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Constructive: Jim and David, and date of survey

From:Sally Caves <scaves@...>
Date:Tuesday, February 22, 2005, 22:33
First of all, a note about the survey.  Frontier will be taking its service
off line Thursday early morning, and I will have to reboot my DSL
connection.  I might miss email, so I don't want to start the survey until
everything is functioning again.  Also, I have to consider Arthaey's
generous suggestion... to help me put this on an on-line survey software.
I'm debating about this: the disadvantage is that I have to pay for it after
15 days; it's a little complex if I want you all to have access to it; I'm
worried that I'll lose data if the site screws up, etc.  It may be easier
just to post the questions on-line as I've done before; the archive is a
reliable bibliography of our comments should I lose this material, but the
only disadvantage is that it is messy, and people start commenting on the
comments made by participants in the survey.  If I could ask people to
change their headers if they want to comment on a comment, that would be
good, but you know how no one follows that suggestion.  It's just too easy
to write and post.

I'm aiming to start the survey on March 1.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jim Grossmann" <jimg4732@...>

> Hi, Sally, > > 1. I only have time to check up on the conlanging list once in a great > while. I've been sick for a week, but getting better, so I've spent part > of > my time revisiting this list.
Well that seems to be my situation--often. Get well soon!
> My first "Constructive Linguistics" post was in response to a message I > blundered into this message-- >, Thomas > Wier, posted on 2-1-05. I thought it was a nice thread so I decided to > pick > it up.
Thanks. Now that I understand the context, I could kick myself for some of my "dumb" responses.
> 2. I mentioned the fact that conlangs can't be used to test the > Whorf-Sapir > hypothesis, not because the latter has any importance, but because > "testing > the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis" has, alas, been cited as a practical > application > of conlanging in some of the essays & blurbs on conlanging that I've read.
I'd be curious to see these, Jim. Do you have any references?
>>sigh< I don't remember which ones...maybe that's just as well.
Oh... Perhaps they were directed at auxlangs. I'm answering this as your lines of text show up in the window.
> I hope you post more about the interest that philosophers and > psychologists > have developed in conlangs. If you've done so already, I'll try to catch > up.
Well, that would basically be me. Rasula and McCaffrey take an encyclopedic look at language innovation; they seem very uninterested in the linguistic aspects. My training has been in historical linguistics, speech act theory, and pragmatics. I've also been "trained" by this list to some extent. :) But the stuff I've been teaching, writing about, and working on recently has a strong philosophical bent to it.
> 3. Books like "Search for the Perfect Language" don't just have small > audiences; they also > represent a number of titles that can be counted on the fingers.
Yeah, but Eco has clout. Yaguello was translated into English, so she apparently had some clout, perhaps because she jumps up and down on language inventors and she's so cute about it; Bausani has never been translated into English AFAIK. I'm reading him in Italian.
> 4. Virtual interlocutors for promoting fluency in one's own conlang. That > vision knocks my socks off. Really. Can't wait.
I have a response to David's suggestion! See below!
> 5. You're right--certain conlangers do produce languages that are as > strictly naturalistic as their authors in general. But conlanging *as a > whole* is not constrained in this way. Naturalism is an option, not a > requirement, across the community as a whole.
Yes, I understand that now. In fact, noted my error (hand clapped to forehead) when I reread my post. I was a numbskull not to read you more carefully.
> At the time I pointed this out, I was under the impression that model > railroads were constrained by tradition to being naturalistic depictions > of > railroads. I thought that this was relevant to the disanalogy between > model > languages and model railroads--that the con-railways *had to* be made > naturalistically. That was before Dave pointed out that some model > railroaders do without the scenary and detailing. I wonder if enough > people > do that to demolish the generalization entirely.
Hmmm. People like or dislike the model railroad. I prefer my Dark City analogy, of course! :)
> 6. Maybe I should re-appraise conlanging. I've been thinking of it as a > craft, but if analogies like painting fit better than analogies like model > railroad building, well...
That's going on the survey. A hot topic.
> I'll probably stick with this thread for as long as it lasts, but after > that, I'll have to return to the world of working, loving my partner, > writing, and doing my own conlanging, so I'll disappear again for a while. > Will check to see if Lunatic Survey 2005 appears in the coming weeks, > though.
I'll keep you posted, Jim. DAVID:
