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Re: Non native English speaker is checking whether a phrasing should be filed a minor bug report.

On Tue, Nov 30, 2010 at 06:51 -0700, Paul E Condon wrote:
> On 20101130_124754, Nuno Magalhães wrote:

> > > If the logfile is not accessible,
> > >        the messages will be kept in memory until it is.

> I am a native speaker of US English. I think the rules that I learned
> many years ago for the proper use of the word "it" are mostly violated
> by US native speakers of English. I was taught that "it" refers to
> the most recent prior noun.

That rule is a crude generalisation of how the antecedent of an anaphora
should be determined. It tries to capture *one* important aspect of
that process, namely recency, but misses other important ones like
congruence and the semantics of sentences. Consider, for example, the
following sentences:

 i.   Cookies are eaten by a lot of people, because they are tasty. 
 ii.  Takeshi parked his car in the garage after driving it around ...
 iii. Mary and Noam went to the pub, because she needed a dram.

The first two sentences exemplify the role of semantic constraints on
the antecedent. It should be obvious that "they" in i. refers to
"Cookies" and not to "people" because cookies are more likely to be
considered to be "tasty" than people. In ii. only a small minority of
people would consider "the garage" to be the antecedent of "it", because
in general "garages" can not be driven around.

The third sentence exemplifies gender agreement between the anaphora
"she" and the most likely antecedent "Mary" and clearly violates the
rule you have been taught in school.

> In this case the most recent prior noun is "memory". So if the rule
> that I learned in school is applied, the sentence makes no sense. 

You should note that "messages" is unlikely to be referred to by "it"
because this would mean that the anaphoric expression (i.e. "it") and
the antecedent do *not* agree in number. (singular vs plural)

> I think computer documentation, when written in English, should avoid
> the use of pronouns, as is suggested above. 

I do not think that the quoted sentence is ambiguous and would rather
consider it to be a fine example of a very concise and elegant
statement. YMMV :)
  .''`.     Wolodja Wentland    <wolodja.wentland@ed.ac.uk> 
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