I wrote this for a class some time ago, but apparently forgot to post it here before. I need to cite it in my bachelor’s thesis, so I will put it here.
I read this book as part of background reading for my bachelor (which im writing here) after seeing it referred to in a few other books. As a textbook it seems fine, except for the chapter dealing with psycholinguistics. Nearly all the references in this section are clearly dated, and the author is not up to speed.
Some quotes and comments.
Over time, the gap between spelling and pronunciation is bound to widen
in alphabetic orthographies, as spoken forms change and written forms are retained.
Many of the so-called ‘silent’ letters in French can be explained in this way. Catach
(1978: 65) states that 12.83 per cent of letters are mute letters in French, that is,
letters that have no phonetic interpretation whatever.
Imagine how much money and time has been spent on typing silent letters. Several hundred years of typing 13% more letters than necessary. 13% more paper use. Remember when books were actually expensive.
A neat little overview. English is probably unique in this degree of linguistic insanity.
Perhaps that’s where the name of the danish letter J comes from (jʌð). I always wondered.
We are like sailors who must rebuild their boat on the open sea without ever
being able to take it apart in a dock and reassemble it from scratch. -Otto Neurath
I have seen this one before, but i couldnt verify it via Wikiquote while writing this (on laptop).
The conflicting views about the role of phonological recoding in flu-
ent reading are mirrored in a long-standing controversy that pervades reading
teaching methods. On one hand, the phonics and decoding method views read-
ing as a process that converts written forms of language to speech forms and
then to meaning. A teaching method, consequently, should emphasize phonolog-
ical knowledge. As one leading proponent of the phonics/decoding approach puts
it, ‘phonological skills are not merely concomitants or by-products of reading
ability; they are true antecedents that may account for up to 60 per cent of the
variance in children’s reading ability’ (Mann 1991: 130). On the other hand, the
whole-word method sees reading as a form of communication that consists of the
reception of information through the written form, the recovery of meaning being
the essential purpose. ‘Since it is the case that learning to recognize whole words
is necessary to be a fluent reader, therefore, the learning of whole words right
from the start may be easier and more effective’ (Steinberg, Nagata and Aline
This sounds like another case of social scientists identifying g without realizing it. Phonological awareness surely correlates with g.
This study shows that a factor analysis of 4 WAIS subtests + a phonological awareness test. PA had a loading on g of .61.
Although a general correlation between literacy rate and prosperity can be ob-
served, relatively poor countries with high literacy rates, such as Vietnam and Sri Lanka, and very rich countries with residual illiteracy, such as the United States, do exist.
This pattern is easily explainable if one knows that the national g of Vietnam and Sri Lanka is around world average, while the US is much higher. The high illiteracy rate of the US is becus of their minority populations of hispanics and african americans.
Overall an interesting introduction. Some chapters were much more interesting to me than others, which were somewhere between kinda boring and boring. Generally, the book is way too light on the statistical features of the studies cited. When I hear of a purportedly great study, I want to know the sample size and the significance of the results.
Why does Pirahã lack recursion? Everett’s (2008) answer is that Pirahã lacks recursion
because recursion introduces statements into a language that do not make direct assertions
about the world. When you say, Give me the nails that Dan bought, that statement presupposes
that it is true that Dan bought the nails, but it does not say so outright. In Pirahã, each of the
individual sentences is a direct statement or assertion about the world. “Give me the nails”
is a command equivalent to “I want the nails” (an assertion about the speaker’s mental state).
“Dan bought the nails” is a direct assertion of fact, again expressing the speaker’s mental
state (“I know Dan bought those nails”). “They are the same” is a further statement of fact.
Everett describes the Pirahã as being a very literal-minded people. They have no creation
myths. They do not tell fictional stories. They do not believe assertions made by others
about past events unless the speaker has direct knowledge of the events, or knows someone
who does. As a result, they are very resistant to conversion to Christianity, or any other faith
that requires belief in things unseen. Everett argues that these cultural principles determine
the form of Pirahã grammar. Specifically, because the Pirahã place great store in first-hand
knowledge, sentences in the language must be assertions. Nested statements, like relative
clauses, require presuppositions (rather than assertions) and are therefore ruled out. If
Everett is right about this, then Pirahã grammar is shaped by Pirahã culture. The form their
language takes is shaped by their cultural values and the way they relate to one another
socially. If this is so, then Everett’s study of Pirahã grammar would overturn much of the
received wisdom on where grammars come from and why they take the form they do.
Which leads us to …
In an attempt to gather further evidence regarding these possibilities, Savage-Rumbaugh
raised a chimp named Panpanzeeand a bonobo named Panbanisha, starting when they
were infants, in a language-rich environment. Chimpanzees are the closest species to
humans. The last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees lived between about
5 million and 8 million years ago. Bonobos are physically similar to chimpanzees, although
bonobos are a bit smaller on average. Bonobos asa group also have social characteristics
that distinguish them from chimpanzees. Theytend to show less intra-species aggression
and are less dominated by male members of the species.9Despite the physical similarities,
the two species are biologically distinct. By testing both a chimpanzee and a bonobo, SavageRumbaugh could hold environmental factors constant while observing change over time
(ontogeny) and differences across the two species (phylogeny). If the two animals acquired
the same degree of language skill, this would suggest that cultural or environmental factors
have the greatest influence on their language development. Differences between them
would most likely reflect phylogenetic biological differences between the two species.
Differences in skill over time would most likely reflect ontogenetic or maturational factors.
The author clearly forgets about individual differences in ability. They are also found in monkeys (indeed, any animal which has g as a polygenetic trait).
The fossil record shows that human ancestors before Homo sapiensemerged, between
about 70,000 and 200,000 years ago, had some of the cultural and physical characteristics of
modern humans, including making tools and cooking food. If we assume that modern
language emerged sometime during the Homo sapiensera, then it would be nice to know
why it emerged then, and not before. One possibility is that a general increase in brain size
relative to body weight in Homo sapiensled to an increase in general intelligence, and this
increase in general intelligence triggered a language revolution. On this account, big brain
comes first and language emerges later. This hypothesis leaves a number of questions
unanswered, however, such as, what was that big brain doing before language emerged? If
the answer is “not that much,” then why was large brain size maintained in the species
(especially when you consider that the brain demands a huge proportion of the body’s
resources)? And if language is an optional feature of big, sapiensbrains, why is it a universal
characteristic among all living humans? Also, why do some groups of humans who have
smaller sized brains nonetheless have fully developed language abilities?
Interesting that he doesn’t cite a reference for this claim, or the brain size general intelligence claim from earlier. I’m more wondering, tho, is there really no difference in language sofistication between groups with different brain sizes (and g)? I’m thinking of spoken language. Perhaps it’s time to revise that claim. We know that g has huge effects on people’s vocabulary size (vocabulary size is one of the most g-loaded subtests) which has to do with both spoken and written language. However, the grammers and morfologies of many languages found in low-g countries are indeed very sofisticated.
As a result of concerns like those raised by Pullum, as well as studies showing that
speakers of different languages perceive the world similarly, many language scientists have
viewed linguistic determinism as being dead on arrival (see, e.g., Pinker, 1994). Many of
them would argue that language serves thought, rather than dictating to it. If we ask the
question, what is language good for? one of the most obvious answers is that language
allows us to communicate our thoughts to other people. That being the case, we would
expect language to adapt to the needs of thought, rather than the other way around. If an
individual or a culture discovers something new to say, the language will expand to fit the
new idea (as opposed to preventing the new idea from being hatched, as the Whorfian
hypothesis suggests). This anti-Whorfian position does enjoy a certain degree of support
from the vocabularies of different languages, and different subcultures within individual
languages. For example, the class of words that refer to objects and events (open class)
changes rapidly in cultures where there is rapid technological or social changes (such as
most Western cultures). The word internetdid not exist when I was in college, mumble
mumble years ago. The word Googledid not exist 10 years ago. When it first came into the
language, it was a noun referring to a particular web-browser. Soon after, it became a verb
that meant “to search the internet for information.” In this case, technological, cultural, and
social developments caused the language to change. Thought drove language. But did
language also drive thought? Certainly. If you hear people saying “Google,” you are going to
want to know what they mean. You are likely to engage with other speakers of your language
until this new concept becomes clear to you. Members of subcultures, such as birdwatchers
or dog breeders, have many specialist terms that make their communication more efficient,
but there is no reason to believe that you need to know the names for different types of birds
before you can perceive the differences between them—a bufflehead looks different than a
pintail no matter what they’re called.
The author apparently gets his etymology wrong. Google was never a verb for a browser, that’s something computer-illiterate people think, cf. www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4MwTvtyrUQ
No… Google’s Chrome is a browser. Google is a search engine. And “to google” something means to search for it using Google, the search engine. Altho now it has changed somewhat to mean “search the internet for”. Similarly to the Kleenex meaning change.
Different languages express numbers in different ways, so language could influence the
way children in a given culture acquire number concepts (Hunt & Agnoli, 1991; Miller &
Stigler, 1987). Chinese number words differ from English and some other languages (e.g.,
Russian) because the number words for 11–19 are more transparent in Chinese than in
English. In particular, Chinese number words for the teens are the equivalent of “ten-one,”
“ten-two,” “ten-three” and so forth. This makes the relationship between the teens and the
single digits more obvious than equivalent English terms, such as twelve. As a result, children
who speak Chinese learn to count through the teens faster than children who speak English.
This greater accuracy at producing number words leads to greater accuracy when children
are given sets of objects and are asked to say how many objects are in the set. Chinesespeaking children performed this task more accurately than their English-speaking peers,
largely because they made very few errors in producing number words while counting up
the objects. One way to interpret these results is to propose that the Chinese language makes
certain relationships more obvious (that numbers come in groups of ten; that there’s a
relationship between different numbers that end in the word “one”), and making those
relationships more obvious makes the counting system easier to learn.22
This hypothesis is certainly plausible, but the average g difference between chinese children and american children is a confound that needs to be dealt with.
It would be interesting to see a scandinavian comparison because danish has a horrible numeral system, while swedish has a better one. They both have awkward teen numbers, but the e2 numbers are much more meaningful in swedish: e.g. fem-tio, five-ten vs. halv-tres, half-tres, a remnant from a system based on 20’s, it’s half-three*20 = 2.5*20=50.
So how are word meanings (senses, that is) represented in the mental lexicon? And what
research tools are appropriate to investigating word representations? One approach to
investigating word meaning relies on introspection—thinking about word meanings and
drawing conclusions from subjective experience. It seems plausible, based on introspection,
that entries in the mental lexicon are close analogs to dictionary entries. If so, the lexical
representation of a given word would incorporate information about its grammatical
function (what category does it belong to, verb, noun, adjective, etc.), which determines how
it can combine with other words (adverbs go with verbs, adjectives with nouns). Using
words in this sense involves the assumption that individual words refer to types—that the
core meaning of a word is a pointer to a completely interchangeable set of objects in the
world (Gabora, Rosch, & Aerts, 2008). Each individual example of a category is a token. So,
teamis a type, and Yankees, Twins, and Mudhensare tokens of that type.2
He has misunderstood the type-token terminology. I will quite SEP:
The distinction between a type and its tokens is an ontological one between a general sort of thing and its particular concrete instances (to put it in an intuitive and preliminary way). So for example consider the number of words in the Gertrude Stein line from her poem Sacred Emily on the page in front of the reader’s eyes:
Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.
In one sense of ‘word’ we may count three different words; in another sense we may count ten different words. C. S. Peirce (1931-58, sec. 4.537) called words in the first sense “types” and words in the second sense “tokens”. Types are generally said to be abstract and unique; tokens are concrete particulars, composed of ink, pixels of light (or the suitably circumscribed lack thereof) on a computer screen, electronic strings of dots and dashes, smoke signals, hand signals, sound waves, etc. A study of the ratio of written types to spoken types found that there are twice as many word types in written Swedish as in spoken Swedish (Allwood, 1998). If a pediatrician asks how many words the toddler has uttered and is told “three hundred”, she might well enquire “word types or word tokens?” because the former answer indicates a prodigy. A headline that reads “From the Andes to Epcot, the Adventures of an 8,000 year old Bean” might elicit “Is that a bean type or a bean token?”.
He seems to be talking about members of sets.
Or maybe not, perhaps his usage is just idiosyncratic, for in the note “2” to the above, he writes:
Teamitself can be a token of a more general category, like organization(team, company, army). Typeand token
are used differently in the speech production literature. There, tokenis often used to refer to a single instance
of a spoken word; typeis used to refer to the abstract representation of the word that presumably comes into
play every time an individual produces that word
We could lo ok at a cor pus and count up ever y t ime t he word dogsappears in exactly that
form. We could count up the number of times that catsappears in precisely that form. In
that case we would be measuring surface frequency—how often the exact word occurs. But
the words dogsand catsare both related to other words that share the same root morpheme.
We could decide t o ignore minor differences in s ur face for m and ins t ead concent r at e on
how often the family of related words appears. If so, we would treat dog, dogs, dog-tired, and
dogpileas being a single large class, and we would count up the number of times any member
of the class appears in the corpus. In that case, we would be measuring rootfrequency—how
often the shared word root appears in the language. Those two ways of counting frequency
can come up with very different estimates. For example, perhaps the exact word dogappears
very often, but do-pileappears very infrequently. If we base our frequency estimate on
surface frequency, dogpileis very infrequent. But if we use root frequency instead, dogpileis
very frequent, because it is in the class of words that share the root dog, which appears
If we use these different frequency estimates (surface frequency and root frequency) to
predict how long it will take people to respond on a reaction time task, root frequency
makes better predictions than surface frequency does. A word that has a low surface
frequency will be responded to quickly if its root frequency is high (Bradley, 1979; Taft, 1979,
1994). This outcome is predicted by an account like FOBS that says that word forms are
accessed via their roots, and not by models like logogen where each individual word form
has a separate entry in the mental lexicon.
Further evidence for the morphological decomposition hypothesis comes from priming
studies involving words with real and pseudo-affixes. Many polymorphemic words are
created when derivational affixes are added to a root. So, we can take the verb growand
turn it into a noun by adding the derivational suffix -er. A groweris someone who grows
things. There are a lot of words that end in -erand have a similar syllabic structure to
grower, but that are not real polymorphemic words. For example, sisterlooks a bit like
grower. They both end in -erand they both have a single syllable that precedes -er.
