MISCELLANEA.

1) I’m excited about this. I may have to read it in hardcover. (Great, another thousand-page hardcover after November 1916—it will either strengthen me or kill me.)
2) There’s an interesting AskMetaFilter thread about slang migrating westward across the Atlantic: “Are there any British / Australian / New Zealand or wherever phrases and words that have become commonly used by people in North America recently? Do Brooklynites ever exclaim ‘Crikey!’ or ‘Bloody Hell!’?” A surprising number of Americans do seem to use bits of slang picked up from The Office or Harry Potter; as I say in my comment, “I always have to temper my irritation at Yanks tossing around Brit slang they picked up from watching TV with the reflection that it’s just language change at work and I don’t want to turn into a fuddy-duddy before my time.”
3) A MetaFilter post linked to Street Use (featuring “the ways in which people modify and re-create technology”), which links to this wonderful Russian site, where not only can you see things like hangers made from insulators, but if you click on the audio icon at the bottom of the page you get a page with a transcript of someone (often the creator) talking about the object and how it came to be made (e.g., here‘s the page for the hangers), and if you click on the icon on that page you hear the voice itself (RealAudio, I’m afraid). It’s great to hear these people reminsicing about the conditions under which they or their relatives came up with these creative solutions to Soviet shortages.
4) One of my linguistic heroes, Franz Bopp, gets extensive coverage at Varieties of Unreligious Experience: “It was for his brutal rigour that Bopp was admired ever since: the science he brought to perfection still survives, though many of his conclusions have been revised.” I think the dryasdust stuff is overstated (in historical linguistics, quiet rigor is infinitely preferable to excitable speculation), and I could have done without the final paean to the linguistic genius of Joseph Stalin, but it’s all forgivable beside the unexpected pleasure of seing Opa Franz celebrated here in the 21st century.

Comments

  1. Peter T. Daniels over at sci.lang repeats the idea now and again that linguistics dates from the early twentieth century, from Sapir and his generation. A depressing thought, that someone with his experience and CV rules Bopp and the Grimms out of his field, while leaving room for Chomsky and his expressed contempt for the data.

  2. You’re singing my song.

  3. “fuddy-duddy”: just wait until you’re old enough for your daughter to call you a faddy daddy.

  4. Thanks for the link; though, “paean to the linguistic genius of FS” is quite overstated! I merely said he was sensible in comparison to his Russian contempmoraries, and went on to point out that his (amateur) views would be made obsolete by Chomsky, who by the way, Aidan, was partly responsible for introducing a new paradigm of empiricism–actually discussing what people say, as found in modern grammar-books, as opposed to the literary sentences illustrating grammars from say 1900.
    Don’t let my opinion that Bopp is dry lead you to believe that I don’t find his work fascinating/inspiring. I just don’t think “fun” is the word for it.

  5. Chomsky, who … was partly responsible for introducing a new paradigm of empiricism–actually discussing what people say
    Well…. I’d have to say no to that. The shift of focus from literary language to what was actually spoken ocurred much earlier. 19th century German Arabists, for example, were one of those who studied the vernaculars, not to mention the entire folkloristic movement (August Schleicher, Pavol Jozef Šafárik, even Jakobson and Saussure).
    “Actually discussing what people say” is the last thing Chomsky and his minions do.

  6. Conrad, while I admit that Chomsky may well have said something relatively empirical in his early career, I am not about to be easily convinced that “Corpus linguistics doesn’t mean anything” can be interpreted as something other than “fuck the data ” [that is all of what we have to describe past spoken language, and from which generations of scholars have drawn useful conclusions. ]

  7. “were one of those who studied the vernaculars, not to mention the entire folkloristic movement (August Schleicher, Pavol Jozef Šafárik, even Jakobson and Saussure).”
    I’m not saying that people before Chomsky were not interested in folk language–hell this goes back much further than the 19th century–I’m saying that this stuff was not wholeheartedly integrated with theoretical grammar until relatively recently. Chomskyism (I would be willing to accept that I have perhaps conflated this too much with Chomsky himself) claims a distinction between the “grammatically correct” and the verbally acceptable; the latter being a subject of considerable interest. My linguist friend used to send me lists of sentences, asking me which I felt were ‘right’–that’s the kind of empiricism I’m talking about.

  8. Conrad,
    ok, granted. The myth “vernaculars/dialects are mistakes” is pretty gorram pervasive even after all these years.
    My linguist friend used to send me lists of sentences, asking me which I felt were ‘right’–that’s the kind of empiricism I’m talking about.
    And that’s precisely what I have a problem with, this sort of “selective empiricism” so typical of Chomskyism. Such lists have almost zero informational value and any results obtained the way Chomskyists are bound to be flawed. And guess what, they are.
    It reminds me of a recent post at LinguistList.
    Reading statements like “a huge amount of generalizations can best be found by adopting an ”experimental” approach” I couldn’t help but think WTF? Just another example of what Aidan said: screw the data.

  9. Conrad,
    ok, granted. The myth “vernaculars/dialects are mistakes” is pretty gorram pervasive even after all these years.
    My linguist friend used to send me lists of sentences, asking me which I felt were ‘right’–that’s the kind of empiricism I’m talking about.
    And that’s precisely what I have a problem with, this sort of “selective empiricism” so typical of Chomskyism. Such lists have almost zero informational value and any results obtained the way Chomskyists get them are bound to be flawed. And guess what, they are.
    It reminds me of a recent post at LinguistList.
    Reading statements like “a huge amount of generalizations can best be found by adopting an ”experimental” approach” I couldn’t help but think WTF? Just another example of what Aidan said: screw the data.

