Over on his You Don't Say blog, John McIntyre notes a spectacularly awkward sentence from the New Yorker and asks, "Is this a new tic of New Yorker style, or have I just begun noticing it?" The offending sentence:
“Horton, you’re one of the few people New York seems to agree with,” Tennessee Williams, another regional Young Turk who dreamed of changing the shape of commercial theatre, said.
John explains that he knows "there is a longstanding journalistic resistance to inverting subject and verb in attribution" and understands why some writers might be averse to the construction, but objects to a blanket prohibition against this inversion (known in the syntax trade as "quotative inversion"), especially when it leads to tin-eared sentences like one reporting the Tennessee Williams quotation.
It turns out that here at Language Log Plaza we've been alert to the New Yorker's anti-quotative inversion quirk from the earliest days of the blog.
Here's the history, with some digression to other blogging on the syntax of quotations.
Chris Potts was in first, with a 9/22/03 posting "A ban on quotative inversion?" (here) and a follow-up the next day, "More on the quotative inversion conjecture" (here). Then on 10/6/03 Mark Liberman chimed in (here) with a comparison of the New Yorker's awkward verb-last sentences to the verb-last sentences of German that Mark Twain complained about in his comic essay "The Awful German Language". And the next year (12/19/04, in "Diagram this", here) Geoff Pullum added a more complex example from the New Yorker. So ended the Early Years of quotative inversion in these parts.
Skip ahead to this year, and a 1/5/09 posting on my blog (here) about a report from Neal Whitman (on ADS-L) about Bill Walsh's proscribing quotative fronting (without inversion) in combination with subject omission in a following conjunct, in things like
(1) “I’m leaving,” Jones said, and walked out of the room.
Neal Whitman joined in (on his blog, here) with the reason for his query to ADS-L. He had noted that in her children's books, Beverly Cleary was a very heavy (indeed near-categorical) user of the non-repeated subject, as in (1). Neal found the usage unremarkable — until he came across Walsh's proscription, which he found puzzling.
(A digression: in her 1990 Muggie Maggie Cleary repeated the subject in these coordinations, but then seems to have reverted to her non-repetition ways in later books. The Muggie Maggie episode was probably the work of an editor who had been exposed to the "rule" Walsh cites.)
Following up on this, I posted on my own blog (here and here) on quotation fronting and quotative inversion, with links to the 2003-04 postings on Language Log about "awkward sentences that would have been much improved by quotative inversion", despite the New Yorker's aversion to it.
And that brings us up to John McIntyre.