ETHNIC JOKES OF DAGESTAN.

John Emerson sent me a link to a NY Times article by Ellen Barry about the complex relationships among the peoples of Dagestan, one of the most ethnically diverse places on earth. Barry starts out with Magomedkhan M. Magomedkhanov, an ethnographer from Dagestan (sadly, the M. stands not for Magomedkhanovich but for Magomedovich):

He grew up among the Archi, a 1,200-member ethnic group that speaks a language of unknown origin and, for at least seven centuries, was connected to the outside world only by rugged mountain paths. This is fairly typical of Dagestan, a collection of 14 major and several dozen minor ethnic groups that formed in tide pools and cul-de-sacs off one of humankind’s great migration streams.
All this has proven exceptionally fertile ground for ethnic humor. Dagestanis can tell ethnic jokes for hours, returning to beloved themes like the muscle-bound denseness of the Avars, the naked commercialism of the Dargins, the bookish pusillanimity of the Lezgins, the slyness of Lakhs and so on. And that’s not counting jokes about especially dumb villages.
One example: An Avar is carrying a wounded Dargin off the battlefield. The Dargin entreats his friend to leave him behind, lest they both be killed, and asks the one favor of shooting him so he does not suffer. The Avar, finally convinced, pulls out his firearm but finds he has no ammunition. The Dargin roots in his pockets and pulls out a bullet. “I’ll sell it to you,” he says.

I’m sure the “beloved themes” represent stereotypes as superficial and unhelpful as all such, but I’m grateful to have even superficial stereotypes to go with what to me have always been mere names (Avar, Dargin, etc.). And the jokes are pretty funny. There’s some interesting historical material, too, but I’m not sure I trust the Times for that kind of thing.

Comments

  1. Could you help me parse the title of that article ?

    In Dagestan, Laugh Track Echoes Across Mountains

    It appears to be written in yet another “language of unknown origin”, though it has some resemblance with English.

  2. More specifically, on the assumption that “track” is a noun: what does it mean to say that a track echoes ?

  3. Laugh track is a noun.
    My question is: don’t echoes bounce back from mountains rather than crossing them?

  4. Ah, verstehe. A tape recording of people laughing at some time in the past is played. Then

    the hills are alive
    to the sound of laugh track

    Maybe those people are all dead by now, like the jokes.
    I think “echoes” is meant to be understood as “ricochets”.

  5. Der Dagestani auf dem Felsen:
    Wenn auf dem höchsten Fels ich steh’
    Ins tiefe Thal hernieder seh’
    und singe, und singe,
    Fern auf dem tiefen, dunkeln Thal,
    Schwingt sich empor der Widerhall, ,
    der Widerhall des laugh track.

  6. I love to go a-wandering,
    Along the mountain track,
    And as I go, I love to sing,
    My knapsack on my back.
    Chorus:
    Val-deri,Val-dera,
    Val-deri,
    Val-dera-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha

  7. Der Dagestani auf dem Felsen
    Schuber-toobi-doo !

  8. Hat, you should be ashamed of me. I have lowered the tone of so many of your blogs by leading off with a sardonic comment.
    “To be ashamed for someone else, because they won’t” is the new German Unwort: sich fremdschämen that turned up in the press last year. Unwort itself is a neat, standard expression meaning “a word or expression that is the pits”.

  9. “To be ashamed for someone else, because they won’t”
    I expressed that badly. It should be “to be ashamed for someone else, because they are not ashamed of themselves but should be. Somebody should be feeling bad around here, so let me contribute”. There is a useful distinction in English between “to be ashamed” and “to be ashamed for someone”. There is the very same distinction in German: sich schämen and sich schämen für jemand[en]. So there is no need for “sich fremdschämen“, it’s just a stoopid Unwort.
    It seems to me that “I am ashamed of him” can mean either of two things:
    1) I am ashamed of myself, because I am involved with him and must bear some of the blame for his behavior
    2) I am ashamed for him, even though I am not involved in his shameful behavior
    Does this claim reflect actual practice in the US of A, or the G of B ?
    Perhaps I can link up again with the intended subject of this blog by laughing myself to shame. That the very rafters shake with laughtrackter.

  10. Dagestan gave Russia one of her best loved poets Rasul Gamzatov, who wrote in Avar. His poem Cranes, inspired by a visit to Hiroshima, was turned into a song in 1969 which became very popular as a tribute to fallen soldiers. There probably isn’t a Russian who hasn’t heard it.
    But Gamzatov, a gregarious character, stereotypical jolly Caucasian, was also known for his jokes, many about himself. When Gorbachev started his anti-alcohol campaign, Gamzatov reacted, ‘We’ll have to hide it inside ourselves now’. After the Chechen war trouble has been brewing in Dagestan too, Gamzatov told local nationalists: ‘Dagestan had never voluntarily joined Russia, it will never voluntarily secede’. Someone phones Gamzatov who is dining with friends. He is told: ‘Please call back in an hour, Rasul has just began a toast’.

  11. Thanks, Sashura, those are better than the jokes in the article, and I’m glad to know about Gamzatov.

  12. There is a useful distinction in English between “to be ashamed” and “to be ashamed for someone” [...].
    It seems to me that “I am ashamed of him” can mean either of two things:[...]
    Stu, you switched prepositions on us there.
    In my experience one can say “ashamed of myself” or “ashamed of him” or “ashamed for him”. The last two could be used interchangeably, I suppose, but they work pretty well to make your distinction between
    1. when his bad behavior reflects on me somehow
    2. when I’m really just saying he should be ashamed.
    Exercise: Substitute “proud/pride/good/credit” for “ashamed/shame/bad/blame”.

  13. The Empire That Was Russia: The Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record Recreated
    http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/empire/

  14. “stereotypes as superficial and unhelpful as all such”: goodness me, what’s your evidence for that?

  15. Robert Berger says:

    Do the other Daghestanis think the Avars are guilty of avarice?

  16. goodness me, what’s your evidence for that?
    My experience.

  17. Do the other Daghestanis think the Avars are guilty of avarice?
    The Avars are dense; it’s the Dargins who are avaricious. Try to keep up—there will be a quiz!

  18. Grumbly, what’s your favorite Frisian joke?
    “stereotypes as superficial and unhelpful as all such”:
    Stereotypes are the basis of language.
    Stereotypes are generally true of groups and rarely true of the members of that group, or true enough for unrelated outsiders to develop the same stereotypes. For instance Cantonese are/used to be considered devious and sly in California and in Northern China, and it’s not like the Californians and Northerners got together to get their stories straight. Same for the English, supposedly both the Dutch and the Iroquois thought they were especially rough on their children. And that does happen to be an enduring stereotype of the English.

  19. Bill Walderman says:

    I think I mentioned this once before. In 2003 during a ride from Back Bay in Boston to Cambridge, I had a brief conversation with a cabdriver who told me he was from Daghestan and a native speaker of Lakh. I had read of the language in Bernard Comrie’s book, Languages of the USSR, and I was delighted to meet a native speaker (even though I refrained from asking him to “say something in Lakh”). He was a veteran of the Soviet Afghan War and he had settled in the Boston area with his Polish wife.

