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[Xmca-l] Re: The Inimitability of Grammar


Consider these two very different grammars for clumping word-chunks together:

a) (1) Think for yourselves! (2) Be original! (3) Be relevant! (4) Be useful!
b) (1) Be useful! (2) Be relevant! (3) Think for yourselves! (Be original!)

It seems to me that the grammar for clumping a) together is this: a1)
is reformulated as a mental process simply because that is one of the
most frequent fixed formulations in our culture. I think there are
good reasons for this that have to do with the marketability of
individualism--doing things for yourself is both extremely appealing
and completely disempowering, and both of these are highly attractive
in the current model of capitalism being developed.

One of the reasons why the slogan "Think for yourself!" is so common
is that it it is contentless (like "Just do it!"). So a1) is then
reformulated as a relational process in a2) order to say what kind of
thinking I am supposed to undertake. This isn't entirely successful,
because ""Be original!" is essentially synonymous with "Think for
yourself!" So we have the grammatical repetition but semantic
variation of a3) and a4) which serves to add some content and remain
pleasingly vague.

The grammar for clumping b) together is different. I essentially
ordered the chunks according to frequency, going from least frequent
to most frequent. A computer can do it, and in fact a computer did. I
think a computer would be hard put to generate the rules for clumping

I think that's Arendt's point. If we think of language as a three
layer sandwich (semantics, lexicogrammar, and phonology/phonetics, or
"meaning", "wording", and "sounding", to use Halliday's scheme), we
can say that meaning interfaces with non-individual human material
because semantics has to reflect context (including social context),
and sounding interfaces with non-individual human material because
sounding has to reflect the properties of sound waves (and their
decodability by others). But wording is under individual human control
exclusively, hence the inimitability of grammar.

Joseph is quite right to say that that the phonology is never entirely
decoupled from the semantics. But he is quite wrong when he assumes
that the most direct link is the articulation of phones. If this were
true there would be very few articulatory differences between
languages and in fact there are very many. There are, however, far
fewer prosodic differences between languages. So for example in every
language I know, including child protolanguage, rising intonation
implies that an exchange is incomplete and some kind of response is
required, while falling intonation implies that no response is

Although even here there isn't a direct link between meaning and
sounding, there is always and everywhere the indirect, mediated link
of grammar. The problem arises when this link becomes automatic and
habitual and loses the crucial component of conscious and deliberate
control. We can call this the problem of thoughtless fluency, or
mindless flow.

I've often wondered why humankind should have chosen English, an
extreme outlier among the world's language in terms of the
learnability of its phonology and its lexicogrammar, as its first true
experiment in having a world language. It seems, though, that other
world languages (e.g. Greek, Latin French in the eighteenth century,
and German in the nineteenth century) have also had these properties.

Hymes said that "feasibility" is a property of all communicative
competence, but I think he underestimated the extent to which a
language of prestige, hence a language prized by worldly travellers,
prizes unfeasibility. The inimitability of grammar becomes a badge of
exclusitivity; a kind of a linguistic Business Class Lounge.

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

On 4 April 2014 10:20, Huw Lloyd <huw.softdesigns@gmail.com> wrote:
> Presumably, there's a grammar for clumping word-chunks together too...
> +1  ;)
> On 3 April 2014 23:08, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com> wrote:
>> Well, of course, I sent out the results of the experiment without any
>> explanation because I believe that people should think for themselves.
>> But Mike is right--I am mildly insulted when I receive exhortations to
>> be relevant, be useful, and think for myself by agreeing with the
>> person insulting me.
>> Perhaps I shouldn't be. The truth is that I have been thinking for
>> myself for so long that I actually bore myself while still managing to
>> baffle the reviewers of prominent journals. And it is true that
>> sometimes--yea, often--I would rather think the way that Vygotsky did,
>> particularly since the way he thought seems more useful and relevant
>> to my work than the way that I do.
>> I would also like to think the way that Hannah Arendt did. One of the
>> interesting remarks she makes in support of the Kantian idea that evil
>> is always superficial and only moral good is genuinely profound is
>> that Eichman had not mastered the grammar of the German language, and
>> he speaks it rather the way that Arendt herself speaks English, even
>> though Eichmann is a native speaker of German. What Arendt means that
>> rather than consciously and deliberately master the intricate system
>> of German articles and case endings and genders, Eichmann takes a
>> shortcut--he simply memorizes phrases and uses them whole, the way we
>> do when we are speaking or trying to write a very complex foreign
>> language (in my case, Russian).
>> At first I thought this was merely the hauteur of a very educated
>> German Jew, the star pupil of Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers,
>> confronted with an unsuccessful peripatetic oil salesman who failed to
>> complete a high school education and used the extermination of the
>> Jews as a way of advancing a lackluster career. But Margaret Von
>> Trotta, who in the course of making the film "Hanna Arendt" also
>> subjected herself to thousands of hours of Eichmann testimony, makes
>> exactly the same remark. As a consequence of a lack of conscious
>> awareness of the way the German language works and a reliance on
>> memorized phrases, Eichmann's language is necessarily thoughtless and
>> cliche ridden.
>> Von Trotta's example is this. The judge asks Eichmann if the "Final
>> Solution" would have unrolled differently had their been "civic
>> responsibility", the judge is very clearly interested in whether
>> people like Eichmann, who essentially bear no ill will whatsoever
>> towards Jews and are simply doing a job that is somewhat more
>> lucrative and promising than selling oil, would want to change their
>> job if they were confronted with the kind of civic resistance that the
>> "Final Solution" encountered in, say, Denmark or Serbia or Bulgaria
>> (where local populations actively resisted the attempt to round up
>> Jews).
>> Eichmann makes no attempt to understand the question. He simply says
>> had it benefited from sufficient hierarchical organization, it would
>> undoubtedly have been more efficient and more efficiacious. But of
>> course the result is nonsense, because in this case "X" is precisely a
>> form of resistance to hierarchical organization. Eichmann does not
>> speak German; instead, German speaks him.
>> Bateson remarks that the reason why keeping a room tidy requires work,
>> but it just gets untidy by itself is simple entropy; there are many
>> more ways of being untidy than there are of being tidy (and when he
>> says this, what he is really showing us--almost perfectly--is the big
>> difference between the way we mediate reality and the way reality,
>> objectively, really is). In the same way, being grammatical requires
>> work, because there are infinitely many ways of being ungrammatical
>> and relatively fewer ways of being grammatical. We can, of course,
>> save work by replacing one psychological function (grammaticality)
>> with another (memory), but when we do this run up against Arendt's
>> biggest problem.
>> Arendt is shocked that Eichmann uses Kant to justify his actions and
>> even gives a reasonably good, though no doubt memorized, version of
>> the Categorical Imperative. She concludes that there are simply very
>> many ways of being evil, and relatively few of being good. The only
>> reliable method of telling the difference is to think and speak for
>> yourself. Paradoxically, or perhaps not so, this is something we do
>> not do well unless we actually listen to others and respond to them in
>> sentences that cannot be readily Googled.
>> David Kellogg
>> Hankuk University of Foreign Studies