Wednesday, May 8, 2024

GETTING TO KNOW THE PARENTHESIS BETTER

Parenthesis—Not Just That Familiar Pair of Curved Marks in English Exposition But Any Amplifying Material



Part I - Parenthesis is basically added information in a sentence               that isn’t necessarily optional or semantically expendable

We are all familiar with the two curved marks that we know as the parenthesis ( ), but what some of us may not know is that in English grammar, the parenthesis is actually any amplifying or explanatory word, phrase, or sentence that’s set off from a sentence or passage by some form of punctuation. That punctuation can be those two curved marks (they are called brackets in British grammar), of course, but depending on the importance of the inserted information and the writer’s intention, it can also be a pair of enclosing commas or a pair of enclosing dashes.

Let’s take a look at the following examples:

(1) Parenthesis by comma: (a) “Ferdinand Magellan, who claimed the Philippine islands for the Spanish crown in 1521, was actually a Portuguese whose native name was Fernão Magalhães.” (b) “Cleopatra, the legendary queen of Egypt from 51 B.C. until her suicide by asp bite 21 years later, greatly influenced the affairs of the Roman Empire.”

(2) Parenthesis by dashes: “Their kindly uncle was terminally ill—they said they didn’t know it then—but his nephews and nieces just went on their merry ways.”

(3) Parenthesis by parentheses: “While I was driving it out of the used-car dealer’s yard, the nicely refurbished 1994 sedan (the dealer assured me its engine had just been overhauled) busted one of its pistons.”

In each of the three examples above, the information set off by the punctuation marks—whether by commas, dashes, or parentheses—is called a parenthetical, and its distinguishing characteristic is that the sentence remains basically added information; however, it isn’t necessarily optional or semantically expendable. A parenthetical is basically added information; however, it isn’t necessarily optional or semantically expendable. It may be needed to put the statement in a desired context, to establish the logic of the sentence, or to convey a particular tone or mood for the statement. In fact, the punctuation chosen for a parenthetical largely determines its optionality or importance to the statement.

So the big question about parentheticals is really this: Under what circumstances do we use commas, dashes, or parentheses to punctuate or set off a parenthetical from a sentence?

In Example 1(a) above, the parenthetical “who claimed the Philippine islands for the Spanish crown in 1521” is what’s known as a nonrestrictive relative clause. A nonrestrictive relative clause is a parenthetical that provides information that’s not absolutely needed to understand the sentence; in other words, it is nondefining information. The sentence will remain grammatically and semantically intact without it: “Ferdinand Magellan was actually a Portuguese whose native name was Fernão Magalhães.” Without the nonrestrictive relative clause, however, the sentence loses a lot of valuable information about its subject, “Ferdinand Magellan”; in fact, the intended context for the statement disappears completely.

For such type of parenthetical, the most appropriate choice of punctuation is a pair of enclosing commas, as was used in the original sentence. It won’t do to punctuate a nonrestrictive relative clause with dashes or parentheses, for either of them would render the information optional, as we can see in these two versions of that sentence: “Ferdinand Magellan—who claimed the Philippine islands for the Spanish crown in 1521—was actually a Portuguese whose native name was Fernão Magalhães.” “Ferdinand Magellan (who claimed the Philippine islands for the Spanish crown in 1521) was actually a Portuguese whose native name was Fernão Magalhães.” Both of these sentence constructions run counter to the writer’s original intention.

We must keep in mind, though, that the same parenthetical—“who claimed the Philippine islands for the Spanish crown in 1521”—would have become a restrictive relative clause had the subject been a generic noun like, say, “the explorer,” in which case the pair of enclosing commas would have been rendered unnecessary: “The explorer who claimed the Philippine islands for the Spanish crown in 1521 was actually a Portuguese whose native name was Fernão Magalhães.”

Part II - Parenthesis isn’t just optional material or afterthought

In Part I above, I pointed out that if we substitute a generic noun for a proper noun that’s being modified by a nonrestrictive relative clause, the pair of commas enclosing that clause would be rendered unnecessary. Thus, the sentence “Ferdinand Magellan, who claimed the Philippine islands for the Spanish crown in 1521, was actually a Portuguese whose native name was Fernão Magalhães” takes the following form when its subject is replaced with the generic noun “the explorer”: “The explorer who claimed the Philippine islands for the Spanish crown in 1521 was actually a Portuguese whose native name was Fernão Magalhães.” The absence of the enclosing commas indicates that the nonrestrictive relative clause has become a restrictive one.

Obviously, the following questions will come to mind when that happens: Why not leave those enclosing commas alone? What difference does it make if we let those commas stay even after changing “Ferdinand Magellan” to “the explorer”?

The reason lies in the basic grammatical difference between a proper noun and a generic noun. We will recall that a proper noun is one that designates a particular being or thing, and that as a rule in English, it is capitalized to indicate this fact. A proper noun, moreover, has this important characteristic: as a rule, it won’t accept a limiting or restrictive relative modifier to define it. By its very name, a proper noun is supposed to have already defined itself, making it one of a kind.

Now, we need to recall at this point that a relative clause or a “who”-parenthetical that comes after a proper noun—“Ferdinand Magellan” in this case—becomes a restrictive clause or limiting modifier when it’s not enclosed by a pair of commas. It is therefore grammatically incorrect for the subject “Ferdinand Magellan” to be followed by a relative clause that’s not enclosed by commas: “Ferdinand Magellan who claimed the Philippine islands for the Spanish crown in 1521 was actually a Portuguese whose native name was Fernão Magalhães.” The parenthetical “who claimed the Philippine islands for the Spanish crown in 1521” will always need the pair of enclosing commas in such cases: “Ferdinand Magellan, who claimed the Philippine islands for the Spanish crown in 1521, was actually a Portuguese whose native name was Fernão Magalhães.”

It’s an altogether different thing when we replace a proper noun with a generic noun in such sentence constructions. We will then have two grammatical choices. If our intention is to, say, make “the explorer” specifically refer to “Ferdinand Magellan” and to no other person, then we need to modify it with a restrictive relative clause—one without the enclosing commas, as was done previously: “The explorer who claimed the Philippine islands for the Spanish crown in 1521 was actually a Portuguese whose native name was Fernão Magalhães.”

On the other hand, if by “the explorer” we mean any explorer at all who had claimed the Philippine islands for the Spanish crown, we would need to modify that generic noun with a nonrestrictive clause or nonlimiting modifier instead: “The explorer, who claimed the Philippine islands for the Spanish crown in 1521, was actually a Portuguese whose native name was Fernão Magalhães.” The enclosing commas indicate that the person referred to isn’t unique; he might not have been Ferdinand Magellan.

Now let’s evaluate the second sentence that I gave in Part I above as an example of parenthesis by comma: “Cleopatra, the legendary queen of Egypt from 51 B.C. until her suicide by asp bite 21 years later, greatly influenced the affairs of the Roman Empire.” Here, the parenthetical “the legendary queen of Egypt from 51 B.C. until her suicide by asp bite 21 years later” is what is known as the appositive phrase. It is a statement that serves to explain or identify the noun or pronoun that comes before or after it.

The appositive phrase is an extremely useful grammatical device for giving context and texture to what otherwise might be very bland or uninformative sentences. We will discuss it in detail in the Part III. 