According to the FOBS model, we have to get rid of the affixes before we can identify the
root. So, anything that looks or sounds like it has a suffix is going to be treated like it really
does have a suffix, even when it doesn’t. Even though sisteris a monomorphemic word, the
lexical access process breaks it down into a pseudo- (fake) root, sist, and a pseudo-suffix, -er.
After the affix strippingprocess has had a turn at breaking down sisterinto a root and a
suffix, the lexical access system will try to find a bin that matches the pseudo-root sist. This
process will fail, because there is no root morpheme in English that matches the input sist.
In that case, the lexical access system will have to re-search the lexicon using the entire
word sister. This extra process should take extra time, therefore the affix stripping
hypothesis predicts that pseudo-suffixedwords (like sister) should take longer to process
than words that have a real suffix (like grower). This prediction has been confirmed in a
number of reaction time studies—people do have a harder time recognizing pseudosuffixed words than words with real suffixes (Lima, 1987; Smith & Sterling, 1982; Taft,
1981). People also have more trouble rejecting pseudo-words that are made up of a prefix
(e.g., de) and a real root morpheme (e.g., juvenate) than a comparable pseudo-word that
contains a prefix and a non-root (e.g., pertoire). This suggests that morphological
decomposition successfully accesses a bin in the dejuvenatecase, and people are able to
rule out dejuvenateas a real word only after the entire bin has been fully searched (Taft &
Forster, 1975). Morphological structure may also play a role in word learning. When people
are exposed to novel words that are made up of real morphemes, such as genvive(related
to the morpheme vive, as in revive) they rate that stimulus as being a better English word
and they recognize it better than an equally complex stimulus that does not incorporate a
familiar root (such as gencule) (Dorfman, 1994, 1999).
In which case english is a pretty bad language as it tends not to re-use roots. Ex. “garlic” vs. danish “hvidløg” (white-onion), or “edible” vs. “eatable” (eat-able). Esparanto shud do pretty good on a comparison.
When comprehenders demonstrate sensitivity to subcategory preference information
(the fact that some structures are easier to process than others when a sentence contains a
particular verb), they are behaving in ways that are consistent with the tuning hypothesis.
The tuning hypothesis says, “that structural ambiguities are resolved on the basis of stored
records relating to the prevalence of the resolution of comparable ambiguities in the past”
(Mitchell, Cuetos, Corley, & Brysbaert, 1995, p. 470; see also Bates & MacWhinney, 1987;
Ford, Bresnan, & Kaplan, 1982; MacDonald et al., 1994). In other words, people keep track
of how often they encounter different syntactic structures, and when they are uncertain
about how a particular string of words should be structured, they use this stored information
to rank the different possibilities. In the case of subcategory preference information, the
frequencies of different structures are tied to specific words—verbs in this case. The next
section will consider the possibility that frequencies are tied to more complicated
configurations of words, rather than to individual words.
This seems like a plausible account of why practicing can boost reading speed.
The other way that propositionis defined in construction–integration theory is, “The
smallest unit of meaning that can be assigned a truth value.” Anything smaller than that is
a predicate or an argument. Anything bigger than that is a macroproposition. So, wroteis a
predicate, and wrote the companyis a predicate and one of its arguments. Neither is
a proposition, because neither can be assigned a truth value. That is, it doesn’t make sense
to ask, “True or false: wrote the company?” But it does make sense to ask, “True or false: The
customer wrote the company?” To answer that question, you would consult some
representation of the real or an imaginary world, and the statement would either accurately
describe the state of affairs in that world (i.e., it would be true) or it would not (i.e., it would
Although the precise mental mechanisms that are involved in converting the surface
form to a set of propositions have not been worked out, and there is considerable debate
about the specifics of propositional representation (see, e.g., Kintsch, 1998; Perfetti & Britt,
1995), a number of experimental studies have supported the idea that propositions are a
real element of comprehenders’ mental representations of texts (van Dijk & Kintsch, 1983).
In other words, propositions are psychologically real—there really are propositions in the
head. For example, Ratcliff and McKoon (1978) used priming methods to find out how
comprehenders’ memories for texts are organized. There are a number of possibilities. It
could be that comprehenders’ memories are organized to capture pretty much the verbatim
information that the text conveyed. In that case, we would expect that information that is
nearby in the verbatim form of the text would be very tightly connected in the comprehender’s
memory of that text. So, for example, if you had a sentence like (2) (from Ratcliff & McKoon,
(2) The geese crossed the horizon as the wind shuffled the clouds.
the words horizonand windare pretty close together, as they are separated by only two short
function words. If the comprehender’s memory of the sentence is based on remembering it
as it appeared on the page, then horizonshould be a pretty good retrieval cue for wind(and
If we analyze sentence (2) as a set of propositions, however, we would make a different
prediction. Sentence (2) represents two connected propositions, because there are two
predicates, crossedand shuffled. If we built a propositional representation of sentence (2),
we would have a macroproposition(a proposition that is itself made up of other propositions),
and two micropropositions(propositions that combine to make up macropropositions). The
as (Proposition 1, Proposition 2)
The micropropositions are:
Proposition 1: crossed [geese, the horizon]
Proposition 2: shuffled [the wind, the clouds]
Notice that the propositional representation of sentence (2) has horizonin one proposition,
and windin another. According to construction–integration theory, all of the elements of
that go together to make a proposition should be more tightly connected in memory to each
other than to anything else in the sentence. As a result, two words from the same proposition
should make better retrieval cues than two words from different propositions. Those
predictions can be tested by asking subjects to read sentences like (2), do a distractor task
for a while, and then write down what they can remember about the sentences later on. On
each trial, one of the words from the sentence will be used as a retrieval cue or reminder. So,
before we ask the subject to remember sentence (2), we will give her a hint. The hint
(retrieval cue) might be a word from proposition 1 (like horizon) or a word from proposition
2 (like clouds), and the dependent measure would be the likelihood that the participant will
remember a word from the second proposition (like wind). Roger Ratcliff and Gail McKoon
found that words that came from the same proposition were much better retrieval cues
(participants were more likely to remember the target word) than words from different
propositions, even when distance in the verbatim form was controlled. In other words, it
does not help that much to be close to the target word in the verbatim form of the sentence
unless the reminder word is also from the same proposition as the target word (see also
Wanner, 1975; Weisberg, 1969).
Im surprised to see empirical evidence for this, but it is very neat when science does that – converge on the same result from two different angles (in this case metafysics and linguistics).
As for his micro, macroproposition terminology, normally logicians call these compound/non-atomic and atomic propositions.
How does suppression work? Is it as automatic as enhancement? There are a number of
reasons to think that suppression is not just a mirror image of enhancement. First,
suppression takes a lot longer to work than enhancement does. Second, while knowledge
activation (enhancement) occurs about the same way for everyone, not everyone is equally
good at suppressing irrelevant information, and this appears to be a major contributor to
differences in comprehension ability between different people (Gernsbacher, 1993;
Gernsbacher & Faust, 1991; Gernsbacher et al., 1990). For example, Gernsbacher and her
colleagues acquired Verbal SAT scores for a large sample of students at the University of
Oregon (similar experiments have been done on Air Force recruits in basic training, who
are about the same age as the college students). Verbal SAT scores give a pretty good
indication of how well people are able to understand texts that they read, and there are
considerable differences between the highest and lowest scoring people in the sample. This
group of students was then asked to judge whether target words like acewere semantically
related to a preceding sentence like (15), above. Figure 5.4 presents representative data from
one of these experiments. The left-hand bars show that the acemeaning was highly activated
for both good comprehenders (the dark bars) and poorer comprehenders (the light bars)
immediately after the sentence. After a delay of one second (a very long time in language
processing terms), the good comprehenders had suppressed the contextually inappropriate
“playing card” meaning of spade, but the poor comprehenders still had that meaning
activated (shown in the right-hand bars of Figure 5.4).
Very neat! Didn’t know about this, but it fits very nicely in the ECT (elementary cognitive test) tradition of Jensen. I shud probably review this evidence and publish a review in Journal of Intelligence.
To determine whether something is a cause, comprehenders apply the necessity in the
circumstances heuristic (which is based on the causal analysis of the philosopher Hegel).
The necessity in the circumstances heuristic says that “A causes B, if, in the circumstances
of the story, B would not have occurred if A had not occurred, and if A is sufficient for B to
Sounds more like a logical fallacy, i.e. denying the antecedent:
Thus, 3. ¬B
The importance of causal structure in the mental processing of texts can be demonstrated
in a variety of ways. First, the propositional structure of texts can be described as a network
of causal connections. Some of the propositions in a story will be on the central causal chain
that runs from the first proposition in the story (Once upon a time …) to the last (… and
they lived happily ever after). Other propositions will be on causal dead-ends or side-plots.
In Cinderella, her wanting to go to the ball, the arrival of the fairy godmother, the loss of the
glass slipper, and the eventual marriage to the handsome prince, are all on the central causal
chain. Many of the versions of the Cinderella story do not bother to say what happens to the
evil stepmother and stepsisters after Cinderella gets married. Those events are off the
central causal chain and, no matter how they are resolved, they do not affect the central
causal chain. As a result, if non-central events are explicitly included in the story, they are
not remembered as well as more causally central elements (Fletcher, 1986; Fletcher &
Bloom, 1988; Fletcher et al., 1990).
A nice model for memetic evolution.
Korean Air had a big problem (Kirk, 2002). Their planes were dropping out of
the sky like ducks during hunting season. They had the worst safety record of
any major airline. Worried company executives ordered a top-to-bottom
review of company policies and practices to find out what was causing all the
crashes. An obvious culprit would be faulty aircraft or bad maintenace
practices. But their review showed that Korean Air’s aircraft were well
maintained and mechanically sound. So what was the problem? It turned out
that the way members of the flight crew talked to one another was a major
contributing factor in several air disasters. As with many airlines, Korean Air
co-pilots were generally junior to the pilots they flew with. Co-pilots’
responsibilities included, among other things, helping the pilot monitor the
flight instruments and communicating with the pilot when a problem occurred,
including when the pilot might be making an error flying the plane. But in the
wider Korean culture, younger people treat older people with great deference
and respect, and this social norm influences the way younger and older people
talk to one another. Younger people tend to defer to older people and feel
uncomfortable challenging their judgment or pointing out when they are
about to fly a jet into the side of a mountain. In the air, co-pilots were waiting
too long to point out pilot errors, and when they did voice their concerns, their
communication style, influenced by a lifetime of cultural conditioning, made it
more difficult for pilots to realize when something was seriously wrong. To
correct this problem, pilots and co-pilots had to re-learn how to talk to one
another. Pilots needed to learn to pay closer attention when co-pilots voiced
their opinions, and co-pilots had to learn to be more direct and assertive when
communicating with pilots. After instituting these and other changes, Korean
Air’s safety record improved and they stopped losing planes.
This one is probably not true. No source given either. Perhaps just a case of statistical regression towards the mean. Any airline that does bad for chance reasons will tend to recover.
To date, exp er iment s on s t at is t ical lear ning in infant s have b een bas ed on highly
simplified mini-languages with very rigid statistical properties. For example, transitional
probabilities between syllables are set to 1.0 for “words” in the language, and .33 for pairs of
syllables that cut across “word” boundaries.17Natural languages have a much wider range of
transitional probabilities between syllables, the vast majority of which are far lower than
1.0. Researchers have used mathematical models to simulate learning of natural languages,
using samples of real infant-directed speech to train the simulated learner (Yang, 2004).
When the model has to rely on transitional probabilities alone, it fails to segment speech
accurately. However, when the model makes two simple assumptions about prosody—that
each word has a single stressed syllable, and that the prevailing pattern for bisyllables is
trochaic (STRONG–weak)—the model is about as accurate in its segmentation decisions as
7½-month-old infants. This result casts doubt on whether the statistical learning strategy is
sufficient for infants to learn how to segment naturally occurring speech (and if the strategy
is not sufficient, it can not be necessary either).
More logic errors? Let’s translate the talk of sufficient and necessary conditions into logic:
A is a sufficient condition for B, is the same as, A→B
A is a necessary condition for B, is the same as, B→A
The claim that A is not sufficient for B, then A is not necessary for B, is thus the same as: ¬(A→B)→¬(B→A). Clearly not true.
So, if a child already knows the name of a concept, she will reject a second label as referring
to the same concept. Children can use this principle to figure out the meanings of new
words, because applying the principle of contrast rules out possible meanings. If you
already know that gavagaimeans “rabbit,” and your guide points at a rabbit and says, blicket,
you will not assume that gavagaiand blicketare synonyms. Instead, you will consider the
possibility that blicketrefers to a salient part of the rabbit (its ears, perhaps) or a type of
rabbit or some other salient property of rabbits (that they’re cute, maybe). In the lab,
children who are taught two new names while attending to an unfamiliar object interpret
the first name as referring to the entire object and the second name as referring to a salient
part of the object. For somewhat older children (3–4 years old), parents often provide an
explicit contrast when introducing children to new words that label parts of an object
(Saylor, Sabbagh, & Baldwin, 2002). So, an adult might point to Flopsy and say, See
the bunny? These are his ears. Children do not need such explicit instruction, however,
as they appear to spontaneously apply the principle of contrast to deduce meanings for
subcomponents of objects (e.g., ears) and substances that objects are made out of (e.g.,
wood, naugahyde, duck tape).
Dogs (some of them) apparently can also do this. www.sciencemag.org/content/304/5677/1682.short
When Chinese was thought of as a pictographic script, it made sense to think that
Chinese script might be processed much differently than English script. But it turns out
that there are many similarities in how the two scripts are processed. For one thing, reading
both scripts leads to the rapid and automatic activation of phonological (sound) codes.
