LINGUIST List 6.1098

Mon Aug 14 1995

Sum: 'because' vs 'since/as'

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  1. , Sum: 'because' versus 'since/as' (6.1043)

Message 1: Sum: 'because' versus 'since/as' (6.1043)

Date: Mon, 14 Aug 1995 09:22:15 Sum: 'because' versus 'since/as' (6.1043)
From: <Carsten.Breulrz.ruhr-uni-bochum.de>
Subject: Sum: 'because' versus 'since/as' (6.1043)

I would like to thank the following persons very much for their
judgements, comments and various hints concerning my query: Marie
Egan, Duncan MacGregor, Richard Ingham, James Kirchner, Kevin
Lemoine, David Powers, Karen Ward, Yael Ziv and especially Karen
Stanley, who took a poll about my claims among her colleagues (a
big thank-you to them too).

>From the mail I have received by now, the following picture emerges:
Including the people interviewed by K. Stanley, 7 do not agree with
my distinction and 5 do agree more or less.

Some informants suggest other distinctions between the conjunctions:
For one, 'since' and 'as' are more formal than 'because' (a view
which is also presented in some dictionaries and grammars), for
another, 'as' is more formal than 'because' but 'since' is "only
suitable for informal conversation but nor for writing". The latter
judgement seems to be in conformity with a prescriptivist view
according to which 'since' as a causal conjunction is not to be used
at all. (I want to note that I have identified 209 (=13%) causal
since-clauses among 1576 causal as-, because-, for- and
since-clauses in the machine readable British-English LOB-Corpus
(written texts from 1961). Most of these since-clauses are to be
found in the category called 'Learned and scientific writing'.)

Another informant, for whom my example sentence (1) is essentially
synonymous with either conjunction, has the impression that the
speaker of (1) using 'because' "feels John's admission more
noteworthy, or more important to the narrative, than he or she would
if 'since' or 'as' were used." Into the same direction, I assume,
goes another judgement according to which 'because' is "stronger and
more explicit and more exceptional." (I have found a similar view in
the literature and have interpreted it as a consequence of my
differentiation: Entailment on the basis of a rule or norm is
intrinsically less noteworthy, less exceptional than 'real'
causation.)

Some people have pointed out the relevance of the position of the
causal clause. As a tendency, my rule/norm interpretation is
considered to be more in accordance with the causal clause (be it
'since/as' or 'because') preceding its main/matrix clause. However,
one informant feels "more comfortable with since clauses preceding,
and because clauses following, the main clause." (This impression is
somehow in conformity with the statistical situation in the above
mentioned LOB-Corpus: Only about 9% of the because-clauses are
preposed, whereas 41% of the since-clauses and 43% of the as-clauses
are preposed there.)

One informant pointed out constraints which may affect the
acceptability of 'since' as a causal conjunction: "'since' seems to
have a much more limited application. For me there is a
tense/aspect/??? constraint between the clauses (consistent with the
temporal meaning it also has??), otherwise it sounds forced or
stilted. I don't really like your sentence (1) with 'since'.
Reversing the clauses makes it more acceptable to me, as does
changing 'was' to 'is' (strange!). Conversely, changing 'has been' to
'was' makes the 'since' version even less acceptable to me."
(Probably, the last point in this quotation is caused by the fact
that replacement of 'was' by 'has been' makes the sentence
grammatically acceptable with a temporal interpretation of the
since-clause.)

Do I have to conclude from the 'empirical' outcome of my query that
my differentiation is not tenable? For various reasons (which I hope
to develop convincingly in a doctoral dissertation to be submitted
soon), I do not think so. Are there, perhaps, some more people 'out
there' who agree with my claims, but who refrain from simply stating
'I agree'? Of course, this would not make my query statistically more
valid, but it would suggest that there is some plausibility to my
non-empirical reasons.


Carsten Breul
e-mail: carsten.breulrz.ruhr-uni-bochum.de
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