NOTE: In the essay above, the italicization of the parenthetical in the sentence given as example is done for emphasis only. Parentheticals are normally written or printed in the same Roman typeface as the rest of the sentence.


Part III - Parenthesis isn’t just optional material or afterthought

We will now discuss the appositive phrase found in the following sentence that I earlier presented for evaluation in Part I: “Cleopatra, the legendary queen of Egypt from 51 B.C. until her suicide by asp bite 21 years later, greatly influenced the affairs of the Roman Empire.” The appositive phrase here is, of course, the parenthetical “the legendary queen of Egypt from 51 B.C. until her suicide by asp bite 21 years later.” It’s an added statement that gives context and texture to this vague, bare-bones sentence: “Cleopatra greatly influenced the affairs of the Roman Empire.”

On closer scrutiny, we will find that the appositive phrase is actually a simplified form of the nonrestrictive relative clause in this sentence: “Cleopatra, who was the legendary queen of Egypt from 51 B.C. until her suicide by asp bite 21 years later, greatly influenced the affairs of the Roman Empire.” It is, in fact, the relative clause “who was the legendary queen of Egypt from 51 B.C. until her suicide by asp bite 21 years later” with both the relative pronoun “who” and the linking verb “was” taken out.

That grammatical streamlining process produces a modifier in noun form—“the legendary queen of Egypt from 51 B.C. until her suicide by asp bite 21 years later”—that is in apposition or equivalent to the noun form it modifies—“Cleopatra.” Indeed, appositive phrases are a compact and concise way of describing people, places, and things or of qualifying ideas within the same sentence. They allow us to provide more details about a subject without having to start another sentence—a process that sometimes undesirably slows down the pace of an unfolding exposition or narrative.

The use of appositive phrases, we now will probably recall, is also one of the most efficient ways of combining sentences. It allows a related statement from another sentence to be folded into the sentence that precedes it. The sentence that we are evaluating now, for instance, has combined these two sentences: “Cleopatra greatly influenced the affairs of the Roman Empire. She was the legendary queen of Egypt from 51 B.C. until her suicide by asp bite 21 years later.” By making the statement in the second sentence an appositive in the first, we get a sentence that’s richer in texture and more interesting to read: “Cleopatra, the legendary queen of Egypt from 51 B.C. until her suicide by asp bite 21 years later, greatly influenced the affairs of the Roman Empire.”

Such constructions also have the added virtue of allowing us to develop the basic statement of a sentence unimpeded. Assume that we have already written this basic statement: “Cleopatra greatly influenced the affairs of the Roman Empire.” If we use the appositive phrase “the legendary queen of Egypt from 51 B.C. until her suicide by asp bite 21 years later” to form a new sentence after it, that new sentence would often become a stumbling block to developing the basic statement. Indeed, with a powerful statement like “She was the legendary queen of Egypt from 51 B.C. until her suicide by asp bite 21 years later” getting in the way, it won’t be an easy task to go back to the thread of our basic statement and develop it. In contrast, folding that powerful statement into an appositive phrase in the first sentence neatly sidesteps the potential continuity problem while making that first sentence much more readable and interesting.

The appositive phrase we have discussed above is of the nonrestrictive type, which means that it isn’t essential to the meaning of the sentence even if it adds important additional information to it. Nonrestrictive appositive phrases are parentheticals that, like nonrestrictive relative clauses, need a pair of enclosing commas to set them off from the sentence.

But some appositive phrases are of the restrictive type and they don’t need those commas. We will take them up next in Part IV. 

NOTE: In Part III above, the italicization of the parenthetical in the sentence given as example is done for emphasis only. Parentheticals are normally written or printed in the same Roman typeface as the rest of the sentence.


Part IV - Parenthesis isn’t just optional material or afterthought

We already know that a parenthesis or parenthetical is basically added information whose distinguishing characteristic is that the sentence remains grammatically correct even without it. So far, however, we have taken up only its first two types, the nonrestrictive relative clause and the nonrestrictive appositive phrase, both of which require enclosing commas to set them off from the sentence. We have also taken up the restrictive relative clause and the restrictive appositive phrase, but we have seen that they aren’t really true parentheticals because they are not expendable—we don’t really have the option to drop them from the sentence.

This time we’ll take up the two other kinds of parentheticals: the parenthesis by dashes, and the parenthesis by parentheses. They differ from the parenthesis by comma in that neither of them can be punctuated properly by a pair of enclosing commas. In their case, though, the use of dashes or parentheses is generally interchangeable and is often a matter of stylistic choice. This choice largely depends on whether the parenthetical is really optional or contextually necessary, perhaps simply an aside; in any case, however, using enclosing commas to set it off is out of the question.

Parenthesis by dashes. This kind of parenthetical normally folds another sentence into a sentence, as in this example: “Their kindly uncle was terminally ill—they said they didn’t know it then—but his nephews and nieces just went on their merry ways.” What sets off the parenthetical “they said they didn’t know it then” from the main sentence is a pair of double dashes, which indicates a much stronger break in the thought or structure of the sentence than what a pair of enclosing commas can provide.

See what happens when we use commas instead to punctuate that kind of parenthetical: “Their kindly uncle was terminally ill, they said they didn’t know it then, but his nephews and nieces just went on their merry ways.” The pauses provided by the two commas are much too brief to indicate the sudden shift from the major developing thought to the subordinate idea; structurally, they also truncate the sentence. 

If the writer so chooses, however, parentheses may also be used for that same parenthetical: “Their kindly uncle was terminally ill (they said they didn’t know it then) but his nephews and nieces just went on their merry ways.” When parentheses are used, however, the implication is that the writer doesn’t attach as much importance to the qualifying idea as he or she would when using double dashes instead.

Parenthesis by parentheses. This is the preferred punctuation when the writer wants to convey to the reader that the idea in the parenthetical isn’t really crucial to his exposition, as in this example: “While I was driving it out of the used-car dealer’s yard, the nicely refurbished 1994 sedan (the dealer assured me its engine had just been overhauled) busted one of its pistons.” However, if the writer intends to take up the dealer’s apparently false assurance in some detail later in the exposition, the parenthesis by dashes would be a good foreshadowing device: “While I was driving it out of the used-car dealer’s yard, the nicely refurbished 1994 sedan—the dealer assured me its engine had just been overhauled—busted one of its pistons.”

Parentheticals enclosed by parentheses need not be complete sentences, of course. They can be simple qualifying phrases within or at the tail end of sentences: “Many elective officials (of the dynastic kind, particularly) sometimes forget that they don’t own those positions.” “The disgruntled cashier took the day off (without even filing a leave).”

Even more commonly, parentheses areof used to add a fact—maybe a name or number—that’s subordinate or tangential to the rest of the sentence, as in this example: “Recent geologic research (Alvarez, Alvarez et al, 1980) indicates that the dinosaurs went extinct when an asteroid some 10 km in diameter smashed on present-day Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula some 65 million years ago.” 

NOTE: In the essay above, the italicization of the parenthetical in the sentence given as example is done for emphasis only. Parentheticals are normally written or printed in the same Roman typeface as the rest of the sentence.

