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Re: The amazing Dr. Smith (was Re: Active case-marking natlangs)

From:And Rosta <a.rosta@...>
Date:Sunday, February 18, 2001, 20:22
Joerg -- what you describe Marcus's argumentation as being like
sounds like ordinary constructive and productive academic discourse,
at least within the world of anglosaxon linguistics. It sounds
like Marcus is trying to enquire into the nature of active languages,
not attack you. He could have just agreed to differ, so as to
placate you, but he persisted because he wanted to find the right

(That said, I've enjoyed the passion and intemperance of your recent
tirades, though I felt your assertion that conlangers were responsible
for A*******z a bit too extreme for even my tastes, even though it was
clearly too laughable to be taken seriously.)


> J Matthew Pearson <pearson@...> writes: > > > Joerg, what is wrong with you these days? I'm used to thinking of you as a > > reasonable guy, but lately you've been doing an awful lot of flaming (first > > Brian Phillips, and now Marcus). > > This is a psychological problem on my behalf that I am very aware of and > trying to get out of. I tend to be quite reasonable usually, but on a > bad day I tend to snap out of it quite badly. I also tend to take > things more personally than I should, sometimes. I apologize for that. > > > I don't see how you could construe Marcus's posts as condescending > or insulting. > > He's simply defending a particular usage of the term "active". If > you disagree > > with that usage, fine, but that's no reason to go accusing Marcus of > > intellectual elitism. Please calm down, OK? > > You are right, Matt, that my comment on "the amazing Dr. Smith" was > inappropriate. There is no sense in acting up like that. I prefer a > constructive, open-minded discussion by myself, and so let's return to > it. > > But let me state my problems with the way Marcus argues against my > position in a more sober manner in order to give you all an idea how it > all happened. > > The "active case-marking natlangs" thread wasn't the first time I got > at odds with Marcus. This thing has been going on for months, > practically from the days of the legendary "Degrees of volition in > active languages" thread. Almost from the first time I dared calling > Nur-ellen an active language in public, Marcus tried to punch holes > into that assertion, seeking reasons why Nur-ellen could not be > active. That time, it was the way cases are marked on the noun at > which Marcus took exception; now it is the way I use cases to mark > degrees of volition. Back then, the argument moved off the list into > private e-mail after a while, and then died away as I found that it > was not worth the trouble replying on his comments, until it > re-ignited when it came to whether Tokana is active or not. > > In both incarnations of the argument, I noticed several flaws in > Marcus's argumentation. I don't claim that my argumentation was > flawless, but what Marcus did gave me the impression that he was not > so much about to contribute meaningfully to the discussion, but to > baffle amateurs like me out of the field. The impression I got may be > wrong, but it seemed like that to me, and it was slowly but steadily > driving me nuts. > > What he did was to start the argument with... > > 1. Weak typological arguments. The reasoning goes as follows: > > "You claim that language Y has feature A. However, it shows > feature B, and natlangs with feature A typically do not show > feature B. Hence, your claim is faulty." > > This, of course, proves nothing. Unless, of course, the > combination of the two features is logically inconsistent, > which, however, is not the case either time Marcus used the > aforementioned argument pattern. In both cases, "A" was the > languge being active; "B" was case marking on nouns in the first > case and the usage of noun cases for marking degrees of volition in > the second. If the co-occurence of two features is not observed in > any language, all this means in the first place that the pattern > does not occur in the sample being considered. If the sample is > big enough, one might conclude that there seems to be a tendency > against co-occurence of both features. It doesn't prove, > though, that the co-occurence is impossible. > > In fact, I presented natlang counterexamples to the alleged > non-co-occurence of active alignment and noun case marking. The > way Marcus turned them down takes us to the next point: > > 2. Terminological sophistry. Marcus never really falsified my > counterexamples (Georgian and Middle Welsh). What he did was > excluding them from consideration by pointing out that the active > alignment was restricted to particular verb forms, and explaining > away by "unergative verbs". This seems more like relabelling > awkward counter-evidence in order to get it out of the way of one's > argument than anything else. He never made clear exactly *why* my > counterexamples were invalid. The same happened later when I asked > him why the volition marking in Tokana and Nur-ellen rendered these > languages "not active". But whenever I asked him to elaborate on > his comments, all I got out of him was... > > 3. Equivocation. When asking him to explain why (a) the features he > observed in my language contradicted my claim of it being active > and (b) my counterexamples were invalid, he did not give a clear > answer, but responded with cryptic comments I could not > comprehend. Repeated requests for clarifications on his replies > yielded no results. He left me in the dark on the question why > Nur-ellen was not active. I wondered what was "active" to him, so > I asked him for examples. And what he gave then were... > > 4. Weak examples. Marcus resorted to obscure (to me) Amerindian > languages such as Mohawk and Chickasaw which show alignment > patterns that are so odd (and seemingly arbitrary) that I did not > understand why they are called "active". When I pointed out that > the examples seemed too idiosyncratic to me to be of any use > elucidating the concept, he took final resort to... > > 5. Imputation of faulty theory/terminology. This is certainly the > worst thing he did in the argument. What he slammed in my face was > the bold claim that I don't really know what an active language > is. He told me that "my definition" of an active language was > faulty and meaningless. Of course, what he called "my definition" > had virtually nothing to do with the way I understand the concept. > I openly admit that I am not an expert on the matter, and my > concept of it is certainly somewhat simplistic and misses a number > of details, but I *never* said that the presence of case marking on > nouns, the exclusion of inanimate nouns from the agent role or a > system marking different degrees of volition in the agent were > vital in an active language. > > He explained his concept of active languages to me, and I found > that his definition seemed pretty much to match mine! > He refused, however, to clarify which verbs are "active" > and which are "stative". The definition he gave reeked of: > > 6. Circular reasoning. It is not very meaningful to say that an > active language is one that marks the subjects of active verbs like > transitive subjects, and those of stative verbs like transitive > objects, when in the next paragraph, you define active verbs as > verbs that mark their subjects like transitive subjects, and > stative verbs as verbs that mark their subjects like transitive > objects! That way, you could come to the conclusion that Latin > and Basque are active languages, though quite idiosyncratic in > Latin having only active and Basque only stative intransitive verbs > ;-). Obviously, such a "definition" is entirely meaningless. > This way of inflating the definition of "active languages" to > the bounds of meaningless is also a case of terminological > sophistry, and it also bites the tail of the whole argument which > was to "prove" that Tokana and Nur-ellen are not active! > > So I thought, "What is that guy trying to tell me? That my language is > not active for some reasons way too obscure to understand, or that I > should shut up and leave any business with active language to the > professionals?" I mean, he boldly stated his position, but failed to > underpin it with arguments I could follow. And when he started making > assumptions on how far my idea of active languages was off the mark, it > seemed clear to me that he was playing a game, though, when thinking > again of it, he apparently had misunderstood me (I admit that I am not > too firmly saddled in theory and terminology, and might have phrased > some things in a not so clear way), as I had misunderstood him. I still > don't understand what Marcus's position is, but heck, why do I make a > problem of it? I find it somewhat irritating, however, if someone uses > terminology and one doesn't know what he means by it. > > Well, let's end this unproductive matter and return to more productive > discussions. > > Jörg.


James O'Connell <jamestomas2@...>elenyo