Linguistic assumptions, long (Rolf, also Dave)
dwashbur at nyx.net
Sat Jul 1 20:36:42 EDT 2000
Kimmo Huovila wrote:
> The phenomenon here is conventionalization. One sentence used an idiom
> that has become a conventional way of expressing a request. The other
> does not. Now, my question is what component of our language theory will
> deal with matters like this. I cannot see that any theory of pragmatics
> could do it without making explicit statements about conventional
> expressions (Grician pragmatics surely is inadequate). And if you
> exclude this kind of data from semantics, what are you left with? If you
> say that pragmatics deals with these phenomena, then you need a theory
> of pragmatics that can adequately do it (and it comes out resembling
> semantics theories in many points more than pragmatics theories).
Agreed! Actually I would apply this principle to all linguistic
categories: semantics, pragmatics and also syntax. In the more
completely developed version of my theory I call it "social
convention." Basically it says that words mean what they mean because a
society chooses to use them that way. I've been accused of doing a
Humpty-Dumpty, but this is why I say "a society" rather than "a
person." In this regard, words have no inherent meaning; the word "dog"
means a canine, but it also means one who lags behind, one who has
questionable ethics, as a verb it means to follow closely behind, and in
Hebrew it means "fish!" Words are strings of sounds, and it is only the
convention of a society that determines what those strings of sounds
signify. That's why English "prevent" used to mean "precede" but now
doesn't, and why no word has an intrinsic uncancellable meaning. In
English, "bad" used to have a negative connotation that was though to be
uncancellable; then a segment of American society started using it with
positive overtones, and now it can either mean "bad" or "good" depending
on context. It is, however, much harder for a social convention to
change the force of a grammatical construction than it is to change the
meaning of an individual word; e.g. it took the Norman conquest to
change English word order from VSO to SVO.
> Dave Washburn wrote:
> > Could you give a constructed
> > > example of a sentence that would demonstrate a punctual use of 'run' or
> > > 'sing'?
> > "He ran to the door." "She sang one staccato note."
> Punctuality does not mean short duration. Our knowledge of real world
> events does not necessarily correspond to linguistic punctuality. If
> 'the cable snapped' is punctual, we still could analyse the time that it
> took for the cable to emit the sound. However, if we try something like
> 'the cable snapped for two milliseconds', we have made an iterative
> expression or we mean that the results of the snapping remained for two
> milliseconds. Punctuality means that the event cannot be predicated over
> time. Durativity is its converse. "She sang one staccato note." is no
> more punctual than "she sang five arias." Both can take an adverbial of
> minimum duration ("she sang five arias for twenty minutes."; "She sang
> one staccato note for X time" (I do not know how long it would take)).
As I already wrote to Rolf, the very term "staccato" means punctiliar.
To say "she sang one staccato note for X time" is an oxymoron, because
staccato is as short as humanly possible.
> aspectual behavior of such sentences is not adequately handled by just
> analyzing punctuality here. Something happens also to perfectivity when
> we add the adverbial of minimum duration. Here the concept of nesting
> Well, Dave, if you want to define punctuality so that your senteces are
> punctual, feel free to do so. However, I assume that Rolf would not
> consider these sentences (in English or Hebrew) to be counter-examples
> to his theory. The definition I gave above is roughly the one I have
> seen most used. I do not claim it to be sacrosanct.
> P.H. Matthews defines punctual as "marking an action, etc. taking place
> at an undivided moment of time" (Concise Dictionary of Linguistics).
If he is correct, then there is no such thing as punctuality, because
any and every event can be defined in terms of taking a minimum amount
of time, even the blink of an eye. Linguistically, then, Matthews
defines punctual aspect out of existence since there is no such thing as
"an undivided moment of time."
> Comrie defines punctual as follows:
> "The opposite of durativity is punctuality, which thus means the quality
> of a situation that does not last in time (is not conceived of as
> lasting in time), one that takes place momentarily. It should be noted
> that the crucial point here is that punctual situations do not have any
> duration, not even duration of a very short period. Thus a punctual
> situation, by definition, has no internal structure, and in a language
> with separate imperfective forms to indicate reference to the internal
> structure of a situation, then clearly punctuality and imperfectivity
> will be incompatible." Aspect, p. 42.
Ditto. He's defining the thing out of existence.
> Frawley's definition: "If an event is momentary and has no temporal
> duration, it is punctual; if it is necessarily distributed over time, it
> is durative." Linguistic Semantics, p. 306.
In that case, every event is durative, because all events require some
temporal duration, even if it's only a fraction of a microsecond.
Sorry, Kimmo, but these definitions, at least linguistically and in
relation to the "real world," don't work.
> > Next question.
> Would you explain the whole universe and give two good examples? :-)
I think Douglas Adams already did that :-) [As I recall, the answer was
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