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  #1  
Old August 28th, 2006, 04:49 PM
Mary Bull Mary Bull is offline
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Default Composing grammatically correct sentences

I hope anyone who is attracted by the title of this post will join in and post a response. I'm writing it so that I can exchange some more ideas with Sean on the subject.

It's relevant to OPF, because all of us are trying to write posts that will offer our ideas most effectively to our readers. As Dierk told us in another thread, a forum is a marketplace of ideas. So we want to present our wares as alluringly as possible, I think.

Sentence structure--at least as an ideal--should be as transparent as one can make it. If grammar or spelling errors distract, then right away something is lost from the conversation. So I guess I could just as well have titled this "Creating transparent language."

None of us writes perfectly, and many here are writing "on-the-fly" as they fit OPF into their busy lives. So typos or tangled sentences are going to arrive here from just about every poster, and if they make the thought unclear, I think we know how to ask for clarification.

And the best writing really is in what would be our speaking style, one-on-one or in a small group. So I think whoever is moved to write here should just type away, correct whatever he/she has time for, and count on the goodwill of the reader to see past typos or mistakes of language mechanics.

Woe. What a long preface to get to Sean's interesting ideas.

Here's the part of his sentence under discussion. The construction of it brought a demur from someone who thought Sean had lapsed in the area of agreement of subject and verb.

From Sean DeMerchant:
Quote:
This is not to say the rules of grammar and the structure of a language has no value
Now, here the antecedent "feels like" the subject noun "rules."

But there's the intervening part of the subject, the noun "structure."

Sean explains that the entire phrase "the rules of grammar and the structure of a language" is intended by him as a singular noun-phrase, which would properly take the verb "has."

When I read the post the first time, my gut feeling, as an educated native speaker who's been fortunate to have grown up in a home where formal standard grammar was in natural use, kicked in. I wanted the verb to agree with the plural noun "rules" and thought, typo, should be "have."

But insignificant typo, since the entire thrust of the paragraph was true and compelling to me. I'm quoting in full, below, Sean's posts from which I'm excerpting, so others can see without going back to the "Smilies" thread in another forum.

However, another reader posted his take that the verb should be the plural "have."

And Sean responded with a serious explication of the meaning he was conveying in his sentence. I'm quoting in full.

Sean DeMerchant said:
Quote:
It depends upon whether one is refering the singular referential developed by the and, or plurality of items brought together by the and. Has is the appropriate term for the singular entity, the rules of grammar and the structure of a language. Hence blindly going with what an english* professor would fail to convey that I was refering to it as a singular entity. This is the same as saying roll of film is singular even though it is a spindle, a case, and some film wound into it.
I'm not sure. I've never seen this particular kind of construction claimed as a singular entity before. And since it catches me up, and caught at least one other person up, with Sean's implied permission, I'd like to suggest that at least a little revision would help.

Something like, "This is not to say that the structure of a language, together with its rules of grammar, has no value ..."

But I bring this idea up only because I get intense enjoyment from discussing the philosophy of grammar and of language structure.

For me, Sean's post is fine just as it stands, and I buy completely into his take on how to learn to write well.

I think we learn to write by reading, and the better the writing in what we read, the better our own composition will be.

Now here's Sean's original take on it.

Sean DeMerchant's reply in the original thread:
Quote:
As to the rules of grammar, they are about the absolutely worst possible way to learn written communication. Just reading a few hundred well written novels will teach you more about how to write than decades of studying grammar. This is not to say the rules of grammar and the structure of a language has no value as that structure is helpful in learning a new language through the mapping of like and un-alike structures. But the rules of grammar are next to worthless in learning to communicate fluently with the written word.
For those who want to look at the thread,

1) The original reply posts are in the forum OPF Look, Feel, and Vibe.

2) The thread is "Smilies invading - :-) ;-) :-0 :-(" originated by Nicolas Claris.

3) Sean's posts are:
a) Sean DeMerchant I like them. ) Yesterday, 02:57 PM
and
b) Sean DeMerchant It depends upon whether one... Today, 01:48 PM .