  20. to be ashamed for someone else
    Does this claim reflect actual practice in the US of A

    This is unlikely to gain any traction in the U.S., since it clashes with the self-help memes that America abounds in. It would probably be considered to be taking responsibility for things one has no control over, and as such would be an example of “unhealthy boundaries” and “dysfunctional behaviors”.
    echo
    Odd that someone from the flat state of Texas would seize on the mountain “reflection of sounds waves” definition of echo while neglecting the “imitation” or “repetition” definitions.

  21. John Emerson says:

    Californians thought all Chinese were devious and sly, and most of the Chinese they knew were Cantonese.
    When people get started on that kind of thing, they barely discriminate Japanese from Chinese.

  22. Robert Berger says:

    You can hear spoken Avar and other Caucasian languages at globalrecordings.net, which has native speakers reading Bible excerpts in hundreds of different languages from every corner of the globe.
    Chechen sounded truly weird to me; rather like a tape of some one speaking a language running backwards,with odd hiccoughing sounds.
    You should read the fascinating book “The Sabres Of Paradise” by Lesley Blanch, which recounts the story of the fierce battles between the Chechens and the Dagestani tribes in the 19th cnetury and the life of the revered Imam Shamyl, a Avar, who lead the mountain tribes in a heroic struggle against Russian occupation.It’s available at amazon.com.
    By the way, the Avars call themselves Ma’Arul, and you can hear this language at globalrecordings. Another long extinct language is also called Avar, but it was a Turkic language.

  23. John is ashamed of Jack. – suggests, as does “John is embarrassed by Jack.”, that John has or takes emotionally some responsibility for Jack’s (mis)behavior – John is “ashamed of” his contribution to Jack’s “shameful” act or state of being (which latter having been indicated by some behavior).
    John is ashamed for Jack. – suggests, as does “John is embarrassed for Jack.”, that John isn’t causally connected to – or at least takes no responsibility for – Jack’s (mis)behavior, but feels that, were he responsible for what Jack’s done, he would be “ashamed”.
    -
    John could easily be “ashamed for” Jack in addition to Jack being “ashamed of” himself. If this case, they’d both feel “shame” – Jack directly, by virtue of feeling responsible for a “shameful” act or state of being, and John indirectly, by virtue of empathetically taking Jack’s position.

  24. Stereotypes are generally true of groups and rarely true of the members of that group
    I don’t know about the first part, but the second part is what I meant by “unhelpful.” I trust we can all agree that “superficial” is accurate.

  25. Stereotypes are generally true of groups and rarely true of the members of th[ose] group[s]
    Stereotypes of groups as groups are “generally true of groups“, but if and only if those stereotypes are generally accurate about groups as members of the ‘group of groups’.
    If a stereotype is generally accurate within a group, then that stereotype can’t be only rarely true of the members of that group.

    Perhaps what was meant:
    Accurate stereotypes are generally true of the members of the groups to which they’re applied – a tautology -, but rarely true of all the members of those groups.

  26. Cross-posted, language hat.
    I think the more coarsely grained a stereotype is, the less likely it is to be accurate, so the more “unhelpful” it’ll be – the more “superficial” in the sense of being only a (quickly irrelevant, because inaccurate) sense of the ‘surface’ of some group or community. “Superficial” in the sense of being remote from the core or essence – of, say, a group or community — unhelpfully remote.
    Also, “superficial” (and “unhelpful”) in the cases where the impression privileged by the adoption of some particular stereotype is contradicted by the reality impressed on one by numerous members of the group lensed by that stereotype – so that when the stereotype is applied at the fineness of grain of individual members of its ‘target’ group, frequently that stereotype becomes detached from its group altogether.

  27. However, having taken a brave, lonely stand against “stereotyping”, I do find cruel identity-based humor sometimes hilarious, making me a stereotypical, albeit rare, hypocrite.

  28. marie-lucie says:

    … more coarsely grained … the fineness of grain …
    Is “graininess” the buzzword in criticism now? I don’t often read literary criticism (if that is where that comes from), and I first heard “granularity” last summer at a linguistics conference, without understanding it at first. I think I see what deadgod means, roughly, but I wonder how widespread the concept is, and in what circles.

  29. Accurate stereotypes
    Isn’t that an oxymoron? How do you measure the accuracy of ethnic stereotypes? Once you try to do it, controlling for all the variables like social class, geography, age, the differences usually evaporate. Some stereotypes may be based on something historical, for instance, a group that turns to trade because other groups have religious prohibitions against usury/charging interest may find themselves with a reputation for avariciousness just because they are the only ones trading. Other times you may find your favorite stereotype is merely confirmation bias, or even worse, self-fulfilling prophecy, which is patently unfair to anyone, especially children, who are still trying to sort out who they are and haven’t yet figured out all the adult games.

  30. … more coarsely grained …
    Maybe he was reading my latest “Welsh rarebit” post which describes this evening’s unfortunate attempt to make the aforementioned cheese concoction and pour it over “grainy bread” with “course-ground pepper”, based on a thread I read here last summer. I think I’ve got it totally wrong.

  31. Nijma, you may have got it a bit wrong, if you used “‘course-ground pepper’” from the wrong class of hippodrome.

  32. marie-lucie, I don’t know much about “buzzword[s] in criticism now”. I think most of the words that would be called ‘buzzwords’ in literary criticism are, by the time they’re that, already like the skins of trampled Chardonnay grapes.
    ‘Coarseness of grain’ is a metaphor – I think: a useful metaphor for distinguishing what’s similar (in general) and what’s different (case by case) in a group of some kind of particle. In other words, not a literary-critical metaphor (here) so much as a logic or set-theoretical metaphor.
    Similarly, the jargon of genetics, and of evolutionary biology in general, provide a metaphorical way for historical linguists and comparative philologists to talk about how languages change – how they ‘evolve’ and ‘are related to’ each other -, which metaphors don’t retard or occlude, but rather enable both thought and communication. At least, that’s my amateur understanding.

  33. Isn’t [accurate stereotype] an oxymoron?
    Maybe, Nijma – can you demonstrate that the phrase refers to no actual stereotypes?
    It’s hard to think of an ethnic or sexual stereotype which isn’t contradicted by many counter-examples in one’s experience – hence, the bandying of unhelpful and superficial in the discussion.
    But how about this stereotype:
    Women are irritated by presumptuous men.
    Even given a few counter-examples in one’s experience, is that an “accurate stereotype”? militating against the all-inclusive sense of “oxymoron”?

  34. The wrong class of…circus? Huh?
    A stereotype is by definition an exaggeration, a caricature. I think some people are confusing it with “generalization” or “assertion”. Here’s the wiki. Stereotypes seem to crop up in places where there is competition for scarce resources.

  35. Ok, I’ll bite.
    -
    Here’s the “wiki” for “Stereotype”: “Stereotypes are standardized and simplified conceptions of groups[.]”
    “Exaggeration” and “caricature” might, in some cases, be “standardized and simplified conceptions”, but how is a “standardized and simplified conception” ever different from a ‘generalization’?
    -
    Huh?
    Some people seem to be confusing a “hippodrome” with a “circus” – of coarse, a course substitution of a general, Roman, circular venue for entertainment for a specific, Greek, circular race track for unrefined glue modules.

