Futures and Options

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Another choice quote from Sotomayor

H/T to Discriminations for bringing this to my attention.

I already explored some reasons for criticizing Sotomayor in a previous post, but it looks like we have a couple more gems from from someone who is nominated for one of the most mentally-demanding positions in the world.  In describing her experiences in college, Sotomayor said in a 1996 speech at Princeton:

When my first mid-term paper came back to me my first semester, I found out that my Latina background had created difficulties in my writing that I needed to overcome. For example, in Spanish, we do not have adjectives. A noun is described with a preposition, a cotton shirt in Spanish is a shirt of cotton, una camisa de agodon [sic], no agondon [sic] camisa.

Now, I’ll admit to not knowing enough Spanish to even ask where the bathroom is, but I still know enough to understand that even when the construction is, “a shirt of cotton”, the word “cotton” remains an adjective, whether in English or in Spanish.  To be sure, the point which Sotomayor is attempting to make, that differences in standard grammatical construction between two languages represent additional challenges beyond mere vocabulary for people who learn a second language, remains reasonably valid.  However, Sotomayor’s method of expressing this point can only be described, charitably, as “inartful”.

In a delightful case of sabotaging her own point, Sotomayor had earlier said:

Most people never go back to basic principles of grammar after their first six years in elementary school. Each time I see a split infinitive, an inconsistent tense structure or the unnecessary use of the passive voice, I blister.

Personally, I bristle when someone mangles a common idiom.  Furthermore, style guides frequently caution against being excessively prescriptive with regard to split infinitives as there are often cases where a split infinitive is superior, both in clarity and grace, to it’s ostensibly grammatical counterpart.  As if that weren’t enough, her distaste for the passive voice is likewise misplaced; in legal or technical writing it is often desirable, if not strictly “necessary”, to omit reference to an agent that is performing the described action.

As before, the point which Sotomayor was attempting to make stands reasonably valid.  Clear and concise writing (which is generally achieved through mindful consideration of proper grammatical style) is vitally important to effective communication.  However, we once again see an example of how Sotomayor’s own writing falls short of being clear and effective.

I recognize that grammatical errors are part and parcel to the human condition and I do not expect that anyone will always be completely without error in his or her speech; however, the examples above are such as should have been well proofed and I do not believe it to be at all unreasonable to expect that Sotomayor would understand that Spanish does indeed have adjectives and that the proper English idiom is “bristle”, not “blister”.  A person who is being considered for a seat on the US Supreme Court simply should not produce writing that suffers from such elemental flaws.

posted by Zenmervolt at 07:54  

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