When we read English, we use groups of letters to activate phonological codes automatically
(this is one of the sources of the inner voicethat you often hear when you read). The fact
that phonological codes are automatically activated in English reading is shown by
experiments involving semantic categorization tasks where people have to judge whether a
word is a member of a category. Heterophonic(multiple pronunciations) homographs(one
spelling), such as wind, take longer to read than comparably long and frequent regular
words, because reading windactivates two phonological representations (as in the wind was
blowingvs. wind up the clock) (Folk & Morris, 1995). A related consistency effect involves
words that have spelling patterns that have multiple pronunciations. The word havecontains
the letter “a,” which in this case is pronounced as a “short” /a/ sound. But most of the time
-aveis pronounced with the “long” a sound, as in cave, and save. So, the words have, cave,
and save, are said to be inconsistentbecause the same string of letters can have multiple
pronunciations. Words of this type take longer to read than words that have entirely
consistent letter–pronunciation patterns (Glushko, 1979), and the extra reading time
reflects the costs associated with selecting the correct phonological code from a number of
automatically activated candidates.
Some potential good reasons for a ‘shallow’ (i.e. good) orthografy here! A bad spelling system is literally causing us to take longer to read, not just to learn to read.
Phonemic awareness is an important precursor of literacy (the ability to read and write).
It is thought to play a causal role in reading success, because differences in phonemic
awareness can be measured in children who have not yet begun to read. Those prereaders’
phonemic awareness test scores then predict how successfully and how quickly they will
master reading skills two or three years down the line when they begin to read (Torgesen
et al., 1999, 2001; Wagner & Torgesen, 1987; Wagner, Torgesen, & Rashotte, 1994;
Wagner et al., 1997; see Wagner, Piasta, & Torgesen, 2006, for a review; but see Castles &
Coltheart, 2004, for a different perspective). Phonemic awareness can be assessed in a
variety of ways, including the elision, sound categorization, and blendingtasks (Torgesen
et al., 1999), among others, but the best assessments of phonemic awareness involve multiple
measures. In the elision task, children are given a word such as catand asked what it would
sound like if you got rid of the /k/sound. Sound categorization involves listening to sets of
words, such as pin, bun, fun, and gun, and identifying the word “that does not sound like the
others” (in this case, pin; Torgesen et al., 1999, p. 76). In blending tasks, children hear an
onset (word beginning) and a rime (vowel and consonant sound at the end of a syllable),
and say what they would sound like when they are put together. Children’s composite scores
on tests of phonemic awareness are strongly correlated with the development of reading
skill at later points in time. Children who are less phonemically aware will experience
greater difficulty learning to read, but effective interventions have been developed to
enhance children’s phonemic awareness, and hence toincrease the likelihood that they will
acquire reading skill within the normal time frame (Ehri, Nunes, Willows, et al., 2001).18
These shud work as early IQ tests.
And it does (even if this is a weak paper): www.psy.cuhk.edu.hk/psy_media/Cammie_files/016.correlates%20of%20phonological%20awareness%20implications%20for%20gifted%20education.pdf
There are different kinds of neighborhoods, and the kind of neighborhood a word
inhabits affects how easy it is to read that word. Different orthographic neighborhoods are
described as being consistent or inconsistent, based on how the different words in the
neighborhood are pronounced. If they are all pronounced alike, then the neighborhood is
consistent. If some words in the neighborhood are pronounced one way, and others are
pronounced another way, then the neighborhoodis inconsistent. The neighborhood that
madeinhabits is consistent, because all of the other members of the neighborhood (wade,
fade, etc.) are pronounced with the long /a/ sound. On the other hand, hint lives in an
inconsistent neighborhood because some of the neighbors are pronounced with the short
/i/ sound (mint, lint, tint), but some are pronounced with the long /i/ sound (pint). Words
from inconsistent neighborhoods take longer to pronounce than words from consistent
neighborhoods, and this effect extends to non-words as well (Glushko, 1979; see also Jared,
McRae, & Seidenberg, 1990; Seidenberg, Plaut, Petersen, McClelland, & McRae, 1994). So,
it takes you less time to say tadethan it takes you to say bint. Why would this be?
Bad spelling even makes us speak slower…
The single-route models would seem to enjoy a parsimony advantage, since they can
produce frequency and regularity effects, as well as their interaction, on the basis of a single
mechanism.25However, recent studies have indicated that the exact position in a word that
leads to inconsistent spelling–sound mappings affects how quickly the word can be read
aloud. As noted above, it takes longer to read a word with an inconsistency at the beginning
(e.g., general, where hard /g/ as in goatis more common) than a word with an inconsistency
at the end (e.g., bomb, where the bis silent). This may be more consistent with the DRC
serial mapping of letters to sounds than the parallel activation posited by PDP-style singleroute models (Coltheart & Rastle, 1994; Cortese, 1998; Rastle & Coltheart, 1999b; Roberts,
Rastle, Coltheart, & Besner, 2003).
In practical terms, this means that we shud begin with words that have problematic beginnings and endings. Words like “mnemonic” and “psychology”.
Treat ment opt ions for aphasia include pharmacological t herapy (dr ugs) and various
forms of speech therapy.18Let’s review pharmacological therapy before turning to speech
therapy. One of the main problems that happens following strokes is that damage to the
blood vessels in the brain reduces the blood flow to perisylvian brain regions, and
hypometabolism—less than normal activity—in those regions likely contributes to aphasic
symptoms. Therefore, some pharmacological treatments focus on increasing the blood
supply to the brain, and those treatments have been shown to be effective in some studies
(Kessler, Thiel, Karbe, & Heiss, 2001). The periodimmediately following the stroke appears
to be critical in terms of intervening to preserve function. For example, aphasia symptoms
can be alleviated by drugs that increase blood pressure if they are administered very rapidly
when the stroke occurs (Wise, Sutter, & Burkholder, 1972). During this period, aphasic
symptoms will reappear if blood pressure is allowed to fall, even if the patient’s blood
pressure is not abnormally low. In later stages of recovery, blood pressure can be reduced
without causing the aphasic symptoms to reappear. Other treatment options capitalize on
the fact that the brain has some ability to reorganize itself following an injury (this ability is
called neural plasticity). It turns out that stimulant drugs, including amphetamines, appear
to magnify or boost brain reorganization. When stimulants are taken in the period
immediately following a stroke, and patients are also given speech-language therapy, their
language function improves more than control patients who receive speech-language
therapy and a placebo in the six months after their strokes (Walker-Batson et al., 2001).
Very interesting application of amfetamins.
The assignment was:
Any aspect? :D I just wrote stuff about formal logic. So no more research was needed. Lucky.
Consider Marx’s famous words in “The Eighteenth Brumaire o f Louis
Bonaparte” : “Men make their own history, but they do not make it
just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by
themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given and trans
mitted from the past” (Marx 1978:595). In place o f the word
“history” in this remark, one could easily substitute “ language,” “soci
ety,” or “ culture,” and the statement would remain equally insightful.
At the core o f what is known as “practice theory” is this seeming
paradox: that language, culture, and society all apparently have a pre
existing reality but at the same time are very much the products ot
individual humans’ words and actions.12 Many linguistic anthropolo
gists explicitly or implicitly draw upon practice theory in their work.
Correct. Equally insightless.
In sum, as important as the interview is as a research method, it is
often mistakenly assumed to provide a simple, straightforward path
toward “ the facts” or “the truth.” Interviews can indeed provide rich
insights, but they must be appreciated as the complex, culturally
mediated social interactions that they are.
I cringe every time I read ”the truth” and ”the facts”. Social constructivism -_-
A researcher interested in language ideologies might conduct a
matched guise test, a process that involves recording individuals as
they read a short passage in two or more languages or dialects
(“guises”). In other words, if four people are recorded, eight (or more)
readings o f the same passage might be produced. For example, a
researcher interested in whether listeners judge people who speak
African American English differently from those who speak standard
American English might choose four individuals who can code-switch
fluently between these two ways o f speaking. Each o f these four
individuals would record two readings o f the same passage, one in
African American English, the other in standard American English.
These eight readings would then be shuffled up and played back to
other people who do not know that there were only four readers
instead o f eight. The listeners would be asked to rank each o f the eight
readings, rating each according to how honest, intelligent, sophisti
cated, likable, and so on, they thought the reader was. By comparing
the scores listeners give to the same speaker reading in African
American English vs. standard American English, it is possible to hold
a person’s other voice qualities constant and thereby determine how
much influence simply speaking one or the other o f these language
variants has on listeners’ attitudes toward the speaker. In other words,
matched guise tests can provide a measure o f people’s unconscious
language ideologies – which can be related to racial prejudices.6
It is telling that the author uses ”prejudices” instead of, say, ”beliefs”. Since it is well known that american blacks ARE less intelligent, and that there is a certain dialect used mostly by black americans, this the usage of this dialect can hence be used as a diagnostic tool for identifying american blacks. This in turn makes it a useful proxy for low intelligence (white american standards). Indeed, not using the information for that purpose if one knows about these correlations, would be to ignore relevant data.
The message to scholars interested in language acquisition, therefore, is
that they should consider cultural values and social practices to be
inseparable from language and its acquisition (Slobin 1992:6). And the
message to cultural anthropologists and other social scientists interested
in processes o f childhood social practices, education, apprenticeship, or
other ways o f learning or entering into new social groups is that they
should look closely at linguistic practices. In other words, learning a first
language and becoming a culturally competent member o f a society are
two facets ot a single process. It is virtually impossible for a child to learn
a language without also becoming socialized into a particular cultural
group, and, conversely, a child cannot become a competent member o f
such a group without mastering the appropriate linguistic practices.
What about learning foreign languages? Especially dead foreign languages. Or constructed languages? Does one become a member of the nonexistent Klingon soceity if one learns that as a child? They must have some other way of thinking about this, if these obvious counter-examples do not work.
Franz Boas (1858-1942) is often considered the father o f anthropology
in the United States. An important part o f Boas’s research agenda
involved disproving racist assertions about the existence o f so-called
“primitive” languages, races, and cultures. At the turn o f the twentieth
century, when Boas was writing, some scholars were arguing that
people in certain societies were incapable o f complex, abstract, “scien
tific” thought because o f the seeming lack o f “logical” grammatical
categories in their languages. Boas, who was keen on demonstrating
the essential equality and humanity o f all people despite their tremen
dous linguistic and cultural diversity, disputed this interpretation,
proposing instead that all linguistic and cultural practices were equally
complex and logical. The particular language spoken by a group o f
people merely tended to reflect their habitual cultural practices, Boas
maintained. Language might facilitate certain types o f thinking and
could provide a valuable way o f understanding unconscious patterns
o f culture and thought, Boas declared, but it would not prevent people
from thinking in a way that differed from the categories presented
most conveniently in their language.
I found it difficult to believe that there is nothing to this general idea. I expect there to be some correlations between population IQ and their language. And just trivial things like that indo-european and chinese languages are associated with high IQ. Something like that high IQ is associated with some measure of the advancedness of the language in question. But perhaps it’s not true. In any case, I don’t presume to know to begin with and am willing to look at the data. Apparently, this wasn’t true for Boas.
Another possible way o f researching the influence o f language-in-
general on thought is studying children who have not yet learned a
language. Clearly, it would be highly unethical to deprive a child o f
access to a language; furthermore, studies o f abused children who have
not been exposed to any language involve so many complicating fac
tors that the causes o f cognitive differences are impossible to ascertain.
Researchers interested in the effects o f language-in-general on human
thought have therefore turned to subjects such as very young, prelin-
guistic infants, or deaf children who are raised in normal circum
stances but who have been deprived o f early exposure to language
because they have hearing parents who do not use sign language. In
the case o f infants, as noted in chapter 3, the language socialization
process begins from day one (if not before), so it is impossible to study
a truly “prelinguistic” infant. […]
It does begin before, at least, so claims this TED talk I saw a while back. www.ted.com/talks/annie_murphy_paul_what_we_learn_before_we_re_born.html
Much research remains to be conducted before a definitive under
standing of the potential effects o f language-in-general on various
dimensions o f thought can be obtained. It may even turn out to be the
case that there is no such general effect, since no one actually learns
“language-in-general” but instead learns one (or more) particular lan
guage. In this regard, additional research is needed to explore the timing
of theory o f mind development in children who speak languages other
than English. There are some studies o f Baka- and Japanese-speaking
children, among others, indicating that they are able to pass the stand
ard false-belief tasks at the same age as English-speaking children, but
other children, such as those who speak Junin Quechua, seem not to
be able to pass the classic false-belief tasks until much later, perhaps
because o f the specific grammatical structures o f Junin Quechua or a
very different cultural context (Villiers and Villiers 2003:372—373).
Many linguistic anthropologists question whether standard experi
ments devised in the United States can be exported, either in their
original form or in “culturally appropriate” versions, to be used with
children (or even adults) from very different linguistic and cultural
backgrounds. At the very least, what little research there is o f this sort
must be closely scrutinized for cultural and linguistic bias.
Knowing that the japanese are similar to whites in intelligence, and not knowing the intelligence of the people speaking the mentioned language, this immediately gives one the idea that it might be an intelligence thing. The crucial test for that is whether false-belief tests correlate with intelligence.
Nothing useful on Wikipedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False-belief_task#False-belief_task
Did a brief search on GScholar, with terms: false-belief task, IQ. Result? IQ does predict better scores on false-belief tests. Cites:
- Hughes, Claire, et al. “Good test‐retest reliability for standard and advanced false‐belief tasks across a wide range of abilities.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 41.4 (2000): 483-490.
- Brüne, Martin. “Theory of mind and the role of IQ in chronic disorganized schizophrenia.” Schizophrenia Research 60.1 (2003): 57-64.
- Happé, Francesca GE. “Wechsler IQ profile and theory of mind in autism: a research note.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 35.8 (1994): 1461-1471.
The group seems to be this one: www.ethnologue.com/language/QVN
Lynn lists Peru’s population IQ at 90. So, this explanation might fit. Or it might not. Difficult to say about some specific subgroup of that population. Presumably, the indegenious peoples have lower IQ due to lesser admixture of white genes.