  36. But, equally,

    Presumptuous men are irritated by women

    I wouldn’t call that a stereotype, but rather an understandable disposition.

  37. I do find cruel identity-based humor sometimes hilarious, making me a stereotypical, albeit rare, hypocrite.
    Oh, I don’t think it’s so rare. I’m the same way.

  38. Napoleon was born Corse. Much later he was generalized.

  39. marie-lucie says:

    deadgod: ‘Coarseness of grain’ is a metaphor – I think: a useful metaphor for distinguishing what’s similar (in general) and what’s different (case by case) in a group of some kind of particle. In other words, not a literary-critical metaphor (here) so much as a logic or set-theoretical metaphor.
    A metaphor uses a concrete, often visual expression, in order to clarify an abstract meaning. In this case, “grain” and its derivatives bring to my mind a substance such as concrete or stone or even wood, but I am not sure what it means to refer to a coarsely grained stereotype or the fineness of grain of individual members of its ‘target’ group. Seen from far, a piece of concrete or a rough stone may look even, but seen more closely, the “rough grain” of the material becomes visible. Here, the stereotyped group taken as a whole seems be the one with the “rough grain”, while each individual is seen in the “fine grain”. This seems to be the opposite of what the image suggests to me.
    And I don’t remember what the context was in the linguistic presentation where I heard the word granularity.

  40. marie-lucie says:

    deadgod: Similarly, the jargon of genetics, and of evolutionary biology in general, provide a metaphorical way for historical linguists and comparative philologists to talk about how languages change – how they ‘evolve’ and ‘are related to’ each other …
    In this case, the historical link is just the opposite: Darwin used a metaphor already used by historical linguists in order to describe what probably happened in biology. The mid-nineteenth century was a period of great activity and creativity in linguistics (especially but not exclusively in Indo-European studies) and scholars and scientists in other disciplines kept an interested eye on it.

  41. ‘Coarseness of grain’ is a metaphor – I think: a useful metaphor for distinguishing what’s similar (in general) and what’s different (case by case) in a group of some kind of particle
    I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered “coarse-grained” used in that way. For instance, when one compares a coarse-grained piece of wood with a fine-grained one, one is not comparing anything general with anything specific. One sees the grain in each case, without any need to generalize. It might, however, be regarded as comparing the general with the general, or the specific with the specific.
    The WiPe on granularity gives a clear explanation:

    Granularity is the extent to which a system is broken down into small parts, either the system itself or its description or observation. It is the “extent to which a larger entity is subdivided. For example, a yard broken into inches has finer granularity than a yard broken into feet.”
    Coarse-grained systems consist of fewer, larger components than fine-grained systems; a coarse-grained description of a system regards large subcomponents while a fine-grained description regards smaller components of which the larger ones are composed.
    The terms granularity, coarse and fine are relative, used when comparing systems or descriptions of systems. An example of increasingly fine granularity: a list of nations in the United Nations, a list of all states/provinces in those nations, a list of all counties in those states, etc.
    The terms “fine” and “coarse” are used consistently across fields, but the term “granularity” itself is not. For example, in investing, “more granularity” refers to more positions of smaller size, while photographic film that is “more granular” has fewer and larger chemical “grains”.

    If one holds one of those philosophical views which claim, in one way or another, that a universal is merely an (imaginary) sack of particulars, then it might make sense to say that one better sees the general (universal) when one ignores the specific (particulars). As it were: you see the woods when you ignore the trees, and the beach when you don’t stare at the grains of sand. Nevertheless, I regard such experiences as more analogous to (graphics) resolution and focus.

  42. It appears that coarse-grained vs fine-grained and granular are buzzwords, not so much in lit crit as in computing and mathematical modeling.
    I think it’s a matter of whether you’re using detailed information (fine) or just overall information (coarse). Fine is more info than coarse, therefore in some sense always preferable, but the downside is either loss of speed or failing to see the big picture (forest for trees).
    To examine marie-lucie’s confusion:
    Consider something made of lots of little bits. The bits are there; the question is whether we see them. One way of talking: If we look microscopically, then the thing looks coarse because the bits look so big. Other way of talking: If we look microscopically, we are examining the fine structure of the thing.
    That is, if you want to see only the phenomena that some people like to call “coarse”, i.e. the large-scale stuff, then you have to sort of blur your vision, which makes things look more smooth, less grainy, less coarse.
    By the way, there is something called coarse geometry these days. It is a kind of geometry in which small-scale stuff does not matter.
    Back to buzzwords: From the WiPe article linked above:
    At a September 2006 White House press briefing, presidential press secretary Tony Snow responded to a question about an asserted link that had existed between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Snow said that Bush indicated there was “no operational relationship” between Zarqawi and Saddam but added, “we just don’t have that kind of granularity in terms of the relationship. And, therefore, we’re not going to outrun the facts.”

  43. A forest is not a generalized tree. A beach is not a generalized grain of sand.

  44. And Napoléon may have been Corse, but he was not vulgar.

  45. Trond Engen says:

    Accurate stereotypes
    Isn’t that an oxymoron?
    Oxymoron n. male stupid cow

  46. I wonder why wood grain is called grain.
    The expression “cross-grained” keeps coming to mind, but that has nothing to do with what we are discussing. For example, Stu is often cross-grained and he is occasionally coarse, but I see these as two unrelated parts of his persona. Maybe I shouldn’t say “parts”, though, lest he get the idea that I see him as merely an (imaginary) sack of particulars.

  47. John Emerson says:

    A castrated male stupid cow.

  48. Stu is often cross-grained and he is occasionally coarse, but I see these as two unrelated parts of his persona
    What a depressing thought. I had been hoping that if I could correct the one fault, the other would automatically be fixed as well.

  49. if I could correct the
    No, no. Don’t change a hair for us, not if you care for us.

  50. marie-lucie says:

    Thank you, Grumbly and Ø, but I still find these terms ambiguous:
    One way of talking: If we look microscopically, then the thing looks coarse because the bits look so big. Other way of talking: If we look microscopically, we are examining the fine structure of the thing.
    But if you run into the words coarse or fine, especially if used metaphorically, how do you know for sure which perspective the author is adopting? And the metaphor requires that whatever thing or concept you are examining can be understood as composed of “grains”. Surely this is not a metaphor that can be extended indefinitely.

  51. marie-lucie, I don’t necessarily think of “grain” in the sense of grain d’orge, say. There is also the grain in wood. You can cut across that grain (scier en biais ?), which is cutting obliquely. I think one can also say “cut against the grain of the wood” with the same sense, but I’m not sure.
    “Against the grain” more generally is à rebours or à rebrousse-poil, no ? One can brush a horse with the grain, or against the grain. That does sound strange to me nowadays: the German is mit dem Strich and gegen den Strich, “with/against the flow” of hair, and also “with/against the flow” in a metaphorical sense.
    None of that has anything to do with coarse/fine, general/specific. But learning how to think about what you “see” through a microscope is a tricky, interesting business. Empty put it neatly:

    One way of talking: If we look microscopically, then the thing looks coarse because the bits look so big. Other way of talking: If we look microscopically, we are examining the fine structure of the thing.

