Archive for Philosophy of Language

Grammarians, Whores, Buffoons

From an anonymous colleague:

I'm currently auditing Jennifer Houseman Wegner's class on Cleopatra. Today, in a Powerpoint lecture on Ptolemy IV, she showed the following quote from Edwyn Bevan's "A History of Egpyt under the Ptolemaic Dynasty": (Metheun, 1927, p.233)

"Agathocles and Agathoclea still, as before, ruled the king's [Ptolemy IV] corrupt affections. The palace swarmed with literary pretenders, poets, grammarians, whores, buffoons, philosophers."

Somehow put me in mind of Language Log.

Heavens!  What a motley crew!

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"If you're just joining me, …"

On Facebook, Mike Pope asks:

On "Fresh Air," Terri Gross says:

"If you're just joining me, my guest today is …".

What she DOESN'T mean is:

"… but if you're NOT just joining me, my guest is …"

Linguists: who can help us understand how "if" here is not a simplistic conditional? Any links welcome. Thx.

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This is another one of those posts that I wanted to write long ago (actually almost a year ago), but it got lost in the shuffle until now, when I found it going through my old drafts.

It was prompted by an article that Christine Gross-Loh wrote for The Atlantic (October 8, 2013) titled "Why Are Hundreds of Harvard Students Studying Ancient Chinese Philosophy?  The professor who teaches Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory claims, 'This course will change your life.'"

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James Higginbotham, 1941-2014

James Higginbotham, professor of philosophy and linguistics at USC, died on Friday at the age of 72. USC News details his professional career, which straddled the disciplinary boundary between philosophy of language and theoretical linguistics.

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George Carlin, G.K. Chesterton, and Jorge Luis Borges

From Larry Getlen, "Conversations with Carlin", 2013:

Larry Getlen: Why are you so fascinated with words?

George Carlin: Because they’re all we have. Nature gave us this magnificent brain, which is so different from any that came before it. And the only way the wonders of this brain are shared and developed is through language – the exchange of ideas and communications and feelings. Words are the conveyors of all that. They’re magic. They’re mysterious and wonderful and magic.

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Newt Gingrich, Whorfian theorist

Barbara Scholz died exactly two years ago today. Had she lived, I would have been drawing her attention to Newt Gingrich's latest YouTube video "We're Really Puzzled". Not because she would have liked this latest Gingrichian piece of Republican-oriented self-promotion (she would have hated it), but because he appears to be flirting with what she used to call strong or global or metaphysical Whorfianism, in a naive lexical variant form. (You can read Barbara's discussion of strong and weak Whorfian theses in this section of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's article on philosophy of linguistics.) Holding up a smartphone, Gingrich says:

We're really puzzled here at Gingrich Productions. We've spent weeks trying to figure out: What do you call this? I know, you probably think it's a cell phone . . . But if it's taking pictures, it's not a cell phone."

Now, this may at first sound ridiculous; but in fact I do have an inkling of what moved Gingrich to embark on his piece of burbling.

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New blog on history and philosophy of language sciences

There’s a new blog, “History and Philosophy of the Language Sciences”, edited by James McElvenny at the University of Sydney. I’m the invited author of the third post in it, ‘On the history of the question of whether natural language is “illogical”’, which came out on May 1. For now, new posts are planned weekly. Here’s the blog address:

Let any interested friends know about it, because there is a desire for good discussion of the entries and for interesting new posts.

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Perhaps now more than ever, ain't nobody got time fo that

Philosophy and the Poetic Imagination
by E. Lepore & M. Stone, 2012

Perhaps now
More than
We spend our days
Immersed in

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Global email skepticism

To my considerable astonishment I read this in a piece of boilerplate automatically tacked onto the end of an email reply that I received when I emailed my personal contact person and account manager at my bank:

This message originated from the Internet. Its originator may or may not be who they claim to be and the information contained in the message and any attachments may or may not be accurate.

I can't see anything in it that is actually incorrect (and I like the use of singular they); it just seems extraordinary to receive a sort of endorsement of global skepticism from one's bank. My philosophical friends tend to have no time at all for global skepticism of this sort. They would ask the sender, "Should we therefore not assume that this caveat is accurate? Should we doubt that it originated from the Internet, since the sentence saying so did?" And eventually the sender would vanish in a puff of logic.

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"I actually saw Khrushchev not bang his shoe"

I just found that sentence in the first footnote to William Taubman's "Khrushchev: The Man and his Era" (2003). It's a great example of a "negative event" – we call them "negative events" with scare quotes because it remains controversial whether there are any such things. How can not doing something be an event?

First a clarification: I realize from Googling that there's a completely different sense of "negative event" which is more common and not controversial at all – that's something bad that happens to you, an event with "negative" effects. What linguists and philosophers worry about are sentences or phrases containing negation that seem to denote events, like the one that heads this post.

We chatted a bit about it around the water cooler at Language Log Plaza yesterday, and David Beaver contributed the following nice link:

The discussion there and in Taubman's footnote of the events at the UN General Assembly on October 13, 1960 makes it clear that on the one hand, Khrushchev's banging his shoe on the desk became famous and iconic, and that on the other hand, there is a real dispute about whether it actually happened. That seems to be one circumstance in which something not happening can be described as an event.

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Logic! Language! Information! Scholarships!

’Tis the season to announce seasonal schools. Geoff Pullum announced a short course on grammar for language technologists as part of a winter school in Tarragona next month, and Mark Liberman announced a call for course proposals for the LSA's Linguistic Institute in summer 2013. But what if you can't make it to Tarragona next month, and can't wait a year and a half to get your seasonal school fix? Well, I have just the school for you!

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