Sunday, June 19, 2011

Errors and noticing

Yesterday I spent a good deal of time trying to figure out the constraints around the type of relative construction in the following sentences:
  1. This is the town that I grew up in.
  2. That's the room that we're going to use.
  3. This is the town where I grew up.
  4. That's the room where we're going to have the party.
It may seem obvious at first, but it's very difficult to describe a rule that covers all situations. But that's not what I set out to write about today. The point is that in trying to figure it out, I was reading and rereading the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, struggling to get all the relevant information to gather together in one part of my brain and make sense together.

It's times like this, when I'm kind of confused, that I'm likely to notice small things, and yesterday I noticed two (in one day!) tiny errors in the CGEL. The first was on p. 1045 [32] iii, which looks like this: They want to go to the placei [wherei they went last year __i]. In fact, the gap should be between went and last. The second was on p. 1050 [53] iii, which looks like this: She often climbed the knoll behind the missioni, [from wherei she could look down on roofs and people]. Here, the underlined NP should include the the.

These are not the first errors I've found in the CGEL. You can see all the known errors listed here. I found the ones on pp. 219 (which somebody else actually found first), 620, and 912. Which puts my tally at 4.5 or thereabouts out of the 62 known errors. Of course, I'm sure I couldn't have found any of these if I'd had no idea what I was reading, but equally, I don't think I'd have found them if I'd been confident about what I was reading either. There's that optimum level of understanding where I'm struggling to get it, and it's there that things are most likely to catch my attention. As I was discussing this over breakfast this morning (a delicious father's days fruit salad and pancakes), my mother mentioned a sentence she'd run across in the Booker prize winning The Gathering by Anne Enright from this passage on p. 14:
It was five past seven. The talk in the foyer was of rain, and what to do with the jarvey and whether refreshments would be required; after which the knot of arrivals was pulled in a string through the front lounge door, and the two servants were left behind to wait; she in her neat chair, he with his elbow on the high reception desk, like a man standing at a bar.
In which position, they stayed for three and a half hours.
They belonged to the lower orders. Waiting was not a problem, for them.
Ada did not pretend to notice him, at first. This may have been the polite thing to do, but also I think he would have had it from the start, this trick of not existing much. And the rages he suffered in later life must have been, in 1925, the usual run of passions and young hopes. If Nugent suffered from anything, in those early days, it was decency. He was a decent man. He was not a man much used to hotels. He was not used to women who showed such twitching precision in the way they worked a glove. There was nothing in his history to prepare him for Ada Merriman. But, he was surprised to find, he was ready for her all the same.
The sentence in question is the first in the final paragraph. What in the world could it mean? Does she notice him or doesn't she? And does she later pretend to notice him? But how could you possibly pretend to notice someone unless you have actually noticed the person? Is this an error, and if so, what kind? Is it an error in the scope of negation (should it be Ada pretended not to notice him, at first.) or in vocabulary (Ada did not deign to notice him, at first)? Or is it intentional? On p. 16, we find:
But it is too late for all that. It has already happened. It happened when she walked in the door; when she looked about her, but only as far as the chair. It happened in the perfection with which she managed to be present but not seen. And all the rest was just agitation: first of all that she should notice him back (and she did-she noticed his stillness), and secondly that she should love him as he loved her; suddenly, completely, and beyond what had been allocated to them as their station.
What is it with all this noticing?


Jan said...

That "did not pretend" is a nonstarter for me too, but the OED does give this as a sense of "pretend"; "trans. With infinitive as object. To aspire, presume; to venture; to try, attempt. Now rare." Also, Ada's setting is 1925 Dublin (and Enright is Irish); maybe that's relevant here?

Brett said...

Thanks, Jan! Why didn't I think to check there?

Q Higuchi said...

I don't think I am fussy about anything, but yes, I do notice these things. I believe there is a very minor typo in the CGEL that is not listed yet: on p.46, in [1] v-b, the underline shouldn't include the full stop.

When I go through my students' term papers - there are hundreds - I occasionally stop because something in my brain tells me 'Hey, I've heard this tune before - maybe a few dozens ago!' That's how cheating is spotted. I don't do this much any more though.

But when I don't notice, I don't. And I do not know I don't notice. I guess there are always small and big things to be noticed, and our mind occasionally open its eyes to them, surprising us. Weird stuff.

Q Higuchi said...

Oops! In my comment above, 'occasionally open' should read 'occasionally opens'. You see what I mean now ...