Sunday, March 16, 2008

Punctuating Nuremberg

Norm, delightfully, gives an example of when the difference between a comma and a semicolon was a matter of life and death:

Article 6 (c) of the Nuremberg Charter, signed by the Allied Powers in August 1945, defined the offence of crimes against humanity in these terms:

CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY: namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.

Initially, the English and French versions of this paragraph had a semicolon after the word 'war', where the Russian version had a comma. By means of a special protocol to the original document, this was changed to bring the English and French versions into line with the Russian one. The point of the change was to make clear that the phrase 'in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal' should be taken as modifying not only 'persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds', but also the acts enumerated before the piece of punctuation in question.

The change from comma to semicolon makes sense. But I don’t think it was enough to make this clear: the version with the semicolon would clearly have suggested that “in execution of…” applied only to “persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds”. But the version with the comma instead is at best ambiguous; I’d say it even favours that very same interpretation.

What was needed was another comma, after “grounds”. That would have clearly marked “persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds” as the second item in a two-item list; as it stands, that phrase attaches too seamlessly to “in execution of…”.

(At last, I have an answer to the question ‘what did you do in the war?’ ‘Well, I waited 31 and a bit years to be born, and then I waited another 31 and a bit years to read a blog post, and then I spotted a way of making clearer one of the laws used for trying the Nazis.’ My grandchildren will glow with pride…)

1 comment:

m said...

If you remember, where you taught how to read with the phonics method?

If so, do you feel it’s impacted any other skills? Spelling, musical ability, or appreciation of literature?

I tried searching for a relevant entry to ask you, but I couldn't find one and I am curious (although I suspect you were taught with phonics).

Sorry for the abrupt, personal question, I don't expect you to answer; but if you're willing to answer, it'd be nice to know.

Congrats on your war achievement btw, does this mean you're going to sit your grandchildren down and show them pictures of your parents, ultrasounds, school pictures, followed by a slew of printed blog entries? Or perhaps just give them a URL with the pertinent information and send them on their way? How modern!

(Although, you must include some photos of your cat(s) on that webpage, to be in the charming grandparent way)