On Thu, Jan 17, 2013 at 9:50 AM, Daniel Burgener
<[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> [---snip---]
> First off, I'm defining a sentence in English as some combination of
> English words fulfilling some set of syntax rules.  Whether the rules
> prohibit infinitely long sentences or not is a question for linguists, and
> I am not one.


I'm not a linguist either, but it seems to me that part of the
definition of a sentence is that it COMPLETES a thought. Isn't it a
requirement, then, that the sentence have an end? And aren't infinite
sentences forbidden by the rules of grammar? Is it "a sentence" before
it has a full stop? Once it has a full stop, can it be infinite?

Yes, you can use some generative rules to keep the process going as
long as you like, but, UNTIL YOU STOP, you don't have a "sentence",
and once you stop, you don't have an infinite sentence. Until you stop
you have a work in progress, a partial sentence in the process of
being built, but not a complete sentence. And the rules of grammar
require a sentence to be complete, and therefore finite, or it can't
be called a sentence.

The devil's advocate, of course, can say "start with the full stop on
the right and build the sentence leftward to infinity. Then it has an
end, but no beginning, and is still infinite." But that doesn't work
either, because to be a sentence you must be able, at least in
principle,  to speak it (or read it), and to speak it you must BEGIN
to speak it. And to begin to speak it, you must locate its beginning.
Thus it must have a beginning AND an end.

Speaking as an engineer, not as a mathematician, I would propose that
a practical upper limit on sentence length should be a sentence than
can be read and understood in a single 12-hour sitting. And don't
forget that a sentence that takes 6 hours to read will probably take
AT LEAST six MORE hours to disentangle and understand. At least!

More likely, a 3-hour sentence will take 9 hours to parse and
understand, so I'm tempted to say if the sentence cannot be read in 3
hours then it's not a useable English sentence. Given the average
adult (English) reading speed of 250 words per minute, 250 * 60 * 3 =
45,000 words. So the upper limit on a useable English sentence would
be 45,000 words. (Moby Dick in 5 sentences; Atlas Shrugged in 13
sentences; Fahrenheit 451 in slighty over one sentence)

That's an _upper_ limit on the practical limit, not the actual
practical limit, which is, I'm sure, considerably shorter.