"As Well."

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Wed May 9 19:16:49 UTC 2007

On May 8, 2007, at 7:30 PM, James Harbeck wrote:

>> well, different people make different stylistic choices.  you seem to
>> be assuming that "also" and "too" are the 'right' choices to make,
>> but that some people (incomprehensibly) choose to use another
>> variant.
> Really, Arnold, I may be an editor, but I'm not thick-headed (no,
> really -- I can produce plenty of character references) and I'm not a
> prescriptivist. I use "as well" all the time, and I don't think it's
> wrong at all.

1.  what i was responding to was the way you originally phrased your

> ... Some people seem allergic
> to using "also" or "too" and use "as well" everywhere "also" or "too"
> would work at least as well.

"seem allergic to" suggests very strongly that people are *avoiding*
or *rejecting* "also" and "too", and "would work at least as well"
suggests that these people should have chosen one of the alternatives
(or at least considered them).

i might well have over-reacted, because of my experience with great
amounts of the advice literature, in which, repeatedly, the choice of
one variant is seen as avoiding or rejecting variants that the writer
believes to be correct, standard, better stylistically, etc. and
"insisting on" choosing the variant the writer believes to be
inferior.  the tone of your comment above unfortunately fits into
this trope, and so set off my alarm bells.

are we agreed, then, that in this case people simply have different
preferences in their choices  among variants?  if so, then you
shouldn't be talking about people being allergic to the variants they
don't choose and pointing out that those variants would have done
just as well.  an analogy: suppose i almost always order chicken as a
main dish when i eat out.  we don't then say that i'm rejecting,
avoiding, or acting allergic to fish, shellfish, vegetarian main
dishes, meat, etc. (i might be, but you shouldn't be attributing such
mental states to me merely on the basis of the choices i make); i'm
just expressing a positive preference.  and we don't then point out
that these alternatives would have done just as well.  that's really
an irrelevant fact: my tastes are my tastes; why are you mentioning
other tastes?

2.  now something that really vexes me, to the point where this will
be my last posting on the subject.  you write:

> (I note that I used "as well" in a posting on this list
> on April 9. I also used it -- in sentence-initial position, even --
> in my doctoral dissertation -- which was at Tufts, which is of course
> in the US. And I've used it uncountable other times. Trust me, I have
> no prejudice against it.)

> What I'm saying is just that some authors invariably choose "as well"
> rather than sometimes choosing "also" or "too" as many authors would.

the problem here is that the various uses of "as well" are being
lumped together, as one phenomenon, after i went to such trouble to
point out the differences between two uses: sentence-initial loose
adjunct "as well", functioning as a discourse-linking sentence
adverbial (parallel to sentence-initial "also" or "in addition" or
the much-maligned "plus"); and sentence-final tight adjunct "as
well", functioning as a focus marker within its sentence.  even if
there were no social or stylistic differences between these two uses,
they would need to be distinguished in a  grammar of english.

(i chose not to mention other uses of "as well" -- sentence-internal
uses and loose adjunct "as well" in sentence-final and sentence-
internal positions -- to keep things focused as much as possible on
the point at hand, which was the social and stylistic distribution of
the sentence-initial element, with the sentence-final one serving as
a  contrast.)

nevertheless, you continue to talk about "as well" as a single thing
(as do others), which makes it impossible to carry on a useful

you say that "some authors invariably choose "as well" rather than
sometimes choosing "also" or "too" as many authors would".  i simply
don't know how to interpret that: is this a claim about both uses of
"as well", or just about the sentence-initial one?

3.  in either case, i'm extremely dubious about the "invariably"
claim.  people often say that some speakers "always" or "invariably"
make one choice among variants, when in fact what they're reporting
is merely that these speakers make this choice often enough to be
noticeable to the reporter (because it's not the choice that the
reporter would make, either that often, or at all).  this is an
extreme version of the Frequency Illusion that i've written about.

without evidence, i am suspicious of people's impressions that some
variant occurs very often, and without evidence, i simply disbelieve
people's reports that some speakers *always* choose one variant.  our
impressions about such things are so unreliable as to be useless as
reports of fact, and that's true for linguists and other people
especially concerned about language and language use, as well as for
ordinary people.  (actually, language-oriented people might well be
less reliable reporters than others.)

there are empirical questions here.  it seems pretty well established
that the discourse linker "as well" occurs with some frequency in
both the U.S. and Canada, and that in Canada it is subject to no
stigma, while in the U.S. it is viewed by some commentators as at
least informal (and by some as unacceptable) and occurs infrequently
in "good writing".  but we know very little about the social
distribution of the discourse linker (though Wilson Gray reports that
it's not a BE thing; that sounds right to me, but we still need to
look at evidence), and as far as i know we know absolutely nothing
about the frequencies with which different groups of people use the
discourse linker vs. its competitors ("also", "in addition", accented
"and", formal "furthermore", informal "plus", widely stigmatized
"too", and perhaps also).

