Archive for the ‘Danglers’ Category

The hunted 95 per cent?

June 4, 2015

Let’s start with:

(1) Hunted for its horns, 95 percent of the population disappeared

This looks like a classic “dangling modifier”. We have a SPAR hunted for its horns (a Subjectless Predicative Adjunct Requiring a referent for the missing subject), but the adjunct doesn’t obey the Subject Rule (doesn’t pick up its referent from the subject of the main clause: (1) doesn’t in fact tell us that 95 percent of the population was hunted for its horns). (On the concepts and terminology, see the material in the Page on “Dangler postings”, especially the “as a SPAR” posting.)

But even without context, (1) is easily understood: 95 percent of the population is a metonymic stand-in for a population of X, and it’s X that was hunted for its horns. But that takes some interpretive work. However, when more discourse context is provided, this work is no longer needed, and I’d expect that readers wouldn’t even notice that (1) is technically a dangling modifier.


Another acceptable dangler

March 25, 2015

In yesterday’s NYT, in a letter to the editor from NPR talk show host Diane Rehm:

In a March 23 letter about the desire of my husband, John Rehm, to end his life after years of suffering from Parkinson’s disease, the writer described Parkinson’s as a chronic and progressive but not terminal condition. In fact, after suffering two bouts of pneumonia, brought on by John’s loss of muscular ability to swallow correctly, his doctor determined that John had six months or less to live and prescribed hospice care.

Pulling out the main part of the last sentence gives us:

(1) after suffering two bouts of pneumonia, …  his doctor determined that John had six months or less to live and prescribed hospice care.

This has a subjectless predicational adjunct, after suffering two bouts of pneumonia, that does not pick up a referent for that missing subject from the subject of the main clause, his doctor — so it’s a classic dangling modifier (a non-default SPAR, in my terminology). Well, the determiner in the subject, the possessive his, does supply the required referent, even though the whole subject does not. This is a pattern I’ve posted on before, and other factors work together to make a modifier that should be acceptable to almost everyone.


The speaker is (almost) always topical

March 18, 2015

From my dangler files, this recent entry:

Z4.81 PRP-I-0-1P  Growing up in Chicago in th ’40’s “crickets” were popular, a useless but irritatingly noisy toy. Since replaced by bubble wrap. (Paul Johnson on ADS-L 3/12/15)

The crucial codes are the last two, 0-1P, having to do with where to find the referent for the missing subject of the predicational adjunct (0: no referent in the linguistic context) and the features of this referent (1P: 1st person singular; that is, the referent is the speaker of the sentence).

The adjunct thus frames the content of the main clause as representing the speaker’s thoughts or experiences, and in general 0-1P adjuncts (while impressive examples of classical “dangling modifiers”) are surprisingly acceptable, and not uncommon. And there’s a reason for that.


Subject finding

June 1, 2011

From “Among Bodies Discarded on a Beach, One That Doesn’t Fit” by Manny Fernandez (NYT, 5/30/11):

The police cut a path into the brush and made a small clearing where the body was found. She appears to have been laid on a patch of dirt about 50 steps from the edge of Ocean Parkway, at the foot of a thin tree, leafless and largely branchless.

The intention is that the final phrase (boldfaced here) should pick up its subject from the immediately preceding NP a thin tree, but some readers will first latch onto the Subject Rule (for interpreting subjectless predicative adjuncts, preferring that the omitted subject of the adjunct be picked up from the subject of the clause to which its attached), as they would if the final phrase were, say, naked and bruised.

Another tribute to the power of the Subject Rule, especially notable for sentence-final adjuncts; see the discussion in “Dangling advice”, here.


Annals of danglerology

March 23, 2011

Volume 59, No. 1 (March 2011) of the journal Names (the journal of the American Name Society) arrived on Monday, and I immediately noticed Frank Nuessel’s article “A note on the names of mathematical problems and puzzles” — noticed it because I was trained as a mathematician many years ago and published in and taught mathematical linguistics for some time (and sort-of-married into a nest of mathematicians: my husband-equivalent Jacques’s father and older brother were both mathematics professors).

Interesting piece, though it’s just a scratch into the immense range of material available.

What then caught my eye was the very first sentence:

While writing a paper entitled “The Representation of Mathematics in the Media” for a weeklong symposium …, it became evident that many mathematical problems, puzzles, conjectures, and equations had specific names attached to them.

Most people wouldn’t have noticed this, but since I’m a scholar of SPARs (here and here), I caught the subjectless predicational adverbial requiring a referent for the subject.


Dangling postings

October 8, 2009

Here’s an inventory of postings, on Language Log and this blog, on non-default SPARs (subjectless predicational adjuncts requiring a referent for the subject — non-default when they don’t obey the Subject Rule, that is, when they don’t pick up this referent from the subject of the main clause), commonly known as “dangling modifiers” (though some writers extend this label to a variety of other phenomena).

The inventory isn’t annotated, and it doesn’t include postings that mention danglers only in passing. I might have missed some relevant postings; I invite readers to suggest further postings in comments.

GP, 12/14/03: Dangling etiquette: (link)

AZ, 7/7/04: Don’t dangle your participles in public: (link)

GP, 3/1/05: Without Washington’s support… who?: (link)

GP, 3/10/05: Stunningly inept modifier manners: (link)

GP, 5/12/05: The Fellowship of the Predicative Adjunct: (link)

AZ, 5/16/05: The Dangling Participles: (link)

GP, 7/4/05: Dangling modifier in the Declaration of Independence: (link)

GP, 1/24/06: Unlike dangling: (link)

ML, 4/26/06: Who is the decider?: (link)

AZ, 3/24/07: Dangling in court: (link)

ML, 3/25/07: Dangling in Paris: (link)

AZ, 5/21/08: Why are some summatives labeled “vague”?: (link)

ML, 6/2/08: Advice from numbers: (link) [see comment by ML]

AZ, 6/14/08: by-topicalization (link):

AZBlog, 2/26/09: A spiritual accessory (link)

ML, 2/26/09: Teaching zombie rules: (link)

GP, 4/15/09: Who’s been to Australia?: (link)

ML, 8/14/09: Compared: (link)

GP, 10/8/09: A dangler in The Economist: (link)