To boldly go, not to go boldly

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2005/05/08 18:30 -04:00, original URI:

Over in the Language Log, Arnold Zwicky pointed out in Not to or to not a good example of an obligitorily split infinitive.

I immediately thought on Steven Pinker and The Language Instinct, where he talked about this particular point (in the larger context of language mavens):

Of course, forcing modern speakers of English to not -- whoops, not to split infintives becaue it isn't done in Latin make about as much sense as forcing modern residents of England to wear laurels and togas. Julius Caesar could not have split an infinitive if he had wanted to. In Latin the infinitive is a single word like facere or dicere, a syntactic atom. English is a different kind of language. It is an "isolating" language. building sentences around many simple words instead of a few complicated ones. The infinitive is based on two word -- a complementizer, to, and a verb, go. Words, by definition, are rearrangeable units, and there is no conceivable reaon why an adverb should not come between them:

Space -- the final frontier.... These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. It five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations. to boldly go where no man has gone before.

To go boldly where no man has gone before? Beam me up, Scotty; there's no intelligent life down here.

On a somewhat tangential note, I would quote more, but my keyboard has died in an interesting way -- the A, S, Left Shift, and Left Ctrl key have all stopped working. The only other keyboard I have here is the Happy Hacking Keyboard Blank Key Top Model that I bought soon after I mentioned I was thinking about doing it. I am not quite good of a typist that I can type exclusively on it, so I am typing on both until I get into work tomorrow where I have a lot of keyboards (or I can wait until Tuesday when the Dell "next day onsite service" tech comes to replace the keyboard.

I wonder (while I am talking about linguistic stuff), whether the lack of those two letters (a and s) can be considered a special dialect of some sort? 

(I inserted the letters after the fact, pretend they are not there. The inability to use certain letters is not a dialect issue, it must have some name though....


This post brought to you by "A" and "S" (U+0041 and U+0053, a.k.a. LATIN CAPITAL LETTER A and LATIN CAPITAL LETTER S)

# Steve Dispensa on 8 May 2005 9:39 PM:

Wow, how amazingly unlikely - I didn't think there was another person in the universe that read both this blog and Language Log. I wonder what the geek readership of LL is. I've been reading it for months and love it.

Small world.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 8 May 2005 9:51 PM:

Goodness, I definitely read LL -- it is on the list of blogs I read!

# Vorn on 9 May 2005 12:37 PM:

Seems to me like this and the language log would go hand in hand; I'd imagine more overlap between readers of these two blogs than of most others.


# Eric Lippert on 11 May 2005 3:17 PM:

Obviously split infinitives have a long history in English and there's nothing wrong with them. The idea that one shouldn't put an adverb between the "to" and the "go" is as ridiculous as the idea that one shouldn't put an adjective between the article and the noun. No one complains about "split nouns" when you say "the wealthy barber" or "a yellow dog". In fact, English practically _insists_ that you split the noun.

But that said, Pinker in The Language Instinct and Bryson in The Mother Tongue, and I'm sure lots of other writers point out (correctly) that you can't split infinitives in Latin and English has precious little in common with Latin. My question is: is this in fact a "straw man" argument? Are there in fact _any_ grammarians past or present who argue against split infinitives specifically because that's not how Latin does it?

Similarly, are there any actual grammarians who advance the argument that English writers ought not to end sentences with prepositions because that's not done in Latin? Or are there merely counter-arguers who attempt to demolish this straw man?

# Michael S. Kaplan on 11 May 2005 3:31 PM:

Hey Eric --

Its an interesting question. I do not feel qualified to judge Pinker's argument (which came right before the part I quoted) that it started in the 18th century in London, and Latin was used as a model language of enlightenment and learning.

It seemed reasonable when I read it, and it let me tell William Safire to get bent (virtually speaking). :-)

# Mark Steward on 9 Jul 2005 2:24 PM:

There is indeed a word for it ( and it's quite a popular intrigue, with some people treating it as more than just an exercise in thinking, just like the E-Prime crowd (an attempt at confining communication like a programming language would). Of course, most manifestations of dyslexia involve particular letters, but the only word I can find at the moment is strephosymbolia (mirroring of letters or letter order), although I assume there must be instances of 'lipographic disorder'... Mark (P.S. Sorry for the late posting - I've got a bit behind with my blog-reading.)

referenced by

2006/02/06 Maybe there is such a thing as a surrogateS character (dammit!)

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