Think o f all the taken-for-granted ways in which reading and writing
saturate our daily lives. Even if we put aside schooling, the most obvi
ous realm in which literacy plays a central role, an average day in the
life o f a person living in the United States or any number o f other
countries in the twenty-first century will most likely involve more
interactions with written texts than can be counted. “ [M]ost social
interactions in contemporary society,” David Barton and Mary
Hamilton proclaim, “ are textually mediated” (Barton and Hamilton
2005:14). From cereal boxes, billboards, and newspapers to the inter
net and words written on clothing, many people engage more fre
quently with the written word than they realize. And even when
people are alone while reading and writing, they are engaged in social
activities because reading and writing are enacted and interpreted in
culturally and socially specific ways. Moreover, these activities are also
bound up with social differences and inequalities. Patricia Baquedano-
Lopez writes: “Literacy is less a set o f acquired skills and more an
activity that affords the acquisition and negotiation o f new ways o f
thinking and acting in the world” (2004:246). And since the social
world is not composed o f neutral, power-free interactions, Janies Gee
notes that we should therefore not expect this to be true o f literacy
practices: “The traditional meaning of the word ‘literacy’— the ‘ability
to read and write ’ — appears ‘innocent’ and ‘obvious.’ But, it is no such
thing. Literacy as ‘the ability to read and write ’ situates literacy in the
individual person, rather than in society. As such, it obscures the
multiple ways in which literacy interrelates with the workings of
power” (Gee 2008:31).
Garbage like this is found consistently throughout the book.
Junigau women’s literacy practices did not just facilitate a shift away
from arranged marriage toward elopement, therefore, but also reflected
and helped to shape the new ways in which villagers thought o f
themselves. Along with these changes, however, came some rein
forcement o f pre-existing norms, especially in the area o f gender rela
tions. While it might seem to readers used to having the right to
choose their own spouse that acquiring such a right would inevitably
improve someone’s life, in fact, the opposite was true for some Junigau
women who eloped after love-letter correspondences. In cases where
their husbands or in-laws turned out to be abusive, the women found
that they had no recourse and no support from their own parents.
If they had encountered these kinds o f problems after an arranged
marriage, most could have returned to their parents’home or expected
their parents to intervene on their behalf. Such was not the case tor
most women who had eloped. Indeed, because most o f these women
ended up moving into their husbands’ extended households as low-
status daughters-in-law, their social positioning and daily lives were
virtually identical to those o f women whose marriages had been
arranged – except that they did not have the same recourse if things
went poorly In some respects, therefore, the women’s new literacy
practices created new and different opportunities and identities, but in
other respects, long-standing gender inequalities remained or were
Interesting, even if sad.
An alternative source o f theoretical illumination for literacy
researchers, according to James Collins and Richard Blot (2003), is
French post-structuralist thought. Pierre Bourdieu,Michel de Certeau,
Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucault all provide important analyses
o f the workings o f power in society in ways that are especially apt for
scholars interested in studying reading and writing. Drawing on these
theorists, Collins and Blot attempt to provide something they argue
has been lacking in NLS: “ an account o f power-in-literacy which
captures the intricate ways in which power, knowledge, and forms o f
subjectivity are interconnected with ‘uses o f literacy’ in modern
national, colonial, and postcolonial settings” (2003:66). Lewis et al.
(2007) draw upon some o f these post-structuralist theorists as well as
others to create a “ critical sociocultural theory” by focusing on con
cepts such as. “activity,’’“history” and “communities o f practice,” which
they claim help literacy scholars to incorporate a better understanding
o f identity, agency, and power into their research.
Oh no. Not more of this garbage.
The challenge o f identifying the many possible interpretations and
emergent possibilities o f any given performance – or, indeed, any
social interaction — has been a central issue in some o f my own
research. In particular, I became intrigued by a specific woman’s festival
in Nepal known asTij. From my first experiences o f the yearly festival
in the early 1980s when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Nepali
village ot Junigau through my subsequent stints o f research there once
I became an anthropologist,Tij has always been o f interest.The festival
is based on Hindu rituals for married women that require them to
pray for the long lives o f their husbands (and even pray that they die
before their husbands). The rituals also require women to atone for
having possibly caused men to become ritually polluted by touching
them while the women were menstruating or recovering from child
birth. In Junigau, however, the celebration ofTij goes far beyond these
rituals, extending weeks in advance and involving feasts for female
relatives and many formal and informal songfests at which women
sing, men play the drums, and both women and men dance, some
times even together.
Mehl and his colleagues conducted a study of almost 400 college
students – the study mentioned at the outset o f this chapter – in order
to measure gender differences in the average number o f words spoken
over the course o f the research subjects’ waking hours (Mehl et al.
2007).The college students (divided roughly equally between women
and men) were rigged up with digital recorders that were programmed
to record for 30 seconds every 12.5 minutes. The students could not
tell when they were being recorded. The researchers then transcribed
all the words spoken by the participants and extrapolated from these
figures to estimate the total number o f words spoken over the course
o f an average day for these individuals. The findings showed that
female college students spoke an average o f 16,215 words per day,
while men spoke an average o f 15,669 words per day – but this dif
ference was not statistically significant. “Thus,” write Mehl and his
co-authors, “the data fail to reveal a reliable sex difference in daily
word use. Women and men both use on average about 16,000 words
per day, with very large individual differences around this mean . .. We
therefore conclude, on the basis o f available empirical evidence, that
the widespread and highly publicized stereotype about female talka
tiveness is unfounded” (Mehl et al. 2007:82).
In the source referenced to just prior to this Language Log is mentioned a study about the talkativeness of the sexes, which found that females used 45% more words.
I tried to find some more recent studies on Google Scholar, but didn’t find anything useful. Wrong key words?
It the realities o f language and gender are really so complex and varied,
however, why are the language ideologies concerning female talka
tiveness or male verbal competitiveness that can be found in the
vignettes presented by Tannen (1990) and others so recognizable
to us? Cameron (2007b) explains that it happens because o f the
tendency o f all people to rely at least in part on stereotyping when
processing information. It is not just ignorant or prejudiced people
who stereotype, Cameron states, but everyone because stereotyping
provides us with convenient shortcuts in determining what people
are like and how we should treat them.The downside, however, is that
such stereotypes “can reinforce unjust prejudices, and make us prone
to seeing only what we expect or want to see” (Cameron 2007b: 14).
When we see someone who fits our preconceptions – say, a woman
who is extremely talkative, for example – we easily “supply the cultural
script that makes them meaningful a n d ‘typical’” (Cameron 1997:48).
When we encounter someone who does not fit a particular stereo
type, however, we tend either not to notice or to explain the case
away as an aberration.
Why should we care i f one or more o f our gendered language
ideologies might be inaccurate or at least overly simplistic? There are
many real-world implications o f inaccurate language ideologies — in
the workplace, in family life, in court cases, and in interpersonal
relationships. Women, men, and children all suffer when gendered
assumptions regarding communicative styles and identities are inac
curate or overly rigid. What the research described in this chapter
clearly demonstrates is that complexity and variability best character
ize the relationship o f language to gender. We will come to a similar
conclusion in the next chapter after exploring the ways in which
language relates to race and ethnicity.
They are also useful in remembering base rates and making correct judgments. Cf. Jussim, Lee, et al. “10 The Unbearable Accuracy of Stereotypes.” Handbook of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination (2009): 199.
Defining Race and Ethnicity
Many misconceptions surround the concept of race. Jane Hill, a
well-known linguistic anthropologist and the former President o f
the American Anthropological Association, maintains that most
white Americans share a largely inaccurate “ folk th eo ry ” ot race and
racism, one o f the main components o f which is a belief in “race” as
a basic category o f human biological variation, combined with a
belief that each human being can be assigned to a race, or some
times to a mixture o f races (Hill 2008:6—7). Hill argues that this folk
theory is widespread and taken for granted – but mistaken in most
respects, according to the vast majority o f anthropologists and other
social scientists. Indeed, the official statement on race o f the
American Anthropological Association begins with these two
In the United States both scholars and the general public have been
conditioned to viewing human races as natural and separate divisions
within the human species based on visible physical differences.
With the vast expansion of scientific knowledge in this century,
however, it has become clear that human populations are not unam
biguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. Evidence
from the analysis of genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that most physical
variation, about 94%, lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional
geographic “racial” groupings differ from one another only in about
6% of their genes. This means that there is greater variation within
“racial” groups than between them. In neighboring populations
there is much overlapping of genes and their phenotypic (physical)
expressions.Throughout history whenever different groups have come
into contact, they have interbred. The continued sharing of genetic
materials has maintained all of humankind as a single species.
Physical variations in any given trait tend to occur gradually rather
than abruptly over geographic areas. And because physical traits are
inherited independently of one another, knowing the range of one
trait does not predict the presence of others. For example, skin color
varies largely from light in the temperate areas in the north to dark in
the tropical areas in the south; its intensity is not related to nose shape
or hair texture. Dark skin may be associated with frizzy or kinky hair
or curly or wavy or straight hair, all of which are found among different
indigenous peoples in tropical regions. These facts render any attempt
to establish lines of division among biological populations both
arbitrary and subjective.
As definitive as the AAA’s statement is about the lack o f a consistent
biological basis for the concept o f race, it should not be read as argu
ing that race does not exist. Race is clearly an important social cate
gory that influences people’s life trajectories and identities. Many
scholars in fact view it as a, or even the, central organizing principle
in the United States. But the social fact o f race does not support the
folk theory described by Hill above.2 Reflect for a moment upon
the following paradox: because o f the so-called “one-drop rule,” a
white woman in the United States can give birth to a black child, but
a black woman cannot give birth to white child. Such reflection
should lead to an appreciation for the social foundations o f the con
cept o f race (Ignatiev 1995:1).
This one was bound to happen. The usual socialconstructivism.
Edwards, Anthony WF. “Human genetic diversity: Lewontin’s fallacy.” BioEssays 25.8 (2003): 798-801.
As usual, these socialconstructivists attack strawman accounts of race. Who believes in an essentialist, clearly separate account of human races? No one. It’s biology, clear bounderies are a rarefind. :)
At one point in the history o f the United States, for example, many
groups now unquestioningly considered “w h i te ” were initially not
included in this privileged category.3 Benjamin Franklin, for example,
wrote in the eighteenth century that Swedes and Germans were
“swarthy,” and he did not include them among the “white people,”
who consisted, according to Franklin, solely o f the English and the
Saxons. “This example,” Jane Hill comments, “shows how what seem
to us today like fundamental perceptions may be o f very recent his
torical origin . .. Contemporary White Americans can no longer see
‘swarthiness’ among Swedes, and find it astonishing that anyone ever
did so” (Hill 2008:14).
Never heard of this one. But it seems true. www.dialoginternational.com/dialog_international/2008/02/ben-franklin-on.html
24. Which leads me to add one Remark: That the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased. And while we are, as I may call it, Scouring our Planet, by clearing America of Woods, and so making this Side of our Globe reflect a brighter Light to the Eyes of Inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we in the Sight of Superior Beings, darken its People? why increase the Sons of Africa, by Planting them in America, where we have so fair an Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys, of increasing the lovely White and Red? But perhaps I am partial to the Complexion of my Country, for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind.
Good old racism. In reality the Swedes are very white, and the British are partly Swedes due to Viking settlements… en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viking_Age#England
Gene tests can surely confirm this, if they haven’t already done so.
The parameters and nuances o f racial classifications in countries
other than the United States have been studied by anthropologists and
other social scientists for many years. In Brazil, for example, scholarly
debates have focused on the meanings o f multiple Brazilian racial
categories that intersect in complicated ways with class, gender, and
sexuality.4 In Nepal, the country I know best ethnographically, there
is nothing like the black—white binary commonly attributed to the
United States, and until recently, the concept o f “race” was not men
tioned in public debates at all. Instead, caste, ethnicity, and religion
have been the most salient forms o f social differentiation for Nepalis.
During the 1990s, however, a group o f activists from various Tibeto-
Burman ethnic groups drew upon outdated social science research
from the last century to posit three main races in the world (Hangen
2005, 2009). Susan Hangen, an anthropologist who has conducted
fieldwork on this topic in Nepal, reports that a politician in eastern
Nepal stated the following during one o f his speeches in 1997:
We are a M on go l community, we are n o t a caste either; we are Mongol .
For example, in this world there are three types o f people. O n e is
w h i te w i th w h i te skin like Americans, for example like sister here
[referring to me] . . . T h e o th e r has black skin and is called N e g ro .T h e
o th e r is called the red race like us: sh ort like us; stocky like us; with
small eyes and flat noses like us. (2005:49)
L5y invoking this outdated tripartite racial classification, the politician
was attempting to unite a number o f linguistically and culturally
diverse ethnic groups, such as Rais, Magars, Limbus, Gurungs, and
Sherpas, under the umbrella o f one political party, the Mongol
National Organization (MNO). The hope was that unifying these
disparate but similarly disadvantaged groups would help them oppose
Nepal’s high-caste Hindu ruling groups. One person told Hangen,
“We didn’t know that we were Mongols until the M N O came here”
(2005:49). Hangen’s research is a fascinating example o f the com
plexities, contradictions, and cross-cultural differences involved in the
concept ot race.
Actually those three are the three superclusters found using modern methods and not a all wrong. They are however less informative than are the lesser clusters, say, the 10 clusters identified by Sforza (1994). Depending on how much data one has, and how much detail one wants, one can find a larger number of clusters, aka. races.
Bonnie Urciuoli approaches the process o f ethnicization differently
in her research on Puerto Ricans in New York City, contrasting
ethnicization with racialization and situating both within the context
of class and gender identities in the United States. According to
Urciuoli (1996), racial discourses “frame group origin in natural
terms.” Ethnic discourses, in contrast, “frame group origin in cultural
terms” (1996:15). Racialized people, Urciuoli writes, are considered
out of place; they are dirty, dangerous, and unwilling or unable to
participate constructively in the nation-state. In contrast, the cultural
differences said to be characteristic o f ethnicized people are consid
ered safe, ordered, and “ a contribution to the nation-state offered by
striving immigrants making their way up the ladder o f class mobility”
(1996:16). Within this landscape o f social inequality and exclusion,
Urciuoli states that language differences are often racialized.That is, an
inability to speak English, or an inability to speak English “without an
accent” (cf. Lippi-Green 1997), marks someone as disorderly and
unlikely to experience social mobility – as someone, in other words,
who does not fully belong in the United States.
But the asians are doing just fine and speak with an accent. Likewise with other high IQ immigrants.
