kitchen table math, the sequel: help desk - sentence diagram

Monday, September 20, 2010

help desk - sentence diagram

In the passage below, Terkoz the ape has kidnapped Jane; Tarzan is tracking Terkoz through the treetops.
At boughs’ ends, where the anthropoid swings from one tree to another, there is most to mark the trail, but least to point the direction of the quarry, for there the pressure is downward always, toward the small end of the branch, whether the ape be leaving or entering a tree. Nearer the center of the tree, where the signs of passages are fainter, the direction is plainly marked.

Tarzan of the Apes
Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature

p. 74

This was a fantastically difficult sentence for my college composition students to read; it was difficult for me to read, too.

Can someone diagram the first sentence?

You hear constantly that sentence diagramming doesn't help with writing, but I'm wondering whether it would help with reading. I'm tutoring a high school junior on the SAT, and the sentences are fantastically complex. The reading passage we worked on this weekend actually contained two sentence fragments in a row, both of which modified the complete sentence before them.

The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Thinking, Writing


Anonymous said...

Your difficulty probably from the use of "most" and "least" as nouns. Try replacing them with "a lot of evidence" and "very little that is helpful"

Catherine Johnson said...

That was a problem for me the first time I read it; the problem now is figuring out what modifies what and how.

Here's what stumped me in class: what does "whether the ape be leaving or entering a tree" modify?

I think it modifies "for there the pressure is downward always."

Another thing that makes the first sentence difficult is the separation "boughs' end" from "for there the pressure is downward always."

I don't think anyone in the class realized, the first go-round, that "there is most to mark the trail" refers to the ends of the boughs.

lgm said...

As a student, I would label "whether the ape be leaving or entering a tree" as an appositive and move on with the story. The phrase doesn't add any detail to the picture that comes to mind with 'where the anthropoid swings from one tree to another'.

Catherine Johnson said...

lgm - thank you!

So would you diagram it as this site suggests?

lgm said...

I haven't diagrammed anything since 9th grade and don't recall a thing about how to diagram so I can be of no help. This passage needs a grammar expert.
The site you linked has a very basic definition of an appositive. My Little,Brown Handbook from college has more:
"Although most appositives are nouns that rename other nouns, they may also be and rename other parts of speech." and "Appositives can always be stated as clauses with some form of the verb be."

As a reader, it wouldn't help me to diagram this sentence. I would be debating with myself trying to decide if it was a nonrestrictive clause or an appositive in the teacher's mind since I wouldn't be sure than the teacher would view it as an appositive. My comprehension would be aided by knowing the vocab of tracking and draw a picture of the scene as each phrase was read.

Lsquared said...

I think it helps to know some physics. At the ends of the boughs, the tree bends more, and so there's more minor breakage to show the trail. The breakage, however, is always down, and not in or out, so you can't tell if the ape which direction (in/out or N/S) from the breakage of the boughs, only that it had been there, whereas, if you can' find any trail evidence on the inner part of the tree, it shows you the direction the ape was going (N/S). If I didn't have any physics in my background, I wouldn't have the mental images of force vectors pushing down on tree limbs to help me make sense of the passage.

lgm said...

I picked up a Glencoe workbook at B&N this week that will answer your question of how to diagram.

ISBN0-02-818294-4 for $15 It and the 8th grade version have plenty of good exercises. There was an ungraded version titled with something like Writer's Handbook that was almost double the price but exactly identical in content with the 9th grade workbook.

Looks like I'll be afterschooling 8th grade English this year.The district hasn't sent home a grammar textbook since grade 6. The cynic in me says they are trying to prevent children from learning on their own. More likely they spent the money on their own salaries and don't have enough texts to go around. The teachers are on copy restriction, so we won't be seeing many worksheets.