that in speech these students probably use whereas as a coordinating subjunction, but when they are writing they think of the pause used when speaking (normally expressed by the comma) and mistakenly use a period.
If you ask the students about why they do this I would be interested in hearing their answers.

Sarah


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Taña Dalglish
Jamaica
Local time: 08:33
Member (2008)
Spanish to English
+ ...
For the purists - it is sacrilege! Mar 20, 2007

I too have often seen the "however" and "whereas" used in the manner posted here and I am appalled. There are a few others which come readily to mind such as "thanks much" "is he/she there?" (this galls me - who is he/she? - particularly if you work in an organization with over 2,000 persons). Why not ask for the person by name? Or am I being a "fuddy duddy" here?

Not to mention in my part of the world, as far as the spoken word "violence" becomes "voilence", "character" becomes "character" (with emphasis on the last syllable), "film" becomes "flim" and the list goes on and on. We won't even speak of the absence/addition of the letter "h" where "him" becomes " 'im" or instead of "I ate chicken today" it becomes "I het chicken today". Mark you, it is considered a language in itself (but it irks me). This is what the children hear and are being taught in schools. No wonder, the nation is in the state that it is!

Taña Dalglish


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Richard Benham  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 15:33
German to English
+ ...
Taña, if you're going to be a purist... Mar 20, 2007

Taña Dalglish wrote:

No wonder, the nation is in the state that it is!

Taña Dalglish


You need to omit the comma from the above sentence!

On a more serious note, I would have thought "whereas" had a rather archaic flavour. I rather assumed it was on the way out. By the way, there is no reason for it not to begin a sentence; there seems nothing wrong with "Whereas John is poor, Mary is rich".

But returning to transparx's original example, I think this is just a question of bad punctuation. Recently, I attended a conference in which a thirty-year-old postgrad gave a talk. Listening to it, it seemed pretty OK, except he seemed to think "causal" was spelt "causual". However, I had a copy of his paper, and he had adopted the principle of "one clause per sentence". Which can be annoying. And it can impede comprehension. If it is not clear. Which clause is logically related to which other. If you see. What I mean.


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