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  1. Newbie
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    #1

    How is the sentence structured?

    Please read the highlighted sentence shown below and tell me how it is structured?

    Dr. Atkinson, an expert at applying mathematical methods to linguistics, has found a simple but striking pattern in some 500 languages spoken throughout the world: A language area uses fewer phonemes the farther that early humans had to travel from Africa to reach it. Some of the click-using languages of Africa have more than 100 phonemes, whereas Hawaiian, toward the far end of the human migration route out of Africa, has only 13. English has about 45 phonemes.

    Click to expand...
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/15/sc...5language.html
    (Phonetic clues hint language is African-born by Nicholas Wade)


    (1)How is the highlighted sentence grammatically structured? How would you paraphrase it? Is the sentence written correctly and idiomatically?

    (2) the farther that early humans had to...
    I think I understand the part "the farther" calls for the pattern "the fewer phonemes." But the original says just "fewer phonemes" instead, without the article "the." Why is that?

    (4) the farther that early humans had to...
    What is this "that" doing here? What is the function of this "that" here in the sentence?

    (5) And I just can't decipher the whole sentence at all.
    Last edited by emsr2d2; 13-Feb-2017 at 12:18. Reason: Sorted out the formatting

  2. Phaedrus's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: How is the sentence structured?

    . . . A language area uses fewer phonemes the farther
    that early humans had to travel from Africa to reach it. . . .

    How would you paraphrase it?
    Here are a few ways in which that sentence may be rephrased:

    (a) A language area uses fewer phonemes in proportion to how far early humans had to travel from Africa to reach it.
    (b) The farther (that) early humans had to travel from Africa to reach it, the fewer the phonemes that a language area uses.
    (c) The farther away, the fewer the phonemes.

    How is the highlighted sentence grammatically structured?
    The main clause is "A language area uses fewer phonemes."
    The phrase "the farther that early humans had to travel from Africa to reach it" functions as an adverbial.

    Is the sentence written correctly and idiomatically?
    I have mixed feelings about it, but my inclination is to say "yes."

    I think I understand the part "the farther" calls for the pattern "the fewer phonemes."
    But the original says just "fewer phonemes" instead, without the article "the."
    Why is that?
    I think that, even though the sentence may be rewritten as "The farther away, the fewer the phonemes," in which the "the" before "fewer" is needed, it would be incorrect to use "the" before "fewer" in the original: ?* "A language area uses the fewer phonemes the farther they had to travel to reach it." The key difference between my paraphrases (b) and (c), on the one hand, which use "the" before "fewer," and (a) and the original, on the other, is that "fewer" is not used attributively, before a noun, in (b) and (c). Notice the difference between "the fewer the phonemes" and "the fewer phonemes." Here is a different way of writing paraphrase (b). Here "the fewer" functions as subject complement, and no noun (directly) follows "fewer."

    (b1) The phonemes that a language area uses will be the fewer the farther (that) early humans had to travel from Africa to reach it.

    What is this "that" doing here? What is the function of this "that" here
    in the sentence?
    Great question. The "that" following "farther" is not a relative pronoun; that is, it can't grammatically be replaced with "which."
    This "that" is one that is optionally used in comparative constructions, cf. the "that" in "the best (that) I can do."

  3. YAMATO2201's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: How is the sentence structured?

    Quote Originally Posted by UFOcatcher View Post
    How is the highlighted sentence grammatically structured?
    It becomes (the) colder the higher you climb. (Roiyaru Eibunpou, Obunsha, p.371) [The first "the" is optional.]

    However, I guess it is rare to use "the" in the main clause of this kind of sentence.
    I am not a teacher. I am currently studying basic English grammar.

  4. Piscean's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: How is the sentence structured?

    Quote Originally Posted by YAMATO2201 View Post
    It becomes (the) colder the higher you climb. (Roiyaru Eibunpou, Obunsha, p.371) [The first "the" is optional.
    It's incorrect, in my opinion.

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    #5

    Re: How is the sentence structured?

