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#206272 - 06/28/12 10:53 AM grammatical sentences and nonsense
zmjezhd Offline
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Registered: 08/13/05
Posts: 3286
Loc: R'lyeh
In that other thread, I said what I thought grammar is and how it does not include orthography. In this thread I'd like to look at some perfectly grammatical sentences and how they mean or don't mean.

It was Chomsky, roughly five decades ago, who wrote the following:

1. Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

It was an example of a nonsensical, but grammatical, sentence. It has a subject and a predicate. It has adjectives, a noun, a verb, and an adverb. These parts of speech are assembled in the normal manner. The problem with the sentence is one of meaning. Human beings being what they are have tried to create contexts within which the sentence might be said to have meaning, but I think you get the idea. This is why grammar (at least for generativists) does not include semantics, although parts of it are related to that field of study.

Chomsky was not the first to notice this disconnect between grammaticality and sense. Lewis Carroll and Edward Leary both carved out a small niche in literature in the 19th century exploiting this disconnect. Think of some of those poems, like Jabberwocky or Leary's limericks.

The next example comes from Bertrand Russell:

2. The current king of France is bald.

He came up with this to show how a perfectly grammatical sentence can be (logically) untrue. This sentence skirts dangerously close to literature. Entire books have been written where almost none of the sentences are true. We can still understand them, and their truth has nothing to do with grammar, orthography, style, or the author's intentions. Truth has to do with logic, and logic is not a part of grammar.

Now comes a novelist, E.M. Forster:

3a. The king died and then the queen died.
3b. The king died and then the queen died of a broken heart

Forster famously said that (3a) is merely a story, (3b) is a plot, because the latter not only has a causal connection, but also an emotional element. Although (3b) is the world's shortest novel, I have no way of even determining its veracity.

As for spelling and punctuation, I suppose it seems like a no-brainer to me that these two things have nothing to do with grammar that it is hard for me to conjure up a context in which they do. I think it may be because I have been exposed to texts that are older than two centuries. I am currently reading through Henslowe's Diary which was written in the late 16th and early 17th centuries in Early Modern English. It's main claim to fame is that it records some financial dealings with the companies that put on some of Shakespeare's plays. It is not a facsimile of the MS in the sense that the text has been printed in a modern typeface, but the spelling, punctuation, and abbreviations have been left as they are in the MS. There are hardly any sentences in this diary, but if you look at one of Shakespeare's quartos or the First Folio you will see some beautiful poetry, but the spelling and punctuation are nothing like we do them today. The orthography used in the First Folio probably isn't even Shakespeare's, but one or two of the typesetters who worked for the printer who published the book.
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#206273 - 06/28/12 11:08 AM Re: grammatical sentences and nonsense [Re: zmjezhd]
Faldage Offline
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Registered: 12/01/00
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An example of orthography not equaling grammar would be in the sentence:

Please keep you're hands off of my tray.

To claim that this is a grammatical error you would have to believe that the person who typed this sentence actually intended to type "Please keep you are hands off of my tray."

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#206278 - 06/28/12 04:35 PM Re: grammatical sentences and nonsense [Re: zmjezhd]
BranShea Offline
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Registered: 06/23/06
Posts: 5282
Loc: Netherlands, the Hague
As for spelling and punctuation, I suppose it seems like a no-brainer to me that these two things have nothing to do with grammar that it is hard for me to conjure up a context in which they do.
I like and understand your examples and explanations but I'll be darned if I understand what you mean here.

As for spelling and punctuation, I suppose it seems like a no-brainer (evident, simple) to me that these two things have nothing to do with grammar that it is hard for me to conjure up a context in which they do. ( I try, I try but.........it's literature to me)

I really would be happy with maybe one more tiny comma somwhere.

The king died and then the queen died. Happens all the time. frown

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#206284 - 06/29/12 12:01 PM Re:stuff and nonsense [Re: BranShea]
zmjezhd Offline
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Registered: 08/13/05
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I like and understand your examples and explanations but I'll be darned if I understand what you mean here.

Do you mean in the entire opening post of the thread or just the part that you quoted? I can see that I am not getting through to you. I don't think I can. Probably my fault. Ah, well.

