20.416 being of the plain style

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 26 Jan 2007 08:13:20 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 416.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: "Hunsucker, R.L." <R.L.Hunsucker_at_uva.nl> (44)
         Subject: The perfect language (was: RE: 20.409 being of the
                 plain style)

   [2] From: "Rabkin, Eric" <esrabkin_at_umich.edu> (94)
         Subject: RE: 20.412 being of the plain style

         Date: Fri, 26 Jan 2007 07:57:08 +0000
         From: "Hunsucker, R.L." <R.L.Hunsucker_at_uva.nl>
         Subject: The perfect language (was: RE:
20.409 being of the plain style)

Willard wrote :

> Rather I want to ask, how are they being? How do we make sense
> of their restrictive statements, > indeed all statements designed to
> delimit language (or anything else) in such a fashion as to make a
> science of it possible?
> why does it not occur to him that such a science is ever so much
> more powerful by at least recognizing what it is excluding?
> The hypothesis I formed is that between Martianus and us falls
> something we call "the plain style", the rise of Baconian science and
> so the eclipse of figurative language. Can it be said that we are
> still the children of the plain style, and that a science of language
> is a science in that style?
> Are we, in consequence of computing, better able to appreciate
> figurative language -- because we run into so much of it as residue
> from our computational processes?

Another strike against logical positivism. Or ... ?

The dark side of 'the rise of Baconian science' was in my humble
opinion much more extensive and fundamental than this. One might
do well to contemplate Stephen Toulmin's pertinent manifesto in his
_Return to reason_ (Harvard University Press, 2001), perhaps best in
combination with his much older and better known _The uses of
argument_ (updated ed. Cambridge University Press, 2003).

But specifically on the language aspect : Something else that pops into
one's mind is the Neurath/Carnap notion of a "physikalische Sprache".
(E.g. : Rudolf Carnap, "Die physikalische Sprache als Universalsprache
der Wissenschaft", _Erkenntnis_ 2.1 (1931), p.432-465.) See too, e.g.,
Eco's _La ricerca della lingua perfetta nella cultura europea_ (Laterza,
1993 ; transl. as _The search for the perfect language_, Blackwell, 1995).
On p.336 he writes : "E ancora legato all'ideale baconiano era l'ideale del
positivismo logico, e la sua polemica contro la vaghezza del linguaggio
metafisico, creatore di pseudo-problemi." (I was put onto this last
reference by Roy Moxley in his "The modern/postmodern context of
Skinner's selectionist turn in 1945" in _Behavior and philosophy_ 29
(2001), p.121-153.)

More recent of possible interest on the matter is e.g. Angèle Kremer
Marietti's "Auguste Comte et la science unifiée", in _Auguste Comte :
trajectoires positivistes : 1798-1998_ (L'Harmattan, 2003).

Fascinating subject, Willard, and well introduced by you, in my opinion.

The perfect language is, of course, the one everybody would like to, but
nobody knows how to, speak.

- Laval Hunsucker
Amsterdam, Universiteitsbibliotheek

         Date: Fri, 26 Jan 2007 07:57:48 +0000
         From: "Rabkin, Eric" <esrabkin_at_umich.edu>
         Subject: RE: 20.412 being of the plain style

Willard, it seems to me a foolish consistency to restrict "language" to
propositional statements. That ignores the reality of our language
having clear rules for constructing and understanding what one might
call rhetorical statements, e.g., metaphoric and ironic statements.
"The man flew out of the room" is interpreted differently as
propositional (he had wings) and metaphorical (he walked out fast).
Similarly, we have clear rules for distinguishing ironic statements.
"He was knee-deep in toddlers" loses all force if we don't understand
that "knee-deep" here is rhetorical (his legs aren't plunged into the
children's bodies," or so we hope) and, unlike the metaphoric situation,
less than accurate (that is, the rhetorical meaning of overwhelming
involvement mismatches, unlike the fly/fast case, the little children's
power with the adults). See Gulliver. Obviously the redefinitions of
semantic elements of words and phrases needed to make sense of otherwise
ungrammatical situations is itself a rule-driven enterprise. We know
perfectly well what "all of the children are above average" means. And
as Twain said when asked about infant baptism, "Believe in it? Why,
I've seen it!"



Eric S. Rabkin 734-764-2553 (Office)
Dept of English 734-764-6330 (Dept)
Univ of Michigan 734-763-3128 (Fax)
Ann Arbor MI 48109-1003 esrabkin_at_umich.edu

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Humanist Discussion Group
> [mailto:humanist_at_Princeton.EDU] On Behalf Of Humanist
> Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty
> <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>)
> Sent: Thursday, January 25, 2007 02:26
> To: humanist_at_Princeton.EDU
> >
> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 412.
> Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
> www.kcl.ac.uk/schools/humanities/cch/research/publications/hum
> anist.html
> www.princeton.edu/humanist/
> Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu
> Date: Thu, 25 Jan 2007 07:18:20 +0000
> From: "Clai Rice" <cxr1086_at_louisiana.edu>
> Subject: being of the plain style
> Uh-oh, Willard. Mucking about with colorless green ideas
> might generate an avalanche of replies. You are correct that
> Miller is talking about a mode of interpretation rather than,
> or as much as, a restriction on usage. I don't know about
> Miller, but Chomsky clearly is aware of the type of examples
> you describe. He said in _Aspects_, of "deviant"
> strings breaking subcategorization or selectional rules, that
> "it is necessary to impose an interpretation on them
> somehow--this being a task that varies in difficulty or
> challenge from case to case--whereas there is no question of
> imposing an interpretation in the case of ... strictly
> well-formed sentences" (149). So Chomsky sees two (or more)
> types of interpretation at work, one that involves the
> universal grammar and one that involves something else (later
> on 149 he mentions "analogy to well-formed sentences" for
> selectional violations, but throws up his hands for
> subcategorization violations). This problem at the
> syntax-semantics interface has dogged him throughout all
> later permutations of his theories, and is still largely
> ignored by many mainstream (American) linguists.
> But other approaches to language do not agree that there is
> one sort of dominant mode of interpretation for language
> (called "grammar") and other modes for poetic usage. In some
> brands of construction grammar, for example, your example
> from Miller would be handled by general inferencing at the
> level of the comparative construction (A is x-er than B).
> Constructions specify particular relations among the items involved.
> Just as there is a relation that specifies two items cannot
> be identical (try "John is taller than John"), other
> constructions specify two items must be hyponymic (X is a
> kind of Y). So if by chance you use nouns in the two slots
> that aren't usually understood as hyponyms, you find a way to
> adjust the understanding of the nouns to make them hyponyms
> anyway ("an idea is a type of virus").
> So you can have a science of language I believe without
> backing yourself into this kind of corner. Whether the plain
> style is what gives rise to Chomsky and Miller's semantic
> blinders, I can't say, though it's a provocative idea. The
> usual whipping boy is "truth-conditional semantics", but that
> solution just begs that same question you ask.
> --Clai Rice
Received on Fri Jan 26 2007 - 03:30:56 EST

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.2.0 : Fri Jan 26 2007 - 03:30:56 EST