Sean goes on further in this second post, with some other ideas, that might bear discussing in a separate thread:
Quote:
[signature snipped]
*english with a lowercase 'e' is the correct spelling for the language spoken in North America. With a capitol 'e' it becomes a proper noun and becomes the language of England and not that of Australia, North America, and etcetera. What is widely called American English (more properly US English) is part of english. But, english as a language encompassing the many is not a proper noun any more than feline is a proper noun.
So much to discuss, so little time.

Best wishes,
Mary

Edited once, by Mary Bull, to correct a typo in the word "antecedent."
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  #2  
Old August 28th, 2006, 05:07 PM
Ray West Ray West is offline
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....................
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  #3  
Old August 28th, 2006, 05:30 PM
Mary Bull Mary Bull is offline
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Default Silly Season Is Over For Now

I was just having a bit of fun. No need to clutter up the cafe with my tongue-twister.
Mary

Last edited by Mary Bull; August 28th, 2006 at 05:41 PM. Reason: Ray's post to which I was responding has somehow disappeared.
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Old August 28th, 2006, 06:15 PM
Don Lashier Don Lashier is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mary Bull
But I bring this idea up only because I get intense enjoyment from discussing the philosophy of grammar and of language structure.
OMG - we are doomed

But on a related note, I rather like the British practice of pluralizing the group. For example:
- "Sony have introduced a new camera ..."
- "Canon are releasing a new version of DPP..."

Phil gets "corrected" on this frequently at DPR.

- DL
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Old August 28th, 2006, 06:58 PM
Mary Bull Mary Bull is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Don Lashier
OMG - we are doomed
The geekiest of grammar lovers has arrived here, huh?

Quote:
But on a related note, I rather like the British practice of pluralizing the group. For example:
- "Sony have introduced a new camera ..."
- "Canon are releasing a new version of DPP..."
That's interesting. Being provincially U.S.-American, I haven't run into that.

But I will say that it's a truism in re language patterns that usage is everything. In the end, down the years and down the centuries, majority rules. What's in the mouths of the people and what's in the currently printed word will be the next generation's standard formal practice.

Also, it seems to me over here, that a "a generation" gets shorter in years all the time. Slang turns around in a matter of months, now.

Quote:
Phil gets "corrected" on this frequently at DPR.

- DL
What's DPR, please? I'm dreadfully ignorant in so many matters.

Mary
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  #6  
Old August 28th, 2006, 08:04 PM
Ray West Ray West is offline
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The only point of having rules, is so they can be broken.

I have a pair of trousers, I have a flock of four sheep, I have a pair of goal posts, for example. (how many legs?) The English language is a whole mish-mash of rules, ever changing. The rules for apostrophes, for example, change, never mind spelling. Letters were added to the alphabet some years ago, now we seem to have to use accents as well. USA english, seems to spell words more as they are spoken, fewer of the Norman twirly bits.

I am not sure about pluralising the group - 'your flock of sheep has eaten my grass ' (one you, many ewes) cf 'your flocks of sheep have eaten my grass' (perhaps many you's, but many more ewes). In both cases, you could say, 'your sheep have eaten my grass', but unless you had multi ownership of one sheep, you could not say 'your sheep has eaten my grass' for both cases.

As I'm in Pub quiz mode, going back to my school days, can you construct a paragraph, containing eleven words, each the same, following each other, such that it makes perfect sense when correctly punctuated? Clue, you don't need grass, sheep or goal posts to do this... (note, five 'ands' is trivial)

Because it is a living language, there will always be discussion of what is or not correct. Because of the influence of mobile phone 'texting', internet acronyms, etc., it will evolve even faster. Words get high-jacked, some words more or less get banned.

There was mention on another thread re the demise of newspapers. I tend to think books will disappear too, a great electronic library will replace them, so the one remaining tree can survive. Of course, that assumes that folk, in the future, actually want to read in order to learn, which is debateble - wrt the wanting of and the requirement to.

In the above, the words are there, all you need do is correct the spelling and arrange them in the correct order...

Best wishes,

rambling ray
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Old August 28th, 2006, 08:46 PM
David Miller David Miller is offline
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DPR = Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com), an English site run by Phil Askey, who writes incredibly detailed camera reviews in the Queen's English.

