1. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    typical American or typically American

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by ohmyrichard, Nov 4, 2009.

    Hi,everyone.
    Please help me with a problem which has long tortured me.
    Several years ago, I read a novel by Gish Jen titled Typical American . I always think that the expression "typical American", if used as an adjectival compound, is derived from "typically American"; however, I have never been able to prove it.
    Last week, a student of mine, who is preparing for next year's graduate school entrance test of another university, asked me to help her with 31 sentences she collected from the old test papers. Every one of the sentences has one and only one error and the test taker is required to locate that error and correct it. One of the sentences goes: The grape is the smoothly skinned juicy fruit of a woody vine.When I first read the sentence, I felt at a loss as to how to correct the sentence as I did not know what the problem is. The I went to my Longman dictionary and found on p. 1346 "dark-skinned/fair-skinned/smooth-skinned" listed at the entry of "skin". Then suddenly it reminded me of that unresolved problem of "typically American"/ "typical American". It also reminded me of "new born", "widely-accepted" and "frequently-used".
    Just now I consulted Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English by Douglas Biber, et al. and read at the bottom of p. 533 that "We label as adverbs in these patterns words which are adjectival in form, though adverbial in function: new-born, free-spending." It seems that my reasoning about "typical American" being a derivative of "typically American" is justified. It seems so but I am not sure of it.
    So, my questions are, does "typical American"(used as a compound adjective) come from "typically American" and can we still use "typically American" as in "a typically American way of doing things"? Or rather, is it that people use "typical American" for the sake of convenience? Can we also say "smoothly-skinned" and "a newly born baby"? And do we always need a hyphen between the two elements involved?
    Thanks.
    Richard
     
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  2. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Your confusion with the American example is that it is the usage of 'American' that changes...
    With 'typical American', American is being used as a noun, as in an American person, while with 'typically American', American is being used as an adjective, as in 'the typically American way of doing things'.
     
  3. dgraham
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    dgraham Senior Member

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    "typically" is a regularly derived adverb from the adjective "typical".

    The confusing thing is that the -ly suffix in English has more than one use. It can be used to derive both adverbs and adjectives...

    For example, "elderly" is an adjective derived from the noun "elder".

    So, because of this productive overlap, adverbs and adjectives ending in -ly can often be confusing, and even seem correct to a native speaker even though "mis-used".

    Although we already have an adjective "smooth", there's no reason we couldn't (theoretically) have derived a new adjective with the same (or similar) meaning using the -ly suffix. Logically, it might seem strange to make an adjective from an adjective, but... why not?

    Because it is highly productive in two distinct, but very similar roles, it leads to a lot of confusion.

    HTH
     
  4. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    I will repeat the last paragraph of my post:
    So, my questions are, does "typical American"(used as a compound adjective) come from "typically American" and can we still use "typically American" as in "a typically American way of doing things"? Or rather, is it that people use "typical American" for the sake of convenience? Can we also say "smoothly-skinned" and "a newly born baby", besides "smooth-skinned" and "a newborn baby"? And do we usually need a hyphen between the two elements involved?
    Thanks.
    Richard
     
  5. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    'Typical American' isn't a (correct) compound adjective, as I said; it is an adjective and a noun (typical + American). Typically is a derivative of typical, as dgraham said above. And while grammatically you could correctly say "smoothly-skinned" or "newly-born", neither are what a fluent speaker would say under any circumstances. Why usage is as it is, I couldn't say...just another ideosyncracy of the English language...
     
  6. Robert Lipscombe
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    Robert Lipscombe Member

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    1. we can certainly still use "typically American" as in "a typically American way of doing things, yes
    2. 'typical American' should be considered a neologism, that is an emergent piece of language coined by natural usage to meet a commonly felt and perceived need..in this case what is referred to is a concept, or if you prefer.. a way of life, a way of being and doing.. a modality, and the phrase can be applied in all the following ways:
    ..hers was a typical American stance
    ..he had a typical American way of talking about cars
    ..the players charged in with typical American gusto
    ..this typical American leaves me cold
    ..it was a perfect example of typical American: where else could such a presidential result come about
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    To expand or clarify on what Arron is saying, typical is an adjective, whereas typically is an adverb.

    An adjective modifies a noun. An adverb modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. So it depends on whether American is, in context, being used as a noun, meaning a person from America, or an adjective, neaning chararacteristic of America or Americans.

    "Jake was a typical American, displaying a typically American arrogance."

    The first American in that sentence is used as a noun, so it takes tha adjective typical. The second is used as an adjective, modifying the noun arrogance, so it is modified by the adverb typically.
     
  8. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Thanks. But then can we say either "a typically American arrogance" or "a typical American arrogance"? I mean whether "typically American" and "typical American" are used interchangeably.
    And is it really that you native speakers of English only say "smooth-skinned" and "a newborn baby" and never say " smoothly-skinned" and "a newly-born baby"? Is there a rule involved here?
    Thanks.
    Richard
     
  9. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Thanks. But I get the impression from my reading that many people prefer "a typical American+ noun" over "a typically American + noun".
     
  10. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    It just needs a comma after smoothly skinned.
     
  11. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I don't know what you're reading but its certainly not preferable over the other, or, as has been pointed out mltiple times, strictly correct.
     