    The difference between these two viewpoints lies in the mental frame of reference to which you are implicitly referring yourself. Looking through a microscope, you “see” what appears to be something big and coarse at the other end of a tube – if your frame of reference is “I’m looking through a tube”. But if your reference frame is “I’m looking at very small things through a tube with lenses that magnify what I’m seeing”, then you “see” what appears to be – what you are thinking of as – fine structure.

  52. Infelicity alarm ! That should be
    … the mental frame of reference which you are implicitly using.

  53. I find them ambiguous, too, m-l, thanks in large part to you. I seem to have learned something from WiPe about how the terms are used in technical or buzzword senses. There the people in the field(s) have made their choice and stuck to it, so that for them it is not ambiguous. Maybe it’s no longer a metaphor for them, so that they have no need to imagine that their subject matter is composed of grains. On the other hand, if their subject matter is data, or large collections of molecules, then it is natural to think that way.
    I think I managed to understand deadgod’s use of the words correctly from context, but I was a little puzzled. Let’s ask her (him? I don’t want to pry, but I don’t want to be avoiding singular pronouns either) whether that was absolutely fresh metaphor that she served us, or whether she picked it up on the road somewhere.

  54. My current view is: as food for thought, neither form has any nutrients in it. The metaphor seems to have been frenetically engineered.

  55. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly, the mental frame of reference which you are implicitly using has to be defined if the reader unfamiliar with your terminology is to understand the metaphor correctly. Being new to the metaphor, I cannot be sure of what it means in a specific case.

  56. the historical link is just the opposite
    marie-lucie, the wikipedia article on “Daughter language” gives this definition: “In historical linguistics, a daughter language is a language descended from another language through a process of genetic descent.”
    I’m guessing that people were talking about families in terms of daughters having descended from mothers before historical linguists took up the terminology of daughters, mothers, and descent. The words were concretely meaningful to family-’tree’ drawers before they were abstractly meaningful – taken up as metaphors – by historical linguists.
    I also see (in the OED) that “genealogy”, tracing ‘trees’ of “descent”, was also terminology of familial relationship – that is, biological familiality: literally “family” – before historical linguists took up ‘trees’ of “descent” as a way of identifying “family” relationships between non-biological languages.
    And the gene/genetics vocabulary was invented in the 20th century to account mechanistically for the biology of “family” relationships – that is, biological families.
    -
    Which is not to say that Darwin wasn’t interested in, at least a bit knowledgeable about, and affected by the historical linguistics and the terminology of historical linguistics recently before and of his day.
    However, it sounds, in your post of 9:16 am, that you’re asserting that the terminology of familial relationship and descent are concretely and literally historical-linguistic, and were borrowed from historical linguistics as metaphors to describe biology, which I think would have been incorrect of you.

  57. John Emerson says:

    That’s all fine, deadgod, but what you said is this: Similarly, the jargon of genetics, and of evolutionary biology in general, provide a metaphorical way for historical linguists and comparative philologists to talk about how languages change – how they ‘evolve’ and ‘are related to’ each other …
    M-L just said that historical linguistics came before genetics and evolutionary biology, and that the latter learned from the former. Historical linguistics may have used genealogical and familial language, but they didn’t use the jargon of genetics and evolutionary biology.

  58. grain
    marie-lucie: As to “granularity”, both Grumbly Stu and ø have provided links to the wikipedia article on “Granularity”, and Grumbly Stu has even, most helpfully, written out the beginning of that article on this thread.
    What all the uses of “granularity” have in common, to use a visual figure of speech, is that up close, substances and systems ‘look’ coarser, and farther back, they look smoother. However, up close, the description (or perspective) of the substance (or population) is finer, because it picks out the differences that are unapparent from farther away; farther away, and the description (or perspective) of the substance (or population) is coarser, because those (real) differences are unapparent.
    A way to see how I, anyway, was using the metaphor of “granularity” would be to go to that “Granularity” article and look at the “In Physics” section. The first sentence says:
    A fine-grained description of a system is a detailed, low-level model of it. A coarse-grained description is a model where some of this fine detail has been smoothed over or averaged out.”
    Now, think of this ‘system-description’ in terms (that Grumbly Stu has quoted) of the ‘extent of subdivision’. There are three handfuls of substance: golf balls, sand, and baking flour. The handful of golf balls is the most coarse of the three, and the handful of flour is the finest of the three – granularly speaking.
    A coarse description – from a kilometer away, say, or across the street with my unaided eyesight – would say that the three handfuls are equally “granular”. A finer description – a finer perspective -, from an arm’s-length away, would reveal three distinct “granularities”.
    -
    Well, look at ethnic stereotyping: Let’s say we take French people as a group, a community, an ethnos. Standing pretty ‘far back’ from them, they all have in common that they’re “French” – at that ‘distance’, at that level of granularity of description (NOT of the granularity of the particles!!), they’re all quite similar, that is, they’re all “French”: a homogenous group, of whom, at that level of granularity of description, you could say ‘they’re all the same’.
    But approach them. The closer you get, the more differences you’ll notice between the particles, that is, the people: men/women, light-skinned/dark-skinned, coarse/fine hair, a dozen eye colors, thirty heights, fifty shoe sizes, hundreds of favorite writers/filmmakers/football teams.
    -
    My point about “granularity” in “stereotyping” was that the more finely a population is described, or comprehended, or the more closely it’s looked at (if you prefer visual metaphors!), the less accurate stereotypes will be, the less practical.
    “All French people are X.” The farther back from “France” one stands, the easier it is to pick an “X” that appears to be accurate. The closer one gets to the “French” population, the harder it is to pick a conversationally, or even academically, accurate or even marginally useful “X”. Citizenship? Native language? National loyalty? Even in these cases, “French” becomes a less and less practical way of referring to “French” people, taking those people one at a time.
    -
    Now, to take up your question (of 9:07 am), a “stereotype” is a description of a group – let’s say, a human population. Stand back: the “grain” seems smooth, because one’s perspective of it, one’s capacity visually ‘to describe’ it, is coarse. Come close: the “grain” – of the same substance or population; you see how the metaphor works! – seems coarser, because one’s perspective of the population (or substance), one’s capacity ‘to describe’ it, is finer.
    You see (?) how there’s no real ambiguity: the finer your description (or the closer your perspective) of something, the more coarsely grained it’ll appear to be.
    Likewise, the ‘ambiguity’ in the last paragraph that Grumbly Stu quoted above (from wikipedia) – I think: a false ambiguity. “More granularity” in investing, say, means more grains: the same substance (a data-generative field of transactions) is looked at at the level of smaller particles. In photography, what they call “more granularity” of chemical on film is larger particles of the same substance.
    So: “more” granularity can mean: a) higher in number of particles of same quantity of substance; or b) higher in (average) size of particles.
    That’s not really a systematic, or conceptual, ambiguity, is it? but rather, it’s an ambiguity born of irregular application of nomenclature.
    -
    By the way, marie-lucie, I don’t think it’s helpful to mind-read for mental frames of reference which are being used implicitly – and you’re quite right to be suspicious of that language and that tendency of analysis. That language and those analytics are open doors to carelessness, disingenuous misdirection, self-interference, and confusion.
    Do you see, after this too-long explication, how “granularity” would be a useful metaphor for talking about why ethnic “stereotyping” is, generally, an empirical botch, even when it’s not plainly unethical?

