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March 07, 2013


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I can sort of excuse that for its rhythmic structure. I can see why they did it.

But I agree wholeheartedly with your second point. Round my way, the local bus company operates a handful of allegedly 'eco-friendly' buses, and the slogan on the back invites us to 'do your bit for climate change' (by using this bus).

Interesting -- I take it as an ordinary ellipsis, and wouldn't have noticed it. In fact, my edit would shorten it to "The more of us who walk, the more survive." But I'll bet this construction has attracted some interesting commentary from real linguists -- I hope we hear some.

I don't like it, either, but your fix feels wrong, too. The first half ("The more of us who walk") has the wrong sort of structure to be the first half of one of those "The [comparative] ..., the comparative [...]" sentences. In any of the usual sorts of example, it seems to me, each of the two halves -- each of the two instances of "the [comparative] ..." has a verb and its subject. Not squirreled away inside a subordinate clause like "who walk" but right there in the main clause. There _is_ a main clause in the usual kinds of example.

I'd be grammatically content with "The more of us walk, the more of us survive".

By the way, I wonder about the history of the use of the apparent definite article "the" to kick off each of the two halves of a sentence of this peculiar pattern. I know that in German there is a similar pattern "Je [comparative ..., desto [comparative ...". Is it possible that once upon a time this pattern in English used a whole nother word or words instead of "the"?

I completely share your desire to edit. Slogans like that one bring out the curmudgeon in me.

I wrote my dissertation about these constructions in English, and it turns out that the 'the's are original to the construction, but they are derived differently from the definite article. They come from the locative and instrumental forms of Old English 'seo' rather than the nominative form (which is what the definite article comes from). Thus, these 'the's are relative and demonstrative pronouns, respectively (found historically also in constructions like 'what big eyes you have! The better to see you with, my dear.' Many people (including some of you) show a clear preference for parallelism between the internal structure of the two clauses, especially when the subjects are the same across clauses, but they are also grammatical without that parallelism. There is also an interesting variety of judgments with respect to the presence or absence of another relative pronoun (where appropriate). In some cases, it helps to distinguish between readings, which is presumably why it was added here to specify that it is more *people* and not more total *walking* that is correlated with a higher survival rate, but many times we find 'that' used as the only pronoun regardless of animacy, etc. in these constructions. Thanks for bringing attention to an interesting example!

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