There are many ways in which texts give us pleasure, but none has accumulated more prestige than what some have called syntactical vertigo. When we think of masters of prose, the names that typically jump to the front of the line are the Virginia Woolfs, Thomas Manns, and Marguerite Yourcenars of the world: the writers who could turn a trainwreck of clauses into an unlikely thing of beauty. This might be changing.
In her Nautilus essay on the ever-shifting terrain of English syntax, Julie Sedivy shows how languages become exponentially more complex as societies transition from oral communication to textual transmission. This makes one wonder: if we’re indeed in an age that moves (dare I say, pivots) away from the printed word, will this lead to an inevitable flattening of our syntax?
When children are fed a steady linguistic diet that is rich in complex sentences, these become easier…
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