I would like to hear opinions about the use of parentheses around a word or part of a word to allow for more than one reading of a sentence.
I see this quite often in scientific English written by non-native researchers, mostly from Germanic Europe, although not exclusively.
(1) We argue that one should distinguish between ‘deontic’ and ‘directive’ uses of the(se) modals, (...)
(2) she has worked on various (un(der)described) languages
(3) the nature of deontic modality and its status relative to other qualificational (modal) categories
(4) All (inter)national students are welcome at this lecture about Belgium, where you will learn more about your (host) country.
The parentheses in these examples allow for multiple readings. For instance, example (2) has at least four possible felicitous readings and a fifth that is infelicitous:
- she has worked on various languages
- she has worked on various described languages
- she has worked on various undescribed languages
- she has worked on various underdescribed languages
- *she has worked on various der languages
I argue that even though this use of parentheses is convenient for the writer, it makes for fuzzy writing. The ideas may come as vague or ambiguous. Additionally, the reading experience is less smooth since the reader is tasked with putting together a set of possible interpretations of the sentence and with deciding which of them apply and which don't. Moreover, if this strategy is used more than once in one sentence (4), the reader must decide which of the possible interpretations of each instance combine together.
Pros and cons of this strategy:
- Allows for economic writing because the writer can say more with less words.
- Allows for the abbreviated expression of otherwise lengthy commonplace terms like intersubjectivity/subjectivity as (inter)subjectivity that may be repeated numerous times in one text.
The relationship between the different readings is unclear. Are they mutually exclusive? In other words, is it and or or?
The reader is tasked with deciding on the appropriate reading of the sentence. For example, should the sentence be read multiple times, one for each possible interpretation?
Parentheses may enclose clusters of letters that are meaningless, such as se and der.
Defeats the purpose of parentheses, which is to convey parenthetical information. The information enclosed in the parentheses in theses cases isn't parenthetical, but essential.