  10. “Such lists have almost zero informational value and any results obtained the way Chomskyists get them are bound to be flawed. And guess what, they are.”
    Well, maybe. It’s not my field–who am I to say?

  11. “Yanks tossing around Brit slang they picked up from watching TV”
    There is an up side to it, though; 15 years ago I awkwardly had to explain to my American friend what a ‘bollock’ was after I’d used its plural as an expletive.

  12. michael farris says:

    My favorite Chomskyism (said by a supporter, I don’t know his position on the matter). Was concerning universals a la chomsky: “Counter examples don’t disprove the rule” (that such and such a feature is ‘universal’)
    Basically the ‘look at real language’ phenomenon was a defining feature of American structuralism (AS) though American structuralists ignored looking at English the way vampires avoid getting a tan. Chomsky (who in some ways is a product of AS) turned some AS principles on to English and one of the (very few) real achievements of early Chomskyism was an implied (never generally formalised) description of (American) English. Their mistake was to try to apply the models that resulted from that too rigidly to other languages leading to nonsense about passives in Navajo and the like.
    The differences between AS and Chomsky are basically 2:
    AS was/is inductive (get lots of data and look for patterns) while Chomskyites are deductive (form your conclusions then look for examples)
    AS was rigidly (often too much so) behavioristic (don’t make assumptions about what you can’t directly observe) while Chomsky is firmly mentalist (I speak therefore I think) and regarded hypothysing about the thinking process more interesting than what people do or don’t say.

  13. An excellent summary—thanks.
    “Counter examples don’t disprove the rule”
    Hahahaha! I love it!

  14. Bopp, Rask, and Grimm are my three favorite linguist’s names. Add Grice, Whorf, Quirk, and Piggott and you can imagine them singing “Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work we go” as they trudge off to the phoneme mines. (I haven’t cast Snow White or the Handsome Prince yet.)

  15. Michael,
    just a clarification: doesn’t everything you said about American structuralism apply to European structuralism (Jakobson, Hjemslev, Benveniste, Vachek…) as well?

  16. michael farris says:

    bulbul,
    pretty much, yeah, but I know the work of the AS crowd better and they took things farther in some respects, upsetting traditionalists by treating Eskimo like Latin and Latin like Eskimo (to paraphrase a favorite quote). That is, they compulsively dealt with minority languages (dying languages in many cases) and acted on the principle of linguistic relativity (all languages are fundamentally of equal human value).
    They treated Kwakiutl with the same deference as classic scholars treated Hebrew and Greek.
    The Europeans were often (it seems to me) more hung up on literary languages. When AS’ers dealt with literary languages (mostly non-european) they acted is if there had been no previous work on them and came up with original new (strikingly so in some cases) analyses (I’m thinking of Haas’s work with Thai and Bloch’s with Japanese).
    Chomsky for all his political fervor has never (so far as I’m aware, I could be wrong) dealt with questions of linguistic oppression. Indeed, his whole approach assumes a unitary function of language that’s more important than the surface details. I get the impression that he thinks linguistic oppression is either unreal or trivial (who cares if we lose 3000 languages, we can find everything we need to know about linguistics in English). I’d be happy to find out my impression is mistaken.

  17. John, you forgot Pott and Fick.

  18. Pott and Fick will be added to replace Whorf and probably Grice.

  19. Conrad, you should simply have explained that you were using a British variety of the familiar American English verb bollix ‘throw into disorder, involve in bewildering entanglements, perform or carry out badly’ (NID3). And you’d be right, too.
    As for counterexamples not disproving rules, that’s perfectly sound if rules are taken to be statistical rather than absolute, as they must be in practice. Sentences like “The more the merrier”, though perfectly grammatical and indeed adhering to a productive pattern, are not generally taken to discredit the rule that English sentences have verbs.
    In context, Peter Daniels’s claim seems to be that “linguistics” was not so named until about 1924; I do not see him denying its historical continuity with philology.

  20. mic hael farris says:

    “As for counterexamples not disproving rules, that’s perfectly sound if rules are taken to be statistical rather than absolute”
    Except that that troublesome word ‘universal’ tends to imply absolutes, a single counter example would render any proposed universal into a near universal. The idea that a few counterexamples don’t disprove a near universal is perfectly appropriate of course.

  21. mic hael farris says:

    “As for counterexamples not disproving rules, that’s perfectly sound if rules are taken to be statistical rather than absolute”
    Except that that troublesome word ‘universal’ tends to imply absolutes, a single counter example would render any proposed universal into a near universal. The idea that a few counterexamples don’t disprove a near universal is perfectly appropriate of course.

  22. Yes, if Chomskyans weren’t so damn dogmatic they’d have a much easier time avoiding being proven wrong, but then they wouldn’t be Chomskyans, would they?

  23. In context, Peter Daniels’s claim seems to be that “linguistics” was not so named until about 1924; I do not see him denying its historical continuity with philology.
    He says in the first thread (I clicked on the message I wanted to link to and then copied my address from the URL bar; that didn’t work—Google Groups annoys me more than any other Google application—so I’m sorry, but the first link is to the correct thread but not to the ideal message) and in response to my “The Grimms didn’t do linguistics?” that “no, the Grimms had no interest in synchronic linguistics, in German or Germanic dialects, and so on.” That answer to that question effectively denies a historical continuity with the Grimms’ philology—which, anyway, was called Sprachwissenschaft, a term much closer to ‘Linguistics’ than ‘Philology.’ It’s also bullshit, but if you want to read the arguments over that, you can read the thread.

  24. My wife was just commenting today that her California students (very mixed ethnically) use the term “MOH-BILE”, whereas the traditional American form would be “MOH-BILL”.
    Perhaps they’ve been watching the British version of “The Office”?

Speak Your Mind

*