  59. castrated male stupid cow
    |castrated| |male|
    Oxymoron again.

  60. John Emerson says:

    Not really. Castrati retain their original gender. There was no ambiguity about their original gender, and they’re not transgendered, they’ve just been mutilated. A quadruped is still a quadruped after you cut its legs off.

  61. Snow said that Bush indicated there was “no operational relationship” between Zarqawi and Saddam but added, “we just don’t have that kind of granularity in terms of the relationship.
    I read it as photography, trying to get those spy satellites close enough for enough pixels to resolve into a recognizable picture. I’m not going to start using it though. After all, this is the PR bunch that gave us the term “act of asymmetrical warfare” for five simultaneous prisoner-of-war deaths.

  62. John Emerson says:

    Granularity doesn’t come from the Defense Department, Nijma. It’s pretty widespread.
    As I understand, if something is too fine-grained, you can lose the forest for the trees, whereas if it’s too granular, you miss important detail. Optimum granularity depends on what you’re looking at and what you want to know about it.

  63. Emerson, in using “genealogical and familial language”, historical linguistics has taken up an irreducibly biological terminology.
    Even if evolutionary biology and genetics took that vocabulary up “later” – and (perhaps) influenced by historical linguistics -, their connection to the terminology was, as it were, organic: a field, natural philosophy, coming to know part of itself (the cataloguing of living things) as “biology”, used terms that living things (including humans) had already long been talked about in. Historical linguistics, evolving from general grammatical analysis, takes up, from the way people already talk about how living things are ‘related’ to each other, a way to talk about how languages are ‘related’ to each other – perhaps before “biology”, but after living things had been talked about in those terms.
    In fact, “evolutionary biology” isn’t simply “later” than “historical linguistics”, in the sense that Darwin is “later” than Jones and Bopp – “biology” is what ‘the natural philosophy of living things’ came to be called eventually, but with a continuous history of terminology that includes “genealogical and familial language”.
    So, instead of saying, the jargon of genetics, and of evolutionary biology in general, I might should have been long-winded, and skeptical of some of my potential readers’ interest in comprehension, enough to say: the jargon of familial relationships between living things, which became, as the science of living things was transformed into “biology”, the jargon of evolutionary biology and, later, of genetics, provided a metaphorical way for historical linguists to talk about how languages change.
    Thanks for enabling that clarification, Emerson.

  64. Oxymoron n. male stupid cow
    A castrated male stupid cow.
    Oxymoron again.

    Garsh, the panic, terrors, and ambitions that animate the naked city.

  65. “stereotypes as superficial and unhelpful as all such”: I’ve just realised that you were stereotyping stereotypes. Therefore I now name this Language Hat’s Paradox. May it become famous.

  66. John Emerson says:

    “Cow” is the singular of the neuter plural “cattle”, the way “man” used to be used as the neuter or inclusive term. If it isn’t, what is? (“Beef”, pl. “beeves” is sometimes used in the trade, or once was).
    “Ox”, like “bullock” and “steer”, is a castrated male cow.
    As for your clarification, it seems like a different statement, accurate where the earlier statement was not.

  67. I thought the plural of “cow” was “kine”.

  68. I was wondering about the maleness of the cow thing, if perhaps they were still males since their genes had not changed. But then it occurred to me that when someone has a “sex change” operation, their genes don’t get changed either. Gender seems all tied up with culture and psychology more than anything. But what of the cultural psychology of the ox?

  69. The “clarification” is “different”: it’s clearer, in that it pushes to the foreground how the continuity of “jargon” indicates continuity, as well as change, in the theoretical institution of a ‘science of living things qua life’. The earlier statement remains “accurate”, albeit less finely grained, and in that sense, less “accurate” than the “clarification”. Skepticism towards the understanding of those with priorities more compelling to them than ‘understanding’ proves itself yet again to be advisable.

  70. John Emerson says:

    I have never heard the word “kine” spoken, and I live in dairy country. When I see it written it’s always in the context of “quoth” and “thou”, or almost.
    I don’t think that oxen gender-identify as transsexuals. They don’t get the lady hormones either. Mostly they just become more placid and less horny. By and large I don’t think that oxen identify much at all, though they do ruminate.
    Deadgod, you made a specific statement which was wrong, as M-L pointed out, and then you replaced it with a different though similar specific statement which was right. That’s all there is to it.

  71. I always thought the ox was a cowlike creature with horns, of any gender, used for plowing in third-world countries. The cows I am most familiar with are all female. There are three kind of cowlike creatures on the Nijmason ancestral farm. Milk comes from “cows”, there is sometimes a “bull” in the far pasture (which is why children are not supposed to cross that fence and why I never saw it), and there’s something called a “steer” that uncles won’t explain to you (about their gentleman parts being removed). I have never had one pointed out to me. I suppose they are for hamburger, but no one would explain it to me. Cows are cows, and steers are steers.

  72. John Emerson says:

    A steer is fixed in its youth, an ox is fixed after it’s reached its full growth.
    Maybe we call cattle cows in dairy areas because male cattle are eaten right off the bat. There’s little need for oxen any more.

  73. marie-lucie says:

    deadgod: grain, etc: I found the “granularity” page on Wikipedia quite clear, but the fact that the term can be defined differently according to different perspectives is still potentially ambiguous. Perhaps each discipline that uses it has its own perspective.
    Darwin and historical linguistics: My comment does not refer just to the use of the family metaphor and terminology, but to the historical linguistic methods which are used not just for describing the relation of French, Spanish, etc to Latin (as “daughters” to a “mother”), but more specifically for tracing their origins and those of a number of languages to a common but long disappeared ancestor, thus describing and reconstructing their evolution, not just establishing their classification. See for instance “Curiously parallel”, a recent article on the subject, the title of which is part of a quotation from Darwin in which he compares his own methods to the (by that time) established methods of historical linguistics. (Google the title – I am not sure whether you can read the whole thing or not – I am going by the abstract).

  74. the “granularity” page on Wikipedia
    I wonder how new and how widespread this type of description is. The SOED merely lists the word at the bottom of “granular”; as far as they’re concerned it has to do with an appearance of sandiness.

  75. John Emerson says:

    I read it being used routinely by scientists, but I doubt that this routine use is much more than 10 years old.

  76. Emerson, I said, as you quoted, the jargon of genetics, and of evolutionary biology in general, provide a metaphorical way for historical linguists and comparative philologists to talk about how languages change.
    The jargon existed in the descriptive language of the science of living things qua life before there was any “historical linguistics”, was taken up by historical linguists as a particularly suggestive metaphorical way of talking about (non-biological) languages, and persisted in the terminology of “evolutionary biology”. The original statement easily admits of being phrased more precisely, but it remains: not “wrong”.
    Perhaps that’s all there is going to be to your not getting “it”.

  77. At my sigh site I have put up the passage from The Descent of Man in which Darwin writes that what is known about the way languages have changed over time can serve as a suggestive analogy for understanding how life forms have changed over time. As marie-lucie originally put it, supra:

    In this case, the historical link is just the opposite: Darwin used a metaphor already used by historical linguists in order to describe what probably happened in biology. The mid-nineteenth century was a period of great activity and creativity in linguistics (especially but not exclusively in Indo-European studies) and scholars and scientists in other disciplines kept an interested eye on it.

