The Economist saves the best for last

A particularly shocking example of sentence end focus in a tweet from The Economist:

If you were wanting evidence that English readers actually do stress the end of a sentence, take a look at reaction to this tweet. Everyone reads it the same way: environment first, poor people second.

Seems clear readers would have been a lot happier if editors had flipped the sequence:

More poor people are eating meat around the world. That is bad news for the environment, but it means the poor will live longer, healthier lives.

And see:
Greetings from the West Bank
End focus, part 2
Greenbaum & Nelson on sentence end focus

End focus, part 2

The West Bank, which we spent 2 days visiting earlier this month, is divided into Areas A, B, & C. 

Area A’s are Palestinian. (There seemed to be lots of different places in each category, but I could be wrong.)

Area C ‘s are Israeli.

Area B’s are half and half, with Palestinian police and Israeli defense forces (as I recall).

Here’s the kicker: they all look alike. Completely alike. They look so much alike that at one point our guide told us he had no idea which kind of area we were driving through at that moment, an A, a B, or a C. Without signage, you can’t tell, and signage is sparse. 

Signage is sparse except when you’re approaching an Area A. Area A’s–all Area A’s, from what I could tell–greet visitors with a large red sign printed in Hebrew, Arabic, and English that reads, in its entirety:

The entrance for Israeli citizens is forbidden, is dangerous to your lives, & is forbidden by Israeli law

Our bus blew past a lot of these signs, and each time it did, I felt a disorienting combination of amusement and alarm. 

Alarm that we were entering an area that was dangerous to our lives;1 amusement that, apparently, in the eyes of the Palestinian Authority, breaking Israeli law would be a worse fate than possibly dying.

That’s sentence end-focus.

In the English sentence, the most important information comes at the end. So, to me, the sign says that breaking Israeli law is worse than risking my life. Which is ridiculous. I don’t know about you, but given a choice between dying and breaking Israeli law, I don’t have to think twice. 

Are sentences constructed differently in Arabic?

I’ve tried to research it a bit, but have found conflicting answers. 

1. I’m not an Israeli citizen, but we were traveling with three people who were.    

And see: Greetings from the West Bank

Save the best for last: sentence end focus

From Greenbaum and Nelson’s An Introduction to English Grammar (4th edition):

8.2 End-focus

It is normal to arrange the information in our message so that the most important information comes at the end. We follow this principle of end-focus when we put such information at the end of a sentence or clause. In contrast, the beginning of a sentence or clause typically contains information that is general knowledge, or is obvious from the context, or may be assumed as given because it has been mentioned earlier.

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