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Posted: Mon Nov 29, 2004 3:41 am
by fluffyhamster
This story was on this morning:
TOKYO (Reuters) - A strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.1 has hit a wide area of Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido, the Japan Meteorological Agency says.

Public broadcaster NHK said several people, including an elderly woman and a 13-year-old boy were injured but there were no other immediate reports of casualties or serious damage from the quake, which hit at 3:32 a.m. on Monday local time (6:32 p.m. Sunday British time).

"This is considered a major earthquake. It has the potential to cause damage and casualties," said U.S. Geological Survey spokesman John Bellini.

But he said because the quake hit a relatively sparsely populated area there would not be a lot of damage expected.
Do you think the geologist (John Bellini) has problems with basic English tenses when he says, "This is considered a major earthquake. It has the potential to cause damage and casualties" there?

Of course not :D : the slight strangeness and "inappropriateness" grammatically of the quote (it is most likely referring to quakes at or over 7.1 generally, not this quake in particular) is due to the reporter choosing to highlight it over the less dramatic but more relevant indirect quote that follows in the story (which contradicts what, according to the reporter, Bellini had "said" about "the" quake in the first place).

Bad writing, huh! It's a wonder learners can make sense of the media online (I've also seen a few bad printed stories too). Careful about what you take into class!

Or do you think this is "fine" as it is - it's REAL English, isn't it, warts and all - and perhaps even something that you'd consider showing your students (if only to help them understand the "pressures" of news writing)? :lol:

(I guess that was the main question in, and point of, this post! :P ).

I haven't supplied a link to the "full" story because it is so long that it would affect the right margin here, but I am sure you can easily find it at:

Posted: Wed Dec 01, 2004 5:06 am
by woodcutter
I suppose someone ought to say something about your earthquake.

What's the big deal? We all know that reporters have their own special kind of English, where grammar is manipulated to cause maximum hysteria. The report is very typical of such a style, not "bad writing" as far as I am concerned. Unless you want to ban your students from looking at newspapers full stop, there is no cause to be afraid of this.

Posted: Thu Dec 02, 2004 5:16 am
by LarryLatham
Ah, fluffy, it's hard for me to grasp just where you stand on this issue, so I don't know if I'll be supporting you or arguing against you. I'll just have to put in my 2cents worth and see what transpires. :wink:

I find nothing at all wrong with this writing. Any suggestion that the tense does not equate with the time would look to me like another clear example of the way in which so many teachers unintentionally but unfortunately misconstrue the nature and purpose of English verb tenses. I do not believe Mr. Bellini was referring to earthquakes in general, but rather to this one in particular when he said, "This is considered a major earthquake. It has the potential..."

If you believe that present simple tense verbs are used for, and only for, present time events (or present habits, or whatever), then there is a problem. That causes confusion for everyone. Perhaps the most obvious case for discombobulation is the problem of trying to explain "present tense used for the future"! How nonsensical can we get!!!

But, of course, I strongly believe that present simple tense verbs are used exclusively for events the user wants to represent as fact. Period. Nothing else intended. That is the case here just as much as it always is. Mr. Bellini wants you to understand that he thinks today's earthquake is to be considered major. It also is fact (according to Bellini) that such earthquakes have the potential to cause damage and casualties. He may not have known the extent of damage and casualties caused by this particular quake at the time he made his remark, but that is immaterial. What matters, and the only thing that matters, is that he, with the form of his language, asserts that this quake has the potential...whether or not the damage was done or people were hurt. And he asserts nothing else. No feelings, no moods, no times, nothin' else.

Such language is so easy to explain and to understand on a theory of verb tense that does not confuse tense with time. On theories that bind tense and time together, frustration so frequently results when the use occasion is the slightest bit unusual. Please, please, please: TENSE does NOT equal TIME. :evil: Tense indicates the user's feeling of remoteness or lack thereof. Mr. Bellini does not feel remote about the earthquake being major or potentially dangerous. There's nothing more to it than that.

