typically vs generally

Ben pan

Senior Member
chinese
Typically, the notion of ethnic enterprise may be useful or dangerous, depending on the context in which it is used.(Hollow promises? ed. by A. Rogers and M. Keith)


I wonder whether I can change the "typically" to be "generally". Is there some nuance between them?
 
  • JustKate

    Moderate Mod
    I think generally actually works a bit better here than typically. I can't say exactly why, but I just don't think typically works well with may be. It seems to me that either something is typical or it's not, and so while may be typical isn't impossible, it's pretty clumsy.
     

    gramman

    Senior Member
    Is that sentence from a published work? "Hollow promises?" I think you'd need to look at the context.

    "Typically" could be used here to mean that "the notion of ethnic enterprise" is one example of some larger number of concepts like it that can "be useful or dangerous, depending on the context in which [they're] used."
     

    Ben pan

    Senior Member
    chinese
    Is that sentence from a published work? "Hollow promises?" I think you'd need to look at the context.

    "Typically" could be used here to mean that "the notion of ethnic enterprise" is one example of some larger number of concepts like it that can "be useful or dangerous, depending on the context in which [they're] used."
    Yes, it was published. I noticed that you have changed "it may be" into "it can be", I think this will not make the sentence better, and might not be the original meaning of the author. Because I doubt that "can be A or B" implies an exhaution of possibilities, while "may be A be B" does not. The author perhaps thinks that it may be A (useful, calling up some kind of patriotism or Volksgeist, to promote this enterprise.), may be B(dangerous), may be C(neutral, cold description). In this sense, a concept can become a speech act.


    Surely, my guess is based on the principle of good faith in interpreting a text (every word the author uses is correct and meaningful). But if the author thinks so, he should have explained it explicitly somewhere in the text, because normally we will treat a concept either as being "useful" (useful in that it benefits our discussion, not action) or "misleading", there is no state in limbo.

    Sorry, this may be a wild imagiantion, please feel free to correct me!
     
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    gramman

    Senior Member
    Sorry, but I don't agree. I don't see a significant difference here between can and may. How is the idea that something can be useful or dangerous different from the idea that it may be so? There is a possibility.

    >>the author … should have explained it explicitly somewhere in the text

    I agree, but as I noted, that context isn't provided here. I can only guess at the author's meaning.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    'May' seems the better choice to me here, since the meaning is logical possibility, the interpretation of terms, rather than physical possibility or ability in action.

    However, the original sentence by itself offers no ground for the use of the word 'typically'. As others have said, the only hope of finding a justification for 'typically' depends on seeing the exact sentence or sentences preceding the word 'typically' in the original text.

    If we can be shown the preceding text, then we may be able to answer the original question.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Second thoughts: it seems likely to me on reflection that the author means:

    'As is typical for terms relating to ethnicity, the notion of ethnic enterprise may be useful or dangerous, depending on the context in which it is used'.

    In other words, 'It is usually true that if you use the word 'ethnic', it will be interpreted very differently in different contexts'.

    However, to be sure of the meaning, we still need to see the preceding sentence(s).
     
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    Curious_George

    New Member
    English
    People often use generally and typically interchangeably, but they don't mean the same thing. Typically means usually, while generally means in every case. General is the opposite of specific.

    For example, you could say that squares are generally rectangles. This is true because there is no specific case of a square that is not a rectangle. Every square is a rectangle by definition.

    You could say tennis balls are typically yellow. This is a good use of typically because tennis balls are usually yellow. However, generally wouldn't work here because tennis balls are not generally yellow. Not every tennis ball is yellow.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I am afraid I would disagree there. 'Typically' means 'characteristically': in the manner of a type or kind of something.
    To justify it, we need to show that something was done in a way that characterises a group or a kind.
    'Generally' may mean 'in a way that applies to the whole of a class'; more often, it means 'frequently, but not always'.
     
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