A Conversation With An Expert On English Language
By J. Neil Schulman, July 17, 1991
I just had a conversation with Mr. A. C. Brocki, Editorial Coordinator for the Office of Instruction of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Mr. Brocki taught Advanced Placement English for several years at Van Nuys High School, as well as having been a senior editor for Houghton Mifflin. I was referred to Mr. Brocki by Sherryl Broyles of the office of Instuction of the L.A. Unified School District, who described Mr. Brocki as the foremost expert in grammar in the Los Angeles Unified School District--the person she and others go to when they need a definitive answer on English grammar.
I gave Mr. Brocki my name, told him Sherryl Broyles referred me, then asked him to parse the following sentence: "A well-schooled electorate, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and read Books, shall not be infringed." Mr. Brocki informed me that the sentence was over punctuated, but that the meaning could be extracted anyway.
"A well-schooled electorate" is a nominative absolute.
"being necessary to the security of a free State" is a participial phrase modifying "electorate".
The subject (a compound subject) of the sentence is "the right of the people".
"shall not be infringed" is a verb phrase, with "not" as an adverb modifying the verb phrase "shall be infringed".
"to keep and read books" is an infinitive phrase modifying "right".
I then asked him if he could rephrase the sentence to make it clearer. Mr. Brocki said, "Because a well-schooled electorate is necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and read books shall not be infringed."
I asked: "Can the sentence be interpreted to restrict the right to keep and read books to a well-schooled electorate--say, registered voters with a high-school diploma?" He said, "No."
I then identified my purpose in calling him, and read him the Second Amendment in full: "A well-regulated Militia, being necesasary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." He said he thought the [original] sentence had sounded familiar, but that he hadn't recognized it.
I asked, "Is the structure and the meaning of this sentence the same as the sentence I first quoted you?" He said, "yes." I asked him to rephrase this sentence to make it clearer. He transformed it the same way as the first sentence: "Because a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
I asked him whether this sentence could be interpreted to restrict the right to keep and bear arms to "a well-regulated militia." He said "no." According to Mr. Brocki, the sentence means that the people are the militia, and that the people have the right which is mentioned.
I asked him again to make sure:
Schulman: "Can the sentence be interpreted to mean that the right can be restricted to a well regulated militia?"
Brocki: "No, I can't see that."
Schulman: "Could another, professional in English grammar or linguistics interpret the sentence to mean otherwise?"
Brocki: "I can't see any grounds for another interpretation."