Some people argue that using two negatives is “illogical” because
two negatives is a positive according to formal logic or mathematical
principles. But if this were so, then the use o f three negatives, as in the
sentence, “ I can’t get n o th in ’ from nobody,” would go back to being
a negative and would no longer “violate” these principles. Clearly,
this sentence would be as objectionable as ones with only two nega
tives to the prescriptivists who want to impose the grammatical rules
o f one dialect o f English (the standard one) on all other dialects.
While there may be many good reasons for preferring standard
English over other dialects o f English in certain instances, neverthe
less, as Labov (1972a) famously demonstrated decades ago in his
classic article, “The Logic o f Nonstandard English,” logic and gram-
maticality are not among them. The preference o f one dialect over
another is one based on social, political, or economic factors – it
cannot be based on linguistic factors because all dialects are equally
logical and grammatical.
Nonsense. Some languages are more logical than others. The obvious case being lojban which is directly translateable to predicate logic. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lojban
In any case, the author seems to have no good understanding of formal logic, as she uses confusing simplistic terms. The sentence she uses as an example: I can’t get nothin’ from nobody.
I can’t get nothing from nobody.
I can get something from nobody.
I can’t get anything from anybody.
These are all equivalent in standard predicate logic.
¬(∃x)¬(∃y)¬CanGetFrom(I, x, y)
substitute ¬(∃x) for (∀x)¬
(∀x)¬¬(∃y)¬CanGetFrom(I, x, y)
Double negation elimination
(∀x)(∃y)¬CanGetFrom(I, x, y)
For any x, there is an y such that it is not the case that I can get x from y.
In other words, for every person, there is something I can’t get. I can’t get anything from anybody.
That’s using the internal negation interpretation. Using external negation, the situation is easier, and that is left for the reader as an exercise in logic. :)
Turning to the second question about how or whether AAE should
be used in schools to facilitate the acquisition among AAE-speaking
students o f the standard dialect o f English, it is important to note the
serious educational crisis that the Oakland Board o f Education was
trying to address (however ineffectively or controversially) in its
December 1996 resolution. As John Rickford (2005) reminds us, the
Oakland school district was not alone in experiencing extremely high
rates o f failure and drop-out among its African American population.
O th e r school districts throughout the United States faced similar
disparities in school performance at the time – and still do today.
The question remains how to address these educational disparities.
Although this issue is far beyond the scope o f this book, involving as
it does complex issues o f poverty, racial discrimination, and residential
segregation, among other possible contributing factors, the extent to
which speaking a nonstandard, stigmatized linguistic variant such as
AAE contributes to school problems deserves to be studied further
(cf. Labov 2010; Rickford 2005).
It is called intelligence.
Aside from the obvious racist slurs, what constitutes racist language?
Jane Hill (2008) argues that the language ideologies that are dominant
in the United States, combined with a widespread American folk
theory o f race, combine to ensure that the everyday talk produced by
average white, middle-class Americans and distributed in respected
media “ continues to produce and reproduce Whi te racism” (2008:47).
Far from being an element o f the past. Hill maintains, racism “is a vital
and formative presence in American lives, resulting in h ur t and pain
to individuals, to glaring injustice, in the grossly unequal distribution
o f resources along racially stratified lines, and in strange and damaging
errors and omissions in public policy both domestic and foreign”
(2008:47-48). And this racism, Hill suggests, is largely produced in
and through everyday talk – not through the obvious racist slurs that
most people today condemn (though these o f course contribute), but
through unintentional, indirect uses ot language that reinforce racist
Ah, the racism theory of blacks problems. Obviously doesn’t work due to the fact that blacks in African countries perform likewise badly. And they have done so for the last 100 years, so far back as we have data.
Cf. Jensen’s discussion in The g Factor. emilkirkegaard.dk/en/wp-content/uploads/The-g-factor-the-science-of-mental-ability-Arthur-R.-Jensen.pdf
In a similar set o f experiments, Rubin (1992) and Rubin and Smith
(1990) conducted matched guise tests with undergraduates (Hill
2008:12). All their research participants heard the same four-minute
tape-recorded lecture featuring a woman who was a native speaker ot
English, but half o f the students were shown a slide o f a white woman
while they listened to the lecture and were told that this was the
speaker, while the other half were shown a slide o f an East Asian
woman. The students in the latter group tended to report that the
speaker had a foreign accent, and they even did significantly worse on
a comprehension quiz on the material in the lecture — even though
these students had heard exactly the same lecture as the students who
were shown the photo o f a white woman while they listened to the
lecture! Clearly, racial categories and racialized language ideologies can
influence perceptions even without our being aware o f the process.
That sounds interesting. Inb4 small sample size and publication bias.
The cites are:
Rubin, D.L. (1992) Nonlanguage factors affecting undergraduates’ judgments of nonnative English-speaking teaching assistants. Research in Higher Education 33:51 1—53 I .
Rubin, D.L. and Smith, K.A. (1990) Effects of accent, ethnicity, and lecture
topic onundergraduates’ perceptions of non-native English-speaking teaching assistants. International Journal of Intercultural Relations 14:
I looked into the newest one, from 1992. It had a sample size of 62 (with apparently, self-selection before that). And it reported non-significant results for the things the author of the book claims. Color me not impressed, although interesting study. The results did tend to go in the direction the author claims, but they had a huge variance.
What are the problematic assumptions underlying the desire to
count the number ot endangered languages, and the number o f speak
ers each endangered language has? Jane Hill (2002:127-128;
cf. Duchene and Heller 2007) names several. First, although she
acknowledges that numbers can be powerful “ calls to action” that have
been used to mobilize activists to reverse the trend toward language
death, and although Hill herselt has been involved in such efforts, she
warns that journalists and the mass media are soundbite oriented and
cannot or will not devote enough time or space to explaining the dif
ficulties or subtleties involved in quantifying languages or speakers.
Second, Hill warns that numbers and statistics that are meant for one
kind of audience — speakers of dominant languages, perhaps, who have
the power to do something about the extinction o f smaller languages
— can have very negative effects when heard by a very different kind o f
audience – the speakers o f endangered languages themselves. Hill
reminds her readers that numbers have often been used by colonial
powers in the past as one means o f control, what Foucault would call
governmentality through enumeration. Speakers o f endangered lan
guages are often fearful, she warns, that numbers can be (and have been)
held against them, and they can therefore become fearful or resentful.
K. David Harrison, another linguist who works on endangered lan
guages all over the world, lists three areas o f loss if we fail to safeguard
and document languages at risk o f extinction: (1) the erosion o f
the human knowledge base, especially local ecological knowledge;
(2) the loss o f cultural heritage; and (3) failure to acquire a full under
standing o f human cognitive capacities (2007:15-19). With regard to
the first area o f loss, Harrison notes that an estimated 87 percent o f
the world’s plants and animals have not yet been identified or studied
by modern scientists. If we are to hope that a cure to cancer or other
horrible diseases might be found in the Amazon, or in Papua New
Guinea, or it we want to learn about more sustainable forms o f agri
culture from people who have been living in harmony in their envi
ronments for many hundreds o f years, then we should recognize,
Harrison writes, that “most o f what humankind knows about the
natural world lies completely outside o f science textbooks, libraries,
and databases, existing only in unwri tten languages in people’s
memories” — that is, mostly in unwri tten endangered languages
(2007:15). O f course, some o f this knowledge can be communicated
in a different language, assuming the person speaking the endangered
language is bilingual, but oftentimes there is a “massive disruption o f
the transfer o f traditional knowledge across generations” when a
group switches from an endangered language to a dominant language
(2007:16). Particular languages are often especially rich in certain
areas o f the lexicon, such as reindeer herding, botany, or fishing, that
are the most important to the speakers o f those languages, and a great
deal o f ecologically specific knowledge is encoded in that language
that goes along with those particular cultural practices. It is not sur
prising, then, that much o f that knowledge is not passed on when the
language (and often the way o f life as well) dies.
I thought the point about loss of local knowledge was good. Although this is only relevant for useful local knowledge. Map knowledge, not useful. We have satelites. Properties of local plants. Might be very useful for medicine.
The third area o f loss Elarrison identifies is the ability to acquire a
full understanding o f the capabilities o f the human mind. Linguists
and cognitive scientists make assumptions about what the human
brain can and cannot do based on experiments and existing data. One
source o f such data is the group o f languages that have been studied
by linguists. Whenever a language is analyzed for the first time, schol
ars look to see what patterns it shares grammatically with other lan
guages in the world and which features it has that might be unique.
The more languages that die, the more likely it is that the conclusions
scholars draw about the limits o f human cognition might be mistaken.
For example, the language o f Urarina, which is spoken by only 3,000
people in the Amazon rainforest o f Peru, has a very unusual word
order for its sentences. Unlike English, which generally uses the
Subject -V e rb – Object (S-V-O) word order, as in sentences such as,
“The girl rode the bike,” Urarina uses the Object – Verb — Subject
(O-V-S) word order, which would have a literal translation for this
sentence as, “The bike rode the girl.” O-V-S word order is extremely
rare among the world’s languages. “Were it not for Urarina and a few
other Amazonian languages,” Harrison writes, “scientists might not
even suspect it were possible. They would be free to hypothesize —
falsely – that O-V-S word order was cognitively impossible, that the
human brain could not process i t” (2007:19).
Eh. It is obviously ‘cognitively possible’ since we just understood an English example with OVS order… Another route is just to make construct a language to test it with. Similarly for other candidates for impossibility.
Still useful, sure, but not that useful.
As a language is in the process o f dying out, it often undergoes
simplification in its grammar and lexicon. Speakers have fewer oppor
tunities to use the language and so either forget or do not acquire a
large vocabulary. Grammatical structures can also be lost or simplified.
For example, in Dyirbal, an endangered Aboriginal language in
Australia, there used to be a four-part classification o f nouns. (See
chapter 4 for a discussion o f the four categories.) Nowadays, however,
young people are less familiar with the ancestral myths and cultural
practices that motivated the four-part classification, and they are less
fluent in Dyirbal, having attended school mostly in English, and so
they have replaced the four-part system o f noun classification with a
two-part one. It is still different from English and retains some of the
features o f the older system, hut it has become much simpler to use
(Nettle and Romaine 2000:66-69).
Now, if only all other languages would get rid of noun classes/genders… :)
The chapter on language extinction is really lacking in content. They don’t discuss the overall cause of the huge diversity of languages to begin with, why there is a lot of diversity some places, and others not. And they fail to mention one very good reason, which is indeed the primary reason to use a language at all, to have fewer languages: it makes communcating easier! The cause of diversity of languages is 1) lack of long distance communcation between groups of people. Consider it a proces similar to genetic drift. Those places where there is lots of language diversity, are exactly the kind of backward places with no decent technology to facilitate long distance communication. When we use introduce it, they need to use a different language to talk with other people, and hence switch from their now not very useful language to one more useful. Nothing mysterious here.
One o f the most useful terms for our purposes in understanding how
power intersects with language is hegemony. According to Raymond
Williams, a cultural Marxist who builds on the work o f Antonio
Gramsci, hegemony refers to a dynamic system o f domination based
not so much on violence or the threat o f violence, or merely on the
economic control o f the means o f production, but rather on political,
cultural, and institutional influence. “That is to say,” Williams writes,
“it is not limited to matters o f direct political control but seeks to
describe a more general predominance which includes, as one o f its
key features, a particular way o f seeing the world and human nature
and relationships” (1983:145). Having military power or economic
wealth can certainly lead to power, but social status and cultural dom
inance can also come from other sources, and hegemony is a term that
helps us understand this process. Hegemony is saturated with the spe
cific forms o f inequality belonging to particular societies at particular
historical moments, according to Williams, and is “ . . . in the strongest
sense a ‘culture’, but a culture which has also to be seen as the lived
dominance and subordination o f particular classes” (1977:110).
Emphasizing the dynamic nature o f any “ lived hegemony,” Williams
reminds us that “it does not just passively exist as a form o f domi
nance. It has continually to be renewed, recreated, defended, and
modified. It is also continually resisted, limited, altered, challenged by
pressures not all its own” (1977:112). In other words, Williams con
cludes, while any lived hegemony is always by definition dominant, it
is never total or exclusive (1977:113).
Oh boy here we go…
Antonio Gramsci (Italian: [anˈtɔːnjo ˈɡramʃi]; 22 January 1891 – 27 April 1937) was an Italian writer, politician, political theorist, philosopher, sociologist, and linguist. He was a founding member and onetime leader of the Communist Party of Italy and was imprisoned by Benito Mussolini‘s Fascist regime.
Gramsci was one of the most important Marxist thinkers in the 20th century. His writings are heavily concerned with the analysis of culture and political leadership and he is notable as a highly original thinker within modern European thought. He is renowned for his concept of cultural hegemony as a means of maintaining the state in a capitalist society.
In a contribution that ties in nicely with one o f this b o o k ’s key
concepts, that o f language ideologies, Bourdieu describes how differ
ent levels o f symbolic capital can turn into symbolic dominance and even
symbolic violence. When individuals in a society are not proficient in
the most highly valued ways o f speaking (such as English in the
United States, especially Standard American English), they do not
benefit from the access such proficiency often provides to prestigious
schools, professions, or social groups (cf. Lippi-Green 1997). And yet,
speakers o f stigmatized variants (for example, in the United States
these might include speakers o f nonstandard varieties o f English
such as African American English or Appalachian English) frequently
buy into the system o f evaluation that ranks Standard American
English as superior. These people’s own language ideologies, in other
words, stigmatize the ways in which they themselves speak. This
acceptance o f differing social values accorded various ways ot speak
ing is in actuality a misrecognition, according to Bourdieu, because the
differential levels o f prestige constitute an arbitrary ranking. Every
language or dialect is as good linguistically, even though not socially, as
It just isn’t true. Languages differ in many relevant linguistic properties. Good luck discussing advanced physics in some amerindian language with no words for the relevant physics terms. This is even the case for a large language such as Danish. This is one of the reason we see what is called domain loss – a domain of life is spoken about in a different language because no suitable terms exist in the standard language. Cf. ex. sprogmuseet.dk/sprogpolitik/ingen-fare-for-dom%C3%A6netab-naturvidenskabelige-forskere-vil-altid-have-brug-for-dansk/
And some are easier to learn than others, due to grammar or phonology (ex. English <th> sounds are difficult to learn).