  12. Robert Lipscombe
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    Robert Lipscombe Member

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    the problem with the smoothly-skinned [or indeed, smoothly skinned grape] is that it really means that whoever skinned the grape [presumably removing the skin] did so like a smooth operator, ie in a smooth way - which is to say that the word 'smoothly' is describing the implied action of skinning, as opposed to roughly skinning it, quickly skinning it, tantalisingly skinning it, carelessly skinning it etc
    ..but what the writer wishes to describe is the quality of the grape's skin, not the attitude of the person who skinned it ... so it is smooth-skinned rather than furry-skinned, or spiky-skinned..although you won't see these pairings very often
     
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  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Smoothly skinned is not the same as smooth-skinned. Smoothly skinned means the grape has been stripped of its skin smoothly, which is probably not what you intended.
     
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  14. Robert Lipscombe
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    Robert Lipscombe Member

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    and yet, these niceties hardly have any place in the early 21st century where English is adapting to the internet and all the world's languages as much as responding to its own first-language speakers who are impatient with Aristotle, Aquinas and Joyce and prefer to get the job of communicating done fast..even, perhaps, occasionally in a somewhat slipshod way..
    ..but it's ok with me; I'll follow the useage up and down dale [while bearing mind for myself the niceties of yore - while, where necessary, adjusting what I read when I need to, in order to get a finer fix]
    goodnight

    sorry, i should have written 'bearing in mind'
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes... that is the error... a missing comma...

    as for your 'typical/typically' question, richard, they cannot be used interchangably, because they mean different things, as both arron and cog have explained...

    and neither can be used correctly as a hyphenate, the way 'smooth' or 'new' can...

    nor can 'smoothly' be used as a hyphenate, though 'newly-minted' is fairly common, though not as precisely grammatical as 'new-minted'...

    if you substitute 'ordinary' or 'usual' for 'typical' and 'clearly' or 'quintessentially' for 'typically' it may help you to understand the whys and wherefores...

    your main problem is that you're attempting to apply logic to the most illogical language on the planet! ;-)

    hugs, m
     
  16. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    He is a typical, American man. << He is a typical man. He is also an American man.
    It is a smooth, skinned grape. << The grape is smooth. The grape is also skinned. It has no skin.
    It is a smooth-skinned grape. << The grape has skin on it, which is smooth.
    It is a smoothly skinned grape. << The grape has no skin. The skin has been smoothly removed.

    It is a soft-blue book. << The book is the color of soft blue.
    It is a soft, blue book. << the book is blue. The book is also soft.

    Hope this helps.
     
  17. dgraham
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    dgraham Senior Member

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    This is a good example, let me expand on it. Here, you are using typical as an adjective to modify "man", NOT "american". In this context, "American" is an adjective as well, and is also modifying "man". So, as Arch said we get "He is a typical man. He is also an American man". Contrast with:

    Here, typically (as an adverb) modifies the adjective "American", not the noun "man". So you cannot break this sentence up to be:

    That very obviously makes no sense because and adverb (typically) cannot modify a noun (man).

    I hope this helps clarify it for anyone who might still be confused.
     
  18. dgraham
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    dgraham Senior Member

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    Actually, as several people explained above, both are OK, but have very different meanings. In one case it is the adjective that is typical, in the other case it is the noun.
     
  19. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Hi,everyone.
    It seems that we may say there is a subtle difference between "a typical American man" and "a typically American man", but how about "a typically American way of thinking" and "a typical American way of thinking"? I'm afraid there is no difference in meaning between the two in the latter pair. What is your view on this latter pair?
    Thanks.
     
  20. dgraham
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    dgraham Senior Member

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    I would say the same applies as above:

    A typical, American way of thinking << A way of thinking that is American. It is also typical. (Here it is only implied that it is typical of Americans)

    A typically American way of thinking << A way of thinking that is typical of Americans (here it is explicit).
     
  21. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Obviously the two expressions are different in structure, but it seems that, whether implicit or explicity, we use them to express (roughly) the same idea. Can I reason this way?
     
  22. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Please tell me in what situations we need a comma or commas or "and" when we have more than one adjectives before the headword.
    Thanks.
     
  23. dgraham
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    dgraham Senior Member

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    Yes, they do represent almost the same idea.
     
  24. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    No, they don't. Not even remotely close.

    The first example. . .

    "A typical, American way of thinking" refers to a typical way of thinking. It also just happens to be an American way of thinking. Well, no kidding. We've already said that it's a typical way of thinking, so the American bit is redundant. We've essentially said that most people think a certain way and that Americans also think that way. In other words, we've said that Americans aren't fundamentally different from the rest of humanity.

    The second example. . .

    "A typically american way of thinking"

    . . . refers to a way of thinking that is typical of Americans. This means something completely different. Now we're saying explicitly that Americans think a certain way. It is implied that they are somehow different from other people. Otherwise, there would be no point in saying it.

    "He's a typical, flea-ridden dog." The dog is typical in some unspecified way. He also has fleas. I have not said that his fleas are typical or that his fleas are in any way typical of dogs. I haven't given the slightest indication of how the dog is typical.

    "He's a typically flea-ridden dog." Now I've said that his fleas are typical of dogs and that he has fleas--thus he is a typical dog because he has fleas.

    Two completely different things!

    If you write the original sentence without the comma. . .

    "A typical american way of thinking"

    . . . it is incorrect because you need a comma between the two adjectives, or you need to make "typical American" one word through use of a hyphen.

    "A typical-american way of thinking." You're saying that this way of thinking is "typical American". It sounds like something a non-native might say. . . Just clunky, awkward and grammatically wrong. . . and it doesn't make sense.
     
  25. dgraham
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    dgraham Senior Member

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    Good point, good point. I was being lazy, thanks for pointing it out.

    I would agree, except to say that to me it doesn't seem that we are saying that "Americans aren't fundamentally different from the rest of humanity" rather we are saying that this kind of thinking is originally American, and the rest of humanity has maybe "picked it up" from them.
     

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