When sentences attributable to the BBC’s news service cease to demonstrate logical flow, and when you notice fragmented thought in a large proportion of the sentences in one news piece, you know we’re lost as far as clear communication in English goes.
Here are some sentences from one news story at bbc.co.uk on the 13th of June, 2010. Ellipses indicate the omission of sequences irrelevant for our purpose here.
“Drinking three or more cups of tea a day is as good for you as drinking plenty of water and may even have extra health benefits, say researchers.”
Which researchers? The BBC these days routinely drops the relevant qualification of certain words, with “researchers” being a good example. Sentences like the above, and similar sentences from hundreds of news agencies, make the word “researchers” ring the same as “gods.”
Next: “The work in the European Journal of … dispels …”
Which work? With this, the reader is supposed to make the relation between “researchers” and “the work,” which can happen only when he or she accepts this: “Something in the current sentence is always related to something in the previous one.” The building of that relationship has traditionally been the job of the writer.
Next: “Tea not only rehydrates … but it can also protect against heart disease … UK nutritionists found.”
This sentence refers to UK nutritionists, whereas sentences prior referred to a certain work, a certain journal, and “researchers.” The piece thus far, comprising three sentences, might as well have been written by three different people. Where is the writer, and whither now the reader?
Next: “Experts believe flavonoids are …”
Now it is “experts.” This sentence as a fact-container in itself is fine; as a successor to the three that went before, it is invalid. To be crude, it is nonsense.
Then: “These polyphenol antioxidants …”
Which polyphenol antioxidants? The reader, who is being told about a certain piece of research on tea, and who is being persuaded of the health benefits of that beverage, has been assumed to know that flavonoids are polyphenol antioxidants. That is the obvious explanation; the alternative explanation is that we have seen two unconnected sentences placed one after the other, which is worse.
And: “They found clear evidence that drinking three to four cups of tea a day can cut the chances of…”
Notice “clear evidence” and “can cut.” Clear, or possible? This sentence cannot be!
From world knowledge, I can guess that the researchers mentioned evidence of risk and statistical significance. These concepts cannot be translated into plain English in the space of one sentence. When a casual attempt is made, as in the above, it either befuddles the mind or forces it to accept statements on faith. When those statements are supposed to be scientific, something bad is going on, I’m sure.
“Other health benefits seen included…”
They were not seen; they were inferred and/or proposed by the researchers. Seeing is categorically different from inferring. In fact, one cornerstone of science is: I will not believe or propose unless I see.
On and on the non-written piece of writing goes. Cause or effect? Seen or inferred? Proven or believed? What I am saying, or what you are thinking? Certain, or probable?
Need I be factual, or anecdotal, or should I stay confused, or perhaps I should rant? Or weep?
Mehr Licht, bitte!