Larry Latham

Posted: Thu Dec 02, 2004 5:29 am
by woodcutter
Are you really going to gave us that lesson again?

I refused to listen to any more of it! :wink:

Posted: Thu Dec 02, 2004 5:35 am
by LarryLatham
Looks to me like some of you need it again.

Larry Latham

Posted: Thu Dec 02, 2004 5:36 am
by woodcutter
Aha! Beat me to the edit. Larry is back in town!

Band Wagon

Posted: Thu Dec 02, 2004 6:29 am
by revel
Hey all!

I'll have to jump onto Larry's bandwagon here (had I ever gotten off of it?) Why just yesterday I had to beat into a student's head that one thing is to name a verb form "present continuous" and another thing is what time frame the speaker is communicating when using that construction. Time frames are often implied and understood by natives, but they are also sometimes confused and need markers like "yesterday" or "2 years ago" or "this morning" or "these days". If natives were able to always understand the time frame then such time markers would not be necessary, would not exist.

And yet, they do exist, and precisely because the verb in English has so little power to reflect accurately the time frame. Thus recent discussions on the "present perfect" here at Dave's. Just offering up the verb in the perfect construction leaves the example open for all the interpretations that we have seen here (read Shun-Xui). If we don't understand when or of what duration of the action, then we simply must ask for clarity from the speaker, who then must tell us, using time markers and not verbs, when or of what duration.

The lables we put on verb forms are supposed to be short-cuts used in class to get students over the hurdle of recognizing and practicing and finally using those verb forms. They are meant to help students group concepts about structure. Once the student is able to manipulate these structures, put all of the words in the right order, use auxiliaries in their questions and negatives, then the use of such forms can be looked at in depth. When we say that the present simple is for "truths, customs, habits" we should also be saying "at your present level", meaning, once you get a grasp of your first 3000 words and the manipulation of the word "be", we'll get into communicating. Learn to read music before you sit down to play Beethoven. Learn to move your fingers to those little black dots before you say you can play the piano. Once your fingers have gotten used to what your eyes see and your brain thinks, then begin interpreting the piece. Don't get confused by the basics, use the basics to remove confusion.


Posted: Thu Dec 02, 2004 7:18 am
by fluffyhamster
Hiya guys, I was in town for a wild night or two.

The strange thing with sleep deprivation is that it can sometimes make you more alert, so I just realized, as I began reviewing the thread from my very starting post (and midway into woodcutter's), that he could've been referring to just the one quake over both his quotes. But thanks for pointing that out, Larry!:wink:

Still, it's still a bit wierd, the way he kind of counters what he said about the quake; I guess he just wasn't a very good interviewee. I think he'd've helped the reporter a lot if he'd said something more along the lines of: "This is/was a major quake, and had the potential/could've caused a lot of damage if it had hit a densely populated area," or "Quakes this strong are major and can cause a lot of damage, but luckily THIS one hit a sparsely populated area and worried only a few cows." 8)

Posted: Thu Dec 02, 2004 7:59 am
by LarryLatham
Whatever. :roll: But notice, that's not what he said. He must've had something slightly different in his mind, and coded it the way he did. I think it's up to us to try to figure out what he most likely meant, rather than try to "correct" his use of English. :)

Larry Latham

Posted: Fri Dec 03, 2004 12:02 am
by woodcutter
I'm sorry I mentioned tenses, the point is ellipsis in any case. And although journalists use ellipsis where most of us would not, I think that going on about the magnitude of a quake is such a cliche that anybody might use it here, and leave out "kind of" in "This (kind of) quake".

