Sunday 24 January 2021

Oh no! But oh yes! Fronted adverbials don't have to do what adverbs do grammatically!!!

This is both a confession and a revelation.

 I think my previous blog post here is 'wrong'. It's 'correct' in so far as that's the way fronted adverbials are being taught in primary schools. However, after a few hours combing grammar pages, I see that most of us are getting the term wrong in some respects. What follows here is me getting what it is I think that the grammarians think 'fronted adverbials' are, as opposed to everyone else in the world apart from grammarians. 

Here's a  construction: 

'Having started out muggy, the weather was good.'

('Having started out muggy' is what some people call a 'participial phrase'  but here it probably (possibly? possibly not? I'm not 100% sure) stands as what they would call  a 'fronted adverbial'.  

That 'having...' bit we use quite a lot along with other '-ing' words. 

In this context, they call this kind of '-ing' word a 'participle'. (Please don't use another -ing word as you're reading this even if you're getting angry, it's not my fault.)

Another common construction is the 'As a...' one. 

'As a north Londoner, I would say that it's no surprise I support Arsenal.' 

Is this a 'fronted adverbial'? 

To my mind the phrase, 'As a north Londoner' is about me and so feels as if it's a little bit 'adjectival'. 

Aha,  say the grammarians, even though it's called an 'adverbial' it doesn't have to be adverbial in a grammatical sense! I kid you not. This is what they say. In other words a fronted adverbial doesn't have to behave like an adverb:

(quick note on adverbs,  which  they say, elsewhere, means that it does stuff to verbs, does stuff to adjectives and other adverbs and does stuff to whole sentences as with:

 'He jumped up quickly' ('quickly'), 

'He jumped up very quickly' ('very'). 

'She has a very good job.' ('very') and 

'I'm happy, though.' 

('though' as what we used to call a 'sentence adverb' like 'however', 'furthermore' )). 

The point some grammarians want to make about 'fronted adverbials' is that for them it's a catch-all term for stuff we bung up the front of sentences - EVEN IF THEY'RE NOT ADVERBIAL IN THE GRAMMATICAL SENSE! That's because it's a term to describe the process of fronting words and phrases - WHETHER THEY'RE LIKE ADVERBS  OR NOT! 

The point you might want to make, dear reader, is why for heaven's sake call it an 'adverbial'? You know the answer? It's because, they say the term 'adverbial' doesn't mean behaves exactly like adverbs GRAMMATICALLY,  but because the term describes the kind of word or phrase that can go almost anywhere in a sentence. Like this: 'Mostly I go out'. 'I mostly go out'. 'I go out, mostly'. And in a sentence that you were speaking and hesitating you could even (just about) say, 'I go...mostly...out' (as opposed to going somewhere else other than 'out'.) 

The term  'adverbial' is in effect about 'style' of writing ('stylistics') but not strictly and narrowly about grammar! Some people call this 'pragmatics' too. 

The funny thing here is that the grammarians haven't explained all this to all the text books and poor teachers teaching this stuff.  And I didn't 'get' is first time either! So, not only is it being taught, but it's being taught wrongly. And they're keeping quiet about it. Does the DfE know? Do the SATs examiners know? Does Gavin Williamson know? Does Michael Gove know? 

It doesn't get funnier than this. 

The previous blog post, then, is either wrong, or not the whole truth. I've left it up to show you that someone  (me) who learned three languages, studied Old English at university and a  course in philology  and has read widely around linguistics since, has got an MA, and a Ph.D in literary studies (for children), has got it wrong at the first go.