> > I agree with this. But, to echo what Sally mentioned, it's hard to > > actually > > learn a language. It's not like reading a story or a book. Even > reading > Finnegans Wake is easier than actually learning another language. If we > lived in the dream world of the matrix where you can essentially > download > knowledge into your head in a matter of seconds, perhaps language > creation itself would take on a different form. Man, I wish we had > downloadable knowledge... Well, but then, of course, there's the > conflict > as presented in the episode of The Prisoner entitled "The General". Oh > well. It's still fantasy.
Remind me of that episode. As for the chips in the brain, wouldn't that be great? I can't imagine, though, that it wouldn't tax your nervous system in some way, so that you became a jittery, gibbering idiot. My other fantasy was that the chips would be disappointingly plebian: You would hear someone say something in, say, Swedish, and it would be spelled out for you in your visual range in English like subtitles. Then, you would subvocalize, and the translation into Swedish would be written out in your visual range phonetically and you'd just read it. And it would be hilariously obvious to your speaking partner that you had a chip implanted! Your eyes would go back and forth as though you had nystagmus, your throat would quiver, and there would be these unbearably awkward pauses between comments. It could make a very funny story. I always imagined that the Universal Translator would do something like this in its early stages of development. Sally:
> >I'm wondering if your sense of linguistics as a field, David, conflicts > > with > > my sense of linguistics as a field--which to me has many branches that > > share > > roots with anthropology, pragmatics, philosophy, and history. > > I wouldn't doubt it. I haven't seen much, though, and I've understood > even less. Regarding Anthropology, though, wasn't it Kroeber who > closed the first linguistics department at Berkeley because he thought > it > wasn't essential, and that everything important that such a department > could do could be done in anthropology? I know something like that > happened, and then Prof. Eminau revived it in the 50's.
Interesting. I didn't know that. It makes sense, though, for anthropologists to see linguistics as a subset of anthropology. Before linguistics got so COMPLICATED. Sally:
> > I rub shoulders constantly with writers in my > > department who look down on "genre" writing, considered easy to grasp, > > dull, > > bad, and caters to the masses and who elevate "literary writing" > > because it > > is complex, difficult, obscure, caters to the intellectual few, and > > takes > > narrative and rhetorical risks (which genre writing is assumed not to > > do, > > being convention bound and "intelligible."). > > You know, writers who have that view have caused "literary writing" to > become a genre itself, and it has suffered. Now the only things that > come > out are thick and impenetrable, and really not worth the effort. > Virginia > Woolf is just as literary, but is hardly impenetrable.
Oh, she can be impenetrable. _To the Lighthouse_? The "point" is to be able to pour over her complexities, philosophies, and subtleties and sociopolitical relevances. How can you do that, they say, with Le Carre? ;)
> And the further > back > you go, the more entrenched in convention literature is, and it doesn't > suffer for it.
You mentioned Milton. Milton thought that what he was doing was utterly unconventional. Cast the biblical story of the Fall in terms of a great, Homeric, "epic poem"? Also, this is relative. We consider Shakespeare great art, but as Jim pointed out, his plays were his "hack" writing, so to speak, in his day. And Dickens? He was a serial novel writer. Detachment from an era lends that era's art a certain dignity. Aristophanes _The Birds_, with all those ridiculous birdcalls in it was intended to poke fun at the serious, prescriptively minded Plato and his language theories. Sally:
> >Indeed! And is that a linguistic point or a philosophical one?
> This is regarding a language encoding the color of a speaker's shirt on > a > verb. It's possible, but certainly would never be done in a natural > language.
I meant was the observation that it could be done a philosophical or a linguistic one? Where does linguistics end and philosophy begin? To my mind, the walls between these domains are a bit porous. And I love that. Unless, say, a society was so regimented that a person of a
> particular class wore a particular color shirt, and there was no upward > mobility. If this language had an honorific system, it might as well be > encoded by shirt color. Hmm... Anyway, that I suppose is a > philosophical > issue. Linguistically, it'd be interesting to see how color terms would > interact with the verb.
But surely the interest is not merely linguistic, but participates, too, in philosophical musings, and a bit of creative anthropology which you continue here:
> And in this bizarre society, would certain > colors > then be stigmatized? Would their be taboo replacement, so that the > upper class no longer say "yellow", they say "ochre" or "bronze"? > And if a lower class person says "bronze", I suppose they'd be putting > on airs...? Weird stuff.
Thanks for the reminder about the ludicrous map in Borges! Someone else... was it Muke? reminded us that Lewis Carroll had the same idea. OT: I can't wait to watch "House M.D." tonight!!! Is anyone else a fan? I love Hugh Lawrie! And even more for the fact that he's British and fakes a pretty good Eastern Seaboard American accent. And after all those comic roles... karyts, Sally


David J. Peterson <dedalvs@...>