An “anaphoric phrase” that refers to a concept you have to glean from the text

(Quick review of anaphora here and here. Dictionary definition here.)

QUESTION: In the paragraph below, what does the phrase “such distinctions” mean?

Some combinations of words are possible in English, while others are not possible. Every native speaker of English can easily judge that ‘Home computers are now much cheaper’ is a possible English sentence, whereas “Home computers now much are cheaper” is not, because they know that “much” is wrongly positioned in the second example. The ability to recognise such distinctions is evidence that in some sense native speakers already know the rules of grammar, even if they have never formally studied grammar….” *

When we read this paragraph in class, everyone had trouble! Not a single person figured it out.

DT said something I found intriguing. He assumed that the words “such distinctions” referred to something outside the text, in the real world.

I mentioned in another post (here) that many students have trouble interpreting anaphora. Perhaps the problem is that students are looking for the meaning outside the text instead of inside?

I wonder.

Whatever the explanation, the phrase “such distinctions is an anaphora, and the meanings of anaphora are always found inside the text. Not outside.

IMPORTANT: Most of the time, the meaning of an anaphora lies exactly one sentence back. That is true because in the work of professional writers most sentences refer back to the sentences just before them. (The word “that,” in the last sentence, is an anaphora referring to the sentence before it.)

The sentence one back from the “such distinctions” sentence is:

Every native speaker of English can easily judge that ‘Home computers are now much cheaper’ is a possible English sentence, whereas “Home computers now much are cheaper” is not, because they know that “much” is wrongly positioned in the second example.

Here’s another way of saying the same thing:

Every native speaker of English knows the distinction [difference] between ‘Home computers are now much cheaper’ and ‘Home computers now much are cheaper.’ The distinction between these two sentences is that the first sentence is grammatical and the second sentence is ungrammatical.

Here’s the whole passage again:

Every native speaker of English can easily judge that ‘Home computers are now much cheaper’ is a possible English sentence, whereas “Home computers now much are cheaper” is not, because they know that “much” is wrongly positioned in the second example. The ability to recognise such distinctions is evidence that in some sense native speakers already know the rules of grammar….

Such distinctions” refers to “grammatical distinctions.” The authors are saying that native speakers can naturally tell the difference between grammatical and ungrammatical sentences without having to study grammar in school.

Why is it so difficult for student readers to interpret “such distinctions“?

The answer may be, at least in part, that “such distinctions” refers to a concept or idea (the grammar knowledge native speakers possess), not a person, place, or thing.

You have to understand the idea to understand the anaphora.

Companion Website for An Introduction to English Grammar, Third Edition

* Excerpt from Greenbaum and Nelson’s An Introduction to English Grammar

AND SEE:
William J. Kerrigan on Step 6
Richard Hudson defines anaphora
A very simple example of “anaphora”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s