1. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    pyramid sentence structure

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by ohmyrichard, Oct 30, 2008.

    Hi,guys. Recently I have been reading an English writing textbook. It recommends the so-called pyramid sentence structure to student writers. On p.156, it says, "When writing a sentence, try a pyramid structure and see if it flows better." The first example it gives reads,"According to the department, the loans can help students whose parents are migrant workers out of poverty effectively." The books says this example sentence should be revised as follows:
    According to the department, the loans can effectivelyhelp out of povertystudents whose parents are migrant workers.
    The books goes on to say that in this revision we have the the following pyramid sentence structure:

    effectively
    out of poverty
    students whose parents are migrant workers

    Afterwards, it gives another two pairs of wrong and right sentences which are not too complicated in structure and therefore are easy to understand. But finally it offers still another two pairs of sentences one of which is too long and terrible (I mean "so difficult to follow"):

    1. Wrong: "Shut up and get something to read" blatantly eradicates all her hope.
    Right: It blatantly eradicates all her hope when he says, "Shut up and get something to read."
    2. Wrong: If numerous fathers and sons stand shoulder to shoulder, just like Mandela's statement to the ANC in the prison, "Unite! Mobilize! Fight on! Between the anvil of united mass action and the hammer of the armed struggle, we shall crush apartheid!" the success of the emancipation should be inevitable.
    Right: The success of the emancipation should be inevitable if numerous fathers and sons stand shoulder to shoulder, just like Mandela's statement to the ANC in the prison, "Unite! Mobilize! Fight on! Between the anvil of united mass action and the hammer of the armed struggle, we shall crush apartheid!"

    I have tried to understand this so-called pyramid sentence structure from another perspective. In my opinion, an effective sentence usually progresses from the old information to the new information, which is the focus of the sentence and which the writer or speaker wants to introduce to the reader or listener. The old information in the sentence might be something new in the previous sentence. So, in the above correct versions the last word, phrase or clause is what the writer of the sentence wishes to emphasize. Take the correct version of "2" for example. I think that the writer wishes to focus on Mandela's remarks while "the success of the emancipation" may have already been mentioned in the proceeding sentence, thus being the old information in this current sentence.

    Hey, you guys, would you please tell me whether my understanding of this sentence structure is sensible? Please do me such a big favour, for it is something urgent.
    Thanks in advance!
    Richard
     
  2. Heather Louise
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    Heather Louise Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am sorry, that all went right over my head. I don't understand what the pyramid structure is meant to be from that, the sentences just look like complex sentences to me, which have been organised in different ways.

    Sorry I couldn't be of help with your question.
     
  3. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't understand their pyramid structure thing. Or at least, you're not giving me enough of what the book said. To me, the re-arangements are just a matter of phrase-structure rules. Look it up on Wikipedia. Basically, their pyramid structure seems to be doing the same thing.

    I think your "alternate perspective" actually deals with another side of things entirely.
     
  4. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is this a school assignment?
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    No, Richard is a teacher of English to non-native speakers.
     
  6. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's weird. All the sentences seem fine to me, no matter what order you put it in.
     
  7. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Really?

    Really? Both versions of each sentence given in my post seem OK to you? Isn't it that the R versions are a little bit better than the W versions? You may forget about the pyramid structure stuff and just tell me your feel about the different versions of those sentences?
    By the way, may I know what your native language is?
    Thanks.
     
  8. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Yes

    I admit I am a low-proficiency teacher. My student, who will take a postgraduate admission examination next January,only two months away, asked me about this pyramid structure introduced in the English writing textbook which is being used by teachers and students of School of Foreign Languages and Cultures of the university she has applied to. So this is something very important to her but this pyramid stuff is not easy to understand. Yesterday evening I planned to explain it this evening based on my understanding of why we need to rearrange these sentences, but decided to consult native speakers about it to make sure of it.This may also be difficult for native speakers. But it does not matter. Let's just discuss it!
     
  9. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    I have given everything I can find in that part of the textbook. At your suggestion I may go to Wikipedia for a possible solution. Thanks for your response.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I've never heard of the pyramid structure for sentences, and it seems pretty unclear to me. Maybe someone will turn up who IS familiar with, but good luck making it clear to the students.
     
  11. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    You may neglect the term "pyramid structure" and just tell me whether we really need to rearrange those sentences, whether either version in any pair is just OK to you native speakers. Or is it that in speech both versions are acceptable while in writing it would be better if we have the most important information, which is also new information, placed at the end of the sentence to make the sentence more powerful or leave an impression that as the sentence moves forward, it gathers more and more strength if reaarranged in this way?
    Just forget about the term and tell me your feel about those sentences.
    I can always rely on your linguistic intuition.
    Thanks.
     
