waking Jane up

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waking Jane up

Post by navi » Thu Nov 21, 2019 12:58 pm

1) I shouted at Tom waking Jane up.
2) I shouted at Tom, waking Jane up.

Are both correctly punctuated?
Is the comma necessary?
Does it change anything in any way?
Does it change the meaning?

Gratefully,
Navi
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Re: waking Jane up

Post by trolley » Thu Nov 21, 2019 9:45 pm

It seems to me

1) Tom was waking Jane up and you shouted at him (probably because you did not think he should wake her)
2) You woke Jane up by shouting at Tom
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Re: waking Jane up

Post by navi » Thu Nov 21, 2019 10:11 pm

Thank you very much, Trolley,

Very interesting. I had been taught that phrases like 'waking Jane up' were adverbials and could only refer to the subject of the sentence.
The exceptions were verbs of perception ("I saw Tom waking Jane up.") and "catch" ("I caught Tom waking Jane up.")

Now, either I got the rule wrong, or the rule is a prescriptivist rule that doesn't really describe the way native speakers understand such sentences.

Respectfully,
Navi
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Re: waking Jane up

Post by trolley » Fri Nov 22, 2019 12:55 am

You very well could be correct. That was just my feeling. It's probably best to wait for Erik or Phil...I have been known to shoot an elephant in my pajamas or spot a whale looking through my binoculars.
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Re: waking Jane up

Post by Phil White » Sat Nov 23, 2019 3:56 pm

Trolley is right.

I have said before that I think the term "adverbial" is the most useless designation used in linguistics. It has become a midden on which people throw anything they cannot explain adequately using conventional grammar.

Always remember that the comma reflects a pause or change of intonation in speech. In itself, it serves no syntactical purpose. It merely reflects the syntactical or, more often, pragmatic purpose of a particular spoken intonation.

In this case, the comma reflects the pause in speech that indicates that the phrase "waking Jane up" is parenthetical. In traditional analysis, the phrase would often be classed as an adverbial phrase, probably "resultative" or something similar. That is in line with what you learned.

If, however, there is no pause in speech, and hence no comma, the phrase structure changes to "Tom waking Jane up". The resulting overall structure of the sentence is elliptical. The complement of the preposition "at" (or the direct object of "shout at", if you choose) is both "Tom" and "Tom waking Jane up" (i.e. the fact that he woke her up).

Phrase structure within sentences and sentence structure within discourses are driven by spoken intonation, which is at least partially reflected in punctuation. The correlation is incomplete, so we have to use our intuition when confronted with a written sentence that may or may not be punctuated usefully.

So what I am saying is that if the phrasing is "... at Tom ¦ waking Jane up", the meaning is different from that obtained with the phrasing "... at Tom waking Jane up." The presence of the comma in the written form is a reasonably reliable marker that the first phrasing is intended. The absence of the comma is not as reliable a marker that the second phrasing is intended.

It seems to me, by the way, that this principle generally applies to all English punctuation. The presence of a punctuation mark such as a comma, colon, semicolon, bracket, dash, etc. is a reasonably reliable marker of the intended phrasing. The absence of a punctuation mark is not such a reliable marker that a different phrasing is intended.
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Re: waking Jane up

Post by navi » Sat Nov 23, 2019 10:33 pm

Thank you very much, Trolley and Phil,

My apologies to Trolley.

There is one more question.

Consider:
3) I kicked John coming in through the door.

Is this sentence correctly punctuated and could it mean 'I kicked John when he was coming in through the door'?

The reason I am asking this is that one can shout at something happening (eg, Tom waking Jane up), but one cannot kick something happening.

My apologies if I am being a bit thick here. Things aren't quite clear for me.

Gratefully,
Navi
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Re: waking Jane up

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Nov 23, 2019 11:26 pm

navi wrote:
Sat Nov 23, 2019 10:33 pm
Consider:
3) I kicked John coming in through the door.

Is this sentence correctly punctuated and could it mean 'I kicked John when he was coming in through the door'?

The reason I am asking this is that one can shout at something happening (eg, Tom waking Jane up), but one cannot kick something happening.
The question this sentence raises in my mind relates to who is coming in through the door: Am I kicking John while I am entering the room, or am I doing it while John is entering?
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Re: waking Jane up

Post by Phil White » Sun Nov 24, 2019 12:18 am

Erik's point is valid, but that actually goes back largely to your original question.

As I said in my first response, there is a possible elliptical meaning to this type of construction, and the meaning you propose, namely that I kicked John while he was coming through the door is possible.

The alternative reading (I kicked John while I was coming through the door) is also possible, and a comma does not help here, because the phrase is not resultative. If that meaning was intended, we would probably say "coming through the door, I kicked John" or "I kicked John while (I was) coming through the door."