This intensive four-part discusssion of the parenthesis in English exposition first appeared as a series in my "English Plain and Simple" columns in The Manila Times in December 2009, copyright by the Manila Times Pubishing Corp. All rights reserved. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

DEALING WITH QUOTATIONS AND ATTRIBUTIONS IN MASS MEDIA REPORTING

Basics of how written media English handles quotations and attributions

 
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When the exact words of a speaker are quoted, those words should be duly set off by quotation marks. The attribution is then provided either before or after the statement, but depending on the writer’s judgment, it may also be placed within the quoted statement whenever appropriate:

The manager said, “Our president has decided and he’s someone who rarely changes his mind.”

“Our president has decided and he’s someone who rarely changes his mind,” the manager said.

“Our president has decided,” the manager said, “and he’s someone who rarely changes his mind.”

No matter where the attribution is placed in such quoted statements, the statement retains the exact words and the tense of the verbs used by the speaker. Nothing should be changed in what was actually said, as in the following example:

“Our company is in preliminary talks to acquire Canada’s Niko Resources and French energy firm Maurel and Prom,” a spokesman for the refiner Indian Oil Corp. (IOC) said on Friday.

                 IMAGE CREDIT: IDAHO.PRESSBOOKS.PUB

But the treatment would be different if the quoted material is paraphrased with attribution; that is, when the statement is reported without using the speaker’s exact words. In print journalism, in particular, this practice is indicated by doing away with the quotation marks that normally set off quoted material from its attribution.

Now, when quotation marks are dropped in this manner, there could be confusion as to which tense should control the time framework of the whole sentence—that of the attribution, or that of the quoted paraphrased material. This is why when using paraphrased quoted statements, many news service agencies as well as newspapers and magazines follow the so-called sequence of tenses rule.

Under the sequence of tenses rule, when the attribution comes after or within that paraphrased statement, the tenses in the quoted statement are retained:

Indian Oil Corp. (IOC) is in preliminary talks to acquire Canada’s Niko Resources and French energy firm Maurel and Prom, a spokesman for the state-run Indian refiner said on Friday.

On the other hand, when the attribution comes ahead of the paraphrased quoted statement, the tense of the attribution acquires control over the tenses in the rest of the statement:

A spokesman for the state-run refiner Indian Oil Corp. (IOC) said on Friday that the company was in preliminary talks to acquire Canada’s Niko Resources and French energy firm Maurel and Prom.

Formally, the sequence of tenses rule requires that the tenses in such attributed paraphrased statements be rendered as follows:

(1) The present tense should become past tense (“is”/”are” to “was”/”were”). For instance, if a beauty contest winner tells the news reporter these exact words, “I am overwhelmed,” the reporter would write it as follows:

She said [that] she was overwhelmed.

(2) The future tense should become conditional (“will” to “would”). For instance, if an irate beauty contest loser tells the reporter these exact words, “I will appeal the judges’ decision,” the reporter would write it as follows:

She said [that] she would appeal the judges’ decision.

(3) The past tense should become past perfect (“was”/”were” to “had been”), except when the time element is indicated. For instance, if a beauty contest chair tells the newspaper reporter these exact words, “We were scandalized by the loser’s complaint,” the reporter would write it as follows:

She said [that] they had been scandalized by the loser’s complaint.

However, the past tense is retained when the time element of the action in the quoted material is given:

She said [that] they were scandalized when the loser filed a complaint yesterday.

(4) The future perfect becomes conditional (“will have + past participle” to “would have + past participle”). For instance, if the beauty contest chair tells the newspaper reporter these exact words, “I will have to review the scores first before deciding,” the reporter would write it as follows:

She said she would have to evaluate the scores first before deciding.

The sequence of tenses rule is easy to apply when the attribution comes after or within the paraphrased quoted statement. For instance, if a political analyst tells a newspaper reporter these exact words, “Some senators are vehemently against changing the Constitution and I think they’ll fight tooth and nail to defeat the proposed amendments,” the reporter might make a quoted paraphrase in either of two ways:

Some senators are strongly opposed to charter change and will fight the proposed amendments in every possible way, the political analyst said.

or:

Some senators are strongly opposed to charter change, the political analyst said, and they will fight the proposed amendments in every possible way.

The tenses in the speaker’s exact words are retained.

As previously pointed out, however, some news service agencies, newspapers, and magazines find the sequence of tenses rule for paraphrased quoted statements rule confusing and misleading. They prefer to use the so-called exceptional sequence rule, which generally retains the tense used in the speaker’s exact words no matter where the attribution falls in the paraphrased quoted material. The example given earlier will thus be rendered in this paraphrased quoted form:

The political analyst said [that] several senators are strongly opposed to charter change and will fight it in every possible way.

Proponents of the exceptional sequence rule argue that paraphrased quoted statements formed by using it are clearer and more logical and immediate than those formed by using the traditional sequence of tenses rule. True enough, by not having to change the tenses in paraphrased quoted statements, the exceptional sequence rule eliminates a procedure that can sometimes confuse even the writers themselves and possibly mislead the reader.

                      IMAGE CREDIT: GRAMMAR-MONSTER.COM

Some infamous quoted statements in world history that survived 
those who uttered them

We can better appreciate the relative virtues of the two rules by applying each to a statement about a situation that doesn’t change so quickly. Assume, for instance, that a provincial governor told a reporter these exact words yesterday: “I have a green card but I don’t intend to live in the U.S. upon my retirement.”

A quoted paraphrase of this verbatim statement using the traditional sequence of tenses rule will change its tense from present to past:

The provincial governor said [that] he had a green card but didn’t intend to live in the U.S. upon retiring.

In contrast, a quoted paraphrase using the exceptional sequence rule will retain the present tense:

The provincial governor said [that] he has a green card but doesn’t intend to live in the U.S. upon retiring.

Both versions are grammatically correct, and present no logical problems with their differing use of the tenses.

Even under the exceptional sequence rule, though, some situations arise in which changing the tense of the verbatim quoted material becomes absolutely necessary. For instance, assume that a city mayor told a reporter of a daily newspaper these exact words yesterday: “I am not feeling well so I will not attend the party caucus tonight.”

In a news report for today’s papers, the following paraphrased quoted statement using the exceptional sequence rule will no longer hold logically:

The city mayor said [that] he is not feeling well and will not attend the party caucus last night.

This is because by the time the report is read, the city mayor might have already gotten well and might have even attended the party caucus eventually. Thus, there’s no choice but to use the past tense, as in the case of the sequence of tenses rule:

The city mayor said [that] he was not feeling well and would not attend the party caucus scheduled last night.

Indeed, no matter what rule we use in writing paraphrased quoted statements, the paraphrasing must reflect in a logical way the effect of the passage of time between the utterance of the quoted statement and its being read in printed form.
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This article appeared in my column "English Plain and Simple" in The Manila Times on July 25, 2009. It had liberally used some instruction material from the Idaho Pressbooks Consortium where Idaho’s academic community publishes and openly licenses its work for use by others. Visitors of this and affiliated sites can thus gain access to various educational resources—all published under open licenses to encourage educational use. Check out the idaho.pressbooks.pub website for details about Write What Matters, a book to help steer you in the right direction through all of your reading and writing. assignments.

