Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Against the grain

Geoff Pullum at Language Log skewers Bryan Garner and his grammar section in the latest Chicago Manual of Style.


At 2:07 AM, February 03, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

See, this is why I try to steer clear of the terminology trap. I care whether something means what the writer thinks it means; I don't care whether it's a glucosamine adductor or a chondroitin abductor.

At 3:16 AM, February 03, 2005, Blogger Peter Fisk said...

Moreover, if “with reference to” isn’t a phrasal preposition, what is it? Apparently, the only people privy to the “correct” terminology are those who plunk down $160 for the 1,800-page Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. I can’t vouch for Garner's “inflected form” tallying skills, but his work is well researched, highly respected and most appreciated by those of us who actually work with the actual language for a living. He strikes a reasonable balance between the prescriptive and descriptive. And he writes in a civil tone.

At 4:54 AM, February 03, 2005, Blogger Peter Fisk said...

(Almost everyone, of course, actually works with the actual language. Many of us just have conflicting notions about what the actual language is, or about what it should be.)

At 2:48 PM, February 03, 2005, Blogger Peter Fisk said...

Nicole points out that Mr. Pullum has graciously elaborated on his objection to the term “phrasal prepositions." I thank the professor. His knowledge in these matters is worthy of our highest esteem.

At 5:14 PM, February 03, 2005, Blogger Peter Fisk said...

Still, for the purposes of my own work, I find that it makes sense to follow the definition of “preposition” that's listed in the American Heritage Dictionary:

abbr. prep. A word or phrase placed typically before a substantive and indicating the relation of that substantive to a verb, an adjective, or another substantive, as English "at," "by," "with," "from," and "in regard to."

At 5:37 PM, February 03, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Peter:

The trouble with the dictionary entry for "preposition" is that... well, it's ALL trouble, really. None of it's right. But all that's relevant here is whether sequences like "in consideration of" are PHRASES in any sense that has relevance in syntax. They are not, as I try to explain on Language Log (

Think of pages 143 to the end of one book plus pages 1-29 of another. It's a sequence of pages, but it's not a book. That's analogous to what I'm saying about how not every sequence of words is a phrase.

--Geoff Pullum,
posting as Anonymous because if he has one more password to remember his brain will implode.

At 4:24 PM, June 19, 2006, Blogger Clay Beckner said...

I think it’s premature to categorically reject sequences like because of as phrasal prepositions. Some of Pullum’s arguments are puzzling, and I think he has (at the very least) failed to address conflicting evidence here. I haven’t yet had a chance to look at the Cambridge Grammar to see if it clarifies matters, but for now I’ll post my gripes about the Language Log analysis as it stands.

First, Pullum says (his points number 2 and 3) that because of cannot be a preposition, because it contains two other prepositions, and that would be ‘too weird for [him]’. But according to this logic, the following English prepositions should not be prepositions: into, onto, throughout, and within. The criterion (?) Pullum suggests for identifying prepositions is clearly not generalizable, so I think his dismissal of because of as a preposition is suspect. And it’s no coincidence that these one-word prepositions (like into) are ‘suspiciously similar’ to two-word sequences (like in to). The former developed historically from the latter, and it seems reasonable to be on the lookout for similar developments in current English.

Pullum also argues that in front of is not a phrase, because we don't say *Is your car behind the building, or in front of? However, note what happens when the coordination is based on and rather than or; why is it that the first version below works, but the second one doesn't?

a. I looked in front of and behind the building.

b. *I looked in front and behind the building.

This coordination hints that in front of functions as the same type of thing as behind, i.e., as a preposition. We might ask why it is that Pullum found the contrast he did, which permits Is your car behind the building, or in front? but not *Is your car behind the building, or in front of? I don’t yet have a complete answer for this, but I suspect that in the acceptable version, two PPs are in fact being coordinated by the or here--not two prepositions.

One last point. Another standard constituency test-- substitution-- causes some problems for Pullum’s argument. Many of the word sequences in question might be replaced by a single word. For example, in certain contexts, we can say regarding rather than with reference to, e.g., I have a complaint to make with reference to/regarding Pullum’s analysis. (This substitution also works for in respect to). With reference to, which purportedly crosses constituent boundaries, can for some reason be replaced with a single word-- which happens to be a preposition. I don’t claim here that ALL of the relevant word sequences can be replaced by a single-word preposition. (I can't think of a natural substitution for according to.) But many of these examples need to be examined more closely before definitively stating that they're not phrasal.

At 9:30 PM, August 15, 2009, Blogger DCDuring said...

The Latin-borrowed "per" is synonymous for "according to".


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