Re: [Rd] Phrase "package writer" in R-exts

From: Ted Byers <r.ted.byers_at_gmail.com>
Date: Fri, 01 Apr 2011 15:17:05 -0400

> From: r-devel-bounces_at_r-project.org [mailto:r-devel-bounces_at_r-
> project.org] On Behalf Of Davor Cubranic
> Sent: April-01-11 2:23 PM
>
> In a conversation with a programmer new to writing R packages, he
> mentioned that he was very confused by phrase "package writer" used in
> the document, and said that he "[was] literally imagining some sort of
> function that writes something related to packages".
>
> I can see his point: not only is it confusing, but I think it's also bad
English (one
> wouldn't say "the novel's writer"). Can this be changed to "package
author"?
>

No, it is not "bad English." Neither would I regard it as being confusing.

To my eye, it is unambiguous.

This reminds me of a conversation I had a few years ago with a well educated individual who claimed that the sentence "He was hit by the ball" was grammatically wrong, and that the correct way to express that idea was "The ball hit him." Needless to say, we ended up agreeing to disagree. Of course, obviously, BOTH are correct. This individual had an earned Ph.D. from a prominent north american university. The English langage is beautifully large and complex, having drawn both vocabulary and grammatical structures from a wide variety of languages. That makes it hard to learn to use well, but it is arguably the most expressive language on the planet (what oher language has a vocabulary as large as that in english or grammar as flexible as is english). I spent a little time working in India, and found that ordinary working people, who happen to speak as many as 5 local and regional languages in addition to english, and found that they use such a different subset if standard english vocabulary from what the same sort of people would normally use in Toronto (where I was born), that I had to listen carefully in order to understand what they meant. I even found myself translating from standard english into standard english, for two bright people with very different ethic backgrounds and who had learned english after they turned 30. The influences of their respective mother tongues so distorted their use of english that they were mutually incomprehensible even though it was obvious to me what each was saying. One sweet lady I met in Singapore (a waitress) told me she liked servicing me, but didn't like serving the Australians next to me. She said she found it easy to understand me but she couldn't understand anything the Aussies at the next table were saying. I would never have noticed a significan difference between how we spoke, but she had plenty of trouble trying to figure out what they were saying. One of my best friends spent 6 months of his Ph.D. program just watching TV. That was because even though his grammar was perfect and his written english was beautiful, he had never hear english spoken by a native english speaker. Thus his diction was so distorted by habits developed in speaking perfect Mandarin (his mother tongue), that his spoken english was incomprehensible to everyone outside China.

This is actually a major problem for any author that aspires to a global market. How do you write in such a way that you will be understood by everyone in your target market? I won't presume to offer writing advice to the authors in question, in part because I don't know a good solution.

However, Davor, I notice you are at one of the finest universities in Canada, so might I suggest you approach someone in the english department there for insight into the evolution of english in the context of a multicultural society, and how that can help make our writing more readily understood by a global audience? Note, while I see the author's responsibility to write perfectly (or at least try), the reader also has a responsibility to work at determining what the author meant by what he or she wrote.

Cheers,

Ted



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