> ... So the thoroughgoing use of "as well" is notable as a
> stylistic choice simply because the authors never seem to use the
> other available options, and it's an interesting indicator of the
> acceptability and position of this usage in Canadian English.

show me some authors who have "as well" as their *only* additive
discourse linker.  i don't believe there are any.

just because some usage is acceptable, even valued, for some group of
speakers doesn't mean that we should expect people in this group to
adopt this usage to the exclusion of all competitors.  there is no
basis for this leap in logic.  this is especially true when there's a
rich set of competitors, each with its own nuances (the competitors
to the discourse linker "as well" aren't interchangeable with it or
with each other; each has its own effects).

when we turn to the focus marker "as well", all the same questions
come up.  there's a different set of competitors, with different
effects associated with them, and you wouldn't expect one of the
competitors to oust all the others.  but we need evidence: who uses
which variant, how often, in what contexts.


>> but your criticism seems to be levelled at *all* the uses of "as
>> well" (vs. "too" and "also").  this i find puzzling, since the
>> sentence-final focus particle "as well" is entirely standard.  (over
>> 70 occurrences in the NYT during the past month, many of them in
>> serious reporting.)
> Could you show me where I made a criticism? I was unaware of making
> any sort of criticism at all, and I'm frankly puzzled at your
> characterization of my observations as such.

see my discussion in 1 about, about the way you framed your claim

> When I say that some
> people seem allergic to using "too" or "also", that's not meant as an
> expression of disgust with "as well", it's merely an observation that
> some people seem to avoid the other two.

oh dear, "avoid".  see above.

> (Insistent use of one
> variant when others are available...

oh dear, "insistent use".  you keep gratuitously attributing mental
states to the users of the variant.  this time, they're "insisting
on" one variant.  what evidence do you have that people are
"avoiding" some variants and "insisting on" another?  this is not
neutral language; it makes claims about speakers' motives.  in this
case, i reject those claims.


>> in what way does final "as well" 'sound more important' than "too" or
>> "also"?  maybe you have this feeling, but i don't, and i don't see
>> any of the usageists complaining about it.
> In my experience, "as well" tends to show up more often in prose that
> is more formal overall in tone.

that sounds plausible to me, though it would have to be
demonstrated.  your "experience" is not data.

but what you originally said was:

> This is, not surprisingly, especially common among businesspeople
> and others who want their writing to sound more important.

once again, you're attributing motives -- gratuitously, i think.  and
wanting to have your writing "sound important" is not normally viewed
as a good thing; business writing is often criticized, in fact, as
striving for an aura of importance (rather than content).  so this
sounds to me like another criticism of (one use of) "as well".  not
your intention, you say, but that's how it reads.

> This is not surprising to me, since
> in Canada I find that it does have a more formal tone to it...

that is, it feels formal to you, or at least more formal than the
alternatives.  not unreasonable, but still it would be nice to have
some evidence, comparing usage in formal contexts vs. colloquial/
informal ones.

> perhaps
> because it has more syllables

prosody is a likely factor.

> ... the formality judgement comes from my experience as a
> Canadian. It makes sense that you, an American, might feel
> differently about it, and I should have remembered that what seems
> plain enough to a speaker of one dialect may not at all seem so to a
> speaker of another.

true enough, but our judgments of formality are just the beginning of
the inquiry, not its conclusions.

note, by the way, that you are sharply distinguishing the discourse
linker "as well" from the final focus marker in your canadian
variety: the former is stylistically neutral, available to everyone
in virtually all contexts, while the second is (you claim) distinctly
formal.  this would not be surprising -- different uses of 'the same'
item are not infrequently stylistically distinguished -- but it would
be nice further example.

> As to the issue of complaints, again, I'm not complaining, any more
> than I would be complaining if I said "use of 'therefore' is, not
> surprisingly, especially common among those writers who want their
> writing to sound more clinical or formal"

i'd work on these attributions of  motives.  this  sounds like you're
claiming that people who use "therefore" are 'putting on' an
appearance of clinical objectivity or formality.  no doubt that
happens, but practiced writers simply adjust their language to the
norms of the contexts they're in, in the same way people adjust their
language in all sorts of contexts.

> -- something I have also
> observed, and don't find surprising, as it's a low-frequency word
> associated most strongly with certain more formal registers. (If it's
> not, please show me the stats, because I'd be fascinated -- really!)

an interesting case, because the competitors are "so" (which is much
more frequent in conversation than in academic prose, though it's by
no means limited to conversation) and "thus" and "hence" (which, like
"therefore") are more frequent in academic prose than in conversation
(much more so for "therefore" and "thus" -- which are the main
competitors in formal contexts -- than for "hence").  rough boiling
down of the Longman Grammar statistics.

>> ... now, sentence-final "as well" can produce potential ambiguities,
>> according to which element in the preceding sentence is focused on.
>> but the all the final focus particles, "also" and "too" included, can
>> produce such ambiguities:
> What I was getting at is that some authors will write, for instance,
> "John is a professional oboist, and his teenage daughter Sylvia plays
> as well" rather than writing, say, "...and his teenage daughter
> Sylvia also plays" so as to avoid the possible interpretation that
> she plays with equal ability.

?? this totally doesn't resonate with me.  in any case, what you
originally said was

> It produces problematic ambiguities from time
> to time, of course.

where i thought "it" referred to sentence-final focusing "as well".
now you seem to be claiming that "as well" *avoids* an ambiguity that
is potentially present for (sentence-internal) "also".

arnold zwicky

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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