I really would be happy with maybe one more tiny comma somwhere.

Go ahead. Make your day. Add as many commas as you think are needed. Of course, if you can figure out where the commas should go, you probably don't need them in the first place.
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#206287 - 06/29/12 07:00 PM Re: grammatical sentences and nonsense [Re: zmjezhd]
BranShea Offline
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Registered: 06/23/06
Posts: 5282
Loc: Netherlands, the Hague
No, it's not that. No need to make my day. I understand it till where you get to the spelling itch. It may be that you and people who think like you do not need punctuation. Or hardly any.

I only mentioned punctuation again because the sentence I quoted gave me troubles reading it. First I had to look up no-brainer, which if you do not know the word can have two meanings.
I checked if it meant 'dumb' (having no brains) but it proved to mean 'simple' (no brains needed). I run over the sentence a few times and now assume it means that it is hard for you to conjure up a context in which spelling and punctuation have to do with grammar. (is that right?)

Maybe an extra comma would not have been much help.

I like you examples although I do not see why
"2. The current King of France is bold" isn't logic, but that just a detail.

I need punctuation in written texts that are not poetry or literature. To me it's like a reinforcement of the structure.
You do not need it. Whether it is part of grammar I cannot say because I'm no linguist. No language expert. I have from my language education always accepted spelling and punctuation as belonging to grammar.

Maybe I'm wrong.

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#206288 - 06/29/12 08:41 PM Re: grammatical sentences and nonsense [Re: BranShea]
gooofy Offline
newbie

Registered: 01/19/12
Posts: 37
Originally Posted By: BranShea
It may be that you and people who think like you do not need punctuation. Or hardly any.


Certainly not. Punctuation is important. I don't think it's important as some other people think it is, but I certainly don't think we don't need it.


Edited by gooofy (06/29/12 08:44 PM)

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#206294 - 06/30/12 12:01 PM Re: grammatical sentences and nonsense [Re: BranShea]
zmjezhd Offline
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Registered: 08/13/05
Posts: 3286
Loc: R'lyeh
I understand it till where you get to the spelling itch. It may be that you and people who think like you do not need punctuation. Or hardly any.

I shall repeat myself. Punctuation is important. So is spelling. Their importance does not make them a part of grammar. That's all I am saying.

I like you examples although I do not see why
"2. The current King of France is bold" isn't logic, but that just a detail.


LOL. That's cuz there's a typo.

2. The current King of France is bald.

Although, it does not change the fact that the sentence is logically false.
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#206296 - 07/01/12 06:16 AM Re: grammatical sentences and nonsense [Re: zmjezhd]
BranShea Offline
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Registered: 06/23/06
Posts: 5282
Loc: Netherlands, the Hague
laugh laugh _ laugh

Quote:
I like you examples although I do not see why
"2. The current King of France is bold" isn't logic, but that just a detail.
I see I did two typo's here. Hurray!

I hope your patience will hold, but why can't the current King of France be bald or bold? It is not true but what is unlogic about it?

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#206297 - 07/01/12 07:14 AM Re: grammatical sentences and nonsense [Re: zmjezhd]
Faldage Offline
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Registered: 12/01/00
Posts: 13783
I was wondering the same thing about the logic of the sentence. Must is some specialized linguistics definition of logic.

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#206302 - 07/01/12 02:24 PM Re: grammatical sentences and nonsense [Re: BranShea]
zmjezhd Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 08/13/05
Posts: 3286
Loc: R'lyeh
why can't the current King of France be bald or bold? It is not true but what is unlogic about it?

Well, in logic the sentence is neither true nor false, because there is no referent for "the current King of France". You can read up on it in this Wikipedia article. I also see that I misremembered Russell's example sentence; it is "the present King of France is bald". (Also, I think that Russell was making a teasing reference to an actual, but deceased, King of France, i.e., Charles II le Chauve (in English "Charles II the Bald"). He is not to be confused with Charles le Hardi or le Téméraire, duc de Bourgogne (Karel le Stoute in Dutch, Charles the Bold in English).
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