Friday, February 27, 2009

What can you glean from a sentence? Ctd.

I gave you a bad example, now a good one:



My view is also that nobody's above the law, and, if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen, but that, generally speaking, I'm more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards.



The diagram, though, offers several insights. First, the elegant balance of the central construction (My view is that x, and that y, but also that z) shows that Obama has a good memory for where he's been, grammatically, and a strong sense of where he's going. His tripartite analysis of the problem is clearly reflected in the structure of the sentence, and thus in the three main branches of the diagram. (Turn it on its side and it could be a mobile.) The third "that" - thrown in 29 words into a 43-word sentence - creates three parallel predicate nouns. And then there's a little parallel flourish at the end: "I am more interested in looking forward than I am in looking back."


Nothing feels tacked on; the "ums" and "ahs" Obama sometimes inserts into his speeches are not meant to buy time to think about substance, or to long for a teleprompter (sorry, conservative bloggers), but to make sure his long sentences stay on solid grammatical terrain. At the same time, Obama's confidence in the basic architecture of his sentences allows him to throw in some syntactically varied riffs and qualifiers: an absolute phrase here, a correlative conjunction or comparative adjective there.


You know what I feel when I read things like this?

Relief.

1 comment:

John K said...

Jack. I don't feel relief, I feel confirmation and belief. What we saw in Obama was never what the naysayers continue to talk about. As the saying goes " there is none so blind as he who WILL not see."