Longest English sentence

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There have been several claims for the longest sentence in the English language, usually with claims that revolve around the longest printed sentence, because there is no limit on the possible length of a written English sentence.

At least one linguistics textbook concludes that, in theory, "there is no longest English sentence."[1] A sentence can be made arbitrarily long by successive iterations, such as Someone thinks that someone thinks that someone thinks that...,[2] or by combining shorter clauses in various ways.

For example, sentences can be extended by recursively embedding clauses one into another, such as [3][4]

The mouse ran away
The mouse that the cat bit ran away
...
The mouse that the cat that the dog that the man frightened chased bit ran away

The ability to embed structures within larger ones is called recursion.[5] This also highlights the difference between linguistic performance and linguistic competence, because the language can support more variation than can reasonably be created or recorded.[2]

Exceptionally long sentences in print

One of the longest sentences in literature is contained in William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! (1936). The sentence is composed of 1,288 words (In the 1951 Random House version).[6]

Another sentence that is often claimed to be the longest sentence ever written is Molly Bloom's soliloquy in the James Joyce novel Ulysses (1922), which contains a sentence of 3,687 words.[6] However, this sentence is simply many sentences without punctuation.

Jonathan Coe's The Rotters' Club appears to hold the record at 13,955 words.[6] It was inspired by Bohumil Hrabal's Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age: a Czech language novel written in one long sentence.

See also

References

  1. ^ Steven E. Weisler; Slavoljub P. Milekic; Slavko Milekic (2000). Theory of Language. MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-73125-8. 
  2. ^ a b Stephen Crain; Diane Lillo-Martin (1999). An Introduction to Linguistic Theory and Language Acquisition. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-19536-X. 
  3. ^ Morten H Christiansen, Nick Chater, Toward a Connectionist Model of Recursion in Human Linguistic Performance, Cognitive Science, vol. 23, issue 2, 1999, doi:10.1207/s15516709cog2302_2
  4. ^ Thomas R. Shultz (2003). Computational Developmental Psychology. p. 236. 
  5. ^ Carnie, Andrew (2013). Syntax: A Generative Introduction (third ed.). Singapore: Wiley-Blackwell. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-470-65531-3. 
  6. ^ a b c Jones, Rebecca (3 October 2014). "Longest Sentence". Today. BBC. Retrieved 12 February 2015. 
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