The two styles of handling quoted material in English
(September 20, 2009)

Handling quoted material and of doing partial quotes and orphan quotes are actually very simple writing routines in English, but the unfortunate fact is that many of us still get mixed up when doing them.

The reason for the confusion is that we get exposed to both the American English and British English styles for dealing with quotations. These styles have marked differences. The American English style is to use double quotation marks to enclose quotations, and single quotation marks to set off a quotation within a quotation. In contrast, until recent times, the British English style did the reverse: it used single quotation marks to enclose direct quotations, and used double quotation marks to set off a quotation within those direct quotations.

Let’s take the quoted statement below from a recent New York Times article about the Broadway actor Geoffrey Rush. It’s a verbatim quote, but simply for illustrative purposes and to avoid unsightly complications, I didn’t enclose the entire passage within the opening and closing quotation marks required for such a quote. Look:

The geopolitical particulars did not interest Mr. Rush, though.

“I kept thinking, ‘What will the world be like when all life ends?’” he said recently, recalling that day in 1962. “What is ‘nothingness’?”

That is the American English style for handling quoted statements and punctuating the elements within quoted statements. Notice that in the attributed direct quote, the opening quotes and closing quotes are double quotation marks, while the opening quotes and closing quotes setting off the quoted statements within the quotation—and the orphan quote for “nothingness” as well—are single quotation marks.

On the other hand, the British style of yesteryears (and this applied to many of the English literary classics) would render such quoted statements in the following manner:

The geopolitical particulars did not interest Mr. Rush, though.

‘I kept thinking, “What will the world be like when all life ends?”’ he said recently, recalling that day in 1962. ‘What is “nothingness?”’

Observe that in place of the double quotes for the opening and closing quotes for the direct quotations, this particular British-style uses single quotation marks instead, and that in place of the single quotes for the opening and closing quotes setting off the quoted statements within the direct quotations (as well as those setting off the orphan quotes), this style uses double quotation marks instead.

In recent years, though, many publications in the United Kingdom shifted to the American English style for using quotations marks—but retaining a major punctuation difference. Still the norm in British publications is to put the punctuation of a statement inside the closing quotation marks if that punctuation belongs to the quoted statement; otherwise, that punctuation is placed outside the closing quotation marks.

Take this example from an article in a recent issue of The Sunday Times of London:

Richard, he boasts to friends, is “offensively well and full of violence”, rolls about in the hay “stark naked”, takes his turn at chopping wood and filling the oil lamps, and “even insists on pouring out my ration of gin for me every evening”.

Note that in the first and second partial quotes, the comma is placed after the closing quotation marks; and that in the third partial quote, the period (or what the British call the full stop) after the entire passage is placed outside the closing quotation marks.

In the American English style, of course, all of those punctuations will be inside those closing quotation marks:

Richard, he boasts to friends, is “offensively well and full of violence,” rolls about in the hay “stark naked,” takes his turn at chopping wood and filling the oil lamps, and “even insists on pouring out my ration of gin for me every evening.”

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

USING DISCOURSE MARKERS FOR CONTEXTUALIZING IDEAS

Putting Our Ideas in Better Context by Using Discourse Markers

No doubt that most of you who read my English-usage columns and Forum website are now thoroughly familiar with the English content words and function words, which have been among the most recurrent fare in my discussions of English grammar over the years. 

The content words are, of course, those that carry the descriptive meanings conveyed by the language: the nouns (“Amelia,” “love,” “puppies,” “elections”), verbs (“see,” “run,” “dream,” “achieve”), adjectives (“contemptuous,” “lovely,” “serene,” “quiet”), adverbs (“often,” “happily,” “rarely,” “haphazardly”), and interjections (“Alas!”, “Dear me!”, “Ouch!”, “Oops!”). 

On the other hand, the function words are those that carry only grammatical meaning and just signal relations between parts of sentences: the determiners (“the,” “a,” “my,” “your,” “their”), pronouns (“I,” “me,” “you,” “he,” “she,” “them”), conjunctions (“and,” “or,” “but,” “when,” “as,” “before,” “thereafter”), auxiliaries (“have,” “is,” “can,” “will,” “shall,” “would”), and a few prepositions that don’t have an inherent meaning in themselves (“of,” “on,” “at”).

                  IMAGE CREDIT: MICAESL.BLOGSPOT.COM

But really now (that’s a discourse marker, by the way), how many of you know what the following very familiar words and expressions are called in English grammar: “oh,” “well,” “now,” “then,” “so,” “you know,” “mind you,” “still,” “however,” “nevertheless,” “actually,” and “anyway”? Well (this is another discourse marker, of course), these words and expressions are a class of function words called discourse markers, a grammatical device that plays a significant role in managing the flow and structure of the verbal interchange of ideas or the extended expression of thought on a particular subject.

      IMAGE CREDIT: PINTEREST.COM

SOME OF THE HUNDREDS OF DISCOURSE MARKERS IN ENGLISH 

Discourse markers are relatively not dependent on the syntax of the sentence and usually don’t alter the truth of what’s being said. For instance, in “That’s farthest from my mind, you know,” the discourse marker “you know” doesn’t contradict but emphasizes.

As many of you must have been subconsciously aware when you’d hear discourse markers spoken or see them in writing, they are meant to help the speaker or writer manage the conversation or discussion. They clearly mark changes in its direction, mood, or tone—the better for you the listener to understand or follow what’s being said. Indeed, the skillful use of discourse markers is a good measure of fluency in the language and of one’s skill as a communicator.

Let me share the valuable insights of Prof. Yael Maschler, a linguist who studied mathematics and linguistics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and who received her Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Michigan in the United States. She has done extensive research on discourse markers and, after going over the hundreds of them that often bewilder grammarians and learners alike, she wisely divided them into just four broad categories: interpersonal, referential, structural, and cognitive.

1. Interpersonal markers. They are used to indicate the relationship between the speaker and the listener. Perception: “Look…” , “Believe me…” Agreement: “Exactly.” Disagreement: “I’m not sure.” Amazement: “Wow!”

2. Referential markers. They are usually conjunctions and are used to indicate the sequence, causality, and coordination between statements. Sequence: “Now…”, “Then…” Causality: “Because…” Coordination: “And…” Non-coordination: “But…”

3. Structural markers. They indicate the hierarchy of conversational actions at the time in which these actions are spoken, indicating which statements the speaker believes to be most or least important. Organization: “First of all…” Introduction: “So…” Summarization: “In the end…”

4. Cognitive markers. They reveal the speaker’s thought process about what he or she has just said. Processing information: “Uhh…” Realization: “Oh!” Rephrasing: “I mean…” 

It should be clear by now that although largely unheralded as function words, discourse markers are an indispensable tool for linking ideas, showing attitude, indicating changes of mind or point of view, and generally controlling communication. Used properly, they can provide not only context but also sinew, verve, and a personal touch to both our written and spoken English.
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This essay, 1,144th of a series, appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Campus Press section of the May 16, 2019 print edition of The Manila Times, © 2019 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.



