As a Business Professional, …

On the SPAR patrol, this message in my e-mail yesterday:

I balked on that first sentence, which I understood, as it unfolded, as conveying that the writer was a business professional (or, as they would put it, a Business Professional). But then I got to the further reaches of the sentence (with its you) and realized they were addressing me as a business professional. So the sentence begins with a failed X-SPAR, a bad classic “dangling modifier”.

From my 6/2/12 posting “as a SPAR”

Armistead Maupin…:

A lot of pundits have been kind of analyzing, oh, what does it mean and why did he do it. But as a gay man who’s been an activist for almost 40 years now, it was an extraordinarily moving thing to hear an unequivocal statement to the effect that gay love was the equal to opposite sex and attraction.

The relevant bit is boldfaced: a SPAR (a Subjectless Predicative Adjunct Requiring a referent for the missing subject) that’s non-canonical, in that the adjunct doesn’t obey the Subject Rule (doesn’t pick up its referent from the subject of the main clause); such non-canonical SPARs, or X-SPARS, are popularly known as “dangling modifiers”, a condemnatory label. But some types of X-SPARs are in fact acceptable (except to those who have internalized the teaching that X-SPARs are necessarily ungrammatical), and the Maupin sentence falls into not one, but two, of these types [as-a modifiers, dummy-it subjects in main clauses; the issue with the latter is that dummy it is semantically ineligible as the source of the missing subject, and there are other main-clause subjects that are similarly ineligible].

… But when the main-clause subject is indeed eligible as the source of the missing subject in the adjunct, you’re in trouble. One example (from a fair number):

Z3.341. As a contributor, I thought you might be interested in seeing it. (from Brett Reynolds, at the Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, Toronto, 11/17/07: “Yesterday our president sent out an e-mail about a list of faculty publications with the following”)

The Subject Rule is powerful enough as a heuristic for interpreting SPARs that this example will probably hang up the reader; the first interpretation you’re likely to get is that the writer (the president of the Humber Institute) was a contributor, and then on reflection you realize that the writer’s intention was to say that you (the recipient of the message) were a contributor. So this is a problematic X-SPAR; it’s inconsiderate of the reader.

Just as in the Product Report Card sentence.

4 Responses to “As a Business Professional, …”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    Every time I see a house getting hauled down the highway on a flatbed (a common sight here in east Tennessee) I think of the classic example “coming down the street, he saw a house.”

  2. J B Levin Says:

    Is it possible that the number disagreement (“as a business professional, we”) could be used to disambiguate the intended meaning? I would also add that (a) it’s subtle enough that I ignored it the first time and (b) I doubt the author was aware enough do that deliberately.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Your ignoring it was no accident; you were inclined to — correctly –see the we as a nosism (we used for 1sg reference, that is, for reference to the speaker), as is common in authors’ writing, but also in the writing of people speaking as the representative of some organization.

      • J B Levin Says:

        I gather from context that your nosism is a linguistic term for the generalized thing my lay self would call “the royal we”. If so, it then bugs me that they didn’t say “as business professionals” to match, since it seems to me that “royal we” has always been treated as plural when being used for a single person, and the word(s) in that position should look plural as “we” does.

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