Currently, of course

Every morning, the CBC radio show The Current has an introductory gimmick. After the theme music, a man known only as The Voice (actually B-list Canadian actor Stevan Hart) delivers a formulaic teaser using the format “[the date]. X. Currently, [something related to X]. This is The Current,” where X is usually a topical current event, and the thing related to X is typically delivered as a punchline. Here are some recent examples, courtesy of cbc.ca:

It’s Tuesday October 28th.

State officials in Ohio are investigating allegations that law enforcement computers were used to gather information on John McCain supporter Joe the Plumber

Currently, Joe the Plumber says he will gladly investigate the leaks himself as soon as he finishes his book tour.

This is the Current.

It’s Monday, November 3rd.

Most North Americans turned their clocks back one hour on the weekend.

Currently, John McCain says that’s proof his campaign isn’t running out of time.

This is the Current.

It’s Wednesday, November 5th.

Americans made history last night in an election many hope will unify the country and repair some of its deepest and bloodiest divisions.

Currently, Joe Biden says he’s humbled and deeply honoured to be America’s first Catholic Vice President.

This is The Current.

I have nothing interesting to say about these examples. It does get interesting, though, when they include introductions like these:

It’s Monday October 27th.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recommendation that Bisophenal A — a plastic used in some baby bottles — is harmless, was based on a report by a group that counts chemical companies and plastic manufacturers as clients.

Currently, And it’s recommendation that eating ornate glass eggs is a good source of Omega 3 was actually written by Faberge.

This is the Current.

It’s Friday, October 31st.

President Bush called Philadelphia Phillies president David Montgomery yesterday to congratulate the Phillies on their World Series victory.

Currently, the Phillies immediately denied any ties to the Bush administration.

This is The Current.

It’s Tuesday, November 4th.

Residents of San Francisco are voting on a ballot initiative that would change the name of the local treatment facility to the “George W. Bush Sewage Plant.” The local chair of the Republican Party calls the idea “Loony bin direct democracy.”

Currently, Of course if the ballot passes, the loony bin will be the “Sarah L. Palin Centre for Interventions in Mental Health.”

This is The Current.

As you may have noticed, these examples have an unusual tendency to instantiate a grammatical incompatibility between the “currently” and the sentence that follows it. My brief survey of the last three or four weeks of The Current transcripts, represented by the above samples, indicates that there are four common forms that the modified sentence takes that lead to this disparity. By far the most common is a shift from the present to the past tense. Currently is a relatively marked introductory phrase in that it must modify a sentence in the present tense (note that other introductory adverbs like however, consequently, and nonetheless can modify sentences in any tense). Also common is a sentence beginning with a conjunction (“Currently, and Conservatives from coast-to-coast are once more rejoicing”). The third form is a sentence fragment or exclamation that would never take an adverbial modifier in normal English (“Currently, Silly protester”; “Currently … so he quit”). The fourth form, perhaps most confounding, is a redundant introductory phrase (“Currently, and so, in keeping with the spirit of the day…”).

While I would be interested to see an analysis of all of the show’s introductions since its inception, in order to determine if there is a trend toward these kinds of constructions, it definitely appears that the semantic value of the introductory phrase has eroded to the point where it serves only as part of a structural template rather than a meaningful component of the introduction. If this is symptomatic of a recent or gradual trend, that would indicate that perhaps the versatility of this template has underperformed based on the expectations of its creator.

The interesting thing to note is how obviously unnatural these constructions are. Arnold Zwicky at Language Log posted about similar template-constructions on Facebook, where newsfeed updates on the pages of people who have declined to provide sex information have sex-neutral pronouns inserted automatically into newsfeed templates, leading to sentences like

They is now looking for friendship, a relationship and networking.

Whereas Facebook’s transgressions are excusable on the grounds that they are produced by an automated computer system with no knowledge of correctness conditions in normal English, the introductions to The Current are presumably written by real people and are demonstrably read on air by a real voice actor. If they truly feel that they have reached the limits of this format’s facility, maybe it’s time to come up with a new format rather than broadcasting these grating errors every other morning.

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