Sunday, May 20, 2007

Berto's syntax

Bush is said to call Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez "Berto", which has got to strike him better than Rove's apparent nickname from the boss ("Turd Blossom") would. Still, the AG is known in many circles today as the "Torture Czar" for his role in creating the framework for what will presumably turn out to be inhumane treatment of detainees.

Anyhow, there's an AP story out on Berto (I read it here at Talking Points Memo), where he's quoted this way:
"Being able to go and having a very candid conversation and telling the president: 'Mr. President, this cannot be done. You can't do this,' -- I think you want that," Gonzales told reporters this week. "And I think having a personal relationship makes that, quite frankly, much easier always to deliver bad news."
Can this quote possibly be accurate? (TPM is focused on its apparent dishonesty, but that's another kettle of rattlesnakes.) In the first sentence, it's got to be able to go and have ... and tell, right? I don't think I know this as a kind of stylistic overreaching (see the Ridger's comment on the last post). And the last sentence is flat ungrammatical to me too: something could make it easier to deliver bad news, but that doesn't work here — maybe if you ended the sentence after easier. Even then, the word order seems impossible: The always needs to be much earlier. That's three really odd things in a tiny quote. Note that mavens never really jump on this stuff — objections to sentences that aren't English (at least for me) never seem to make it in. These don't seem like typical spoken performance errors. In fact, this is so mangled that I wonder if the AP blew the quotes or something.

Whatever we call him, I guess we won't be calling Berto "articulate".

7 comments:

Ollock said...

I have no idea on the first part. Seems like some sort of weird false parallelism.

As for the position of always, I wonder if Gonzalez speaks Spanish. A Google search turns this up in the first few results for "mas facil siempre":

También será más fácil siempre reclutar rebaños que terminan por ser crianza de cuervos . . .

Of couse, this is pure conjecture, and Gonzalez doesn't strike me as a native Spanish speaker, so until I see otherwise I'll figure it's probably the error of the newspaper.

Anonymous said...

Frontline the other night had a program about illegal wire-tapping and had Berto testifying about it, skirting his way around the line of questions asked. It's rather amazing how much of his discourse resembles W, not only in style and execution, but also grammatically.

Mr. Verb said...

Thanks. Weird parallelism is surely right: he somehow treated the wrong verb as the parallel. On the other one, I've tended to avoid even speculating about Spanish interference -- I've known a fair number of Chicanos / Chicanas (or, in current usage, Chican@), and the word order doesn't strike me as remotely familiar from there.

Anonymous, you're right on the mark: the kind of garbling here strikes me as very Bushian, esp. the nervous, obviously lying Bush.

Anonymous said...

Is this a language isolate? Do we have a language with only 2 native speakers? Or, can we find more? Maybe they speak another language altogether and this is just Neocon Pidgin to be used when contacting the real world.

Mr. Verb said...

Whoa up here -- that's not fieldwork I am personally willing to undertake. If you can or you can know people who can get into the community with Institutional Review Board approval for work with human subjects, go for it!

The Ridger, FCD said...

The "always" may be in exactly right spot, if he means it makes it easier to have nothing but bad news ... of course, how would he know? He apparently never says "no".

Mr. Verb said...

Yeah, I rejected that as a possible reading on knowledge of the real world.