wiggly green lines

Hah. Microsoft Word thinks this stretch of text is ok:

Coming round to more specific claims about the role of phonology, and the how to understand impaired phonological representations.

Did you spot that extra ‘the’? MS Word obviously doesn’t.

But if you do your own human editing and remove the offending ‘the’, somehow, the green underlining appears to show you it’s an evil “sentence fragment”.

Why?

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8 thoughts on “wiggly green lines

  1. Please forgive a comment from an “outsider” :-)

    I’m no expert (and can’t back up my argument with the correct parts-of-speech terminology) but if I saw:

    “Coming round to more specific claims about the role of phonology, and how to understand impaired phonological representations.”

    I would expect the full stop to be a comma followed by some other “stuff”…

    The way it presently stands, isn’t it just a clause? I suppose if it was the title for an essay or something it would work.

    G

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  2. Yeah, that’s why I noticed it! I had to double-check it cos it had escaped unscathed even though it should have deserved the green lines (on MSWord’s terms) – I’ve no idea why the sequence “… the how …” manages to avoid the spellchecker, which is usually over-zealous if anything

    But i’ve played around with it and it’s still acceptable to MSWord when i make it into a complete sentence, and when i remove the coordinated clause, as I shall now pedantically demonstrate so that you can replicate my findings should you so desire.

    (1) “Coming round to more specific claims about the role of phonology, and the how to understand impaired phonological representations, I make the following argument.”

    (2) “Coming round to the how to underestand impaired phonological representations …”

    Syntax really isn’t my strong point either but surely this word-sequence is a better candidate for flagging than, eg, the phrase “an impairment,” which I need to write all the time and it’s contstantly being wiggled.

    Mind you, I’ve just checked, and it’s fine with “the Who” … maybe there’s a big cultural reference with “the how” that’s just passing me by :)

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  3. Oops! I took your final “Why?” to be questioning the appearance of the green wiggles for the edited fragment. I’d best leave the linguistics to the experts, eh? :$

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  4. Imagine parsing how to understand as a nominal phrase. Just like people speak of the how and why of such-and-such, this phrase could refer to the how to understand, end noun-phrase, start verb-phrase, impaired phonological representation.
    That is, something impaired (the) phonological representation. What was it? It was the how to understand (as well as the ‘Coming round to more specific claims about the role of phonology’, as in the first half of the conjunct).

    If you successfully divorce semantics from syntax, or merely skim-read it without the requisite background knowledge of phonological nomenclature, it becomes possible.

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  5. Okay, that’s plausible, assuming “the how to V” and “the how of N” are both acceptable. But, does the comma matter? If coming round to more specific claims… is the first NP and the how to understand is the second, then doesn’t MSWord normally call you on using a comma before and?

    The only reason I don’t just turn off the automatic spellchecker is because I just can’t sleep at nights unless I’m sure I don’t have any extra spaces between words.

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  6. Cath, let me save you some sleepless nights:
    Edit menu, “Replace”. Type two spaces in the top box, one in the bottom and hit ‘Replace all’.
    I agree though, two spaces between words just looks clunky.

    I deliberately neglected to consider the comma, but punctuation is just such a messy area in the first place.

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  7. Well there’s actually a book … Nunberg, The Linguistics of Punctuation … and doesn’t Halliday have a table in the back of that wee orange book … but no, i agree, let’s just not go there :)

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