  12. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    This reminds me of sentence diagramming. Maybe that's what the writer is really talking about, but he's calling it a sentence pyramid instead.

    Anyway, sounds like an unhelpful book that I would get rid of immediately. If it's unclear to all of us, it's going to be really unclear to students trying to learn English.
     
  13. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Richard, for learning to speak English, it doesn't matter how information is placed based on familiarity. I would definitely call the revised versions cleaner sentences, though not necessarily better, becuase the arrangement of words makes it clear what words are related, in other words, which words refer to which parts of the sentence.


    The only other related thing I can think of is "embedded clauses".

    [According to the department, [[the loans can help [students [whose parents are migrant workers] out of poverty]] effectively]].

    [According to the department, [the loans can effectively help out of poverty [students [whose parents are migrant workers]]]].

    I think that the second example is right-branching structure, which is easier to undertsand than the nesting structure of the first example.

    Another diagrammed example:

    [If numerous fathers and sons stand shoulder to shoulder, [just like Mandela's statement to the ANC in the prison, ["Unite! [Mobilize! [Fight on! [Between the anvil of united mass action and the hammer of the armed struggle, [we shall crush apartheid!"]]]]] the success of the emancipation should be inevitable.]

    [The success of the [emancipation should be inevitable [if numerous fathers and sons stand shoulder to shoulder, [just like Mandela's statement to the ANC in the prison, ["Unite! [Mobilize! [Fight on! [Between the anvil of united mass action and the hammer of the armed struggle, [we shall crush apartheid!"]]]]]]]]]

    The quotes might distort it a bit, but if you look at the second examples of both sentences, the end brackets are cncentrated at the end of the sentence, rather than balanced throught the sentence.

    Here's a link to something that might explain embedded clauses(assuming you don't already know of them):

    http://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/9900/41881626.pdf?sequence=1 It's a pdf, in case that matters.
     
  14. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Thanks. In that book, the compiler introduces the sentence constructing rule of pyramid structure after "right-branching".
    OK. I will go to the website you recommended.
    Thanks for your help.
    Richard
     
  15. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    I just wouldn't care about something so picky when teaching my students English as long as it's grammatically correct and makes sense. In Steven King's book On Writing, he made a good point about grammer. You either get it or you don't. No point in teaching most of the complicated stuff as long as they have lots to read. If you can't naturally absorb the grammer once you have all the vocabulary and know how to conjugate the verbs, you probably never will. And as someone who lives in a city in which half of the people were not born there, I can tell you that this is very true.

    When you're teaching this stuff, you're just giving names to stuff people know. Think about it. When you were in grade three and they taught you all about verbs and nouns, didn't you already know how to use them?
     
  16. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, that's beyond me, then. Good luck.
     
  17. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    Rich I just googled and went directly to wikipedia, and unfortunately I could not find the phrase that your book used.

    Really though what you have here reminds me of college lit and the R sentences are correct in syntax of a native speaker as opposed to the W sentences.

    Thats pretty much all I can come up with. It seems the guy is Giving his own name to a certain case of syntax within sentence structure.

    The sentences just seem akward and ungainly. Sentence one does not even state whop is speaking this phrase in the W version.

    Sentence two shows the akwardness clearly. The main idea is that fathers and sons united together will make success and the quote from Mandela is just kind of the reason why. In fact in both sentences that seems to be the case.

    You start with a statement and try to prove or give a reason as to why the statement is accurate. This pyramid structure seems to onl work with these type of sentences.

    'The boy is in the room'

    I do not see a way to apply it here

    'Truth can be, if it is known that it will cause pain, as harsh as a lie.'
    'Truth can be as harsh as a lie if it is known that it will cause pain.'

    I believe this is a good example the only thing is I still do not fully understand what it is the guy is talking about.
     
  18. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    According to the department, the loans can help students whose parents are migrant workers out of poverty effectively." The books says this example sentence should be revised as follows:
    According to the department, the loans can effectively help out of poverty students whose parents are migrant workers.

    The book is correct. I knew what the correct version was while reading the wrong version. I didn't even need to read on to know how it would correct the sentence. I think the pyramid structure is something the author of the book you are reading invented. That is he/she invented the phrase to explain a concept in grammar.

    Basically it is dealing with a misplaced modifier. Because effectively modifies help and it is what the loans do it should be as close as possible to the word it modifies.

    But there is still a problem with the sentence. It should be:

    According to the department, the loans effectively help students out of poverty whose parents are migrant workers.

    But still the setence is clunky as all get out.

    According to the department, student loans help migrant workers' children out of poverty.

    I think this reads much easier.
     
  19. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Thank you all for your help. Most probably the author of the book invented the name "pyramid structure". Thanks again.
     

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