Cross-serial anaphora

« previous post | next post »

This is something that you don't see every day. It works pretty well in this case, considering… David Kirkpatrick, Ben Hubbard and Alan Cowell, "Army Ousts Egypt’s President", NYT 7/3/2013:

The general, who had issued a 48-hour ultimatum to Mr. Morsi on Monday to respond to what he called widespread anger over his administration’s troubled one-year-old tenure, said the president’s defiant response in a televised address on Tuesday had failed “to meet the demands of the masses of the people.”


  1. Rubrick said,

    July 3, 2013 @ 4:24 pm

    It works quite well indeed. I think the disambiguating "administration's one-year-old tenure" is a big help.

  2. D.O. said,

    July 3, 2013 @ 4:29 pm

    I think it works only with colored highlights.

  3. GeorgeW said,

    July 3, 2013 @ 4:32 pm

    It works easily if one is familiar with the players and the situation. Otherwise, it takes some work.

  4. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    July 3, 2013 @ 5:15 pm

    So, rather like a British headline?

  5. John Roth said,

    July 3, 2013 @ 6:49 pm

    While it worked for me on the first reading, I was familiar with the situation. The colored highlights might have had something to do with it, but then trying to make the pronoun refer to "the general" makes absolutely no sense of the rest of the sentence, even without the "administration's one-year tenure."

    That doesn't mean it might not be the correct reading. Sometimes neither the military, politics or other countries make any sense.

  6. Eric P Smith said,

    July 3, 2013 @ 6:57 pm

    @Andrew (not the same one): No, that would be "General in tenure trouble anger ultimatum response defiance failure allegation".

  7. Aaron Toivo said,

    July 3, 2013 @ 7:34 pm

    I agree it's not too bad, but it's still one of those cases that would be clearer and easier if English had grammatical obviation. Useful tool, that.

  8. Christian Hege said,

    July 4, 2013 @ 12:31 am

    I had an issue like this, in a Grimm setting recently. I had too many hims – grandfather, father, and son – and it became very tangled, which him or he was in focus, from line to line. So I changed the sex of the son. Voilà.

  9. Chris Surridge said,

    July 4, 2013 @ 3:18 am

    Isn't the disambiguator 'respond'? It's difficult to 'respond' to something you do yourself thus indicating that 'Mr Morsi' and the first 'he' are not the same player. After that symmetry takes over to help us with the (more ambiguous) 'his'. It doesn't make other interpretations impossible but that 'respond' gives us a healthy shove in the right direction.

  10. David Morris said,

    July 4, 2013 @ 5:37 am

    Would 'the administration' have sufficed?

  11. Andrew (yet another one) said,

    July 4, 2013 @ 5:57 am

    My favourite example of this sort of thing is from Psalm 22, as used in Handel's 'Messiah':

    "He trusted in God that he would deliver him; let him deliver him, if he delight in him"

    which somehow manages not to be ambiguous at all. starting at 0:43

  12. peter said,

    July 4, 2013 @ 7:41 am

    Surely, that should be:

    "He trusted in God that He would deliver him; let Him deliver him, if He delight in him."

  13. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    July 4, 2013 @ 7:46 am

    peter: not if you follow the Authorized Version of the Bible, or the English Prayer Book.

  14. Yastreblyansky said,

    July 4, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

    It's perfectly understandable but the editor, if there was one, shouldn't have allowed it anyway because it's really ugly.

  15. Tairy Greene said,

    July 4, 2013 @ 1:17 pm

    I like the use of color to disambiguate, this should become the standard procedure in the world of the written word.

  16. Ken Brown said,

    July 4, 2013 @ 5:38 pm

    "Top brass in pres sack row"

  17. Ellen K. said,

    July 5, 2013 @ 10:31 am

    @peter: The capitalization distinction only works in writing. (And also only works with God.) And my thinking is, if you need pronouns referring to God to be capitalized in order to understand it, then it should be worded (or translated) differently.

  18. Ellen K. said,

    July 5, 2013 @ 1:16 pm

    Isn't the disambiguator 'respond'? It's difficult to 'respond' to something you do yourself thus indicating that 'Mr Morsi' and the first 'he' are not the same player.

    No, because the verb with the pronoun is "called". Yes, it's quite possible for Mr. Morsi to respond to something that Mr. Morsi calls widespread anger. Mr. Morsi is being asked by the general to respond to the anger itself, not to the labelling of it as widespread anger. Logically, either person, or some third person, could do the "calling" it widespread anger.

    In this particular sentence, though, I would expect Mr. Morsi's name to be repeated if it was him doing the labelling, though.

  19. Errorr said,

    July 5, 2013 @ 11:52 pm

    I do this all the time in my own writing and speech in my own writing and the only one who can seem to follow me is my dad. It annoys the hell out of the wife.

RSS feed for comments on this post