Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Diagramming party to action stations

AP sentence of the afternoon:

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- Air defenses fired on Israeli warplanes that entered Syrian airspace early Wednesday and forced them to flee, state TV said as Mideast tensions escalated over the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants.

Grammar question: Where's the compound? Is it in the main clause (air defenses fired on Israeli warplanes and forced them to flee) or in the complementizer phrase (warplanes that entered Syrian airspace and forced them -- the air defenses -- to flee)?

Logic question: What's going on here? There's nothing to connect the firing, entering and fleeing to the subordinate clause: "as Mideast tensions escalated." The poor reader is left to conclude that it's just those damn Mideast tensions escalating at random again, as so often they do.

Hence the occasional argument against the Tyranny of the New. If we go back one step in the chronology and do our causal connecting there -- the Israelis were buzzing Bashir's summer digs as a message to Syria and the Damascus chunk of Hamas -- it starts to make sense. The BBC chose a less inverted-pyramid-oriented structure and got better sense out of it:

Israeli warplanes flew warning sorties over the summer residence of Syrian President Bashar-al Assad early on Wednesday morning. Syria said it had responded with anti-aircraft fire.

Moral: It's hard to make a sentence better by tacking new facts on the front end. It's almost impossible to make one better by jamming stuff in at random.


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