20.350 J. R. Firth's semi-Aesopian aphorism

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 13 Dec 2006 07:44:03 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 350.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Tue, 12 Dec 2006 19:54:48 +0000
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: Firth's semi-Aesopian aphorism

For the benefit of those who like to use the British linguist's
famous aphorism, "You shall know a word by the company it keeps!", I
can confirm these as the exact words and the precise bibliographical

Firth, J. R. 1957. "A Synopsis of Lingistic Theory, 1930-1955". In
Studies in Linguistic Analysis. Special volume of the Philological
Society. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Firth's aphorism is quoted in many places, often not accurately,
frequently without a citation to the source, and that sometimes
incorrectly. But I've tracked it to its lair and have the lair's
address, so one source of anxiety is no more.

Firth was alluding, of course, to a sentence from wisdom literature,
e.g. in Aesop's "The Ass and its Purchaser", which is an instance
of an ancient legal notion, noscitur e sociis. (If anyone has a
reference to the legal side of this matter, please do let me know.)
Firth gives it an interesting twist, however. Aesop's fable is all
about discovering the real nature of someone by seeing who his
mates are. Firth is talking about meaning evoked from possibilities
by collocation -- the sort of thing a parent might say to his or her
teenage offspring, fearing contamination.


Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London | Kay House, 7
Arundel Street | London WC2R 3DX | U.K. | +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax:
-2980 || willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/
Received on Wed Dec 13 2006 - 03:11:42 EST

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.2.0 : Wed Dec 13 2006 - 03:11:44 EST