FEATURE: Ambiguous antecedents lead to misunderstanding
SPOTLIGHT: EditPros and clients in the news
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Despite communication advancements such as digital telephones and high-definition television, clarity sometimes remains elusive due not to technological limitations but to linguistic problems, such as ambiguous antecedents. No, that's not a new political action group. An ambiguous antecedent is a flawed grammatical construction that interferes with understanding of written or spoken statements.
An antecedent is a word, phrase or clause to which another "placeholder" worda pronounrefers. Antecedents are useful in avoiding repetition. Instead of saying "I wore my blue shirt because my blue shirt was freshly laundered," you can instead say "I wore my blue shirt because it was freshly laundered. The pronoun "it" clearly refers to the antecedent "my blue shirt." Unfortunately, pronouns are not always used so neatly and unambiguously.
Suppose in explaining your choice of attire you say, "I wore my yellow short-sleeved shirt instead of my blue long-sleeved shirt because it was hot that afternoon." In that sentence, the antecedent of the pronoun "it" is unclear. What was hot? The yellow short-sleeved shirt? The blue long-sleeved shirt? Or the climate? We deduce that "it" refers to elevated air temperature, but more complex or convoluted sentence constructions may obscure the intended antecedent. (Incidentally, television station meteorologists are often guilty of inducing linguistic turbulence with statements such as, "Temperatures will be hot again tomorrow...." A temperature can be neither hot nor cold because temperature is merely a form of measurement. The air can be hot or cold, but temperature measurement in degrees is high, low or somewhere in between. But now, back to antecedents.)
Clarification of sentences containing ambiguous antecedents is often surprisingly easy. Consider the following examples.
The problems common to the preceding sentences all involve relative pronouns such as "it," "this," "these" and "they"so called because they relate to an antecedent. Consider the ambiguity in the following sentence: "My visiting aunts and uncles had to check out of their motel rooms because they smelled funny." Were the rooms odiferous? Or did my aunts and uncles simply need to shower? If the latter were true, the problem would be a relative clause involving relatives. More likely, however, is the following intended meaning: "Discovering that their motel rooms smelled funny, my visiting aunts and uncles chose other lodgings." Elimination of the ambiguous pronoun "they" cleared the air, so to speak.
- "It has been two months since Bob disappeared."
To what does the word "it" refer? The implied but unstated antecedent is the two-month period of time of Bob's disappearance. While the sentence fundamentally communicates the fact that Bob disappeared two months ago, the writer may have wished to place the period of time first in the sentence for deliberate emphasis. Rephrasing the sentence to read "Two months have passed since Bob disappeared" preserves that intention.
- "It's disturbing what they intend to do."
That sentence, uttered on a radio newscast, is trying to say that "What they intend to do is disturbing" or, more succinctly, "Their intentions are disturbing." Although that reconstruction eliminates the ambiguous antecedent, we are still left to wonder who besides the speakerif anyone at allfinds the intentions disturbing.
- "It's becoming more expensive to fly.
"That lead sentence from a radio network news story could be improved by saying "Flying is becoming more expensive" or even further clarified by rewriting: "The cost of commercial air travel continues to increase."
- "If the contractor delays groundbreaking beyond this week, it is going to be difficult to complete construction by November."
Ridding the sentence of the clumsy "it is going" phrase results in an improvement: "If the contractor delays groundbreaking beyond this week, completion of the job by November will be difficult."
- "Today there are 45 million Americans who don't have health insurance."
To what does "there" refer in that 11-word sentence? The word "there" is ordinarily used in defining spatial relationshipsfor example, to distinguish the dish I'm holding here from another dish over there. The sentence can be simplified and clarified by eliminating three words: "there," "are" and "who." The result: "Today 45 million Americans don't have health insurance." Even better is a seven-word reconstruction: "Today 45 million Americans lack health insurance." The seven-word sentence clearly communicates the intended idea of the more clumsy 11-word original.
The word "they" is often casually and carelessly used in reference to unnamed individuals. "They are accustomed to icy road conditions in Montana" really means "Montana drivers are accustomed to icy road conditions." The sentence "They don't accept gratuities aboard the cruise ship" really means "Crew members do not accept gratuities aboard the cruise ship."
Use of the word "this" in reference to a concept or function rather than a specific noun can result in ambiguity such as that created in this grouping of sentences: "Next week we will be adding three new sales representatives to our marketing department. This is expected to help us surpass our competition in revenues." The word "this" refers not to a single noun, but to the action of adding three new sales representatives to the company's staff. For clarification, the two sentences can be consolidated: "The addition of three new sales representatives to the marketing department next week is expected to help the company surpass the competition in revenues."
The antecedents of the pronouns "he" and "she" may not always be clear, as illustrated in this example: "Mary told Carol to meet her at 4:15, but she missed the appointment because she forgot her watch." Who was late? Who forgot to wear a watch? Better explanation results from a rewritten version: "Because Carol forgot to wear her watch, she missed her 4:15 appointment with Mary."
Carol's failure to rendezvous with Mary may have been deliberate. Mary is Carol's aunt who smells funny.
HumanWare introduces revolutionary braille notetaker
The BrailleNote, a remarkable new electronic "notetaker" that can help pave new pathways of accessibility for blind people in contemporary office environments, has been developed by PulseData International Ltd. of New Zealand.
HumanWare of Loomis, Calif., an EditPros client, is the BrailleNote master distributor in the United States. The BrailleNote has a braille keyboard for data input and a tactile braille display of raised dots that rise and fall in response to electronic impulses, enabling users to read text files and computer output, such as e-mail, word-processing files and Web pages. The BrailleNote is available in two models that offer a stunning array of advanced capabilities, including internal e-mail hardware, fast processing speeds, a broad complement of connectivity options and a Microsoft Windows CE operating system permitting word-processing file transfers.
