Monday, May 29, 2006

Is the Anacoluthon grammatical?

This is an old question, and it is not by any mean just restricted to Spanish. In general, an anacoluthon happens when a phrase is "out of the sentence," that is, when somebody starts a sentence in a way that leads us to expect certain grammatical resolution, but it concludes in a way that is not consistent with this expectation. It is far more common in the spoken language. Take for instance, this example from Silva Rhetoricae:

(1) Athletes convicted of drug-related crimes—are they to be forgiven with just a slap on the wrist?

The first phrase Athletes convicted of drug-related crimes is not part of the whole sentence from a strictly grammatical point of view; it does not have a syntactic function, it is not the subject or the object, or anything like that. Now, an anacoluthon like (1) is actually a rethoric figure, and probably the same happens with its corresponding Spanish version (2):

(2) Atletas condenados por crimes relacionados con las drogas—los debemos perdonar con solo una palmada en el trasero?

Although the anacoluthon is heavily condemned by the prescriptive discourse, it is likely that even a hard-to-die prescriptivist had difficulties banning (2). Many other anacolutha are not so lucky. For instance, these expressions are be considered unappropiate:

(3) El ventero, que no conocía a don Quijote, tan admirado le tenían sus locuras como su liberalidad

(4) Las pastoras de quien hemos de ser amantes, como entre peras podremos escoger sus nombres

(5) Dio orden a todos sus criados del modo que habían de tratar a don Quijote, el cual, como llegó con la Duquesa a las puertas del castillo, al instante salieron dél dos lacayos

All of them, however, come from Don Quixote, the most praised literary work in the Spanish language, and a novel that it is usually presented as a model for good writing by the prescritivists.

The interesting question, that I do not solve here, is what exactly licenses the anacoluthon, and what is its relation with the subsequent sentence. Is it part of the sentence? Is it part of its syntactic structure? If it is not, how does it enters into its informational structure?


At 6:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there. This is an unrelated comment, I apologise. I have just graduated from Oxford University, England with a degree in Spanish and Spanish linguistics and would like to start a discussion about negative operators. Are negative operators split in two around the verb or do they simply produce meaningless particles in some positions?

For example,

No hago nada

In this phrase, where does the negative operator lie?

To say,

Hago nada

Is incorrect and so "nada" does not contain the negative operator, however, the "no" in No hago nada, cannot contain the negative operator on its own due to the fact that the reply "nada" to the question "que haces?" can stand alone and contain the negative.

Is the conclusion correct that when a negative term such as 'nadie' 'nada' 'ninguno' is placed on the right of the verb that they automatically produce jargon to the left. Similarly I have problems with these redundant particles due to the fact that most negative terms are actually a synthetic construct. Eg 'nada' is synonymous to ninguna cosa etc.

I would appreciate a discussion on this matter seeing as I have left university and can no longer enjoy the wonderful Paloma Garcia-Bellido's lectures and opinions on such matters.

At 9:32 AM, Anonymous A. Condori said...

No soy lingüista, aunque sí aficionado a los blogs de Mondoñedo. En mi opinión de lego, los ejemplos que ha dado, tanto en inglés como en castellano, parecen mostrar que la frase "extrañada" en el anacoluto en realidad sería un topico de la oración que le sigue.

[1] Atletas condenados por crimes relacionados con las drogas(TOP)—los debemos perdonar con solo una palmada en el trasero?

Podría objetarse el asunto de la relación sintáctica entre ambos miembros por falta de algún elemento que la marque, pero yo creo que existe ese elemento: la pausa, que se representa en nuestro caso [1] con un guión, y en los ejemplos cervantinos, se marca con la coma. Y es precisamente un marcador lo que hace que no se considere anacoluto lo siguiente:

[2] A Atletas condenados por crimes relacionados con las drogas, ¿los debemos perdonar con solo una palmada en el trasero?

Es una opinión.

At 1:26 PM, Blogger Miguel Rodríguez Mondoñedo said...

