1

Please help me to understand the following. I have difficulty with the passage that appears between the two dashes.

Gutman argues convincingly that the stability of the Black family encouraged the transmission of—and so was crucial in sustaining—the Black heritage of folklore, music, and religious expression from one generation to another, a heritage that slaves were continually fashioning out of their African and American experiences.

PS: if I ignore the passage between the two dashes, I can understand the meaning of this paragraph.

  • Think of it as two separate sentences whose meanings have been captured in a single one. 1. "The stability ... encouraged the transmission of the Black heritage..." 2. "The stability ... was crucial in substaining the Black heritage ..." – Jim Jun 28 '15 at 3:29
  • Good explanation, @Jim! :) , exactly! – Soudabeh Jun 28 '15 at 3:54
  • Is "substain" even a word? Urban Dictionary gives it a rather meaningless definition, see substantial substainment and Yahoo! Answers says there is no such word. In this case, I think Yahoo! Answers is correct, and that the sentence might have a typo, and be "sustaining". – Ellie Kesselman Jun 28 '15 at 4:47
1

In this example, the phrase placed between the em dashes is supposed to be read in parallel with the phrase "encouraged the transmission of." The sentence structure enables the author to compress two sentences into one, and to indicate that the second follows from the first. (I belatedly noticed that, in a comment beneath the OP's question, Jim says much the same thing I say here.)

In effect, you have this:

Gutman argues convincingly that the stability of the Black family encouraged the transmission of the Black heritage of folklore, music, and religious expression from one generation to another, a heritage that slaves were continually fashioning out of their African and American experiences.

and

Gutman argues convincingly that the stability of the Black family was crucial in sustaining the Black heritage of folklore, music, and religious expression from one generation to another, a heritage that slaves were continually fashioning out of their African and American experiences.

Because the stability of the Black family had the effect identified in the first sentence (namely, it "encouraged the transmission of the Black heritage of folklore, music, and religious expression from one generation to another"), it follows that the stability of the Black family also had the related effect identified in the second sentence (namely, it "was crucial in sustaining the Black heritage of folklore, music, and religious expression from one generation to another"). The original sentence that you quote says the same thing that my two sentences do, but in far less space.

0

Part of the reason that the rest of the paragraph maintains its coherency is that this is a parenthetical aside (various punctuation marks are used for those). The information is possibly useful and fits the context but its' not the main point of the sentence and hence, may technically be ignored at the reader's careful discretion.

I was going to write another answer but something I almost missed that my spelling checker caught is that substain (W.M.O.) does not seem to be a standard English word. The actual word that was probably meant to be said is most likely sustaining. I believe the error is made because there's another similar word in the language, substantiating, which is the word I initially assumed was meant.

Normally I'd go into more detail but since I do not know exactly what word the writer actually meant to use myself, I feel that would be somewhat prejudiced of me to do. I suppose you can sort out which of the applicable meanings of those words makes the most sense to you.

The other tricky word, crucial (M.W.O.) is real and, simply means important/significant in this context which alongside the meaning of the word decisive is the more common meaning in modern use. However it's worth noting that traditionally it is a descriptor attributing the shape of a cross/crucifix.

Relevant dictionary entries linked are in Noah Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language; Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1913 or Merriam Webster Online (which is also used to demonstrate absence of evidence).

  • I found the quoted language in a Google Books book dedicated to GRE test preparation—and sustaining is spelled correctly there, so I corrected the OP's spelling. – Sven Yargs Jun 28 '15 at 7:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.