    Why did you insist on writing a 'Thank you' post?
    I am not a teacher.

  6. emsr2d2's Avatar
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    #6

    Re: How is the sentence structured?

    Quote Originally Posted by YAMATO2201 View Post
    It becomes (the) colder the higher you climb. (Roiyaru Eibunpou, Obunsha, p.371) [The first "the" is optional.]

    However, I guess it is rare to use "the" in the main clause of this kind of sentence.
    Like Piscean, I would consider it incorrect with "the" before "colder". We use "the" twice in one word order but not in the other.

    The higher you climb, the colder it gets.
    It gets colder the higher your climb.
    Remember - if you don't use correct capitalisation, punctuation and spacing, anything you write will be incorrect.

  7. Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    #7

    Re: How is the sentence structured?

    It suggests to me that the writer says that people took languages with many phonemes and, as they travelled further and further from Africa, they simplified the phonetics of the languages they developed, which had a less complex sound structure.

  8. Newbie
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    #8

    Re: How is the sentence structured?

    I found the following description.

    4.6 the correlative comparative construction.(The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language1135P)
    (begin quote)
    What we refer to as the correlative comparative construction has two versions, illustrated in [39i-ii] respectively:

    [39] fronted version:
    i a. The more sanctions bite, the worse the violence becomes.
    b. The more conditions I impose, the less likely is he to agree.
    c. The older he gets, the more cynical he becomes.
    basic version:
    ii a. The violence becomes worse the more sanctions bite.
    b. He is less likely to agree the more conditions I impose.
    c. He becomes more cynical the older he gets.

    Both versions have paired - Correlative' - comparative phrases (indicated by underlining). Very much the more common version is the one shown in [i], but it is the other that is syntactically the more basic. The more sanctions bite is a subordinate clause functioning as adjunct, and likewise the more conditions I impose and the older he gets; in [ii] they occupy the default position at the end of the matrix clause, whereas in [i] they occupy front position. The subordinate clause has the comparative phrase in front position in both versions, whereas the head clause has it fronted only when the whole subordinate clause is fronted. The comparative phrase begins with the when it is fronted; this is the modifier the discussed in 4.4.2 above. In the basic version it is possible but rare to have the in the non-fronted comparative phrase: The violence becomes the worse, the more sanctions bite.

  9. Phaedrus's Avatar
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    #9

    Re: How is the sentence structured?

    The correlative comparative in your example, UFOCatcher, differs in one key respect from the CGEL examples of the basic version. The comparative term in the main, non-adjunct clause is in attributive position in your example, whereas in CGEL's examples it is in predicative position. Your example is like these:

    ii a': There is worse violence the more sanctions bite.
    ii c': He becomes a more cynical person the older he gets.

    I don't think there is anything wrong with the above two variations, or with your example, but it makes the relationship to the standard "The X-er the Y-er" version of the correlative comparative a bit more derivative. For we can't say, e.g., *The older he gets, the more cynical person he becomes.

    In the basic version it is possible but rare to have the in the non-fronted comparative phrase: The violence becomes the worse, the more sanctions bite.
    That's the style of the basic version I used in (b1). Although it is rare to have "the" before the comparative term in the non-adjunct clause, I think it helps to include that "the" in illustrating the relationship between the basic version and the "The X-er the Y-er" construction. Both "the"s can be there even when the structure isn't so weird.

    I say "even when the structure isn't so weird." By that I mean that it is weird syntactically. It is not weird from the standpoint of using English. To native speakers, "The X-er the Y-er" sentences come extremely naturally and are very easy to grasp. It's only when one inquires into their syntactic structure that they become complicated.

    If you're reading CGEL, perhaps you'd like to see something even more hardcore. I haven't read this article yet, but I hope to in the near future. It looks really good. But it's extremely technical and won't make any sense to you unless you've studied syntax formally. You might feel a bit like Alice, tumbling down the rabbit hole.

    http://www.umiacs.umd.edu/~resnik/te...endoff1999.pdf

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