Muy interesante la idea de A. Condori. En efecto, el anacoluto se licensia por algún mecanismo vinculado a la estructura informacional, discursiva. Es enteramente correcto que si marcamos la frase dislocada con A, eso ya no se considera una anacoluto. Pero no podemos decir tan fácilmente que el marcador sea A. Y eso porque A no es, en principio, un elemento meramente discursivo, sino que es parte de los requisitos gramaticales (es la A de objetos personales). Por ejemplo, si usamos un objeto inanimado, no hay anacoluto:

(i) El carro que viste lo compró en Lima.

En otras palabras [El carro que viste] no necesita A, y por eso la frase dislocada puede relacionarse gramaticalmente con el resto de la oración. En cambio en [1], la frase dislocada, que se refiere a un objeto animado (atletas), sí necesita A. Esto quiere decir que el problema no es meramente discursivo o informacional, sino también gramatical.

Pero yo estoy de acuerdo con la idea general de que lo que licensia a los anacolutos tiene que ver con recursos discursivos. La pregunta entonces es por qué en estas ocasiones se dispensa a los anacolutos de ciertos requerimientos gramaticales.

At 1:31 PM, Blogger Miguel Rodríguez Mondoñedo said...

I have forgotten to answer the question about "No hago nada".

Yes. "Hago nada" is incorrect, because "nada" is a negative concorde particle, that is, a particle that requires to share some features with some negative head (in this case, NO). When it is placed at the right, it cannot have NO.

At 4:31 PM, Anonymous A. Condori said...

> La pregunta entonces es por qué en
> estas ocasiones se dispensa a los
> anacolutos de ciertos requerimientos
> gramaticales.

I'm afraid I cannot give an answer to that.

At 5:51 PM, Anonymous Alicia Casuso said...

Well, as a general observation... is it possible that written language is developing separately from spoken language?

I have always thought of written language as just the more durable and easily distributable version of speech, and it may have started out that way. But ever since people started conveying ideas in written word, they have played with the rules that can't be applied on speech (poets write poems in the shape of trees, jokes depend on spelling for them to be funny, etc).

So for instance, journalistic grammar seems to have developed in its own special way, allowing for jargon and strange structures meant for more shocking headlines that now make sense when read but not when spoken.

What I find most fascinating, though, is how a slap on the wrist can end up being a slap on the arse when translated into Spanish. Now what does that say about our culture? :D

At 12:30 AM, Blogger Miguel Rodríguez Mondoñedo said...

Hi, Alicia.

It is entirely possible for a language to split into a written form and an oral form. In fact, Arabic has undergone a very radical form of this split---the so called "literary Arabic" is very different from the "colloquial Arabic". Not all languages have this radical split, of course, but it is true that in all languages there are features that are more or less prominent in the written/oral form---for Spanish see this interesting work.

In that sense, the anacoluthon (which could be assimilated to the "hanging topic" construction, called "nominativus pendens" in Latin) could be an oral phenomenon---it would be interesting to find out if there are languages where it is not banned from the written form (perhaps Golden-Age Spanish is such language).

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At 12:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The interesting question, that I do not solve here, is what exactly licenses the anacoluthon, and what is its relation with the subsequent sentence. Is it part of the sentence? Is it part of its syntactic structure? If it is not, how does it enters into its informational structure?
I believe that anacoluthon has to do with the speaker/writer has in "common knowledge" about the subject, with the listener/reader. I believe this is more of a question about pragmatics. I think!
I think this is so because I know that 'anacoluthon' has a meaning of 'a sentence without an ending'

At 3:29 PM, Blogger Aaron said...

To answer anonymous,

If someone asks you what you are doing, and you say 'Nada', you just replied with a (non-germane) imperative: 'Swim!' ('you' implied in the conjugation).

Which does not contain a negative operator at all.

I hope this doesn't help at all, but brightens your day.

At 9:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 10:39 PM, Anonymous María Olvido said...

FYI: "crimes" should be translated into: delitos


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