Such structures, although possible, are rarely the most natural way of expressing things.
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Re: waking Jane up

Post by navi » Sun Nov 24, 2019 6:57 am

Thank you both very much, Eric and Phil,

Things have been completely clarified for me! This was really complicated. It was a big problem for me.

Thanks again.
Respectfully,
Navi
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Re: waking Jane up

Post by Phil White » Sun Nov 24, 2019 12:48 pm

navi wrote:
Sun Nov 24, 2019 6:57 am
Things have been completely clarified for me! This was really complicated. It was a big problem for me.
I am glad that things are clear to you. They are far from clear to me. Or, more accurately, they are far from cut and dried.

Many of your questions hinge on the fact that, although a particular construction may be syntactically unexceptionable in English, and although such constructions will sometimes be seen, they are generally avoided, probably precisely because their meaning is unclear or ambiguous.

Even the simplest of constructions can be rendered ambiguous under certain circumstances:

"Scotland and England, who lost last night, will have to miss out on the finals." Did both Scotland and England lose last night or only England? Only pragmatics or a look at the sports pages of the newspaper will clarify the meaning, and no amount of punctuation will help. Which simply means that the sentence is badly formulated, even if the syntax is sound. And careful writers and speakers will avoid such sentences. But they can still work just fine if the pragmatic context of the discourse makes it clear who lost last night.

Pragmatics is so much more important than syntax, and so much more elusive to capture and restrain in a prison of rules and conventions. Which is why I still struggle with these sentences. My native intuition tells me that they are ill-formed, while my linguistic background tells me that they are syntactically correct. Even I love to have "rules" that I can apply to language, but pragmatics, which makes up a huge part of the meaning of language, defies the application of rules.

"Thunder!"
Does this mean:
  • We have to get down off the hills as quickly as possible.
    "I think we should turn back."
    "Why?"
    "Thunder!"
  • We should wait for an hour or two before we go out.
    "Come along, get your coat on."
    "Thunder!"
  • God must be very angry with us.
  • World war III has not broken out.
    (Ducking behind a wall in Lebanon somewhere.) "Bloody hell, what was that?"
    "Thunder!"
  • Sheba is probably hiding under the desk in my office.
    "Where's Sheba?"
    "Thunder!"
  • ...
In a traditional, logical view, "thunder!" means "I can hear thunder". In a realistic view of language, it means nothing of the sort. It means something along the lines of what I have suggested, but only the pragmatics of the discourse can identify which. And, of course, it could still simply mean "oh, I can hear thunder".

As soon as we get into the realms of pragmatics (and all attempts to understand language must do so), we can forget "rules" and neat explanations of how syntax and semantics work.

Ed. Extended "thunder" examples.
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Re: waking Jane up

Post by navi » Wed Nov 27, 2019 5:55 am

Thank you very much, Phil,

Very nice.

Yes, I know that pragmatics is primordial, but I still want to try to figure out the rules of syntax, knowing full well I can measure the size of an ocean using a teaspoon!

How should I speak?
Thunder!

How should we ride through these fields, general?
Thunder!

There's this song called 'Ghost Riders in the Sky'. I am sure you know it. There's a part that says:

A bolt of fear went through him
As they thundered through the sky

I find that pretty poetic, don't you? 'Bolt' makes you think of lightning, doesn't it? And the whole thing is about the sky....

Respectfully,
Navi
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Re: waking Jane up

Post by Phil White » Wed Nov 27, 2019 10:00 am

navi wrote:
Wed Nov 27, 2019 5:55 am
A bolt of fear went through him
As they thundered through the sky
Indeed, clever double metaphor. Good song. My favourite version is Robbie Krieger's (of the Doors) tongue-in-cheek version.

Incidentally, the whole of that gig with Robbie Krieger and John Densmore is well worth watching if you are old enough to still worship The Doors. One always tends to forget what a superb guitarist Krieger is and was.
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Re: waking Jane up

Post by Erik_Kowal » Thu Nov 28, 2019 8:01 pm

navi wrote:
Wed Nov 27, 2019 5:55 am
A bolt of fear went through him
As they thundered through the sky

[...] 'Bolt' makes you think of lightning, doesn't it? And the whole thing is about the sky...
There's also the association of 'bolt' with moving hastily or suddenly, which is equally consistent with the imagery.
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Re: waking Jane up

Post by navi » Thu Nov 28, 2019 10:11 pm

Thank you both very much,

Well, 'worship' is too strong a word, but 'love' probably isn't. The Doors were in my opinion one of the greatest bands ever. And Robbie Krieger is one of the most under-rated guitarists ever.

Those were indeed the days! Just make a list of the important albums that came out in 1967! It was an explosion. I was a tiny child back then, but I caught up later!

I hadn't thought of the association of 'bolt' with speed, but it is indeed there. It is a very nice image. Everything matches.

Respectfully,
Navi
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