15 September 2016

OSASCOMP in the news

OSASCOMP: Applied analysis is by far the most popular post on this blog.
Today OSASCOMP made, if not the front page of the Guardian, at least Tim Dowling's Reference and languages Notebook under the heading Order force: the old grammar rule we all obey without realising followed by:
I had no idea there was a specific order for adjectives until I read a viral post.
The viral post focussed on the following quote:

from  a book called The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth.


The paragraph concerned the order of adjectives – if you’re using more than one adjective before a noun, they are subject to a certain hierarchy. You know it’s proper to say “silly old fool” and wrong to say “old silly fool”, but you might never have thought about why – or if you did you probably imagined it was just some time-honoured convention you picked up by rote. But it isn’t. There’s a rule.

Unlike many laws of grammar or syntax, this one is virtually inviolable, even in informal speech. You simply can’t say My Greek Fat Big Wedding, or leather walking brown boots. 

In a piece for the BBC, ... Mark Forsyth examines a rare exception to the adjectival hierarchy: the Big Bad Wolf. Bad is opinion, and should therefore come first. However, as Forsyth points out, this phrase is too busy obeying another rule I’d never heard of: the rule of ablaut reduplication.

Other examples of the rule in action include chit-chat, singsong, flipflop and hip-hop. When you shift vowel sounds for effect this way, the vowels always follow a specific order: I, then A, then O.

If you’re a native speaker, the hierarchy is ingrained in you.

With moderation

Broadly I agree with everything both Dowling and Forsyth say and am very pleased to see that the topic is winning increased attention as it is often especially important to into-English translators and more particularly to those who translate technical journalism. I'm also pleased to have learned about the exception attributed to ablaut reduplication.

I would, however, like to make a couple of qualifying statements:
  1. The statement "If you’re a native speaker, the hierarchy is ingrained in you" sometimes fails when the OSASCOMP categories are difficult to assign or the subject matter is beyond the writer's comfort zone (as occurs often when good into-English translators tackle subjects they don't fully understand). On other occasions, OSASCOMP-attentive readers will observe that even good writers do occasionally slip up for whatever reason.
  2. For technical writers and translators, OSASCOMP is difficult to apply (a) because the categories are difficult or impossible to assign, or (b) because the challenge is to combine one or more adjectives with other types of qualifiers. This applies especially to noun qualifiers and things like prices or values combined with units of measurement as qualifiers.
Does '12-metre' before 'boat' or 'US$4-million' before 'ship' follow the rule as if it were a 'size' adjective?
I will follow this up with examples of (a) OSASCOMP slips by mother-tongue writers and journalists and (b) OSASCOMP challenges encountered in technical communication and the translation of technical journalism.

4 April 2017

  54 minutes ago54 minutes agoMoreOld language FAQ: Why Big black dog not Black big dog? New article, but answer goes back to 1950s "Vendler's Law."

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. I must say I had never heard of OSASCOMP till now, and I must agree it is something that flows freely when ingrained in the mind. However I'd be careful with making a unique parallel with being native, because ingraining comes from daily listening or reading and practice with natives, and you don't have to be a native to listen, read and practice with natives (those born and living in a place). Of course, you have to listen, read and practice for a long time for OSASCOMP and others to become engrained. But, would that make you a native language speaker or not? Or would that qualify as "near native" or "adopted native".


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