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There's a there there, but where?

Here’s a couple of paragraphs from Free-Market Mischief in Hot Spots of Disaster, by Patricia Cohen in this morning’s New York Times. It’s about The Shock Doctrine, a book by Naomi Klein, or about Naomi Klein, or about the short film The Shock Doctrine that serves as a sort of extended trailer for the book, and that played at the Venice and Toronto film festivals. Actually, the article is a bit of a mess. Here are a couple of paragraphs:

“The Take,” her 2004 documentary about a workers’ cooperative in Argentina produced with her husband, Avi Lewis, was being filmed when Carlos Sa´┐Żl Menem, the former president who had presided over that county’s economic collapse, unsuccessfully attempted a dramatic comeback. Argentina was where Ms. Klein began to formulate her argument in “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” being released in the United States on Sept. 18.

“I felt it emotionally before I understood it factually,” Ms. Klein said during a recent visit to New York from her home in Canada. It was “blindingly obvious” to everyone there, she said, that there was a “connection between violence, the military coup and these economic policies that people didn’t want.”

In that second paragraph—the word there refers to what? New York, where Ms. Klein was visiting? No. Her home in Canada? Perhaps. Argentina, where she began to formulate her argument? I think so.

Now, I do believe that it’s OK, grammatically, for a pronoun to refer back to the previous sentence—

Digression: Y’all who know these things, tell me: what do we call the word there in the sentence It was “blindingly obvious” to everyone there? It’s an adjective, yes? I mean, a modifier? It modifies the word everyone, right? Only it’s a pronoun, too, in the sense that it takes the place of a noun, that is (for argument’s sake) Argentina. Or, rather, it takes the place of a modifying phrase, say, in Argentina, because you certainly couldn’t say It was “blindingly obvious” to everyone Argentina. So it takes the place of a prepositional phrase that modifies the indefinite pronoun everywhere. So in the way that a pronoun is a word standing for a noun (or noun phrase), is there a pronadjective that stands for an adjectival phrase? Or a promodifier? Or is it just an ordinary adjective? My dictionary does not allow it to be an adjective in that manner. Is it somehow a shorthand adverb—It was “blindingly obvious” to everyone [who was] there—to a verb that we would have to invent? And how do you indicate, as a part of speech, that it requires an antecedent? Seriously, wattzupp w’datt? End Digression.

—or even the previous paragraph. But if you are going to leave the antecedent in the previous paragraph, do not insert a plausible alternate antecedent earlier in the second paragraph. Do not insert two such plausible alternates. Particularly avoid doing so if you are just introducing irrelevant information. I know Ms. Cohen is oh-so-cleverly slipping in two bits of information (where the interview took place, and where the subject resides) without having to clunkily write whole sentences about them. But there are much better places for the residence info (whole paragraphs about Ms. Klein’s Canadian history, f’r’ex), and the circumstances of the interview turn out to play no particular role in the article.

I am picking on Ms. Cohen for no particular reason. It is tempting to try to tie this particular poor choice, and the fact that nobody caught it or changed it, into a grander critique of newspapery in general, but in fact no good newspaper procedure or policy will ever eliminate such sentences. I really am just ranting, because—well, it’s a blog, you know?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Ah, jargon. The terms you are looking for are 'anaphor' (referring to an antecedent for meaning, commonly used to describe 'there' in computational linguistics, but not in generative syntax where it has a different meaning), 'pro-form' (substituting for a more specific word or phrase, a good choice for generative syntax), and '(spatial) deictic' (pointing, a good choice for semantics or discourse analysis).

In syntactic or grammatical terms, 'there' is replacing a prepositional phrase (PP) as you note. A PP has enough particular characteristics in the grammar to warrant being considered a separate category in most adequate grammatical theories, rather than being considered adjectival or adverbial depending on its use.

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