Dave

"Any man who can't spell a word more'n one way ain't worth his salt."
- Mark Twain
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Old August 28th, 2006, 09:54 PM
Don Lashier Don Lashier is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mary Bull
The geekiest of grammar lovers has arrived here, huh?
Hi Mary,

I'm no grammar lover (grammer maybe), but I must say that I'm appalled by the way poor grammar has crept into even the mainstream press.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mary Bull
That's interesting. Being provincially U.S.-American, I haven't run into that.
This (group plurals) is discussed ad naseum at wordreference.com (a good place to discuss language hint hint) with even a google poll illustrating the UK preference for group plural.

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Old August 29th, 2006, 01:12 AM
Mary Bull Mary Bull is offline
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Beautifully put, and all true.

Thanks for taking me along on your ramble, Ray.
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Old August 29th, 2006, 01:17 AM
Mary Bull Mary Bull is offline
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Thanks a mil! Headed there to get acquainted.

That's a mighty fine tag you lifted from Mark Twain, too, Dave. New to me (the aphorism, not the author).
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Old August 29th, 2006, 01:29 AM
Dierk Haasis Dierk Haasis is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Don Lashier
This (group plurals) is discussed ad naseum at [...]
How can one discuss it? There's only two possibilities - group = many, or group = one -, a clear rule in Standard English and an instinctive rule for street use. Both rules have their merits, both are conventions not truths. Both are therefore correct - within their boundaries. You want to have that job as a bank teller, better get your Standard English polished up. Talkin' to ya piss'd mates, watch ya plplpl-urils. Being on the Internet, anything goes, how else to start a flame war?

About Sean's construction, it's a matter of semantics, not syntax. When I first read the incriminated sentence I changed the plural to singular in my head, I then stopped and thought, 'maybe he sees structure and rules as one entity' licencing the singular. That is a viable interpretation.

I'd still mark it in red, deeming it wrong. To me 'structure of language' and 'rules of grammar' are two different entities strung together in Sean's sentence by a conjunction to indicate their equalness [syntactically and semantically].
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  #12  
Old August 29th, 2006, 01:32 AM
Mary Bull Mary Bull is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Don Lashier
I'm no grammar lover (grammer maybe), but I must say that I'm appalled by the way poor grammar has crept into even the mainstream press.
A lot jars on me, also. Some pet peeves, long discarded, because majority wins and the living language spreads like kudzu:

1) Everyone [insert verb] their
e.g., "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion." <shudder>
2) Healthy for healthful
e.g. "Exercise is healthy."

Well, I won't inflict any more of my anciently ingrained prejudices on you.

Quote:
This (group plurals) is discussed ad naseum at wordreference.com (a good place to discuss language hint hint
Trying to run me off, are you? <rofl>

Seriously, thanks a million for telling me about the site and for the link.

[/QUOTE]... with even a google poll illustrating the UK preference for group plural.
[/QUOTE]

Aha, more statistics! lol

Mary
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Old August 29th, 2006, 01:39 AM
Mary Bull Mary Bull is offline
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Thanks, Dierk.

As always, your clear logic and transparent language both leave me in awe.

And intensely happy.
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Old August 29th, 2006, 07:52 AM
Nill Toulme Nill Toulme is offline
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Be all of the above as it may, and as interesting as it all may be, the original sentence in question...

"This is not to say the rules of grammar and the structure of a language has no value."

...is just plain wrong. To say that "the rules of grammar and the structure of a language" is a "singular entity" because the writer intends that it be so is no more meaningful than forcefully declaring "Mission accomplished!" when the mission is just beginning to unravel. IOW, sometimes wrong is just wrong, and intending — or saying that one intends — otherwise doesn't change the fact.

