A note in parsing

THE wording of the above title is spurious, and deliberately so – but more about it later. In Lewis Carroll’s book, Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty says, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” In the real world, however, such a cavalier attitude in the use of words does not carry a person far.

To wit, I can speak Tamil, but the problem is that nobody can make sense of the words (actually sounds) that I may mouth. For that matter, I can speak any language on earth – to an undiscerning audience!

To parse is “to divide a sentence into parts and describe the grammar of each word or part” (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 2010), or, to put it another way, “Parsing is unfashionable as a classroom exercise, but analysing clause and sentence structure is the basis of grammar and much linguistics” (Chalker, S. & Weiner, E., 1998. Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar).

Indeed, parsing – assigning parts of speech to individual words in a sequence and examining their syntactical relationships – enables us to analyse phrases, clauses, and sentences for correctness in grammar and sense.Let me illustrate with the few examples – with words highlighted by my underlines – that follow.

(1) “Winnable candidates can be defined by political parties for ad hoc purposes of winning elections.” – New Straits Times, Feb 24. Firstly, the Latin phrase “ad hoc” should be italicised. Then the word winnable in this context is puzzling.

A winnable candidate is a questionable candidate – he can be won (over), in that he can frog-hop into another party after having been elected. On the other hand, consider another report: “On politics, Muhyiddin said Kedah was a winnable state...” – The Star, Feb 15, 2012, where the word winnable (“can be won”) really carries the intended meaning!

(2) “Apparently, she had decided to temporary resign from her job….” – New Straits Times/Streets Northern, March 7. The highlighted word is a misplaced adjective. It should be amended to the adverb temporarily.

(3) “We also replaced the materials used in the 27 experiments which are relevant to the Form Four and Form Five’s curricular.” – StarMetro North, Feb 14. There is no necessity to use the apostrophe-s in Form Five’s to indicate possession by inanimate objects.

The sentence would still make sense without the apostrophe-s. The word curricular (which is an adjective), should be changed to the noun curricula (the plural of curriculum).

(4) “Dance galore” – Caption to photograph, in New Straits Times, Feb 15. To me, the caption can be interpreted as an invitation to dance in gay abandon. In actuality, galore means “in abundance, aplenty”. Curiously, the word is labelled as an adverb (Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary, 1974) and as an adjective (Cambridge International Dictionary of English, 1997).

The expression should be “Dances galore” where dances is a noun (not a verb) in the plural AND galore can be parsed as an adverb or as an adjective.

(5) “… it is just a matter of time before we join the likes of countries which were at one time flushed with oil wealth …” – New Straits Times, Feb 29.

The required word is flush (an adjective), NOT flushed (a past participle).

(6) “… which contains chilling predictions, some that have occurred and others that are about to.” – From a movie review, in New Straits Times, March 2. The sentence should end not with the preposition to but with a to-infinitive verb. The sentence should therefore end thus: “… and others that are about to occur.”

(7) “Malaysia’s doubles players … have taken two points, against Thailand and Hong Kong, and stole a point against China.” – New Straits Times, Feb 1. The lexical verb stole (in the second clause) is actually still governed by the auxiliary verb have (in “have taken” in the first clause) and should thus be amended to the correct inflectional form for the past participle, viz. stolen.

(8) “… she has swam the fastest time in the region this year.” – The Star, June 21. The verb swam is in the simple past tense. It should be amended to the past participle swum, to follow after the auxiliary verb has for the present perfect tense.

(9) “… they were unable to form an opinion on whether there would be anymore charge on the assets or any contingent liability….” – StarBiz, March 5.

The word anymore is American English for the adverb phrase any more (Cambridge International Dictionary of English, 1997), which is awkwardly placed in the above text. The noun charge (singular) should also be amended to charges (plural).

(10) “Charles or affectionately known as Cikgu Charlie to his friends and students added that the freedom ETAs (English teaching assistants) are given vary from school to school. ‘We ETAs keep in touch with each other and share our experiences.’” – StarEducate, March 4.

In the phrase “or affectionately known as Cikgu Charlie to his friends and students”, the conjunction or is obtrusive and unnecessary. The verb vary (plural, as if governed by the subject ETAs), should be amended to varies (singular, properly governed by the noun freedom).

Finally, the phrase “each other” (involving two persons) should be replaced by “one another” (involving more than two persons).

(11) “He may be less well known than his creator’s other chiseled-featured, strong-jawed, loincloth-wearing superman.” – Star2, March 7, said of the Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burrough’s other fictional hero, John Carter of Mars.

The highlighted word is apparently modelled after such compound adjectives as barrel-chested, spoon-shaped, and wasp-waisted – where the suffix -ed forms an adjective from a noun. Here the noun chisel (not the past participle chiseled or chiselled) is to be hyphenated to the word suffixed by -ed, thus: chisel-featured.

Closing notes

Let us return to the title of this article. It contains a multitude of sins, so to speak. When something comes to mind, one may make a note of it in passing – where the proper phrasing is underlined and correctly spelt. The underlined words form an adverb phrase meaning “briefly and casually” (Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 2004). When one wishes to write something on a certain topic, one may make some points in a note on the topic.

The topic of this article is parsing, hence the title should be corrected to “A note on parsing” – of course without the underline!



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