Wednesday, April 10, 2024

USING THE SERIAL COMMA NOT JUST A MATTER OF STYLISTIC PREFERENCE

The need to consistently use the Oxford or serial comma
By Jose A. Carillo


It might seem like it’s just a matter of personal stylistic preference, but unlike most journalists and writers, I am a consistent user of the serial comma in both my published works and private correspondence. The serial comma is, of course, the comma placed immediately before the conjunctions “and,” “or,” or “nor” that precedes the final item in a serial list of three or more items, as in this sentence: “The European tourist visited Manila, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Bangkok last summer.” Most newspaper writers and editors do away with that serial comma, though, and would write that sentence this way: “The European tourist visited Manila, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Bangkok last summer.”
 

Now the question is: Am I just being dense or bullheaded in using the serial comma when most everybody else routinely gets rid of it? I had the occasion to defend my preference when it was challenged by a foreign reader of my English-usage column in The Manila Times over a year ago, and I thought of posting that defense in this week’s edition of the Forum for the appreciation of those who still have an open mind about the matter. (December 18, 2010)

    INFOGRAPHIC CREDIT: KAUFERDMC.COM  

Sometime ago, a foreign reader of my column in The Manila Times raised an eyebrow over my use of the comma before the conjunction “and” in this sentence: “The (author) unravels the various mechanisms and tools of English for combining words and ideas into clear, logical, and engaging writing.”

He commented: “There is a comma after the second to the last adjective, and I noted that you do this all the time. Has some authority changed convention?”

That comma that made him uncomfortable is, of course, the serial comma, which is also called the Oxford comma or the Harvard comma. It’s the comma placed by some writers like me—but avoided by most editors of Philippine newspapers and magazines—immediately before the conjunction “and,” “or,” or “nor” that precedes the final item in a list of three or more items. Admittedly, its use has remained debatable up to this day among writers and editors in various parts of the world.

Here’s how I justified my consistent use of the serial comma to that foreign reader:  

Yes, I use the serial comma all the time as a matter of stylistic choice. I just happen to have imbibed the serial-comma tradition from Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, the Chicago Manual of Style, and H.W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage. However, during my early days as a campus journalist and later as a reporter for a Manila daily newspaper, I would routinely knock off my serial commas because the newspaper I was working with had adopted the no-serial-comma preference of American print media, particularly The New York Times and the Associated Press. If I didn’t knock off those serial commas myself, my editors would do so anyway and sullenly admonish me not to foist my personal preference over the house rule.    

But no, the convention on whether or not to use the serial comma hasn’t changed at all. I’m aware that the no-serial-comma tradition remains a widespread stylistic practice of the mass media in the United Kingdom as well as in Canada, Australia, and South Africa. But personally, I just want to be consistent after making a personal choice based on my own experience with the problems of punctuation over the years.

Of course, the usefulness of the serial comma might not be readily apparent and appreciated when the items in a sentence with a serial list consist only of a single word or two, as in the following sentences:

“She bought some apples, oranges and pears.”

“For the role of Hamlet, the choices are Fred Santos, Tony Cruz, Jimmy Reyes and George Perez.”  

But see what happens when the listed items consist of long phrases with more than four or five words:

“The major businesses in the domestic pet services industry are traditional veterinary services, fancy pet grooming and makeover shops, a wide assortment of animal and bird food, freshwater and marine fish of various kinds and aquarium equipment and supplies for industrial and home use.”

Now, try to figure out where each enumerative item ends and begins in the phrase “freshwater and marine fish of various kinds and aquarium equipment and supplies for industrial and home use.”

In contrast, see how clear and unequivocal the last two items in the list become when we deploy a serial comma between “various kinds” and “aquarium equipment,” as follows:

“The major businesses in the domestic pet services industry are traditional veterinary services, fancy pet grooming and makeover shops, a wide assortment of animal and bird food, freshwater and marine fish of various kinds, and aquarium equipment and supplies for industrial and home use.”

I therefore think it’s best to use a serial comma by default in such situations regardless of how long the phrase for each item is in the enumerative sequence. This way, we can consistently avoid confusing readers and avoid violating their sense of rhythm and balance. (July 4, 2009)
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This first appeared in the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in The Manila Times, June 4, 2009 © 2009 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.


Infographic and U.S. case on the Oxford/serial comma

On April 2,2014, Forum member and contributor Gerry T. Galacio posted two valuable pieces of information that buttress the need for the consistent use of te Oxford or serial comma:

[1] You can find a great infographic on the pros and cons of the Oxford comma at http://holykaw.alltop.com/the-oxford-comma-decried-defended-and-debated-infographic

[2] The Wisconsin State Supreme Court debated vigorously the use of the serial comma in “Peterson v. Midwest Sec. Ins. Co. 636 N.W.2d 727” (http://www.wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.html?content=html&seqNo=17566). Omitting the comma led to an ambiguity in Wisconsin’s recreational immunity statute.

On the artwork and headline we used for the Blogspot's online notice for this retrospective on Jose Carillo's English Forum feature Why I consistently use the serial comma.”

Even without prior permission from TheWarriorLedger.Com where it appeared for its headline story datelined Thursday, April 11, 2034, we were unable to resist using the material because of is very providential and spot-on relevance to this retrospective that we were in the process of.preparing for online publication last night. For taking the liberty to use the material without giving it prior notice, we would like to express our sincere apologies to TheWarriorLedger.Com.

For the very same reason that we trust TheWarriorLedger.Com would appreciate and understand, we are now likewise taking the liberty of posting the very interesting Warrior Ledger.com retrospective on the Oxford comma that it was coincidentally running precisely at the same time as ours.

Below is the full TheWarriorLedger.Com retrospective:

Why the Oxford Comma Matters
(https://thewarriorledger.com/4507/opinion/why-the-oxford-comma-matters/)


While most grammatical styles seem to be accepted and followed by most, there is one grammatical choice that sparks debate among writers and English teachers, the Oxford comma. The Oxford comma, or more formally known as the serial comma, is a comma placed last when you are listing things in a sentence. An example of the Oxford comma is: "My dogs are Precious, Ella, and Chloe." The example without the Oxford comma is: "My dogs are Precious, Ella and Chloe." Whether or not the use of the comma is required depends on the style rules you follow. AP (Associated Press) style doesn’t require the use of a serial comma but, The Chicago Manual of Style does indeed require the use of a serial comma. While the Oxford comma is not considered grammatically correct, it has become a popular debate on whether or not it should be. 

The Oxford comma can be traced all the way back to Herbert Spencer, a Victorian generalist who popularized the phrase “survival of the fittest.” However, the comma got its name from Horace Hart, a printer for the Oxford University Press. This is where he created “Hart’s Rules for Compositors and Readers,” a guide for employees working at the printing press. This guide gained notoriety and was beginning to be used by many others, thus gaining the infamous nickname, the Oxford comma. Many style guides, including Horace’s, are extremely similar except no one can agree on whether or not the use of the Oxford comma is necessary. 

The common reasons given as to why the Oxford comma is not necessary are the use of the comma can introduce ambiguity, it is inconsistent with the use of it in the pertaining region, and that the comma adds unnecessary bulk to the paragraph. While these are all valid reasons as to why the comma should not be widely used, they simply aren’t true, and there is a court case to prove it. The ten-million dollar comma is a popular case that involved Maine’s Oakhurst Dairy Farm. Delivery workers claimed they were owed years of overtime pay. There was a statement made to workers that included a grammatical error, the absence of a serial comma, creating ambiguity. Oakhurst claimed the comma was not necessary and that the workers had misread the statement, Thus leading to the court case O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy.   After the long case and intensive verification, the judge ruled in favor of the employees requiring Oakhurst Dairy to pay over ten-million dollars to work for overtime. 