    Initially, I did indeed google “curiously parallel”, and found a site at which it is stated that the passage is in chapter two of the 1871 edition of the book. I link above to the second edition of 1874, in which the passage is to be found in chapter three.
    By the way, marie-lucie, I get the impression that my use of the word “implicitly” in

    The difference between these two viewpoints lies in the mental frame of reference [which you are implicitly using]

    seems problematic to you, since you then wrote

    Grumbly, the mental frame of reference which you are implicitly using has to be defined if the reader unfamiliar with your terminology is to understand the metaphor correctly. Being new to the metaphor, I cannot be sure of what it means in a specific case.

    But immediately following on that sentence of mine came the two sentences in which I made those frames of reference explicit:

    Looking through a microscope, you “see” what appears to be something big and coarse at the other end of a tube – if your frame of reference is “I’m looking through a tube”. But if your reference frame is “I’m looking at very small things through a tube with lenses that magnify what I’m seeing”, then you “see” what appears to be – what you are thinking of as – fine structure.

    I was not trying to claim that frames of reference, in the way I am using the expression here, are in some way “essentially implicit”, as if there were something sneaky and subconscious about them. What I meant is that it can be useful at times to think about the way we are thinking, instead of just thinking. That’s when an expression such as “frame of reference” comes into play. But this expression is per se no more, and no less, objective/subjective or scientific/unscientific than any other expression. “Frame of reference” is [merely] a sequence of words with which people have attempted to communicate certain ideas and views about certain ideas and views.

  78. A minor point: I had not known the expression “laugh track” when I led off this comment thread. That’s why the article title made no sense to me. In the 60s, we had the expression “canned laughter”.

  79. Thanks, marie-lucie.
    So Darwin self-consciously took up the ‘relationship’ lingo of historical linguistics, and that he saw the ingenious methodologies of historical linguists as being useful to his own investigations – indeed, as paralleling what (he was realizing and trying to find a way to express) happens in the ‘history’ of living things – is fascinating.
    Still, that ‘familial relation’ terminology was already ‘biological’, ahead of the phrases “biological sciences” and “evolutionary biology”, wasn’t it? That’s what I was, back when, trying to draw attention to: that historical linguists talk about languages in a jargon that employs metaphors from the ‘science of living things qua life’, and so might “granularity” be a useful metaphor bundle – even for linguists.

  80. I still want to know what the joke is mentioned in the first paragraph of the linked article (the Jew[s] and the pit of wild animals).

  81. Cross-posted, Grumbly Stu – that’s a good link; thanks.
    You’ll note how quickly Darwin’s own wording spread back into the discussions of historical linguists (that’s a guess of mine): Darwin quotes Mueller (1870; eleven years after Origin of Species):
    A struggle for life is constantly going on amongst the words and grammatical forms in each language.
    You see my point, though – the historical linguists who took up the ‘descent from mother to daughter’ lingo to talk of languages before 1859 were taking a way of speaking which was, without recourse to metaphor, the way of describing the generation of living things in pre-Darwinian descriptions of living things qua life.

  82. marie-lucie says:

    deadgod: once again, the major point is not “descent from mother to daughter”, or “generation”, it is “evolution”. Surely you know that those things are not the same.

  83. Cattle has become the (other) plural of cow, as people has become the (other) plural of person.

  84. I still want to know what the joke is mentioned in the first paragraph of the linked article (the Jew[s] and the pit of wild animals).
    I can’t find anything either. Perhaps the joke takes off from the story about Joseph being thrown into a pit by his brothers (Genesis 37:17-24). The expression “pit of wild animals” is all over the place in the internet. But what would wild animals be doing in a hole in the ground ? I wonder whether a vague memory of the Roman circus pit is confusing the issue here.

  85. I think that today “den” (of a wild animal) is more common than “pit” (of a wild animal), if pit was ever at all widely used in the sense of den. It seems that it wasn’t. Wild animals are in a pit because they’ve been deliberately trapped there by people, or trapped elsewhere by other means and then transferred to a pit. So the Roman circus pit is just one kind of pit where life-forms are kept for entertainment (cockpit, orchestra pit, pitting man against woman).
    The OED gives this under pit 1.:

    g. fig. or in figurative phrases; chiefly in prec. sense (f), esp. in biblical use.
       a1340 Hampole Psalter vii. 16 He fell in þe pit þat he made

    f. An excavation, covered or otherwise hidden to serve as a trap for wild beasts (or in former times for enemies); a pitfall.
       1611 Bible Ezek. xix. 4 He [a young lion] was taken in their pit

    The German Grube can mean “pit” as in “open-face coal mine”, but that is not the end of the story. A Grube can be a slight ground depression. Don’t lions sometimes camp out in such a a depression, or a bush hollow ?
    There is an old-fashioned German expression that I have always taken to mean a lion’s den: Löwengrube. I would have speculated that Löwengrube, in the sense of lion’s den, appears in Luther’s translation of the bible, but in fact I find this in Daniel 6:7 :

    daß, wer in dreißig Tagen etwas bitten wird von irgendeinem Gott oder Menschen ohne von dir, König, alleine, solle zu den Löwen in den Graben geworfen werden.

    This Graben (trench, elongated ground depression) seems more like a place where lions where held in captivity.
    Does anyone know more about these matters – more than word history? If we eliminate the particular word “pit” for the time being, that might give us a better chance of tracking down the joke about Jew(s) and the “pit” of wild animals.

  86. The farther back from “France” one stands, the easier it is to pick an “X” that appears to be accurate. [way back up this comment thread]

    The further off from England the nearer is to France–
    Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the dance.

  87. Damn, I quoted the wrong section. That should have been:

    `”What matters it how far we go?” his scaly friend replied.
    “There is another shore, you know, upon the other side.
    The further off from England the nearer is to France–”

  88. I still want to know what the joke is
    it could be this one:
    A little goat falls into a pit. Then Rabinovich falls into the pit. Next a wolf falls into the pit and starts growling.
    The kid begins to bleet: Beh-eh, meh-eh…
    Rabinovich says: Stop bleeting, you fool. Comrade Wolf knows who to eat without you telling him.
    Rabinovich (sometimes with Abramovich) is a Murphy-type character, appearing in many Jewish jokes of the Soviet period, often political. This joke fits in with the situation described in the article, but I don’t see how it can be offensive? is it?

  89. This joke fits in with the situation described in the article, but I don’t see how it can be offensive? is it?
    You surely must have noticed that taking offence in public is currently at the very height of fashion. Its sister activity, equally de rigeur, is public apology and abasement. Read all about it in Sloterdijk et al.
    We had The Era of Suspicion from the 19th to the 20th century. One of its themes was Ideologieverdacht (suspicion of [being in thrall to an] ideology). Another, related theme was Suspicion of Hidden Motives, which is the driving idea behind psychoanalysis. Now we have The Era of Accusation and Atonement.
    Well, people have to have something to do to distract themselves from more important, more boring matters. Yes, I tend to have a pseudo-Marxist take on this. But, as Luhmann sez, there is no escaping Sinn. One is obliged to make sense out of things, especially those that make no sense.