[/pipe-smoking curmudgeon]

Nill
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Old August 29th, 2006, 08:17 AM
Mary Bull Mary Bull is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nill Toulme
Be all of the above as it may, and as interesting as it all may be, the original sentence in question...
"This is not to say the rules of grammar and the structure of a language has no value."
...is just plain wrong.
That is how I think about it, too, and I'd mark it in "red" if I were Sean's editor--which, of course, I'm not, but he did give me permission to start a thread to discuss the construction.
Quote:
To say that "the rules of grammar and the structure of a language" is a "singular entity" because the writer intends that it be so is no more meaningful than forcefully declaring "Mission accomplished!" when the mission is just beginning to unravel. IOW, sometimes wrong is just wrong, and intending — or saying that one intends — otherwise doesn't change the fact.
And then there's the semantic demur that Dierk expressed here earlier. Although his analysis, if I read him correctly, is that mechanically "the rules of grammar and the structure of a language" can stand as a single entity in an English sentence.

If it can, it's awkward. It stops readers from focusing on the meaning of the sentence.
I wouldn't do it, myself.

But I liked Dierk's take that grammar rules and structure of a language don't belong in a single entity--from a semantic point of view, the two meanings are in different categories.
Quote:
[/pipe-smoking curmudgeon]
Nill
[pipe-smoking granny]
Mary
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Old August 29th, 2006, 08:23 AM
Dierk Haasis Dierk Haasis is offline
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Nill, although we both agree for the specific incident, I cannot agree with your notion that declaring words to be phrases is meaningless. If that were so we would not have idioms ('what's her name?' as in 'Tell what's her name to get her arse over with a cup of coffee!').

On a more grammarian's PoV [note that point of view is one phrase, which combines here with 'on' in a way making any classical (school) grammarian cringe], in syntax as well as semantics we* are rarely concerned with single words [counting infinitives, 'to be', as a single entity] but with sentences made up of phrases, complements, adjuncts, etc. May I remind you of 'NP' and 'VP'?

Now, the point where Sean's sentence in question goes wrong - for my interpretation - is the second instance of the definite article. Had he used only the first instance it would be rather obvious he sees 'the rules of grammear and structure of language' as one entity, namely

'[the rules] [of grammar] and + [structure of language]'

where you could put in [the rules] again where I put the placeholder '+'.

Since he did not do it but opted for a second definite article, detaching [the rules] from [structure of language], making 'rules' govern 'grammar' and 'structure' 'language', you and I are quite right to call the singular a mistake. Which is a matter of decision, there is definitely one mistake in his sentence - the question is which do we call: a superfluous definite article or muddled congruency?



*I hold a university degree in Language and Literature.
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  #17  
Old August 29th, 2006, 09:17 AM
Nill Toulme Nill Toulme is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dierk Haasis
Nill, although we both agree for the specific incident, I cannot agree with your notion that declaring words to be phrases is meaningless. If that were so we would not have idioms ('what's her name?' as in 'Tell what's her name to get her arse over with a cup of coffee!').
If that were my notion then it would indeed be an over-generalization. But I don't think I said that, and if I did, I hereby declare that it was not my intention to say it, and therefore I did not. ;-)

I agree with the rest of your analysis, i.e., that if the sentence were constructed such that "the rules" could properly be read as the sole subject, then the verb could and should properly be singlular. But it's not.

Nill
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Old August 29th, 2006, 12:00 PM
Don Lashier Don Lashier is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nill Toulme
... if the sentence were constructed ...
You get a gold star for the hypothetical. Too often today it would be was (saw that construct earlier in the thread but was too kind to point it out).

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Old August 29th, 2006, 12:37 PM
Mary Bull Mary Bull is offline
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"I wish I was an apple,
A-hangin' on a tree,
An' every time my Cindy passed,
She'd take a bite of me."
--folk song from Appalachia (I think)

Spot the subjunctive mood in that, sharp eyes! lol

And I demand a gold star for myself (and one for Dierk, too, if he happens to be in a playful mood) for our proper employment of the forms of the verb "to be." <winking>

Actually, Don, "if that were" (Nils used it twice that I counted) felt so natural to me that I read right on, enjoying the meaning, and never noticing the syntax or word choice. <seriously enjoying the discussion>

[/pipe-smoking granny]
Mary
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Old August 29th, 2006, 01:13 PM
Nill Toulme Nill Toulme is offline
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And thanks to both of you for not takin' a bite out of me for starting two sentences with "But" (or this one with "And). ;-)

Nill
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Old August 29th, 2006, 01:24 PM
Don Lashier Don Lashier is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nill Toulme
And thanks to both of you for not takin' a bite out of me for starting two sentences with "But" (or this one with "And). ;-)
But there are different rules for spoken and written english, and pseudo-technically the former apply here.