Even though the court case has legally proved the importance of the Oxford comma, many still vigorously disapprove the use of the comma. Those who are against the use of the comma claim it is “pretentious” and a “waste of space” on the paper. Even though the comma has its enemies, it is very widely used among students and educators. The writing styles used universally by students don’t require the use of a serial comma, but a variety of students claim they were taught to use it in grade school while learning to be grammatically correct. 

Though the Oxford comma has proven time and time again to be an important and beneficial part of being grammatically correct, the comma can’t lose its bad reputation. With one of its biggest misanthropes being the American band, Vampire Weekend. They start off their hit song titled, “Oxford Comma”, with ‘Who gives a (retracted) about an Oxford Comma?’ Well, Vampire Weekend, we do, we care about an Oxford Comma, they matter.

The Warrior Ledger is the student news site of Taylorsville High School, 5225 South Redwood Road, Taylorsville, Utah 84123, U.S.A.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

WHEN SENSE OR NUANCE GETS LOST IN TRANSLATION

Lost in Translation
By Jose A.Carillo


Part 1 - When a translation misses a nuance or bungles an idiom  or two

One of the pleasures of reading a Reuters or Bloomberg financial wire story, or perhaps a novel by Vladimir Nabokov, Joseph Conrad, or Herman Melville, is that you are sure that the English came straight from the mind of the writer himself. The feeling is not quite the same when you read a financial report knowing that it has been translated from a foreign language, say from French, Japanese, Korean, or Urdu. Even with what are evidently wonderful English translations, such as that of novels by Gabriel Garcia Marquez from the original Spanish and that of Giuseppe di Lampedusa from the original Italian, you cannot help but get the feeling that perhaps the translator might have missed something or somehow bungled an idiom or two, or that he might have shortchanged you by just winging it with a foreign passage that he did not understand himself.



I think you can appreciate the situation better if you have tried to translate into Japanese or Tagalog a quotation like this one taken from a financial wire story: “That’s right. We project EBITDA to drop over 10% in 2001 on a decline in Gulf of Mexico jackup rates to near cash costs during the first half of the year, but we expect EBITDA will climb over 30% in 2002 as steady international results are joined by a rebounding Gulf of Mexico market.” As it turns out, the strange-sounding acronym EBITDA is the easiest to figure out; just check a management jargon dictionary on the Net and you will easily find that it stands for “Earnings before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization.” It is supposed to measure a company’s profitability without taking into account those items that might be seen as being beyond management’s direct control, such as taxes and interest.

Well and good. But what about “a decline in Gulf of Mexico jackup rates to near cash costs,” “steady international results,” and “a rebounding Gulf of Mexico market”? Exactly what do they mean and why did the writer make it so hard for both layman and translator to understand, much more to translate? In the original English, somehow you could make at least a hazy sense of the meaning by inference, but when translating English idioms like this, I can tell you that it can at times become positively maddening. I once advised a foreign translator that “Gulf of Mexico jackup rates” might mean the cost of extracting crude petroleum from the depths of the sea off the coast of New Orleans. I thought I was so sure of it, but on second thoughts I told him I wasn’t too sure so he had better check it up with the writer himself. Such are the perils and tribulations of translating from one language to another and then to the next.

The problem becomes even more acute when you have to translate poetry or verse. Take the case of our very own Philippine national anthem. You will probably remember from grade school that Julián Felipe composed its music in 1898 with the Spanish title La Marcha Nacional Filipina, and that a year later José Palma wrote the poem Filipinas in Spanish as the lyrics for the anthem. 

To get a feel of its flavor, let’s take a look at just the first eight lines of the poem:

Tierra adorada,
Hija del Sol de Oriente,
Su fuego ardiente
En ti latiendo está.
Tierra de Amores,
Del heroísmo cuna,
Los invasores
No te holláran jamás.

That’s actually a rousing harangue in the Hispanic tongue, and I now faithfully translate it into English as follows:

Land that I adore,
Daughter of the Orient Sun,
You give ardent fire
To my heart that throbs for you.
Oh Land of Love,
Cradle of heroism,
Never will I let invaders
Ever trample on you.

Of course, I am using what is called free-verse translation, without a finicky regard for the meter that is absolutely needed to match the lyrics with the music, but you have my word that I have tried to be as true and faithful to Palma as I could be. I probably can do a translation that perfectly matches the meter and cadence of Felipe’s march, but I have no time for that now so it probably will have to wait for a more propitious day.

Now take a look at how, in the interest of meter, the translators Camilo Osias and M. A. Lane departed so much from the spirit of the original Spanish in their 1920 English translation:

Land of the morning
Child of the sun returning
With fervour burning
Thee do our souls adore.
Land dear and holy
Cradle of noble heroes
Ne’er shall invaders
Trample thy sacred shore.  

This is the anthem that I had sung with such fervor every schoolday for many years in all kinds of weather, until they replaced it with the Tagalog version in 1956, but it is only now that I can see with shocking clarity the severe and, I think, undue liberties taken by the two translators with the Palma original.

For one, the very first phrase they used, “Land of the morning,” has absolutely no bearing on “Tierra adorada” or the “Land that I adore.” Osias and Lane had actually trivialized the fervor of the first line by rendering it as simply a meteorological condition that any country, or any piece of acreage on earth for that matter, experiences every day. The second phrase is even worse: “Child of the sun returning” is a pure metaphorical invention of theirs; if they were not respectable people, one would have thought that they may have been tipsy or joking when they did this linguistic travesty to “Hija del Sol de Oriente” or “Daughter of the Orient Sun.” In their translation, Osias and Lane had obliterated gender, age, and geography in Palma’s original metaphor and replaced it with preposterous doggerel: did the returning sun sire the child, or was the sun’s prodigal child returning? In place of a beautiful and spontaneous outburst of piety, they had chosen to immortalize a vexing riddle. Moreover, when they used archaic English in “Thee do our souls adore” and “Ne’er shall invaders /Trample thy sacred shore,” they obviously did not anticipate that by imposing such seemingly bizarre grammar, they will be tongue-twisting and perplexing generations of Filipinos every time they sang their own national anthem with feeling.


Part 2 - Did the 1956 Tagalog translation of the Spanish lyrics of  Filipinas do better?

Did the Surian ng Wikang Pambansa under Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay fare any better when they translated Filipinas, the Spanish lyrics of our national anthem, into Tagalog in 1956? Let’s take a look at their lyrics that we are still singing today:

Bayang magiliw 
Perlas ng Silanganan, 
Alab ng puso
Sa dibdib mo’y buhay. 
Lupang hinirang 
Duyan ka ng magiting 
Sa manlulupig 
Di ka pasisiil.  

Offhand I would say that these eight lines render more faithfully Palma’s Spanish original than Osias and Lane with their English. We can easily crosscheck this by faithfully translating them into English:  

Oh charming land/ 
Pearl of the Orient, 
The fire in your heart 
Is alive in my breast. 
Oh chosen land, 
Hammock of the brave, 
Never will I allow conquerors 
Ever to vanquish you.  

