Pinker talk Re: [xmca] Silly Offshoots and Dropped Subjects

From: Tony Whitson <twhitson who-is-at UDel.Edu>
Date: Thu Jan 03 2008 - 17:33:22 PST

Just as I pressed the "send" key on that message, it occured to me that I
should check whether his talk can be viewed over the Internet (It can!).
BookTV has recently begun posting RealPlayer links to more of its programs
than before.

Here's the link:

I hope anyone who sees it will find it worth their time!

On Thu, 3 Jan 2008, Tony Whitson wrote:

> Thanks, David, for several interesting points to contemplate.
> My first reaction on one question: It seems to me you may be over-analyzing.
> If "Thank you" is regarded as a speech act along the lines of
> "Congratulations!," does there need to be a subject, like the subject of
> action or predication?
> And could not "Thank you in advance" be just an equivalent of when I begin,
> "I would be very grateful if you could share any suggestions ..."?
> Your examples, though, remind me of a talk I've just heard by Steven Pinker
> on his new book THE STUFF OF THOUGHT. David, I think you would really find
> this book engaging.
> I am always prepared to dislike Pinker. I sometimes find him overly glib. His
> BLANK SLATE is something of an anti-Hegelian work, although it might be a
> healthy corrective to some tendencies. And, of course, the title STUFF OF
> THOUGHT suggests a non-semiotic idea of thought as having positive
> content-stuff.
> However, I didn't find anything in his talk to argue with, especially. He was
> very entertaining, and plays with numerous examples of "Crazy English." I
> think you would enjoy it, and find it useful.
> On Thu, 3 Jan 2008, David Kellogg wrote:
>> Andy:
>> I think your correspondant Dr. Sawchuck misunderstood the "silly
>> offshoot" on terms of endearment. Actually, it was never attached to the
>> discussion of your paper; it originated in my response to eric's visible
>> discomfort--which I fully understand and even share---at addressing
>> eminent scholars who participate on this list by their given names.
>> I'm afraid this too is by way of a silly offshoot. My apologies in
>> advance to Dr. Sawchuck and anyone else who might be offended.
>> You remember that the silly offshoot on "thank you" had to do with why
>> people say "Thank you in advance". Nobody ever really answered this
>> question, but I thought about it for a few days and I think I came up with
>> a) a plausible answer, and (more interestingly)
>> b) two even more intractable questions, namely:
>> i) What is the grammatical subject of 'Thank you'?
>> ii) Why can't we say "Thank you a lot" in English?
>> I shall make my answers to i) and ii) as implausible as possible, or at
>> least as implausible as likely.
>> If you ask somebody on the street for directions and they give them to
>> you and you say "Thank you" then they are perfectly likely to say "You're
>> welcome" or "Not at all" (if they are British). But if you go into a store
>> and buy something and you pay with a ten pound(dollar) note(bill) and they
>> give you change and you say "Thank you", then it would be presumptuous,
>> even impudent, for the cashier to say "You're welcome".
>> It's tempting to say that the difference in welcoming has to do with
>> whether someone is REALLY doing you a favor or not, and in fact I have
>> read accounts by linguists that take this line. I think the line is
>> untenable: it assumes we all agree on what an important favor is, and that
>> that importance remains constant over time and across widely variant
>> conditions of need, and (worse) it obscures the more relevant factor of
>> whether or not a person performing a service is being paid.
>> An even more relevant factor (it seems to me) is TIME. A man walks into a
>> pet shop and buys a parrot. He pays with a ten pound note and receives his
>> change:
>> MAN: Thank you.
>> CASHIER: Not at all.
>> MAN: No, really. Thanks very much.
>> CASHIER: It was nothing.
>> MAN: It was not nothing. It was nearly twenty-three pence. Twenty-two to
>> be exact. Thank you...a lot.
>> CASHIER: Thank you a lot?
>> MAN BEHIND THE MAN: Look, mate! We haven't got all day!
>> The same problem arises in e-mail, particularly now that the receipt and
>> reading of e-mails is complicated by spam filters and spam and other
>> constraints on time and in-boxes. Normally, we thank people for responses
>> to queries on XMCA. But do we have to acknowledge the thanks?
