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Quite a lot of articles in Wikipedia, especially about people, have sentences like this one:

Author of Gitanjali and its "profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse", he became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.

(This is taken from the article Rabindranath Tagore.)

This sentence makes two statements:

  1. That Tagore was the author of Gitanjali and its "profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse".
  2. That he became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.

It sounds kinda stylish, but the two things are not so related, so I don't really like this type of sentence. Is this considered correct grammar? Does this phenomenon have a name?

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I'd go for non-sequitur or possibly disjunct -- I await more knowledgeable advice -- but your example isn't a good one. There is surely a relationship between writing profoundly sensitive, beautiful verse and winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. –  Andrew Leach Nov 15 '12 at 8:04
    
@AndrewLeach I don't think it's disjunct -- there's a specific term for this construction that I can't remember. The noun phrases Author of... and he are parallel. –  McGarnagle Nov 15 '12 at 8:06
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@dbaseman They are parallel and definitely related in this case. How about an example like "Inventor of the automatic railway crossing and a number of signalling technology innovations, Jones won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945" where the second half is completely unrelated to the first half? –  Andrew Leach Nov 15 '12 at 8:13
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I don't see why you believe that they are "not so related". He won the Nobel Prize for Gitanjali. The sentence will seem less elliptical if it begins with something like "As the author of Gitanjali ...". –  coleopterist Nov 15 '12 at 8:16
    
@AndrewLeach I think KTR has got it, apposition. I also like coleopterist's comment above -- the phrases really are related, that's the point of the construction. –  McGarnagle Nov 15 '12 at 8:50

3 Answers 3

Could this be apposition? That Tagore was the author of Gitanjali and its 'profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse' is used to modify the pronoun 'he'?

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The ‘Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English’ (LSGSWE) describes such a construction as a preface, one of two types of dislocation, in which ‘a definite noun phrase is placed at one end of the clause, and a co-referential pronoun is used in the core of the clause.’

The example you provide is grammatical, and probably not unusual in academic prose. It is also found in a simpler form in conversation, as in this example from the LSGSWE: ‘This little shop, it’s lovely.’

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And I think this one of those examples where dangling participles could easily happen. –  Noah Nov 15 '12 at 8:29
    
I think this construction is probably more characteristic of journalistic than academic prose. You see it particularly when a reporter feels a need to remind readers who the subject is, and why the subject is 'newsworthy'. –  StoneyB Nov 15 '12 at 11:45
    
@StoneyB: Yes, that too. –  Barrie England Nov 15 '12 at 11:47
    
This sounds kinda right, but I can't browse that book on Amazon, and I can't find the definition of "preface" elsewhere (I tried several books about English grammar on Questia). If there's nothing else online, I guess that I'll try to find it in a library. –  Amir E. Aharoni Nov 15 '12 at 13:00
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@tchrist. Topicalization seems to be what the LSGSWE refers to as fronting, but it is not quite the same thing as dislocation. Rather, it means ‘placing in initial position a clause element which is normally placed after the verb.’ An example might be ‘This I do not understand.’ Utterances such as Me, I’m ready or Him, he’s not getting any look like special cases of dislocation, where the definite noun phrase at the beginning also happens to be a pronoun. –  Barrie England Nov 15 '12 at 13:45

I believe KTR's answer is correct: the name of the construction is "apposition". I wanted to add some more notes on how it works (and I sort of like it actually...)

Author of Gitanjali and its "profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse", he became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.

Now here, the first noun phrase Author of Gitanjali and its "profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse" is sort of dangling, but it acts as an antecedent to he in the sentence's main clause. The antecedent, so constructed, acts to qualify the main phrase through explanation or amplification.

Read this kind of apposition as sitting between two extremes. On the one hand, you could have combined the two phrases using a conjunction and, which does not state or imply any causal connection:

  • He was the author of Gitanjali and its "profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse", and he became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.

On the other hand, you could explicitly state a causal relationship, implying that he won the Nobel because of his authorship of Gitanjali.

  • As the author of Gitanjali and its "profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse", he became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.

The appositive construction sits between these two poles; the antecedent clause "he was the author of..." is offered up as only a hint, or as supporting context for the main clause "he won a Nobel Prize...".

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