Both the Tagalog and the crosscheck version above are, I think, beautiful in themselves and fit to be sung in perpetuity.



Now, at this point, I do not wish to be construed as being irreverent, particularly because Bayang Magiliw has already been engraved in the mind and heart of every Filipino schoolchild and adult through years of repeated singing. But I just would like to observe that like Osias and Lane, the Surian made a careless trampoline jump in imagery, sense, and intent from the Palma original in the first two lines alone (I will forever withhold comment on the translation of the remaining 18). “Bayang magiliw,” which focuses on the charm of the land, is nowhere near in image and meaning to “Tierra adorada,” which expresses the citizen’s fealty to his native land. “Perlas ng silanganan,” too, is low-level imagery that is not even a pale shadow of “Hija del sol de Oriente,” which expresses a deep maternal intimacy between citizen and land in their unique place under the sun. What, indeed, is so special about a common Eastern pearl, or of one at any point of the compass for that matter? This Tagalog rendering is a debased metaphor—almost a cliché —that further suffers from the unnatural verbal extension and contortion that silangan must do to make lyric fit with melody by stretching itself to silanganan. And to think that we have now enshrined it as supposedly a lovely icon for all that’s good and beautiful about our country! I would have expected the lyricists to at least consider the limits of sensibility and the average vocal chord before taking this verbal and not so poetic liberty.

And while talking about anthems I have another thought that has bothered me for a long time. What could be a more blatant mark of the Filipinos’ fierce tribalism and divisiveness than the proliferation of vernacular translations of the Philippine national anthem? I have seen at least seven other complete translations of the Spanish original—in Cebuano, Ilocano, Haligaynon, Bicolano, Kapampangan, Pangasinense, and Tausug—and from the looks of it, most of these tribes have likewise taken extreme liberties with the intent and meaning of the original Spanish. Some have even tried to outdo one another in the waywardness of their translations. The Tausug version, for one, had not been able to resist using the word “Filipinas” itself in the lyric—which is almost an oxymoron, since nowhere in the Spanish lyrics was the country’s name mentioned. Such was the tribal desire to match meter with melody rather than be faithful to the substance of the song.

The Americans, after uniting behind Francis Scott Key’s new lyrics for the well-known drinking song, To Anacreon in Heaven, when they won tentative victory over the British in 1814, never did anything as bizarre as this. And once the U.S. Congress passed a law proclaiming The Star-Spangled Banner as the national anthem in 1931, they have been playing and singing exactly the same tune and lyrics ever since. Unlike ours, here was a country of 3.5 million square miles (more than 30 times bigger than ours), with more migrants and ethnic races than we have, and yet with absolutely no compulsion to translate their national anthem to some petty dialect, or to depart even a bit from the unabashed verve and vision of its early patriots. The same is the case of the French with their national anthem, La Marseilles. Composed by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle one night during the French Revolution in 1792, and twice banned by two intervening regimes, it has stood the test of time in the hearts and minds of the French more than two centuries hence.

Long ago, during my salad days, I took a fancy at the Spanish poem Romance Sonambulo (Somnambulistic Ballad) by Federico Garcia Lorca and cross-translated it into Tagalog with an English translation as a guide. I thought I did a rather good job at it, particularly the way the Spanish “Mil panderos de cristal, /herían la madrugada,” hewing close to “A thousand tambourines /Wounded the dawning of the day” in the English, evolved into “Sanlibong tamburina /Ang sumusugat sa dapit-umaga” in Tagalog. The translation came out in the college paper and, although I got nothing in payment, it gave me a chance to bask under Andy Warhol’s fifteen seconds of evanescent fame. This emboldened me to become more ambitious: I attempted to render in Tagalog the English version of La grasse matinée by the French poet Jacques Prévert.

Since the poem was in free verse, translating most of it was actually a piece of cake. But upon reaching the portion with the phrase “Ces pâtés ces bouteilles ces conserves,” which the English translator had rendered as “Bottles of pâte foie de gras,” I was stumped. It was way past midnight in the late ’60s and my cheap French-English dictionary was clueless about it. There was not a soul to consult, much less a French one, so I tentatively rendered the phrase to “Alak na pâte foie de gras,” [“Wine made of pâte foie de gras”] and then completely forgot about it. The rest of the translation was otherwise flawless, and it actually impressed the editor of the college paper so much that he promptly published it verbatim.

Many years later, much older and just a little wiser, I was to discover that pâte in French meant “paste,” foie was “goose,” and gras was “fat,” as in Mardi gras, which means “Fat Tuesday.” In my haste and sloth and dismal ignorance of French, I ignominiously made wine of what was actually the exquisite oily concoction of fatty goose paste so well-loved by the French!
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This two-part essay first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in The Manila Times in 2002 and subsequently appeared in Jose Carillo’s book English Plain and Simple: No-Nonsense Ways to Learn Today’s Global Language. Copyright © 2004 by Jose A. Carillo. Copyright © 2008 by Manila Times Publishing. All rights reserved.


Tuesday, March 26, 2024

WHY IS THE ENGLISH OF LEGAL DOCUMENTS HARD TO UNDERSTAND?

Agonizing to make heads and tails of English legalese
By Jose A. Carillo 

Sometime in 2014 a reader of my English-usage column in The Manila Times, Mr. Henry Bon Ruiz, sent me the following e-mail:

"Sir, I hope you can enlighten me on why legal documents and contracts use too many unnecessary words that are not direct to the point and hard to understand?

"Is this a lawyer's standard procedure so he can be the only one who can interpret and make money out of it?

"Most legal contracts and documents are too wordy, not direct to the point and confusing (terrible grammar). 

"Is this standard practice in law? Why can't they make it simple and precise?"

My reply to Mr. Ruiz was as follows:

Dear Henry:

Your first question is why legal documents and contracts use too many unnecessary words, words that you say are not direct to the point and are hard to understand.

The answer is that these legal documents and contracts use English that’s called legalese—the jargon or specialized language that lawyers use to communicate with fellow lawyers and other members of the legal community, particularly justices, judges, and paralegals. This language presumes that the target audience—whether readers or listeners—is adequately knowledgeable with legal concepts and the legal system. This is why to laypersons not equipped with or are not privy to this knowledge, legalese would read and sound much too wordy for comfort and, very often, beyond understanding and comprehension.



Your next question is whether the use of legalese is a standard procedure of lawyers so that only they can interpret the document or contract and thus be able to make money from those who need or have use for those documents and contracts.

I think that this is a very harsh assessment of the motivation of lawyers in writing or speaking in legalese. Here, from a lawyer who writes under the username WiseGeek, is I think a fair, levelheaded justification for legalese:

"In law, words have very specific and clearly defined meanings, and lawyers are careful when drafting legal documents to say precisely what they mean, even if the meaning is only apparent to other lawyers. Some of the word use may appear unusual to people who aren’t familiar with the law, as ordinary words can have a different meaning in a legal context. For example, seemingly redundant phrasing actually isn’t, when the legal meanings of the phrase are considered."

