Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What's that

Not just any that but the that in sentences like:
We try to provide the scientific information so that the people who are in a position of decision-making can make the best decisions possible.
I was actually looking at so when it occurred to me that this that is the same subordinator as the that that introduces declarative content clauses. In other words, it's exactly the same as
I know that the people who are in a position of decision-making can make the best decisions possible.
Notice in particular that in both cases that is omissible.

If my analysis is correct, it makes nonsense of any claims that so that should be used instead of so in clauses of cause, or in causes of result or in both or neither, all of which claims seem to be out there.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

There is a difference. In the second case, the that serves as an aid to reader comprehension. Compare:

I know the people...

I know that the people...

Does the speaker mean she is familiar with the people, or that she knows a particular fact about them? Of course, the sentence can be parsed and understood without the that, but it's easier for the reader if the that is present.

On the other hand, I can't think of an example where so that would be preferable to plain so.

Ran said...

> If my analysis is correct, it makes nonsense of any claims that […]

I disagree. Call me a pinko descriptivist, but I think about the only thing that can make nonsense of such claims is information about actual usage.

For example, the you in "Don't you talk to him like that!" is the same you as the you in "Are you coming?"; but only the former you is optional. Language isn't always logical, and even when it is, sometimes the logic is more complex than is immediately apparent.

(Even in the specific case of the that that introduces declarative content clauses, some instances are more clearly optional than others. In your examples, it's completely omissible, but I think sentences like "It was kept top secret they were coming" or "The knowledge they were coming was not widely disseminated" are much iffier.)

Brett said...

Well, Ran, I think the data speaks for itself: After so, that is often included and it's often omitted. I didn't mean to suggest that that is omissible in all declarative content clause situations. It's certainly obligatory when such a clause functions as a subject.

Ran said...

> Well, Ran, I think the data speaks for itself: After so, that is often included and it's often omitted.

Oh, yes, certainly. I didn't mean to suggest that the claims aren't nonsense: they are. I meant only that your analysis is not what makes nonsense of them.

Brett said...

I see.

calleteach said...

Brett I think 'so that' acts as a single semantic unit supplanting because in much the same way that 'for what' can replace why or 'in which manner' or 'at which time' can replace how or when.

Brett said...

Yes, I think many people think that way. What evidence is there to support that view?

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