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Absence of Number Concord in Subject-Predicate Grammar

No doubt due to the linguistic promiscuousness induced by the rise of internet communication, with its instantaneous transmission capacity, less than punctilious attendance to grammar has become a workaday phenomenon. Particularly frequent is the absence of agreement in subject-predicate number, viz. invariably a plural subject being paired with a singular predicate, as in the following sentence drawn from today’s CNN Money (cnn.com) website: “As much as investors and traders may want to forget about it, concerns about worsening relations between the West and Russia over the fate of Ukraine is weighing on market sentiment.” From a performance perspective, it is evident that the likelihood of such grammatical transgressions increases with the distance of the subject (noun) from the predicate (verb). It would be easy to conclude that the writer has forgotten the plural number of the subject noun and has simply regarded all of the intervening linguistic material en bloc as a mass undifferentiated as to number, hence a singular by default.

Since the direction of this error never reverses the number relation between subject and predicate (i. e., the error always and only occurs when the subject is in the plural), it is tempting to ascribe this phenomenon to a kind of neutralization, in which the expected unmarked term of the opposition (= the singular) represents the category of number in the position of neutralization, i. e., the predicate.

Another way of analyzing the mistake is to examine the semeiotic purport of the condition under which it occurs, namely element distance separating subject from predicate. Markedness is defined as an interpretant of the restriction of conceptual scope, where the marked term is valorized as being of greater restrictedness vis-à-vis its unmarked counterpart in the binary oppositions of grammar (as in all semeiosis). In the case at hand, the more numerous the elements intervening between subject and predicate, the greater the scope, thereby weakening (notionally) the centrality of restrictedness to the very meaning of scope. Once the threshold of restrictedness as such has been crossed, evidently the unmarked number supervenes despite the resultant violation of concord, in a development that instantiates the diagrammatic specificity of the context.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

One Response to “Absence of Number Concord in Subject-Predicate Grammar”

  • Brandi says:

    In my experience these errors often occur when the writer re-writes a section, or is interrupted mid-sentence. But, it’s also likely to happen when the writer does not re-read the content aloud, or consciously listen to their reading voice as they edit.

    This makes me wonder if it is mentally easier to track quantities in an auditory/verbal way. It seems, when I am reading aloud or listening to someone speak, whatever mnemonic device or cognitive mechanism that tracks quantities holds the information much more effectively.

    Maybe I am thinking of it less from a technical editing or (symbol) processing perspective as I translate letters and words on a page, and more in relation to comprehension of the actual content itself.

    I also wonder if retention of the quantitative information can be improved through practice, as would be necessary for a reader in countries like Germany, where the distance between subject and predicate is often many times greater than your example.

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