The BrailleNote provides an unprecedented complement of powerful features, long battery life, portability and flexibility. Weighing only 2 pounds and measuring 6.5 by 10.8 inches with a slim 2-inch profile, the BrailleNote is much more like a laptop computer than traditional braille notetakers have been.
"In comparison with predecessors, the KeySoft suite of applications in the BrailleNote has one monumental difference: this version of KeySoft is based on a Windows CE platform," observed Larry L. Lewis Jr., blindness products manager for HumanWare. "As a result, a user can operate in a structured, familiar environment, yet have the capability to save and translate files between KeySoft and Microsoft Word formats while retaining character formatting. That's a tremendous breakthrough that helps bridge the gap between braille users and sighted colleagues." The file translation capability of the software accommodates and retains word-processing character formatting, such as application of fonts and bold and italic type styles, which Lewis regards as far more important than a cosmetic feature. "The ability to support formatting elevates the BrailleNote above educational tools and renders it a vocational alternative enabling braille users to function productively in contemporary office environments. The fact that can even be done by a notetaker is truly monumental."
BrailleNote's advanced connectivity features incorporate the new "KeyMail" application that offers full-featured e-mail access in the "pop3" international standard. Users can send e-mail from their address book application, and e-mail messages can be manually brailled. The BrailleNote software package additionally includes a date planner, address book and scientific calculator applications.
The BrailleNote includes parallel and serial ports, a PCMCIA slot and a built-in infrared port to provide numerous options for connecting to PCs, printers and embossers. PulseData is a designer and manufacturer not only of portable notetakers, but also of video magnifiers (CCTVs), speech synthesizers and assistive computer software. HumanWare expects both BrailleNote models to be available beginning in April. For more information, visit the HumanWare Web site at http://www.humanware.com or call (800) 722-3393.
Echoes of the Sixties authors may be on the radio near you
Echoes of the Sixties co-authors Marti Smiley Childs and Jeff March may be heard soon on a radio station near you. The co-authors, who are business partners in EditPros, have been interviewed on numerous radio stations throughout the nation in connection with their book Echoes of the Sixties, profiling the adult lives of recording artists who first achieved fame during the 1960s.
They have scheduled on-air interviews with the following radio stations:
- Willow Springs/Springfield, Mo.
KUKU: 100.3 FM (50,000 watts) and 1330 AM (1,000 watts)
Wed. March 1 (9 a.m. CST) Harlin Hutchison
- Wausau, Wisc.
WOFM: 94.7 FM (50,000 watts)
Thu. March 2 (6:40 a.m. CST) Stacy Cole & Ed Paulson
- Atlanta, Ga.
WGST: 640 AM (50,000 watts), 105.7 FM (50,000 watts)
Fri., March 3 (7:50 a.m. EST) Jeff Hullinger
- Pittsburgh, Pa.
KDKA: 1020 AM (50,000 watts)
Fri., March 3 (9:00 p.m. EST) Mike Romigh
- Des Moines, Iowa
KIOA: 93.3 FM (100,000 watts)
Monday, March 6 (8:20 a.m. CST) Polly Carver-Kimm
- Abilene, Texas
KULL: 92.5 FM (44,000 watts)
Thu., March 9 (5:30 p.m. CST) Wayne Randall
- San Francisco, Calif.
KSFO: 560 AM (5,000 watts)
Fri. March 10 (12:15 p.m. PST) Geoff Metcalf
- Jackson, Miss.
WJNT: 1180 AM (50,000 watts)
Thu. April 20 (5:00 p.m. CDT) Thurman Boykin
In recent weeks Childs and March have been interviewed on two dozen radio stations and network broadcasts, including KODJ Salt Lake City; WSYR Syracuse, N.Y.; WOC Davenport, Iowa; WGLD Indianapolis; WYUR Detroit; KOA Denver; KABG Albuquerque; WTRY Troy, N.Y.; "Dave's Diner" on the Jones Radio Network; the Doug Stephan Show on the Radio America network; and the "Daybreak USA" program on the USA Radio Network.
Echoes of the Sixties includes chapters about the Fireballs ("Sugar Shack"), Gary "U.S." Bonds ("Quarter To Three"), the Tokens ("The Lion Sleeps Tonight"), the Angels ("My Boyfriend's Back"), Peter and Gordon ("A World Without Love"), Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues ("Nights In White Satin"), the Beau Brummels ("Laugh, Laugh"),Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs ("Wooly Bully"), the Lovin' Spoonful ("Summer in the City"), Gary Puckett and the Union Gap ("Lady Willpower"), Country Joe and the Fish ("I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag"), and Iron Butterfly ("In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida").
Echoes of the Sixties (320 pages; $19.95 paperback; ISBN 0-8230-8316-0) is available through independent and national chain retail bookstores. It also may be purchased through on-line book sellers that are linked from our Web site at http://www.editpros.com/echoes.html.
If you're trying to track information on the political races, this is the place, with links to the campaign sites of candidates for U.S. presidential, congressional and senatorial races, as well as candidates for state and local-level offices. Also included is information on campaign finance and data from the Federal Election Commission. Site maintained by Launch 3, LLC.
This directory of business-related associations worldwide is searchable by titles of organizations, as well as by telephone area code, city, state, ZIP code or category. Site maintained by Concept Marketing Group Inc., Scottsdale, AZ.
Telephone Directories on the Web:
This site is billed as the Internet's most complete index of online phone books, with over 350 links to yellow and white pages directories, business directories, e-mail addresses and fax number listings from more than 150 countries. Site operated by Callnow.com, Inc. of New York.
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