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Creuset of Ideas
A collection of various ideas



Archives of "Language"

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Wednesday Linguistics: Space and Time

2006-06-14 @ 18:05

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Guess we figured it out way before Einstein did. that time is a dimension. Indo-European Language speakers, I mean. That’s why we’ve got all these words used to describe space that are also applied to time: preposition (in five minutes, from three to six, after), adjectives (short¸ long) and so on.

(Of course, there’s always the question of whether we have two words with the same sound or one word with two senses — but since there’s a pattern that affect a variety of different words, it’s a fair bet that we’re talking about words with two senses.)

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Gene linguistics

2006-06-2 @ 8:22

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Quick note about a Nature newsblog post which offers an interesting parallel between inflexional languages (like Finnish) and genes.

The order of genes on a chromosome seems to matter less than their context and the DNA suffixes that surround them: elements that flag the start of a gene and help control its activity, enhancers and repressors that likewise influence expression, and not forgetting the epigenetic codes that add meaning and depth to the sequence of genetic letters.

Actually, this behaviour of genes does not surprise me. It is a very good way to compress information in a small packet. As language does.

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Wednesday Linguistics: Me and Mine

2006-05-31 @ 7:16

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“The president took far too seriously McClellan’s constant references to ‘my army.’”

Ah, possessives. But they’re not really that, now are they? We call “My, your, our” possessives, but that is a misnomer; actually reductive, in that it only refers to one of their uses. When I say “my brother,” I by no means mean that I possess him. One way to see that various uses of these determiners is to look at the ambiguity of “my picture;” out of context, one can’t really know if I’m talking about a picture of me, the picture I’m holding (as oppose to that one someone else is), the one I own, or the one I took.

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Wednesday Linguistics: Late and not mine

2006-05-11 @ 9:38

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Interesting article about an even more interesting culture and language.

The Pirahã people have no history, no descriptive words and no subordinate clauses. That makes their language one of the strangest in the world — and also one of the most hotly debated by linguists.

In this article, it is said, in passing, that “Linguistics generally focuses on what idioms across the world have in common.” That is a good start, but to really understand something, scientist usually also look at the differences. Those can say a lot about a system. It is, in a way, a form of “differential diagnostic”. The language in question, Pirahã, does not have subordinate clauses. You can’t say “When I have finished eating, I would like to speak with you,” you have to say “I finish eating, I speak with you.”

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Wednesday Linguistics: Data

2006-05-3 @ 9:43

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Many of you probably don’t know this, but linguists like to make up data. Maybe not all of them, but some mainstream theories really go for that sort of thing, especially in syntax. I was reminded of this recently by a post by The Language Guy.

To me, coming for a “hard” science (or, as one of my profs put it, “inhumanities”), this is ridiculous. Sure, as speakers of the language, we can make examples up. No problem with that. But it’s when linguists start making up examples of ungrammatical utterances that things go bad. Most just rely on their own (or a very few people’s) intuition to see if what they wrote works or not. They don’t bother looking it is actually said or not.

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Wednesday Linguistics: Expressivity

2006-04-26 @ 9:54

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Two recent posts at Invented Usage (on like usage and Yoda grammar) got me thinking about expressivity, which can be defined as the use of different constituent ordering, omission of words, stress, etc., to give an added dimension to the utterance.

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Time off

2006-04-21 @ 11:10

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I just realized that I forgot this week’s Wednesday Linguistics post. Fact is, it was a beautiful day; I woke up a bit bluesy and decided that a day in the sun would do me more good than spending time in an office, so I took a mental health day. And, not that I consider blogging to be work, but I kind of didn’t feel like doing anything other than enjoy the day.

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Wednesday Linguistics: What’s in a sentence?

2006-04-12 @ 14:40

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I was saying, last week, how sentences are built from the word up. That words incorporate requirements, both in terms of semantics and syntax, that allow for the construction of meaningful, grammatical utterances.

Before we can dig into how that is done, there’s a few concepts to introduce. First one is the distinction, within parts of speech (word classes), between predicative (or notional) ones and non-predicative (or transpredicative) ones. The former comprises (in English) nouns, adjectives, adverbs and verbs. All parts of speech that “mean something” (in a strict sense), open-ended classes where it is always possible to add new members. Non- predicative words include prepositions (to, of, from), conjunctions (and, or, but), determiners (the, this) and others. These are the more grammatical words.

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Wednesday Linguistics: What’s in a word?

2006-04-5 @ 12:33

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An important principle of the linguistics school I adhere to, is that it is not just sentences or phrases which are analyzable wholes, but words as well, one of the main postulates being that in order for a word to appear in syntax, it must first be constructed. And that is why we need to understand the meaning of the different building blocks involved in their construction.

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Wednesday Linguistics: Meaning

2006-03-29 @ 12:48

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I’ve decided to have a new series of post on this blog, in part to see if I can get some discipline in my writing: Wednesday Linguistics (somewhat inspired by TG’s Feminism Friday). Why Wednesday? Basically because that happens to be when I last posted something about language. I’d like to use this series to talk about theoretical aspects of language (like here), as a way to reconnect with my academic roots, I guess. But also, and mainly, about more down-to-earth, day-to-day stuff and how linguistics can shed light on how everyday mysteries.

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