In contrast, here’s a more candid justification for the complexity of legalese from a lawyer who blogs under the username SoMeLaw Thoughts:

"Here’s one deep, dark secret about lawyers—we see risk everywhere. I can look at a picture of a man on a sidewalk and come up with a dozen potential lawsuits without batting an eye. And that’s before this hypothetical man crosses the hypothetical street. We lawyers spend years reading the most ludicrous cases you can imagine that involve chain reactions of people jumping onto moving trains, dropping bundles of fireworks that explode, and a concussive wave that tips over a large scale injuring a woman nearby (actual, famous case). It’s our job to see the worst potential outcome and help our clients avoid it.

"So when a client comes to an attorney and says “Hey, can you draft up some terms for my business so that we’re protected from lawsuits?” then the lawyer’s mind starts spinning like a rickety travelling carnival ride that was installed without inspection, has no safety restraints in the cars, and is operating at twice the recommended speed. Our minds are now racing to give our clients the best possible defense to a future lawsuit.

"That’s an important distinction—giving a defense to a lawsuit rather than preventing a lawsuit. Lawyers know that anyone can be sued by anyone else for anything. The question is whether the lawsuit has merit and will stick. Good terms and conditions will give you plenty of ways to dismiss the lawsuit with as little effort as possible, but you’ll still have to deal with the lawsuit. So that’s why these terms and conditions can run so long—they are trying to arm the company for a war that might come from the land, sea, air, space, other dimension, and in the case of some special litigants, parallel universes where your company is secretly in league with paranormal forces and therefore should pay the plaintiff one billion dollars. Drafting these terms are like packing for a trip when you have no idea if you’re going to Hawaii or Antarctica and you don’t know how long you’ll be gone…"

Now, Henry, your third question is whether it’s standard practice in law to make most contracts and documents too wordy, not direct to the point, confusing—and also to have terrible grammar.

I doubt if it’s standard practice in law to deliberately and viciously make contracts and documents very wordy, not direct to the point, confusing—and also to make their grammar terrible. Legalese is, I think, simply the present-day outcome of centuries of overcareful, overzealous, overprecise, overbearing, and overwrought formulation, implementation, interpretation, and application of the law in evolving societies. It’s an arcane, stultifying language that generations of lawyers and other legal practitioners have not seen fit or bothered to simplify for clarity of expression and for easier understanding by laypeople. 

Indeed, for no better reason than convenience, modern-day legal practitioners still resort to and freely use many of the English-language legal templates and language quirks that date back to Victorian England and even earlier. They do so as if totally oblivious of the evolution of the English language in our Telecommunication Age towards accuracy, brevity, and clarity. I think this is precisely why you’ve gotten the wrong impression that most contracts have terrible English grammar. 

Actually though, on close examination, their English grammar would most often be aboveboard, except that their syntax and construction are often those of a long bygone era, when those documents were still laboriously composed by longhand using quill and ink. In a very real sense, then, most contracts and legal documents today are composed by lawyers as if they are living in a time warp, making them—both the documents and the lawyers—sound terribly outdated, even archaic.

Your last question is whether it’s possible to make contracts and legal documents simple and precise. My personal answer is that, particularly in a democratic country like ours, it’s not only possible but highly desirable. In recent years, in fact, there has been a growing movement in North America and in the United Kingdom to use plain and simple English not only in contracts and legal documents but also in court litigation and in legislation, the better for laypeople to understand, appreciate, and follow the law as well as to assert their rights and fulfill their responsibilities as members of society. Read, for instance, “Lawyers Should Use Plain Language,” (http://www.afn.org/~afn54735/language1.html) an article by Carol M. Bast in the Florida Bar Journal for a comprehensive discussion of the plain language trend and legislation in the United States.

Let’s just hope that the plain English movement and legislation will soon catch on in the Philippines as well.

Sincerely yours,
Joe Carillo

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A most welcome commentary from a Filipino balikbayan:

Along with my response to Mr. Henry Bon Ruiz's complaint against legalese in the Philippine setting, I am pleased to share this frank but heartwarming commentary by Mr. Juanito T. Fuerte, who described himself as "a religious follower" of my English-usage Forum in The Manila Times. He compared the tough English legalese of Philippine lawyers to the simpler legalese currently in vogue in the United States [in the 2014s]: 

March 20, 2014

Hi, Joe, 

Having lived for a few decades in the United States where most people (including lawyers) write the way they speak, I can understand BonRuiz and agree with him when he said that the English of lawyers in the Philippines has “too many unnecessary words that are not direct to the point and are hard to understand.” Unlike in the States where even someone with no education higher than high school (like myself) can readily understand what lawyers write without having to pause to consult the dictionary or to read the material over and over again, here in the Philippines it becomes a necessity for nonlawyers to take a long pause and painstakingly analyze the words or sentences in their legal documents so as to understand or decipher what is being said.

Over the years that I lived in the States, I had several powers of attorney, wills, and other legal documents prepared for me by American lawyers during the four times that I bought and sold a house in those years. Not once did I find it hard to read and understand what the pertinent documents were saying. But here in the Philippines, when I hired a lawyer to handle the sale of a lot owned by my deceased wife, I had to ask him to summarize and interpret for me—in plain English or Tagalog—what the transaction documents he had prepared meant. This was because reading and trying to understand them almost made me feel like going through a maze. Of course, it also dawned on me that we Filipinos do have a penchant for using high-sounding words instead of everyday, simple ones. 

Since coming back home three years ago, in fact, I have been exposed to some new English words like the following: “venue” (place), ”ambiance” (atmosphere), “signage” (signs), “wastage” (destruction)), “sans” (without), etc. Why these words instead of everyday words? My guess is, it’s because one who uses them feels sooo...cool, sooo...elite, and sooo...impressive! Worse, I also oftentimes run across words like “senatoriable,” “presidentiable,” and “masteral”—words that are not even in the dictionary!  

This is not to criticize our lawyers, most of whom are brilliant practitioners of their profession who can stack up any time against their counterparts anywhere, including those in the U.S. But in this age of fast food and instant communications, perhaps it’s time for them to part with their old ways of writing or saying things, simplifying legal documents and making their English less complicated.  

By the way, when, say, a certain a legal expert describes the result of a certain finding or court ruling as “final,” is it necessary to make “and executory” follow the word “final” even when the finding or ruling is declared to be final on the same date it was issued without any further stipulation? I ask this question because my understanding of the word “executory,” as defined by Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, is “designed or of such a nature as to be executed in time to come or to take effect on a future contingency.” Therefore—but please correct me if I’m wrong—when used after the word “final,” and if the date of effectivity is other than the date when it was declared ”final,” the words “and executory” should specify the future contingency that would trigger the effectivity of the finding or ruling. By the same token, in the absence of any contingencies as to how or when the finding or ruling would take effect, the declaration of a finding or ruling as “final” should no longer be followed by the words “and executory” (as what most legal experts often do). What do you think?  

I thought I should let you know about these thoughts of mine, Joe. I’ve learned a lot about proper English usage from the days of your “English Plain and Simple” column in The Manila Times, and I’m now also a religious follower of your English Forum because I know that I have just begun to scratch the surface and that there’s a lot more for me to learn. I’m sure a lot of other Forum members would say the same thing. 

So, as my old neighbor in Virginia would say, “Keep plugging!”

All the best,
Juanito T. Fuerte