  90. Or, rather, one has already made sense out of a nonsensical matter when one calls it nonsense.

  91. de rigueur, for pete’s sake.

  92. taking offence in public is currently at the very height of fashion. Its sister activity, equally de rigeur, is public apology and abasement.
    I’d ban both as forms of (mass) emotional blackmail.

  93. Yes, but what about the circulation figures of printed media, the hit-counts of websites, and the surveys of who was watching what television show when? There is big advertising money at work here. Information providers, with promoters on their backs, create and maintain jobs in the modern world. There are already more than enough carrots to go around, so becoming a farmer is not an option if you have a family to feed.
    None of this is new, however. Consider how many people must have made their living out of maintaining the infrastructure of the Roman circuses. These were big entertainment business for 600 years. So don’t hold your breath until The Era of Accusation and Atonement is over. The Circus Maximus was a precursor of Big Brother and other reality shows.

  94. And of Tiger Woods and the Irish bishops.

  95. If you have inside dope on Tiger Woods and the Irish bishops, you should head straight for the National Enquirer—they’ll pay big bucks for it, especially if you have photos.

  96. Is his name actually Tiger Woods or is he “Tiger” Woods because of his exploits?

  97. I should have known that the last time I spoke with Tiger. Now that he’s no longer hiding anything, my photos are worthless.
    As for the bishops, just now I heard a BBC interview with some cardboard nose (Ger.loc.) explaining to Sunday morning listeners that the Catholic church hierarchy has always devolved freedom and responsibility to parish churches, except in exceptional circumstances. Odd, that: I thought the Church was renowned for imposing its will on everybody within its fold, regarding every aspect of behavior. But hey ! it gets the bishops off the hook.

  98. As I write, yet another tsunami of shock and horror is sweeping across Germany. It seems that many Jesuits and social workers, with and without faith, have for decades been consulting the petits roberts and petites chattes of the kids in their care, without the linguistic and veterinary prerequisites.

  99. > But, as Luhmann sez, there is no escaping Sinn.
    That’s funny, I would have concluded that there’s no escaping Sünde.

  100. marie-lucie, the “point” that Darwin consciously took up a way of speaking about historical change from linguistics, to be used in ‘life sciences’, has indeed been made, accepted, given references and links, etc.
    The “major” point – namely, that historical linguists, in their historically earlier turn, had taken up terms of historical change from the then(and long-)-current vocabulary of the ‘science of living things qua life’ – remains undisproven and, largely, ignored, with which I’m cool.

  101. Crown, his name is Eldrick ต้น Woods, generally romanized as Eldrick Tont Woods. “Tiger” is a nickname originally given him by a friend of his father.
    Deadgod: what Darwin borrowed from the linguists was not the well-known fact that individuals are descended one from another, but that groups can also be understood as descended one from another. Pre-Darwinian biologists accepted the first but denied the second. Indeed, the analogy is still closer, for all individuals have two parents, whereas languages and biological clades have only one.

  102. AJP (AKM), if your first name was Eldrick, wouldn’t you rather be known as Tiger?

  103. But how much cooler to be known as ต้น!

  104. Distinguishing “descent” in the cases of individuals and groups is a necessary point, Cowan, but is it true that “[p]re-Darwinian biologists accepted the first but denied [that groups can be understood as descending from each other]” – is that, for example, a reasonable simplification in the case of Buffon?

  105. Sashura – you’ve deeply, deeply offended the emotional blackmailers of the world, and, being responsible for their terribly, terribly, terribly hurt feelings, you can expect a demand for a sizable, albeit perfectly rational, restitution.

  106. marie-lucie says:

    What Darwin borrowed from historical linguistics was not the notion of “family”, but the fact that organisms (actually or metaphorically “living”) evolve through incremental changes, they do not stay the same through centuries, millennia, eons, whatever, of time. And “family” groups of closely resemblant organisms have not always existed as they are now but must have descended from a common ancestor (unknown for biological families, sometimes known for language families, but in any case inferable through painstaking techniques of comparison).
    When Darwin published his work on evolution, the concept of language evolution and the consequent possibility of reconstructing the unknown common ancestor of a group of families were already about 70 years old, and in the meantime historical linguists had devised most of the technical methods that are still used by the discipline. So it cannot possibly be true that historical linguistics had to wait for Darwin and his evolutionist successors to provide it with a technical vocabulary.

  107. offended the emotional blackmailers of the world
    Step forward and state to the jury that you ARE an emotional blackmailer (offended and hurt.)

  108. marie-lucie, you’ve again patiently and effectively repeated what’s already been accepted – and ignored what’s not.
    Buffon, for example, did understand that groups “descend” from groups, as well as individual “offspring” “descending” from individual “parents” (which I’d hoped to imply to Cowan).
    A famous example – well, ‘famous’ enough for one as unlettered as I to have heard of it – is Buffon’s exchange with Thomas Jefferson. Buffon asserted that megafauna (including humans) of the New World were puny in comparison to those of the Old. As I understand the story, Jefferson sent him a New England moose to demonstrate otherwise (maybe Jefferson just showed him one); Buffon recanted – perhaps jovially (this was before the internet).
    This anecdote indicates that Buffon understood groups of living things to descend from groups of living things (contrary to Cowan’s misunderstanding above, unless I’m mistaken).
    What Buffon, and (apparently) everybody else, did not understand, before Darwin and Wallace, was this sequence (the first two links of which had long been empirically obvious):
    that groups of living things descend diversely, through the ranges of characteristics in each generation; and that this individually expressed diversity was ‘selected’ naturally by the environments that groups are in; and that, therefore, groups change historically, as different expressions of characteristics come to characterize those groups.
    In their unity, these links constitute the idea “evolution”.
    Buffon was not an “evolutionist”; Jones was an “evolutionist” – whether or not Jones used that word or other versions of its root.
    Whether or not Jones used the word “evolve”, he did use words like “family” and “descend”, which he took from, yes!, how people already were talking about living things qua life. The lingo of “offspring descend from parents” had been used consciously to refer to living things qua life for millenia – but not aeons – before Jones grasped the unity and coherence of the Indo-European “family” of languages.
    This fact – that Jones relied on the ‘science of living things qua life’ for some of the way he talked about languages – neither detracts nor subtracts one whit from the glory, yea!, nor the grandeur, lo!, of the ingenuity of historical linguists – which high reputation is safe both from professional biologists and from amateur everythings (like me).
    Do you see, marie-lucie, how much we agree on this matter, and how the small point that I made in passing, and that you quarreled with, actually was correct?

  109. I am NOT, Sashura, but nor am I unable to step forward on behalf of the poor dears, who have so much difficulty speaking for themselves.

  110. I get it that linguistics predates Darwinism, and that this is being discussed with sincerity, if somewhat murkily, but who are these Jones and Buffoon and Wallace persons and why have they suddenly showed up for lunch? And a moose! I must have missed a link somewhere.

