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[Xmca-l] Re: Taxis and Embedding in Conversation
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- Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Taxis and Embedding in Conversation
- From: Peg Griffin <Peg.Griffin@att.net>
- Date: Mon, 3 Jul 2017 00:30:06 -0400
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For anyone who is interested, this is about the characterization of Jim McCawley in the message this replies to.
I found it inappropriate, unacceptable, not true and not needed to make any point in the message. Perhaps the writer is unaware of the impression given by the characterization provided.
As repair, I will point out that many admired Jim as a kind and open man, an activist for causes seen in the US as leftist, a deeply thoughtful linguist who data grubbed (he said "data fetishist") as a student of many languages and colleague of many linguists, a fine cook and musician. He died in 1999. You can find obituaries in the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times, and in the Linguistic Society of America's journal, there is a memorial:
Lawler, John (2003). James D. McCawley. Language. 79:614–625. doi:10.1353/lan.2003.0173
(His candidacy on the Libertarian ticket, by the way, was not for Governor, but for a seat on the University of Illinois Board of trustees -- 3 times in the 70's in the complex politics of Chicago and Illinois as part of intentional moves concerning power, corruption, and the relation between universities and politics in the US in general.)
From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] On Behalf Of David Kellogg
Sent: Sunday, July 02, 2017 5:37 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Taxis and Embedding in Conversation
Bear with me for a linguistic excursus. It will involve taking the scenic route. But after all, that's what whales do.
So one of the first linguistics professors I ever had at the University of Chicago was James McCawley. He was a right wing nut job: when he wasn't professsoring, he was running for governor of Illinois on the LIbertarian ticket. Because he was a libertarian, and because he was a bit of a nut, he would lecture on why we freshmen like to say "Fan-fucking-tastic!" instead of, say, "Fantas-fucking-tic!" In "My Fair Lady", Audrey Hepburn sings:
Oh, so lover-ly singing abso-blooming-lutely still Ah would never budge till spring crept over me window sill!"
Why not "ab-blooming-solutely" (which has the advantage of alliteration) or "absolute-bloomingly" (which would make more morphological sense)? or "
The answer has to do with embedding, which is a phenomenon that occurs on virtually every level of language: sounding, wording, and of course meaning. So for example, at the level of wording, imagine that I receive a letter from a elementary school crush, and it is discovered by my wife.
a) She tore up the letter, which upset me.
Now imagine that this long-lost elementary school crush turns out to be a loathsome right winger soliciting funds for "Blue Lives Matter":
b) She tore up the letter which upset me.
Oh, what a difference a little comma can make! In b) "which upset me" is embedded in the nominal group (the "noun phrase", for you Chomskyans). It plays no part in the structure of the clause-complex (the "sentence" for Chomskyans). So it has no effect on the tearing or on the "she", and it is confined to "the letter", just as "fucking" intensifies the SOUND STRESS on "TAST-ic" rather than the lexical meaning of "fantasy" or the more grammatical meaning of "ic", and "blooming" intensifies the prosodic emphasis of "LUTE-ly" rather than the lexical meaning of "absolute" or the grammatical meaning of "~ly". But in a) "which upset me" is a all about her tearing up the letter and it impacts "she" and "tore up" and not just the letter: it is abso-bloomingly-lutely part of the story of the clause-complex as a whole.
You can see that both McCawley's example and my own are about meaning, but they are about different kinds of meaning. McCawley is talking about prosodic meaning: the kind of meaning we get from rhymes, jingles, hip hop and Homeric hexameters. I am giving you an example of lexicogrammatical meaning, the kind of meaning we get when semantics (thinking) is realized as lexicogrammar (wordings, which may be in turn realized as soundings, but they may also be inner speech).
But, as the poet says, if you would see the Yangzi River, you must ascend another storey of the Yellow Crane Tower. In the latest volume of her Collected Works, Ruqaiya Hasan is talking about a conversation between her graduate student, Carmel Cloran, and Carmel's preschool son, Stephen.
It's the kind of rangey conversation we all have with preschoolers: she asks him what he wants for lunch, and he decides on peanut butter sandwiches and passionfruit. The passionfruit is not in the fruit bowl and it has to be retrieved from under the kitchen table, Stephen wants to know why there are no passionfruit in Sydney at this time of year (it's winter) and Carmel wants him to sit at his designated place at the table and not the place where his Grandma usually sits, Stephen wants to know why Grandma sits there and not elsewhere, and why he can't sit there when she's not around, and then as Carmel brings the sandwiches and prepared fruit to the table she talks about taking him shopping to Chatswood.
One way to see this conversation is as a kind of Monty Python show--a sequence of texts separated by "and now for something completely different". This is, actually, the way they see things at the University of Sydney, where each "text" in the conversation is attributed to a different "genre" and even a different "register". In some of the texts the context is present, in others it is present but under the table, and in others it is in distant Chatswood and far in the future.
But another way is to see some of the texts as embedded in others: looking for the passionfruit is a kind of qualifier of Stephen's request for passionfruit, and the explanation of seating has the function of a "because..." or "since..." hypotactic. clause attached to Stephen's sitting in the wrong place at the kitchen table.
The trip to Chatswood? On the face of it, this is really "and now for something completely different". And yet, from the Macquarie point of view, it too is linked, but "paratactically". What is being kept up is the interpersonal flow of meaning--the intimate, loving, but asymmetrical relationship between care-giver and cared-for. This is not much related to the social reproduction of the material conditions of life (and from Stephen's view not at all): if they do not go to Chatswood they will not go hungry tonight. But it is part of the flow of semiosis that forms the great ocean current that carries humans and other warm-blooded animals on their migrations.
Yes, of course: semiogenesis and sociogenesis are linked, just as phylogenesis and sociogenesis are not simply stacked the one upon the other, and learning is not simply the "domestication" of development for purpose of Aktualgenese or microgenesis: there is an inner link in both cases. But as soon as we say that the social reproduction of the material conditions of life and the flow of semiosis have this inner link and are not simply stacked like geological layers, we find ourselves admitting that they can also be distinct, that eddies of semiosis sometimes carry us backwards in sociogenesis and sometimes fling us far into our own futures.
"The Great Globe and All Who It Inherit:
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