>> In Korea, I often do, because the persons who thank me are highly
>> respected members of the academic community and might feel slighted if I
>> did not acknowledge the thanks. It's for this reason, I think, that Korean
>> academics tend to avoid e-mail, particularly when favors are involved. In
>> fact, they tend to avoid asking favors, because favors always require
>> prompt repayment in kind or in dinners, and when they do ask them, it is
>> almost always in person or at least over the phone, where thanks can be
>> given and acknowledged without further written work.
>> Now, does this time explanation explain why we drop the subject in "Thank
>> you"? I think it does. It's tempting to see "thank you" as constructed
>> along the same lines as "Bless you" or "Damn you", where the implied
>> subject is God ("May God...") and the verb is in the subjunctive mood (and
>> therefore takes neither person nor tense).
>> But it seems to me more likely that "Thank you" is constructed along the
>> same lines as "See you!" or "Love ya!" in which the verb is in the first
>> person singular declarative mood, and the implied subject, that is, "I",
>> is simply dropped to save time (it's unstressed and appears at the
>> droppable beginning of the sentence anyway).
>> This elision of the subject also extends to much of the predicate in the
>> case of "(I give you) thanks". I was thinking that this might even explain
>> why we don't say "thank you a lot" (though of course we DO say "thanks a
>> lot" and "thanks very much" and even "thank you very much").
>> Despite the adverbial posmodification ("a lot" and "very much") "thanks"
>> seems to be a NOUN rather than a verb in the third person singular. How to
>> explain the adverbial tails?
>> Here's the improbable bit. It seems to me that "thanks a lot" and "thanks
>> very much" are VERTICAL constructions. Like this:
>> CASHIER: Sure.
>> MAN: A lot!
>> CASHIER: No problem.
>> MAN: Thanks.
>> MAN: Very much!
>> CASHIER: Awright, awready! Next!
>> (There's actually an aria rather like this scene in Rossini's "Il
>> Barbieri de Seviglia", where Don Bartolo receives "gioia e pace, pace e
>> gioia" for the hand of Rosina at exasperating length from a disguised
>> rival. Don Bartolo discovers that his pro-forma expostulations of "gracia"
>> and "bien obligato" merely prolong the unwanted exchange...)
>> This vertical construction would explain the "s" on the end of "thanks"
>> and the close proximity of the adverb--they are different utterances but
>> they have become juxtaposed through time-saving.
>> Is this a silly offshoot? Oh, I suppose it is; the hapless ex-parrot has
>> probably long since joined the choir invisible. But vertical constructions
>> and horizontal constructions are really at the heart of how grammar
>> emerges from discourse--and they are just one more example of the power of
>> LSV's genetic law.
>> Expressions like "Thank you in advance" emerge first as intertextual
>> exchanges that go on too long, and only later are collapsed into
>> intra-textual phrases. Isn't this the same way that relations between
>> mental functions in different minds are collapsed into relations within
>> minds?
>> David Kellogg
>> Seoul National University of Education
>> PS:
>> For the non-natives on the list, I hasten to add that I'm only talking
>> about American and British English. According to Google,
>> 1. Thank you very much. 15,600,000 hits
>> 2. Thanks a lot. 5,190,000 hits
>> 3. Thanks very much. 2,670,000 hits
>> 4. Thank you a lot. 123,000 hits
>> A lot of #4s seem to be speakers of English as foreign language.
>> According to Practical English Usage, 2005, #4 is not acceptable in
>> British English.
>> dk
>> ---------------------------------
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>> _______________________________________________
>> xmca mailing list
> Tony Whitson
> UD School of Education
> NEWARK DE 19716
> _______________________________
> "those who fail to reread
> are obliged to read the same story everywhere"
> -- Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)

Tony Whitson
UD School of Education

"those who fail to reread
  are obliged to read the same story everywhere"
                   -- Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)
xmca mailing list
Received on Thu Jan 3 17:42 PST 2008

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