And so on.
Why such a change in the understanding o f these languages? Irvine
and Gal argue that the answer it was not so much because o f better
scholarship or improved data but instead because, “There have also
been changes in what observers expected to see and how they inter
preted what they saw” (2000:48). Nineteenth-century linguists and
ethnographers assumed that linguistic classifications could be used to
judge evolutionary rankings o f groups. (White Europeans were of
course at the top o f this ranking, and various African groups clustered
toward the bottom.) They also assumed that ethnic groups were
monolingual and that a “primordial relationship” existed that linked
languages with territories, nations, tribes, and peoples. In the case o f
Fula, Wolof, and Sereer, racial and linguistic ideologies led nineteenth-
century linguists to consider the Fula language and its speakers (who
were often lighter skinned than the others and who tended to espouse
a more orthodox Islam) to be o f higher status and intelligence. The
Wolof language was deemed “less supple, less handy” than Fula, and its
speakers less intelligent. The Sereer language, nineteenth-century lin
guists claimed, was “the language o f primitive simplicity” (Irvine and
Never heard of them, but lightness of skin does correlate well with population intelligence world wide.
They might be smarter than their neighbours. At least, there is a list of prominent fula people. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fula_people#Notable_Fulani_people_by_country
Googling “fule people intelligent” yields 13.1e6 results.
Cambridge.University.Press.Analyzing.Grammar.An.Introduction.Jun.2005 free pdf download
Overall, there is nothing much to say about this book. It covers most stuff. Neither particularly good, or interesting, or particularly bad or uninteresting, IMO.
Forexample, what is the meaning of the word hello? What information
does it convey? It is a very difﬁcult word to deﬁne, but every speaker of
English knows how to use it: for greeting an acquaintance, answering the
telephone, etc. We might say that hello conveys the information that the
speaker wishes to acknowledge the presence of, or initiate a conversation
with, the hearer. But it would be very strange to answer the phone or greet
your best friend by saying “I wish to acknowledge your presence” or “I
wish to initiate a conversation with you.”What is important about the word
hello is not its information content (if any) but its use in social interaction.
In the Teochew language (a “dialect” of Chinese), there is no word for
‘hello’. The normal way for one friend to greet another is to ask: “Have you
already eaten or not?” The expected reply is: “I have eaten,” even if this is
not in fact true.
In our comparison of English with Teochew, we saw that both languages
employ a special formof sentence for expressing Yes–No questions. In fact,
most, if not all, languages have a special sentence pattern which is used for
asking such questions. This shows that the linguistic form of an utterance
is often closely related to its meaning and its function. On the other hand,
we noted that the grammatical features of a Yes–No question in English
are not the same as in Teochew. Different languages may use very different
grammatical devices to express the same basic concept. So understanding
the meaning and function of an utterance will not tell us everything we need
to know about its form.
interesting for me becus of my work on a logic of questions and answers.
Both of the hypotheses we have reached so far about Lotuko words are
based on the assumption that themeaning of a sentence is composed in some
regular way from the meanings of the individual words. That is, we have
been assuming that sentence meanings are compositional.Of course,
every language includes numerous expressions where this is not the case.
Idioms are one common example. The English phrase kick the bucket can
mean ‘die,’ even though none of the individual words has this meaning.
Nevertheless, the compositionality of meaning is an important aspect of the
structure of all human languages.
for more on compositionality see: plato.stanford.edu/entries/compositionality/
We have discussed three types of reasoning that can be used to
identify the meaningful elements of an utterance (whether parts of a word
or words in a sentence): minimal contrast, recurring partials, and pattern-
matching. In practice, when working on a new body of data, we often use
all three at once, without stopping to think which method we use for which
element. Sometimes, however, it is important to be able to state explicitly
the pattern of reasoning which we use to arrive at certain conclusions. For
example, suppose that one of our early hypotheses about the language is
contradicted by further data. We need to be able to go back and determine
what evidence that hypothesis was based on so that we can re-evaluate
that evidence in the light of additional information. This will help us to
decide whether the hypothesis can be modiﬁed to account for all the facts,
orwhether it needs to be abandoned entirely.Grammatical analysis involves
an endless process of “guess and check” – forming hypotheses, testing them
against further data, andmodifying or abandoning those which do not work.
quite a lot of science works like that. conjecture and refutation, pretty much (Popper)
What do we mean when we say that a certain form, such as Zapotec ka–,
is a “morpheme?” Charles Hockett (1958) gave a deﬁnition of this term
which is often quoted:
Morphemes are the smallest individually meaningful elements in the utter-
ances of a language.
There are two crucial aspects of this deﬁnition. First, a morpheme is mean-
ingful.A morpheme normally involves a consistent association of phono-
logical formwith some aspect ofmeaning, as seen in (7) where the form ˜ nee
was consistently associated with the concept ‘foot.’ However, this associ-
ation of form with meaning can be somewhat ﬂexible. We will see various
ways in which the phonological shape of a morpheme may be altered to
some extent in particular environments, and there are some morphemes
whose meaning may depend partly on context.
obviously does not work for en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cranberry_morpheme
what is the solution to this inconsistency in terminology?
In point (c) above we noted that a word which contains no plural marker
is always singular. The chart in (17) shows that the plural preﬁx is optional,
and that when it is present it indicates plurality; but it doesn’t say anything
about the signiﬁcance of the lack of a preﬁx. One way to tidy up this loose
end is to assume that the grammar of the language includes a default
rule which says something like the following: “a countable noun which
contains no plural preﬁx is interpreted as being singular.”
Another possible way to account for the same fact is to assume that sin-
gular nouns carry an “invisible” (or null) preﬁx which indicates singular
number. That would mean that the number preﬁx is actually obligatory for
this class of noun. Under this approach, our chart would look something
the default theory with en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Markedness is more plausible than positing invisible morphemes.
since the book contiues to use Malay as an ex. including the word <orang> i’m compelled to mention that it is not a coincidence that it is similar to <orangutan>. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orangutan#Etymology
The name “orangutan” (also written orang-utan, orang utan, orangutang, and ourang-outang) is derived from the Malay and Indonesian words orang meaning “person” and hutan meaning “forest”, thus “person of the forest”.Orang Hutan was originally not used to refer to apes, but to forest-dwelling humans. The Malay words used to refer specifically to the ape is maias and mawas, but it is unclear if those words refer to just orangutans, or to all apes in general. The first attestation of the word to name the Asian ape is in Jacobus Bontius‘ 1631 Historiae naturalis et medicae Indiae orientalis – he described that Malaysians had informed him the ape was able to talk, but preferred not to “lest he be compelled to labour”. The word appeared in several German-language descriptions of Indonesian zoology in the 17th century. The likely origin of the word comes specifically from the Banjarese variety of Malay.
The word was first attested in English in 1691 in the form orang-outang, and variants with -ng instead of -n as in the Malay original are found in many languages. This spelling (and pronunciation) has remained in use in English up to the present, but has come to be regarded as incorrect. The loss of “h” in Utan and the shift from n to -ng has been taken to suggest that the term entered English through Portuguese. In 1869, British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, co-creator of modern evolutionary theory, published his account of Malaysia’s wildlife: The Malay Archipelago: The Land of the Orang-Utan and the Bird of Paradise.
Traditional deﬁnitions for parts of speech are based on “notional”
(i.e. semantic) properties such as the following:
(17) A noun is a word that names a person, place, or thing.
A verb is a word that names an action or event.
An adjective is a word that describes a state.
However, these characterizations fail to identify nouns like destruction,
theft, beauty, heaviness. They cannot distinguish between the verb love and
the adjective fond (of),or between the noun fool and the adjective foolish.
Note that there is very little semantic difference between the two sentences
(18) They are fools.
They are foolish.
it is easy to fix 17a to include abstractions. all his counter-examples are abstractions.
<love> is both a noun and a verb, but 17 definitions, which is right.
the 18 ex. seems weak too. what about the possibility of interpreting 18b as claiming that they are foolish. this does not mean that they are fools. it may be a temporary situation (drunk perhaps), or isolated to specific areas of reality (ex. religion).
not that i’m especially happy about semantic definitions, it’s just that the argumentation above is not convincing.
Third, the head is more likely to be obligatory than the modiﬁers or other
non-head elements. For example, all of the elements of the subject noun
phrase in (22a) can be omitted except the head word pigs.If this word is
deleted, as in (22e), the result is ungrammatical.
(22) a [The three little pigs] eat trufﬂes.
b [The three pigs] eat trufﬂes.
c [The pigs] eat trufﬂes.
d [Pigs] eat trufﬂes.
e *[The three little] eat trufﬂes.
not so quick. if the context makes it clear that they are speaking about pigs, or children, or whatever, 22e is perfectly understandable, since context ‘fiils out’ the missing information, grammatically speaking. but the author is right in that it is incomplete and without context to fill in, one would be forced to ask ”three little what?”. but still, that one will actually respond like this shows that the utterance was understood, at least in part.
Of course, English noun phrases do not always contain a head noun. In
certain contexts a previously mentioned head may be omitted because it is
“understood,” as in (23a). This process is called ellipsis . Moreover, in
English, and in many other languages, adjectives can sometimes be used
without any head noun to name classes of people, as in (23b,c). But, aside
from a few fairly restricted patterns like these, heads of phrases in English
tend to be obligatory.
(23) a [The third little pig] was smarter than [the second ].
b [the good], [the bad] and [the ugly]
c [The rich] get richer and [the poor] get children.
i was going to write the author doesn’t seem to understand the word ”obligatory”, but it another interpretation dawned upon me. i think he means that under must conditions, one cannot leave out the noun in a noun phrase (NP), but sometimes one can. confusing wording.
As we can already see from example (5), different predicates require
different numbers of arguments: hungry and snores require just one, loves
and slapping require two. Some predicates may not require any arguments
at all. For example, in many languages comments about the weather (e.g. It
is raining,or It is dark,or It is hot) could be expressed by a single word, a
bare predicate with no arguments.
it is worth mentioning that there is a name for this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dummy_pronoun
It is important to remember that arguments can also be optional. For exam-
ple,many transitive verbs allowan optional beneﬁciary argument (18a), and
most transitive verbs of the agent–patient type allow an optional instrument
argument (18b). The crucial fact is that adjuncts are always optional. So
the inference “if obligatory then argument” is valid; but the inference “if
optional then adjunct” is not.
strictly speaking, this is using the terminology incorrectly. conditionals are not inferences. the author should have written ex ”the inference “obligatory, therefore, argument” is valid.”, or alternatively ”the conditional “if obligatory, then argument” is true.”.
confusing inferences with conditionals leads to all kinds of confusions in logic.
Another way of specifying the transitivity of a verb is to ask, how many
term (subject or object) arguments does it take? The number of terms, or
direct arguments, is sometimes referred to as the valence of the verb.
Since most verbs can be said to have a subject, the valence of a verb is
normally one greater than the number of objects it takes: an intransitive
verb has a valence of one, a transitive verb has a valence of two, and a
ditransitive verb has a valence of three.
the author is just talking about how many operands the expressed predicate has. there are also verbs which can express predicates with four operands. consider <transfer>. ex. ”Peter transfers 5USD from Mike to Jim.”. There Peter, subject, agent; 5USD, object, theme, a repicient, Jim, ?; Mike, antirecpient?, ?.
The distinctions between OBJ2 and OBL make little to no sense to me.
It is important to notice that the valence of the verb (in this sense) is not
the same as the number of arguments it takes. For example, the verb donate
takes three semantic arguments, as illustrated in (8).However, donate has70 Analyzing Grammar: An Introduction
avalence of two because it takes only two term arguments, SUBJ and
OBJ. With this predicate, the recipient is always expressed as an oblique
(8) a Michael Jackson donated his sunglasses to the National Museum.
b donate < agent, theme, recipient >
subj obj obl
Some linguists use the term “semantic valence” to refer to the number of
semantic arguments which a predicate takes, and “syntactic valence” to
specify the number of terms which a verb requires. In this book we will use
the term “valence” primarily in the latter (syntactic) sense.
We have already seen that some verbs can be used in more than
one way. In chapter 4, for example, we saw that the verb give occurs in
two different clause patterns, as illustrated in (10).We can now see that
these two uses of the verb involve the same semantic roles but a different
assignment of Grammatical Relations, i.e. different subcategorization. This
difference is represented in (11). The lexical entry for give must allow for
both of these conﬁgurations.3
(10) a John gave Mary his old radio.
b John gave his old radio to Mary.
(11) a give < agent, theme, recipient >
subj obj2 obj
b give < agent, theme, recipient >
subj obj obl
it seems to me that there is something wholly wrong with a theory that treats 10a-b much different. those two sentences mean the same thing, and their structure is similar, and only one word makes the differnece. this word seems to just have the function of allowing for another order of the operands of the verb.
A number of languages have grammatical processes which, in effect,
“change” an oblique argument into an object. The result is a change in
the valence of the verb. This can be illustrated by the sentences in (19).
In (19a), the beneﬁciary argument is expressed as an OBL, but in (19b)
the beneﬁciary is expressed as an OBJ. So (19b) contains one more term
than (19a), and the valence of the verb has increased from two to three;
but there is no change in the number of semantic arguments. Grammatical
operations which increase or decrease the valence of a verb are a topic of
great interest to syntacticians. We will discuss a few of these operations in
(19) a John baked a cake for Mary.
b John baked Mary a cake.
IMO, these two have the exact same number of operands, both have 3. for word <for> allows for a different ordering, i.e., it is a syntax-modifier.
at least, that’s one reading. 19a seems to be a less clear case of my alternative theory. one reading of 19a is that Mary was tasked with baking a cake, but John baked it for her. another reading has the same meaning as 19b.
(20) a #The young sausage likes the white dog.
b #Mary sings a white cake.
c #A small dog gives Mary to the young tree.
(21) a *John likes.
b *Mary gives the young boy.
c *The girl yawns Mary.
