kitchen table math, the sequel: ktm Commenter on a jumbled sentence

Thursday, August 16, 2012

ktm Commenter on a jumbled sentence

Back in March (!) I posted a "jumbled sentence" from Carol Jago's book:
To just stop and look at things, ideas and even if you don't like them, or they scare you, stop and explore them you will be a knowledgeable person and make good decisions because you will know all the bad and all the good about the situation.
I am still trying to get a handle on these sentences. How do they come to be?

What are the rules?

These sentences so foreign to me that I can't imitate them, which annoys me to no end. We need a corpus linguistics of student writing. Either that or it's time for me to finally read Mina Shaugnessey.

In the meantime, this analysis by a ktm Commenter is very helpful:
The logical flow of ideas within that sentence is actually not too bad. It's the proper referents and transitions between the sections (is there a technical term I want here?) that are lacking. It can be fixed easily so:

"If you just stop and look at things and ideas, even those you don't like, or that scare you--if you stop to explore them, then you will be a knowledgeable person who makes good decisions because you will know all the bad and all the good about the situation."

I can easily imagine the original being perfectly understood as my above translation in conversation if "and" and "ideas" were swapped (probably the author's sad attempt to be literary).
Next challenge:
These two Charater have very different mind Sets because they are creative in away that no one would imagen just put clay together and using leaves to create Art.
Is Our Children Learning Enough Grammar to Get Hired?


gasstationwithoutpumps said...

We know that these two characters have very different mindsets, because they are creative in ways that no one would imagine—they just put clay together and use leaves to create Art.

SATVerbalTutor. said...

It has a lot to do with not having been taught what sentences are and are not, and of not having "templates" for building them. Kids who write sentences like these lack the ability to indicate the relationships between their thoughts -- with the exception of "because" (the only transition that appears in either sentence) conjunctions are completely lacking. When I've worked on SAT grammar with people who write sentences like these, I've noticed that conjunctions is one of their biggest stumbling blocks. They have a lot of difficulty figuring out when two clauses express similar ideas or different ideas, and they also have trouble separating sound from meaning: given two clauses that clearly express opposing ideas, they'll insist that either "and" or "but" is appropriate because both *sound* ok to them. The jumbled sentences result from the fact that they can't really progress logically linearly from one thought to another (duh) -- it's all a big mush in their mind. Part of it is also a vocab problem: without the words to say exactly what they mean, they're forced to grope around linguistically to express their ideas.

They also have little sense of what constitutes a dependent vs. an independent clause, and because they don't want to sound babyish, they'll keep tacking more and more information on to their sentences, regardless of whether it makes grammatical sense. Interestingly, they often have an insanely hard time making very simple sentences -- when I ask them to demonstrate a concept by inventing a very short, simple sentence, they'll completely ignore the short and simple part and try to give me something much more complicated.

Allison said...

To back up, don't they write this way because they speak this way? Literally, this is the stream of consciousness from his /her mind? And then, as SATtutor points out, they lack any other template for organizing thought, because they "journal", i.e. they transcribe their stream of consciousness, and have been taught no other forms of organized written communication?

I think the inability to write a short, simple sentence comes from never having been asked to shut off the narrative stream in their minds. Summarization or distillation of a situation or opinion or idea? That would require analysis to determine the relative importance of different pieces. Simple sentences are difficult, just as Mark Twain wrote about letters.

Glen said...

This is speech put onto paper, as I've said. If it were spoken, it would an unremarkable utterance.

Its nature reflects transcription problems. There are many transcription problems that writers have to learn to overcome caused by differences in the medium (speech vs. text). One category of problems comes down to timing. Speech is transmitted and received at the same speed (real-time), while text is written more slowly than it's read. One of the many things this implies is that you have to re-read what you write to experience it at reading speed. Speakers don't replay and edit what they say (though I often wish I could), so this is something writers have to learn to do: go back and read what you wrote, then fix it. Experienced writers have been doing this for so long they can't imagine that some new writers don't do it much. They just keep writing.

Another category of problems is the text representation of prosody. Speech is punctuated, coordinated, subordinated, and segmented prosodically as well as lexically, and prosody isn't easily transcribed. The writer hears the prosody in his head--the pauses, the stress accents--but doesn't know how to convert prosody to punctuation. Here is the sentence with nothing changed except punctuation:

To just stop and LOOK at things--ideas--and, (even if you don't like them or they SCARE you), stop and EXPLORE them. You will be a knowledgeable person and make good decisions, because you will know all the bad and all the good about the situation.

When you include the prosodic elements, it's no longer gibberish.

Speech and writing are different media with different affordances. Learning to write is not learning how to spell the words you speak; it's learning how to communicate in a very different medium.

Glen said...

In case it's not clear, I was just answering the questions about how such sentences come to be. I should add that overcoming transcription problems is necessary but not sufficient for writing well. When you make a movie, you have to learn how to keep the cameras in focus, how to record sound without background noise, and other things that aren't a problem for a play. But once you can properly film a play, you need to go beyond that to create a great movie.

Writing requires the ability to speak well with text, but writing well requires you to do much more. You need to transcend transcription.

Allison said...

Glen, you are a much better writer than I am. Could you start posting before me, instead of after, so I can just skip posting?

Glen and I were both commenting on Catherine's first question. The prosody is there when I read the sentence--I hear it that way in my head. (I am incapable of not hearing it, in fact.) Glen, do you? Is it natural?

Catherine, do you not hear it? (If not, I wonder if that's related to you being a writer.)

here's the next one:
These two Characters have very different mind Sets, because they are creative in a way that no one would imagine-- just put(ting) clay together and using leaves to create Art.

Glen said...

Allison, maybe what we need is some sort of blog comment mutex. Take a look at the timestamps. I posted three minutes after you, and I spent those minutes trying to convince your CAPTCHA that I wasn't a robot, so we were composing simultaneously. For the previous one, I started composing but went to bed before I finished, and you posted before I returned.

Regarding the prosody, no, it isn't there when I first read it, because it violates writing conventions, throwing off false clues. Rereading it a few times, though, causes my mental model to quickly converge on a full representation (one incorporating prosody) of maximum meaningfulness. Whether it's a local maximum or global, once I climb to the top of the hill, I don't want to come down, so each time I see the sentence thereafter, I am "incapable of not hearing" the prosody, as you say.

Allison said...

Yeah, captchas are a problem these days. The cmu folks gave a TED talk where they explained they now use captchas to crowdsource difficult-for-Ocr passages from books that are being digitized. But I sure can't pass with 50% probability these days. And the Russians just hire hundreds to spend all day verifying, so it isn't stopping many concerted attacks, just us.

I don't think I finished reading the sentence before I found the prosody that made it work. I'm guessing whatever rereading I do is typically happening in that scan-decode-comprehend loop, and only breaks down to conscious rereading when I get stuck with the emphasis on the wrong word. An unexpected gerund in a headline, say.