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Old August 29th, 2006, 01:36 PM
Will_Perlis Will_Perlis is offline
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the original sentence in question...

"This is not to say the rules of grammar and the structure of a language has no value."

...is just plain wrong.


Right. The rules and the structure are not the same thing. However, if one wanted to assert they were, the sentence could have been re-cast to something like "...the structure of a language (the rules of grammar) has..."
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Old August 29th, 2006, 01:41 PM
Mary Bull Mary Bull is offline
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I were a-writin' thet thar lyric, warn't I?
hehehe

[/pipe-smokin' granny]
Mary
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Old August 29th, 2006, 01:44 PM
Don Lashier Don Lashier is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mary Bull
I were a-writin' thet thar lyric, warn't I?
> [/pipe-smokin' granny]

corncob, I presume

- DL
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Old August 29th, 2006, 01:46 PM
Mary Bull Mary Bull is offline
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Satisfying the need for the agreement of subject and verb.
No pun intended, Will: very satisfactory comment.

More than one way to recast a cat. <grin>
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Old August 29th, 2006, 01:47 PM
Mary Bull Mary Bull is offline
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Whut else? <delighted smile>
Mary
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Old August 29th, 2006, 02:41 PM
StuartRae StuartRae is offline
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Quote:
if the sentence were constructed
To be pedantic, I think one should say "if the sentence were to be constructed....".

To add a further confusion to the discussion, "if the sentence were constructed " implies that it had been constructed in the past - i.e. it's the Past Subjunctive.

If the construction takes place in the present, it would be more accurate to say "if the sentence be constructed".

The confusion arises because the Germanic languages (Anglo-Saxon English incuded) have no distinct subjubctive tenses (unlike Latin), and have to borrow from existing ones.

Stuart
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Old August 29th, 2006, 02:56 PM
Don Lashier Don Lashier is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by StuartRae
The confusion arises because the Germanic languages (Anglo-Saxon English incuded) have no distinct subjunctive tenses (unlike Latin), and have to borrow from existing ones.
I vote that we all start speaking Chinese.
Quote:
Chinese grammar is one of the simpliest to learn. You will be happy to know that it has no conjugations, tenses, nor plural as we know them.
from Chinese Grammar

As one of my Chinese friends likes to say - "just speak like a cave man".

- DL
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Old August 29th, 2006, 03:12 PM
StuartRae StuartRae is offline
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Quote:
it has no conjugations, tenses, nor plural
That's certainly good news.

The only thing that could confuse me is how do an unspecified number of us, one of whom may not be me, know what the aforesaid may have done, are doing, or will do to or with an equally unspecified number of objects, which may or may not include you and me, or even them.

And does it really matter?

Stuart
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Old August 29th, 2006, 03:20 PM
Mary Bull Mary Bull is offline
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Points taken.

Failed to think of that myself. So many thanks for reminding me.

My background (academic and career):
1) B.A. in English literature
2) M.A. in elementary education--one course in linguistics on that master's degree
3) Four years assistant editor (manuscript editing, with some responsibility for jacket
copy and other advertising, plus proofreading of galley proofs and page proofs)
for a Nashville book-publishing house
4) One year teaching h.s. English
5) Two years teaching h.s. Spanish
6) 25 years teaching a mixed bag of grades 1-8, including 3 as remedial reading
teacher, the rest in first, second, fourth, and sixth grades, depending on where the
school district assigned me. (Moved around a lot, a consequence of my late
husband's job with TVA.)
7) Never published anything for money, but for two years wrote a column in our local
paper when in high school, for three years wrote a weekly column for my
college's weekly newspaper, and for three years edited my college's annually
published literary magazine, where for four years a piece or two of my own
was included in each issue.

All this to say that I have a long background in working with words, but I am not an academically trained linguist or grammarian.

But those fields are fascinating to me, as should be obvious to anyone reading here, by now.

Again, thanks for the "pedantic" note. I appreciate your input.
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