  111. marie-lucie says:

    Do you see, deadgod, that you keep harping on the words “family” and “descent”, which are indeed shared by both disciplines (linguistics and biology) in their historical components, and I keep mentioning the words “evolve” and “evolution” as the crucial elements of historical linguistics as a science, which predate Darwin and therefore also predate the modern sciences of evolutionary biology and genetics?
    Nijma: Jones here is Sir William Jones, who was a judge in India, learned Sanskrit and Persian and not only recognized that those languages had a lot in common with Latin and Greek (something that many had already recognized), but that those common features must mean that the languages in question must descend from a common ancestor “which, perhaps, no longer exists”. The hypothesis of a common ancestor (to all languages at first – before the Tower of Babel) was not new, but had thus far caused many people to search for this ancestor among still known languages (Hebrew, Dutch, etc). The idea of perhaps being able to reconstruct the long-lost common ancestor of a specific group of languages started the scientific discipline of historical linguistics.
    Buffon (only one o) was a famous French biologist and classificationist (?) of the 18th century.
    Alfred Wallace was a professional collector of “exotic specimens” (plants and animals) who independently came to the same conclusions as Darwin – he wrote to Darwin about it and that prompted Darwin to publish the book he had been working on for years.

  112. marie-lucie, you are “harping” on the “evolution” string, which tone – that Jones was an evolutionist before Darwin/Wallace were – has, again and again and again, been acknowledged.
    “Family” and “descent”, considered historical-linguistically, were not “shared” by linguistics and biology. They were taken from the understanding of living things qua life, where they had existed for millenia, and were used metaphorically by linguists. That is the point that I first made – clumsily, with the (historically inappropriate) terms “genetics” and “evolutionary biology” where I should have said ‘science of living things qua life’.
    (By the way, a reasonable word (in English) for “classificationist” would be taxonomer or taxonomist.)

  113. marie-lucie says:

    I looked up “family” in Wikipedia. The first and original sense of the word, which comes from Latin “familia”, refers to a group of genetically closely related individuals (at least parents and children). Other pages refer to the metaphorical use of the term, which seems to be much more recent.
    About the history of the use of the term “family” in biology:

    The taxonomic term familia was first used by French botanist Pierre Magnol in his Prodromus historiae generalis plantarum, in quo familiae plantarum per tabulas disponuntur (1689) …

    Carolus Linnaeus used the word familia in his Philosophia botanica (1751) to denote major groups of plants; trees, herbs, ferns, palms, etc. …

    Subsequently, in French botanical publications, from Michel Adanson’s Familles naturelles des plantes (1763) ….

    In zoology, the family as a rank intermediate between order and genus was introduced by Pierre André Latreille in his Précis des caractères génériques des insectes, disposés dans un ordre naturel (1796). …

  114. We are opening the can of worms called taxonomy, and by doing so we are moving into a land rife with peevishness or peevology. In response to m-l’s post I googled “taxonomy”, and one link led to another, and I saw mounting evidence of the affinity between the taxonomic mindset and the peevological mindset …
    I will back off here in self-defense, having contented myself with correcting the spelling of antelope in the WiPe article “watebasket Taxon”.

  115. marie-lucie says:

    “Wastebasket Taxon”: great phrase. This is what “Amerind” looks like from the point of view of most Americanist linguists.

  116. first and original sense of the word [family] refers to a group of genetically closely related individuals
    I had just said: “['family' was] taken from the understanding of living things qua life”. Thanks for the confirmation, marie-lucie.
    And for the information that a science of living things qua life (specifically, botany) took up the term “familia” several decades before Jones can have used this term to think of linguistic history.
    As you’ve emphasized, the “idea of evolution of new ‘species’” palm seems to go to Jones and his colleagues – though, in looking at the OED entry for “evolution”, that word has a pretty interesting history of its own, one in which the cross-pollination between life-science and linguistic disciplines isn’t especially clear-cut.
    -
    wastebasket taxon: software analog of “circular file”

  117. “Marriage is the garbage can of the emotions” said now-forgotten Mr. and Mrs. Webb. Anything you can’t get anywhere else, or vent anywhere else, is assigned to the marriage.
    “Residual class” is a good term to have handy. You’ll often find residual classes (all non-X’s) to be treated as meaningful groups. I met a globetrotting playboy tell me once that “Foreign women are different than American women”.

  118. marie-lucie says:

    deadgod, this is getting very tiresome.
    - “family”: there is a very big stretch from the common everyday definition of this word as “a group of genetically closely related individuals” (eg parents, children, etc) to “the understanding of living things qua life”.
    - a science of living things qua life (specifically, botany) took up the term “familia” several decades before Jones can have used this term to think of linguistic history.
    a. several decades before Jones is quite a stretch from your earlier claim that the metaphor had been used for “millennia”;
    b. It is YOUR claim, not mine, that Jones’s and other linguists’ use of the word “family” for languages was something major for the development of historical linguistics. It was not. Obviously the word “family” was in the air at the time, but groups of related languages had been identified centuries before. Thinking of their “history” came much later, and the crucial step forward, associated mostly with Jones, was the concept of evolution from “an ancestor that, perhaps, no longer exists”. See earlier posts.
    I am not at all an expert in evolutionary biology. I don’t know whether you are or not, but you might do a little reading in the history of linguistics.

  119. Ok, marie-lucie, I’ll try again.
    -To refer to “a group of genetically related individuals” with a word that indicates their biological-reproductive connection is no stretch from understanding them as living things qua life, specifically, as to their biological reproductivity. The “everyday” literal meaning of “family” is a biological meaning, and has been for the whole time that languages were referred to as existing in “family” groups.
    -
    a. I did not say that the use of “family” as a “metaphor” was “millenia” old!! The claim was that the literal meaning of “family” – in particular, that it indicates a relationship between individuals that is ‘biological’ – is “millenia” old. (It’s a classical Latin word, making it (at least) a couple of thousand years old.)
    What happened in the 17th century – that you have pointed out – was that a word whose “everyday” meaning indicated what we now call (and you call) a “genetic” relationship was applied to the life science of botany – decades before Jones’s work. Magnol took a word that had an “everyday” biological meaning and used it to organize his thinking and speaking about living things.
    b. I did not say that Jones’s use of “family” was “major” or at all innovative. I said that Jones (et al.) used “family” “metaphorically”, the “metaphor” having come from a millenia-old understanding of the unity of certain groups of living things, namely, (in the phrasing you have used) an understanding, however merely empirical, of “genetically closely related individuals”. See my earlier posts for evidence that I completely agree that Jones’s great leap was to comprehend the “evolution” of languages into their current forms.
    You’ve repeatedly mischaracterized what I’ve said in a confused way – I hope because of my own unfamiliarly non-professional expressions and not maliciously. Thanks for the suggestion.

  120. You’ve repeatedly mischaracterized what I’ve said in a confused way
    Please stop responding to people like that. There is no reason for you to be so defensive and belligerent. You seem to have a need to have the last word and emerge triumphant from every altercation, and it’s becoming tiresome. Seriously, play nice or find another playground.

  121. … and stop talking in a confused way.

  122. Theories about evolution became widespread, though not universally accepted 60 years before Origin of Species. What Darwin and came up with was natural selection, not evolution.

  123. Trond Engen says:

    And what’s with the numbers? How many times can a male cow be castrated?

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