The examples in (20) are grammatical but semantically ill-formed –
they don’tmake sense.4
the footnote is: One reason for saying that examples like (20) and (22) are grammatical, even though
they sound so odd, is that it would often be possible to invent a context (e.g. in a fairy
tale or a piece of science ﬁction) in which these sentences would be quite acceptable.
This is not possible for ungrammatical sentences like those in (21).
i can think about several contexts where 21b makes sense. think of a situation where everybody is required to give something/someone to someone. after it is mentioned that several other people give this and that, 21b follows. in that context it makes sense just fine. however, it is because the repicient is implicit, since it is unnecessary (economic principle) to mention the recipient in every single sentence or clause.
21c is interpretable with if one considers ”the girl” an utterance, that Mary utters while yawning.
21a is almost common on Facebook. ”John likes this”, shortened to ”John likes”.
not that i think the author is wrong, i’m just being creative. :)
The famous example in (23) was used by Chomsky (1957) to show how
a sentence can be grammatical without being meaningful. What makes this
sentence so interesting is that it contains so many collocational clashes:
something which is green cannot be colorless; ideas cannot be green,or
any other color, but we cannot call themcolorless either; ideas cannot sleep;
sleeping is not the kind of thing one can do furiously; etc.
(23) #Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.
it is writings such as this that result in so much confusion. clear the different <cannot>’s in the above are not about the same kind of impossibility. let’s consider them:
<something which is green cannot be colorless> this is logical impossibility. these two predicates are logically incompatible, that is, they imply the lack of each other, that is, ∀xGreen(x)→¬Colorless(x). but actually this predicate has an internal negation. we can make it more explicit like this: ∀xGreen(x)→Colorful(x), and ∀xColorful(x)↔¬Colorless(x).
< ideas cannot be green,or any other color, but we cannot call themcolorless either; ideas cannot sleep;
sleeping is not the kind of thing one can do furiously> this is semantic impossibility. it concerns the meaning of the sentence. there is no meaning, and hence nothing expressed that can be true or false. from that it follows that there is nothing that can be impossible, since impossibility implies falsity. hence, if there is something connected with that sentence that is impossible, it has to be something else.
This kind of annotated tree diagramallows us to see at oncewhat iswrong
with the ungrammatical examples in (21) above: (21b) is incomplete, as
demonstrated in (34a), while (21c) is incoherent, as demonstrated in (34b).
a better set of terms are perhaps <undersaturated> and <oversaturated>.
there is nothing inconsistent about the second that isn’t also inconsitent in the first, and hence using that term is misleading. <incomplete> does capture an essential feature, which is that something is missing. the other ex. has something else too much. one could go for <incomplete> and <overcomplete> but it sounds odd. hence my choice of different terms.
The pro-formone can be used to refer to the head nounwhen it is followed
by an adjunct PP, as in (6a),but not when it is followed by a complement
PP as in (6b).
(6) a The [student] with short hair is dating the one with long hair.
b ∗The [student] of Chemistry was older than the one of Physics.
6b seems fine to me.
There is no ﬁxed limit on howmanymodiﬁers can appear in such a sequence.
But in order to represent an arbitrarily long string of alternating adjectives
and intensiﬁers, it is necessary to treat each such pair as a single unit.
The “star” notation used in (15) is one way of representing arbitrarily
long sequences of the same category. For any category X, the symbol “X∗”
stands for “a sequence of any number (zero or more) of Xs.” So the symbol
“AP∗” stands for “a sequence of zero or more APs.” It is easy to mod-
ify the rule in (12b) to account for examples like (14b); this analysis is
shown in (15b). Under the analysis in (12a),wewould need to write a more
complex rule something like (15a).3 Because simplicity tends to be favored
in grammatical systems, (12b) and (15b) provide a better analysis for this
(15) aNP → Det ((Adv) A)
∗ N (PP)
bNP → Det AP∗ N (PP)
for those that are wondering where this use of asterisk comes from, it is from here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regular_expression
In English, a possessor phrase functions as a kind of determiner. We
can see this because possessor phrases do not normally occur together with
other determiners in the same NP:
(19) a the new motorcycle
b Mary’s new motorcycle
c ∗Mary’s the new motorcycle
d ∗the Mary’s new motorcycle
looks more like it is because they are using proper nouns in their example. if one used a common noun, then it works just fine:
19e: The dog’s new bone.
Another kind of evidence comes fromthe fact that predicate complement
NPs cannot appear in certain constructions where direct objects can. For
example, an objectNP can become the subject of a passive sentence (44b) or
of certain adjectives (like hard, easy, etc.) which require a verbal or clausal
complement (44c).However, predicate complement NPs never occur in
these positions, as illustrated in (45).
(44) a Mary tickled an elephant.
b An elephant was tickled (by Mary).
c An elephant is hard (for Mary) to tickle.
(45) a Mary became an actress.
b *An actress was become (by Mary).
c *An actress is hard (for Mary) to become.
45c is grammatical with the optional element in place: An actress is hard for Mary to become. Altho it is ofc archaic in syntax.
mi amamas. ‘I am happy.’
yu amamas. ‘You (sg) are happy.’
em i amamas. ‘He/she is happy.’
yumi amamas. ‘We (incl.) are happy.’
mipela i amamas. ‘We (excl.) are happy.’
yupela i amamas. ‘You (pl) are happy.’
ol i amamas. ‘They are happy.’
it is difficult not to like this system, except for the arbitrary requirement of ”i” some places and not others. its clearly english-inspired. inclusive ”we” is interesting ”youme” :D
This constituent is normally labeled S’or S (pronounced “S-bar”). It con-
tains two daughters: COMP (for “complementizer”) and S (the complement
clause itself). This structure is illustrated in the tree diagram in (15), which
represents a sentence containing a ﬁnite clausal complement.
how to make this fit perfectly with the other use of N-bar terminology. in the case of noun phrases, we have NP on top, then N’ (with DET and adj) and then N at the bottom. it seems that we need to introduce some analogue to NP with S. the only level left is the entire sentence. SP sounds like a contradiction in terms or oxymoron though, ”sentence phrase”.
i had been thinking about a similar idea. but these work fine as a beginning. a good hierarchy needs a lvl for approximate truth as well (like Newton’s laws), as well as actual truths. but also perhaps a dimension for the relevance of the information conveyed. a sentence can express a true proposition without that proposition being relevant the making of just about any real life decision. for instance, the true proposition expressed by “42489054329479823423 is larger than 37828234747″ will in all likelihood never, ever be relevant for any decision. also one can cote that the relevance dimension only begins when there is actually some information conveyed, that is, it doesnt work before level 2 and beyond, as those below are meaningless pieces of language.
and things that are inconsistent can also be very useful, so its not clear how the falseness, approximate truth, and truth related to usefulness. but i think that they closer it is the truth, the more likely that it is useful. naive set theory is fine for working with many proofs, even if it is an inconsistent system.
found via Gene Expression, blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2013/01/a-correlation-between-acacia-trees-and-tonal-languages/
Recent studies have taken advantage of newly available, large-scale, cross-linguistic data and
new statistical techniques to look at the relationship between language structure and social
structure. These ‘nomothetic’ approaches contrast with more traditional approaches and a
tension is observed between proponents of each method. We review some nomothetic studies
and point out some challenges that must be overcome. However, we argue that nomothetic
approaches can contribute to our understanding of the links between social structure and
language structure if they address these challenges and are taken as part of a body of mutu-
ally supporting evidence. Nomothetic studies are a powerful tool for generating hypotheses
that can go on to be corroborated and tested with experimental and theoretical approaches.
These studies are highlighting the effect of interaction on language.
Key words: nomothetic, social structure, complex adaptive systems, linguistic niche hypoth-
esis, cultural evolution
Fashionable Nonsense, Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science – Alan Sokal, Jean Bricmont ebook download pdf free
The book contains the best single chapter on filosofy of science that iv com across. very much recommended, especially for those that dont like filosofers’ accounts of things. alot of the rest of the book is devoted to long quotes full of nonsens, and som explanations of why it is nonsens (if possible), or just som explanatory remarks about the fields invoked (say, relativity).
as such, this book is a must read for ppl who ar interested in the study of seudoscience, and those interested in meaningless language use. basically, it is a collection of case studies of that.
[footnote] Bertrand Russell (1948, p. 196) tells the following amusing story: “I once received a
letter from an eminent logician, Mrs Christine Ladd Franklin, saying that she was a
solipsist, and was surprised that there were not others”. We learned this reference
from Devitt (1997, p. 64).
The answer, of course, is that we have no proof; it is simply
a perfectly reasonable hypothesis. The most natural way to ex
plain the persistence of our sensations (in particular, the un
pleasant ones) is to suppose that they are caused by agents
outside our consciousness. We can almost always change at will
the sensations that are pure products of our imagination, but we
cannot stop a war, stave off a lion, or start a broken-down car
by pure thought alone. Nevertheless— and it is important to em
phasize this—this argument does not refute solipsism. If anyone
insists that he is a “harpsichord playing solo” (Diderot), there is
no way to convince him of his error. However, we have never
met a sincere solipsist and we doubt that any exist.52 This illus
trates an important principle that we shall use several times in
this chapter: the mere fact that an idea is irrefutable does not
imply that there is any reason to believe it is true.
i wonder how that epistemological point (that arguments from ignorance ar no good) works with intuitionism in math/logic?
The universality of Humean skepticism is also its weakness.
Of course, it is irrefutable. But since no one is systematically
skeptical (when he or she is sincere) with respect to ordinary
knowledge, one ought to ask why skepticism is rejected in that
domain and why it would nevertheless be valid when applied
elsewhere, for instance, to scientific knowledge. Now, the rea
son why we reject systematic skepticism in everyday life is
more or less obvious and is similar to the reason we reject solip
sism. The best way to account for the coherence of our experi
ence is to suppose that the outside world corresponds, at least
approximately, to the image of it provided by our senses.54
54 4This hypothesis receives a deeper explanation with the subsequent development of
science, in particular of the biological theory of evolution. Clearly, the possession of
sensory organs that reflect more or less faithfully the outside world (or, at least,
some important aspects of it) confers an evolutionary advantage. Let us stress that
this argument does not refute radical skepticism, but it does increase the coherence
of the anti-skeptical worldview.
the authors ar surprisingly sofisticated filosofically, and i agree very much with their reasoning.
For my part, I have no doubt that, although progressive changes
are to be expected in physics, the present doctrines are likely to be
nearer to the truth than any rival doctrines now before the world.
Science is at no moment quite right, but it is seldom quite wrong,
and has, as a rule, a better chance of being right than the theories
of the unscientific. It is, therefore, rational to accept it
—Bertrand Russell, My Philosophical Development
(1995 , p. 13)
yes, the analogy is that: science is LIKE a limit function that goes towards 1 [approximates closer to truth] over time. at any given x, it is not quite at y=1 yet, but it gets closer. it might not be completely monotonic either (and i dont know if that completely breaks the limit function, probably doesnt).
for a quick grafical illustration, try the function f(x)=1-(-1/x) on the interval [1;∞]. The truth line is f(x)=1 on the interval [0;∞]. in reality, the graf wud be mor unsteady and not completely monotonic corresponding to the varius theories as they com and go in science. it is not only a matter of evidence (which is not an infallible indicator of truth either), but it is primarily a function of that.
Once the general problems of solipsism and radical skepti
cism have been set aside, we can get down to work. Let us sup
pose that we are able to obtain some more-or-less reliable
knowledge of the world, at least in everyday life. We can then
ask: To what extent are our senses reliable or not? To answer
this question, we can compare sense impressions among them
selves and vary certain parameters of our everyday experience.
We can map out in this way, step by step, a practiced rationality.
When this is done systematically and with sufficient precision,
science can begin.
For us, the scientific method is not radically different from
the rational attitude in everyday life or in other domains of hu
man knowledge. Historians, detectives, and plumbers—indeed,
all human beings—use the same basic methods of induction,
deduction, and assessment of evidence as do physicists or bio
chemists. Modem science tries to carry out these operations in
a more careful and systematic way, by using controls and sta
tistical tests, insisting on replication, and so forth. Moreover,
scientific measurements are often much more precise than
everyday observations; they allow us to discover hitherto un
known phenomena; and they often conflict with “common
sense”. But the conflict is at the level of conclusions, not the
basic approach.55 56
55For example: Water appears to us as a continuous fluid, but chemical and physical
experiments teach us that it is made of atoms.
56Throughout this chapter, we stress the methodological continuity between scientific
knowledge and everyday knowledge. This is, in our view, the proper way to respond
to various skeptical challenges and to dispel the confusions generated by radical
interpretations of correct philosophical ideas such as the underdetermination of
theories by data. But it would be naive to push this connection too far. Science—
particularly fundamental physics— introduces concepts that are hard to grasp
intuitively or to connect directly to common-sense notions. (For example: forces
acting instantaneously throughout the universe in Newtonian mechanics,
electromagnetic fields “vibrating” in vacuum in Maxwell’s theory, curved space-time
in Einstein’s general relativity.) And it is in discussions about the meaning o f these
theoretical concepts that various brands of realists and anti-realists (e.g.,
intrumentalists, pragmatists) tend to part company. Relativists sometimes tend to fall
back on instrumentalist positions when challenged, but there is a profound difference
between the two attitudes. Instrumentalists may want to claim either that we have no
way of knowing whether “unobservable” theoretical entities really exist, or that their
meaning is defined solely through measurable quantities; but this does not imply that
they regard such entities as “subjective” in the sense that their meaning would be
significantly influenced by extra-scientific factors (such as the personality of the
individual scientist or the social characteristics o f the group to which she belongs).
