Paralellism watch

Read this sentence, from “G.O.P. Senate Challenger in Alaska Wins” by Kirk Johnson, NYT 11/13/14, p. A23, quickly and, as far as you can manage it, without reflecting on its syntax:

His Senate race featured bruising attacks, including a pro-Begich television ad suggesting that Mr. Sullivan was soft on a crime – a claim that many voters scoffed at and angered others.

And then note any responses you have to it.

(Yes, yes, I know, it’s hard to behave in an everyday unmonitored way in a context that calls attention to language.)

The example is of a type I’ve posted about before, in “Subject gap + object gap” of 1/27/12, with a link back to a 2005 Language Log posting on “Amazing conjunctions”. The relevant part is a conjoined pair of relative clauses modifying a claim, the first of which has a direct object (DO) gap, the second a subject (SU) gap. With the relatives bold-faced and the gaps indicated by underlines:

a claim that many voters scoffed at ___ and ___ angered others

Many voters scoffed at the claim (DO) and the claim (SU) angered others.

My 2012 posting provided a series of examples with such non-parallel gaps, some DO + SU and some SU + DO, from both writing and speech (including some from me), between 2005 and 2010. I noted that Gerald Gazdar had once provoded an analysis of gaps that predicted that all these examples are ungrammatical, and added:

Some speakers judge examples with non-parallel gaps to be unacceptable, others judge them to be of borderline acceptability, and still others find them acceptable, period. In the examples from me …, I produced the sentence first, then realized what its structure was, and on reflection decided that I was content with it as it stood.

I seem to be in the “acceptable, period” group, to the extent that I almost surely fail to notice many examples that go past me. At most, they seem to require a bit more processing “work” than straightforwardly parallel coordinations of relatives.

Two Language Log postings on parallelism in coordination (with much citation of usage advice): “Still more Declaration of Independence” of 7/10/05 and “Coordination of unlikes” of 12/11/06. Some usage handbooks seem to take formal parallelism in coordination to be a kind of law of nature that must not be violated — this is just silly — and many insist on parallelism in places where good writers do not. There are many occasions when failure of parallelism is an effective rhetorical strategy, and some places where the relevant parallelism is not of form but of function (for more information or to talk to a representative, with two purpose adverbials, and the like). The topic is vast.

2 Responses to “Paralellism watch”

  1. Mark Says:

    “(A) claim that many voters scoffed at” reminds me of the grammatical rule “never use a preposition to end a sentence with”
    (improper grammar intended). Following this rule, I believe that it was Winston Churchill who once remarked, “This is an impertinence up with which I will not put.”

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