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[Xmca-l] Re: The Inimitability of Grammar

On 4 April 2014 23:00, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com> wrote:

> Huw:
> 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.

Let's not forget "Be specific".  :)

I think you're on to something (or, as my inimitable boy says,
"sump-sump").  The conservative party better watch out for your analytics.

Also this reminds me of a case M. H. Erickson reported in persisting at
speaking back gibberish to a patient.  Eventually the patient asked why he
was speaking that way.

Clutching at straws, am I.


> 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
> a).
> 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
> necessary.
> 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
> >>
> >>
> >>