(Revel, if you are going to jump fully into the old "remoteness" battle, maybe you can explain to my dumb self why "Please gave me a cup of coffee" smells so strongly of the past, like nobody else has been able to. Maybe we should all keep it in one of the old threads so that those who are bored senseless can avoid it though)

Posted: Fri Dec 03, 2004 12:24 am
by LarryLatham
Maybe I'm just not quick enough in the head to understand what you're driving at here, woodcutter, but "This quake" does not seem to be an ellipsis of "This kind of quake." The two expressions may not refer to the same quake at all. The first is quite specific, while the second refers to a class of earthquakes. Am I just being dense here? This seems so obvious to me that I suppose you could not be confused about it. So I'm left wondering if I am completely misreading your last post.

"Please gave me a cup of coffee" is total nonsense, of course. No grammarian would say that it suggests the past. It is nonsense because no speaker would ask for coffee by using "give" in a remote form. How could you "remotely" give someone coffee. It is just totally screwed up. I am scratching my head here, wondering why you would submit it for consideration.

Larry Latham

BTW, the "remoteness battle" is not old. No one has discounted or discredited the remoteness theory of tense, as far as I know. It is a fresh argument since there are many who do not buy it (although I fail to see why).

Posted: Fri Dec 03, 2004 12:32 am
by woodcutter
I'm confused too. "This kind of quake is considered a major earthquake. It has the potential to cause...............". How could anyone worry about that?

As to the other, why is it total nonsense? This is one of the situations in which adding the "remote" form would/could is supposed to create a "remote" politeness. Why does it have to be done by means of a modal?

Posted: Fri Dec 03, 2004 4:23 am
by LarryLatham
Because a modal expresses a speaker's momentary, present time, judgment about non-factual and non-temporal elements in an event. This implies judgments about such things as likelihood, ability, possibility, relationship, and so forth. It allows for such sentences as:

"Would you like some coffee?" or, "Could I have some more?", as well as, "She can really run fast."

In stark contrast, remote verb forms, such as "gave", express a speaker's view of the facts in the event. A sentence like, "She gave him a cup of coffee" expresses the view that the action is remote fact, hence, in this case, pretty clearly a past-time event.

There is, admittedly, one messy part in this. In cases where the main verb is (be), since (be) can be used as an auxiliary as well as a main sentence verb, the meaning of its remote form can appear to work in the manner of a modal. (No one has claimed that modality in English is straight forward. It surely is one of the fuzziest areas of grammar.) You can wind up with sentences like, "Excuse me, what was your name, please?" In some circumstances, this can appear to express the speaker's view of his relationship with the listener as remote. This is non-temporal and non-factual with regards to the action, but then there really isn't any action in a linking verb, is there.

Except for this relatively minor glitch, differences between remote verbs and remote modal forms seem to be quite clear-cut.

Larry Latham

Word order

Posted: Fri Dec 03, 2004 7:30 am
by revel
Hey all!

I'll clarify by saying that I'd jumped onto Larry's bandwagon, unaware that it was considered the "remotness theory" bandwagon by those watching the parade. I wonder if Larry considers it such, is the word "Remote" spelled out in pink and blue roses on the side? :)

But have to jump off his bandwagon and try to get on my own again, which says "word order is sacred", spelled out in gold letters. woodcutter's example, by my word order theory can only be understood as:

Someone named "Please" gave me a cup of coffee in a moment before the now. I will wastefully use saliva to add that, as we all know, in all of those "polite" situations, where we are asking for something to be done for or given to us, we are using the imperative form of the verb and no other. Using it alone (give me a cup of coffee) just sounds too direct and bossy, so we stick on a "Please" or a "Could you". The simple past form of the verb is not used to ask for things to be done or given. (Anyone offer up an example to prove that last generalization wrong? It's too early for me to be thinking of one!)


Posted: Fri Dec 03, 2004 8:28 am
by JuanTwoThree
"I'd rather you gave me a cup of coffee, if you didn't mind"

Of course this is is only "past simple" to give it a name. Some days I'm a remotist, others I think this is just the English past subjunctive, which was still distinguishable from the past simple in the "thou" form in the seventeenth century.

This is of course my little hobby-horse : why do we lump together two such different uses of one form under what is obviously the term for one of the two (three?) uses?