Indeed, instrumentalists may regard our scientific theories as, quite simply, the most
satisfactory way that the human mind, with its inherent biological limitations, is
capable of understanding the world.
right they ar
Having reached this point in the discussion, the radical skep
tic or relativist will ask what distinguishes science from other
types of discourse about reality—religions or myths, for exam
ple, or pseudo-sciences such as astrology—and, above all, what
criteria are used to make such a distinction. Our answer is nu-
anced. First of all, there are some general (but basically nega
tive) epistemological principles, which go back at least to the
seventeenth century: to be skeptical of a priori arguments, rev
elation, sacred texts, and arguments from authority. Moreover,
the experience accumulated during three centuries of scientific
practice has given us a series of more-or-less general method
ological principles—for example, to replicate experiments, to
use controls, to test medicines in double-blind protocols—that
can be justified by rational arguments. However, we do not
claim that these principles can be codified in a definitive way,
nor that the list is exhaustive. In other words, there does not
exist (at least at present) a complete codification of scientific ra
tionality, and we seriously doubt that one could ever exist. After
all, the future is inherently unpredictable; rationality is always
an adaptation to a new situation. Nevertheless—and this is the
main difference between us and the radical skeptics—we think
that well-developed scientific theories are in general supported
by good arguments, but the rationality of those arguments must
be analyzed case-by-case.60
60 It is also by proceeding on a case-by-case basis that one can appreciate the
immensity of the gulf separating the sciences from the pseudo-sciences.
Sokal and Bricmont might soon becom my new favorit filosofers of science.
Obviously, every induction is an inference from the observed to
the unobserved, and no such inference can be justified using
solely deductive logic. But, as we have seen, if this argument
were to be taken seriously—if rationality were to consist only
of deductive logic— it would imply also that there is no good
reason to believe that the Sun will rise tomorrow, and yet no one
really expects the Sun not to rise.
id like to add, like i hav don many times befor, that ther is no reason to think that induction shud be proveable with deduction. why require that? but now coms the interesting part. if one takes induction as the basis instead of deduction, one can inductivly prove deduction. <prove> in the ordinary, non-mathetical/logical sens. the method is enumerativ induction, which i hav discussed befor.
But one may go further. It is natural to introduce a hierarchy
in the degree of credence accorded to different theories, de
pending on the quantity and quality of the evidence supporting
them.95 Every scientist—indeed, every human being—proceeds
in this way and grants a higher subjective probability to the
best-established theories (for instance, the evolution of species
or the existence of atoms) and a lower subjective probability to
more speculative theories (such as detailed theories of quantum
gravity). The same reasoning applies when comparing theories
in natural science with those in history or sociology. For exam
ple, the evidence of the Earth’s rotation is vastly stronger than
anything Kuhn could put forward in support of his historical
theories. This does not mean, of course, that physicists are more
clever than historians or that they use better methods, but sim
ply that they deal with less complex problems, involving a
smaller number of variables which, moreover, are easier to mea
sure and to control. It is impossible to avoid introducing such a
hierarchy in our beliefs, and this hierarchy implies that there is
no conceivable argument based on the Kuhnian view of history
that could give succor to those sociologists or philosophers who
wish to challenge, in a blanket way, the reliability of scientific
Sokal and Bricmont even get the epistemological point about the different fields right. color me very positivly surprised.
Bruno Latour and His Rules of Method
The strong programme in the sociology of science has found
an echo in France, particularly around Bruno Latour. His works
contain a great number of propositions formulated so ambigu
ously that they can hardly be taken literally. And when one re
moves the ambiguity— as we shall do here in a few
examples— one reaches the conclusion that the assertion is ei
ther true but banal, or else surprising but manifestly false.
sound familiar? its the good old two-faced sentences again, those that Swartz and Bradley called Janus-sentences. they yield two different interpretations, one trivial and true, one nontrivial and false. their apparent plausibility is becus of this fact.
quoting from Possible Worlds:
The method of possible-worlds testing is not only an invaluable aid towards resolving ambiguity; it is also an effective weapon against a particular form of-linguistic sophistry.
Thinkers often deceive themselves and others into supposing that they have discovered a profound
truth about the universe when all they have done is utter what we shall call a “Janus-faced
sentence”. Janus, according to Roman mythology, was a god with two faces who was therefore able
to ‘face’ in two directions at once. Thus, by a “Janus-faced sentence” we mean a sentence which, like “In the evolutionary struggle for existence just the fittest species survive”, faces in two directions. It is ambiguous insofar as it may be used to express a noncontingent proposition, e.g., that in the struggle for existence just the surviving species survive, and may also be used to express a contingent proposition, e.g., the generalization that just the physically strongest species survive.
If a token of such a sentence-type is used to express a noncontingently true proposition then, of
course, the truth of that proposition is indisputable; but since, in that case, it is true in all possible
worlds, it does not tell us anything distinctive about the actual world. If, on the other hand, a token
of such a sentence-type is used to express a contingent proposition, then of course that proposition
does tell us something quite distinctive about the actual world; but in that case its truth is far from
indisputable. The sophistry lies in supposing that the indisputable credentials of the one proposition
can be transferred to the other just by virtue of the fact that one sentence-token might be used to
express one of these propositions and a different sentence-token of one and the same sentence-type
might be used to express the other of these propositions. For by virtue of the necessary truth of one
of these propositions, the truth of the other — the contingent one — can be made to seem
indisputable, can be made to seem, that is, as if it “stands to reason” that it should be true.
We could be accused here of focusing our attention on an
ambiguity of formulation and of not trying to understand what
Latour really means. In order to counter this objection, let us go
back to the section “Appealing (to) Nature” (pp. 94-100) where
the Third Rule is introduced and developed. Latour begins by
ridiculing the appeal to Nature as a way of resolving scientific
controversies, such as the one concerning solar neutrinos:
A fierce controversy divides the astrophysicists who calcu
late the number o f neutrinos coming out o f the sun and Davis,
the experimentalist who obtains a much smaller figure. It is
easy to distinguish them and put the controversy to rest. Just
let us see for ourselves in which camp the sun is really to be
found. Somewhere the natural sun with its true number o f
neutrinos will close the mouths o f dissenters and force them
to accept the facts no matter how well written these papers
were. (Latour 1987, p. 95)
Why does Latour choose to be ironic? The problem is to know
how many neutrinos are emitted by the Sun, and this question
is indeed difficult. We can hope that it will be resolved some day,
not because “the natural sun will close the mouths of dis
senters”, but because sufficiently powerful empirical data will
become available. Indeed, in order to fill in the gaps in the cur
rently available data and to discriminate between the currently
existing theories, several groups of physicists have recently
built detectors of different types, and they are now performing
the (difficult) measurements.122 It is thus reasonable to expect
that the controversy will be settled sometime in the next few
years, thanks to an accumulation of evidence that, taken to
gether, will indicate clearly the correct solution. However, other
scenarios are in principle possible: the controversy could die
out because people stop being interested in the issue, or be
cause the problem turns out to be too difficult to solve; and, at
this level, sociological factors undoubtedly play a role (if only
because of the budgetary constraints on research). Obviously,
scientists think, or at least hope, that if the controversy is re
solved it will be because of observations and not because of
the literary qualities of the scientific papers. Otherwise, they
will simply have ceased to do science.
the footnode 121 is:
The nuclear reactions that power the Sun are expected to emit copious quantities
of the subatomic particle called the neutrino. By combining current theories of solar
structure, nuclear physics, and elementary-particle physics, it is possible to obtain
quantitative predictions for the flux and energy distribution of the solar neutrinos.
Since the late 1960s, experimental physicists, beginning with the pioneering work of
Raymond Davis, have been attempting to detect the solar neutrinos and measure their
flux. The solar neutrinos have in fact been detected; but their flux appears to be less
than one-third o f the theoretical prediction. Astrophysicists and elementary-particle
physicists are actively trying to determine whether the discrepancy arises from
experimental error or theoretical error, and if the latter, whether the failure is in the
solar models or in the elementary-particle models. For an introductory overview, see
this problem sounded familiar to me.
The solar neutrino problem was a major discrepancy between measurements of the numbers of neutrinos flowing through the Earth and theoretical models of the solar interior, lasting from the mid-1960s to about 2002. The discrepancy has since been resolved by new understanding of neutrino physics, requiring a modification of the Standard Model of particle physics – specifically, neutrino oscillation. Essentially, as neutrinos have mass, they can change from the type that had been expected to be produced in the Sun’s interior into two types that would not be caught by the detectors in use at the time.
science seems to be working. Sokal and Bricmont predicted that it wud be resolved ”in the next few years”. this was written in 1997, about 5 years befor the data Wikipedia givs for the resolution. i advice one to read the Wiki article, as it is quite good.
In this quote and the previous one, Latour is playing con
stantly on the confusion between facts and our knowledge of
them.123 The correct answer to any scientific question, solved or
not, depends on the state of Nature (for example, on the num
ber of neutrinos that the Sun really emits). Now, it happens that,
for the unsolved problems, nobody knows the right answer,
while for the solved ones, we do know it (at least if the accepted
solution is correct, which can always be challenged). But there
is no reason to adopt a “relativist” attitude in one case and a “re
alist” one in the other. The difference between these attitudes is
a philosophical matter, and is independent of whether the prob
lem is solved or not. For the relativist, there is simply no unique
correct answer, independent of all social and cultural circum
stances; this holds for the closed questions as well as for the
open ones. On the other hand, the scientists who seek the cor
rect solution are not relativist, almost by definition. Of course
they do “use Nature as the external referee”: that is, they seek to
know what is really happening in Nature, and they design ex
periments for that purpose.
the footnote 123 is:
An even more extreme example o f this confusion appears in a recent article by
Latour in La Recherche, a French monthly magazine devoted to the popularization of
science (Latour 1998). Here Latour discusses what he interprets as the discovery in
1976, by French scientists working on the mummy of the pharaoh Ramses II, that his
death (circa 1213 B.C.) was due to tuberculosis. Latour asks: “How could he pass
away due to a bacillus discovered by Robert Koch in 1882?” Latour notes, correctly,
that it would be an anachronism to assert that Rainses II was killed by machine-gun
fire or died from the stress provoked by a stock-market crash. But then, Latour
wonders, why isn’t death from tuberculosis likewise an anachronism? He goes so far
as to assert that “Before Koch, the bacillus has no real existence.” He dismisses the
common-sense notion that Koch discovered a pre-existing bacillus as “having only the
appearance o f common sense”. Of course, in the rest o f the article, Latour gives no
argument to justify these radical claims and provides no genuine alternative to the
common-sense answer. He simply stresses the obvious fact that, in order to discover
the cause of Ramses’ death, a sophisticated analysis in Parisian laboratories was
needed. But unless Latour is putting forward the truly radical claim that nothing we
discover ever existed prior to its “discovery”— in particular, that no murderer is a
murderer, in the sense that he committed a crime before the police “discovered” him
to be a murderer— he needs to explain what is special about bacilli, and this he has
utterly failed to do. The result is that Latour is saying nothing clear, and the article
oscillates between extreme banalities and blatant falsehoods.
a quote from one of the crazy ppl:
The privileging o f solid over fluid mechanics, and indeed the
inability o f science to deal with turbulent flow at all, she at
tributes to the association o f fluidity with femininity. Whereas
men have sex organs that protrude and become rigid, women
have openings that leak menstrual blood and vaginal fluids.
Although men, too, flow on occasion— when semen is emit
ted, for example— this aspect o f their sexuality is not empha
sized. It is the rigidity o f the male organ that counts, not its
complicity in fluid flow. These idealizations are reinscribed in
mathematics, which conceives o f fluids as laminated planes
and other modified solid forms. In the same way that women
are erased within masculinist theories and language, existing
only as not-men, so fluids have been erased from science, ex
isting only as not-solids. From this perspective it is no wonder
that science has not been able to arrive at a successful model
for turbulence. The problem o f turbulent f low cannot be
solved because the conceptions o f fluids (and o f women)
have been formulated so as necessarily to leave unarticulated
remainders. (Hayles 1992, p. 17)
u cant make this shit up
Over the past three decades, remarkable progress has been
made in the mathematical theory of chaos, but the idea that
some physical systems may exhibit a sensitivity to initial con
ditions is not new. Here is what James Clerk Maxwell said in
1877, after stating the principle of determinism ( “the same
causes will always produce the same effects”):
but thats not what determinism is. their quote seems to be from Hume’s Treatise.
it is mentioned in his discussion of causality, which is related to but not the same as, determinism.
Wikipedia givs a fine definition of <determinism>: ”Determinism is a philosophy stating that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given those conditions, nothing else could happen.”
also SEP: ”Causal determinism is, roughly speaking, the idea that every event is necessitated by antecedent events and conditions together with the laws of nature.”
[T]he first difference between science and philosophy is their
respective attitudes toward chaos. Chaos is defined not so
much by its disorder as by the infinite speed with which every
form taking shape in it vanishes. It is a void that is not a noth
ingness but a virtual, containing all possible particles and
drawing out all possible forms, which spring up only to dis
appear immediately, without consistency or reference, with
out consequence. Chaos is an infinite speed o f birth and dis
appearance. (Deleuze and Guattari 1994, pp. 117-118, italics
in the original)
For what it’s worth, electrons, unlike photons, have a non-zero
mass and thus cannot move at the speed of light, precisely
because of the theory of relativity of which Virilio seems so
i think the authors did not mean what they wrote here. surely, relativity theory is not the reason why electrons cannot move at the speed of light. relativity theory is an explanation of how nature works, in this case, how objects with mass and velocity/speed works.
We met in Paris a student who, after having brilliantly fin
ished his undergraduate studies in physics, began reading phi
losophy and in particular Deleuze. He was trying to tackle
Difference and Repetition. Having read the mathematical ex
cerpts examined here (pp. 161-164), he admitted he couldn’t
see what Deleuze was driving at. Nevertheless, Deleuze’s repu
tation for profundity was so strong that he hesitated to draw the
natural conclusion: that if someone like himself, who had stud
ied calculus for several years, was unable to understand these
texts, allegedly about calculus, it was probably because they
didn’t make much sense. It seems to us that this example should
have encouraged the student to analyze more critically the rest
of Deleuze’s writings.
i think the epistemological conditions of this kind of inference ar very interesting. under which conditions shud one conclude that a text is meaningless?
7. Ambiguity as subterfuge. We have seen in this book nu
merous ambiguous texts that can be interpreted in two differ
ent ways: as an assertion that is true but relatively banal, or as
one that is radical but manifestly false. And we cannot help
thinking that, in many cases, these ambiguities are deliberate.
Indeed, they offer a great advantage in intellectual battles: the
radical interpretation can serve to attract relatively inexperi
enced listeners or readers; and if the absurdity of this version is
exposed, the author can always defend himself by claiming to
have been misunderstood, and retreat to the innocuous inter
mor on Janus-sentences.