, when they became aggressive ...

< Previous | Next >

novice_81

Senior Member
German
Hi

Before we’ve seen examples of peoples who were once peaceful but became war-like and socially oppressive as a result of cultural disruption. This is what happened to the Plains Indians, the Nguni (who became the Zulus), the !Kung and perhaps also the Jivaro and Yanamomo of South America. This isn’t just a human phenomenon either - it also happened to the chimpanzees at Gombe in Tanzania, who were peaceful and egalitarian until their feeding patterns (and later their actual habitat) were disrupted by human beings, when they became aggressive, hierarchical and ridden
with social disorders (such as rape and cruelty to children).

--- Does this part "became aggressive, hierarchical and ridden with social disorders (such as rape and cruelty to children)" refer to people or chimpanzees?
 
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Chimpanzees, but why? If it referred to the humans it would be more natural to carry on smoothly without a comma: 'humans when they'. The comma, properly placed, tells the reader to pause and not make the immediate linkage: so the when-phrase must be attached to something further back. (The behaviour mentioned, alas, is insufficient context to distinguish humans from chimpanzees.)

    But this is a counsel of perfection. People often punctuate wildly, like chimpanzees, and it's too much to hope that all commas correctly reflect logic or grammar or pronunciation.
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    I never thought I'd have an opinion contrary to entangledbank's, but... :)

    If you leave out the comma, you end up with this (minus the extraneous words I left out)...
    ... it also happened to the chimpanzees, who were peaceful and egalitarian until their feeding patterns were disrupted by human beings when they became aggressive....

    Without that comma after "human beings," this can be read that the humans disrupted the feeding patterns of the chimpanzees when the chimpanzees became aggressive. (Perhaps in an attempt to change their behavior?)

    What is being said, however, is this:
    ... it also happened to the chimpanzees, who were peaceful and egalitarian until their feeding patterns were disrupted by human beings, [at which time] they became aggressive....
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Oh, I agree, that's another possible reading - possibly one of many. All I was saying was if the humans became aggressive it would be clearer to leave out the comma.

    But you bring up an interesting ambiguity in 'when': it can means "whereupon, straight after which" or "if, whenever". There seems to be a corresponding structural difference too. In one the when-phrase is inside the earlier verb phrase:

    Their feeding patterns were [disrupted when they became aggressive].

    In the other it's attached to the whole clause:

    [Their feeding patterns were disrupted], when they became aggressive.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top