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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

And Just Put it On

My wife's suggestion as to how to deal with a flat tire on our riding mower was "to buy a new tire and just put it on." Her use of "just" illustrates how we often use this word, namely when we want to minimize something, in this case a suggested course of action. She was treating putting on the tire as being easy. At the time I didn't have a Staples "Easy" button to take care of the problem but she and I conspired to get pressurized can of something that inflates the tire and repairs the hole(s).

What my wife said is like saying "you merely (simply, only need to) buy a new tire and put it on" where the minimization is overt, that is, is carried by the literal meaning of of "merely" or "simply" or "only." Use of merely is like saying you don't have to do much to solve your problem. Use of "simply" is like saying this is a simple job. Use of "only" conveys that all that is required is to perform the suggested action. These more overt ways of minimizing the suggestion are not very polite. Use of "just" more covertly, and thus more politely, suggests that the action required is simple. In general the less direct one is in making suggestions, or making requests, which are very similar, the more polite one is.

When a friend says,
"Could you wait for me? I'll just be inside a minute."
don't be surprised if your friend doesn't come back within a minute or anything like a minute. We recognize this and would likely not complain if the speaker took five or even ten minutes, depending on what our patience threshold for waiting is and how busy we are. Requests for loans commonly include "just." Compare the next two sentences.
Could you help me out until I get my payroll check? I just need $300.
Could you help me out until I get my payroll check? I need $300.
This example illustrates that the "literal" or "conventional" meaning of "just," whatever it may be, is a great deal less important than its social significance. Notice that if "I just need $300" is true, then "I need $300" is true, and conversely, which is to say that "just" does not contribute to the truth/falsity of the assertion. It is there instead to communicate social meaning. You might go to my blogs on "Yes, but..." and The Meaning of Meaning for more on what I mean by the "social meaning" or "social significance" of utterances.

Before discussing this further, let's look at what might be instances of the use of "just" that reflect its literal meaning -- that it is its meaning not its use (i. e., its social meaning or significance). A CNN story had a headline reading
Starr Investigation Costs Just Shy of $30 Million - April 1, 1998
When I did a search for "costs just" hoping to get ads saying something like "Our product costs just...," I got a number of instances like the one just mentioned. We recognize that CNN is rounding off the number, partly to shorten the headline but also because a short number has more "punch" than a long one. I read this claim as but telling us that the real cost is not far from $30 million, perhaps something like $29, 565, 342.89 million, a number that is very unlikely to occur in a headline of a publication. Now see what you make of the following hypothetical headline.
Starr Investigation Costs Just $30 Million - April 1, 1998
I believe you would read this headline as making a political point, in this case that the Starr investigation has been relatively inexpensive and we shouldn't worry our pretty little heads over the cost.

At a liberal web site I found this
Of course the guy who told Congress [the war in Iraq] would cost just 2 billion (a real financial genus -- sic), Bush made President of the World Bank.
I am betting that the person who made this claim to Congress didn't say
The Iraq war will cost just 2 billion.
This would be to suggest that 2 billion bucks is not a lot of money and suggesting such a thing would be the political equivalent of lighting a stick of dynamite and sticking it in one's mouth. Again, the social significance or meaning rears its head.

Another example of the social meaning or significance of the use of "just" in an assertion can be found in the following Wikinews statement.
A survey carried out by BBC Wales has revealed that the contents of a school meal in Wales cost on average just £0.49 per pupil.
Interestingly the BBC news headline of the page Wikinews sends us to was quite different.
School meal average '48p a pupil'
The number was different and there was no editorializing as to the priceyness of the meals by minimizing it. Wikinews, like Wikipedia, is a free source of information, including, it seems, some editorializing along the way. I gather that anyone can contribute to these projects. I haven't looked at all deeply into this but I suggest not relying any too heavily on the accuracy of the information. As we have seen, the facts can be a tad off and we get some editorializing.

The word "just" is quite popular. The Nike Corporation (not a link to Nike.com uses the slogan "Just Do It," which is a species of suggestion. Al Davis, the owner of the Oakland Raiders, is famous for his injunction, "Just win, baby." A Google search of "just win baby" yields a large number of sports sites. The fact that this Al Davis statement has been used by others for years seems to demonstrate that it resonates with people. The Nike use is an injunction something like"you can do this thing you want to do, so shed your fears and do it." The fact that they have used the injunction for years suggests that it too has resonated with a lot of people. It wouldn't shock me to learn that Nike learned from the Al Davis statement.

"Just" also occurs in popular songs. The "Spin Doctors" who had a meteoric rise with its first album, containing the song "Two Princes." It concludes
Marry him or marry me,
I'm the one that loves you baby can't you see?
I Ain't got no future or a family tree,
But I know what a prince and lover ought to be
I know what a prince and lover ought to be....

Said, if you want to call me baby
Just go ahead, now
And if you like to tell me maybe
Just go ahead, now
And If you wanna buy me flowers
Just go ahead, now
And if you like talk for hours
just go ahead, now
Ohh baby
just go ahead now
This group spun off the charts rather quickly, not making a dent with its third album. The Cure has a very painfully selfish song I Just Need Myself. Check out how this song ends.

I know that I don't love you but I tell you that I do
But I only buy you flowers if I want anything from you
You think that if you'll leave me it will put me on a shelf
But I don't need you girl
I just need myself.

I just need myself (3x)
I just need.
Notice that the use of "just" in "I just need myself" in this song is very different from its use in the Spin Doctor's song. In the Cure's use it is little different from "only" and is insulting to the intended recipient. In the case of the Spin Doctor's song, we have a use of "just" that constitutes a grant of permission.

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51 Comments:

Blogger Kelly said...

Very interesting! This post certainly meets your stated goal of providing a "linguistic self defense course" for your readers. This isn't something I would have consciously thought about, but I think I have heard claims that something is "just" X, and responded with "just X?" So in the back of my mind I am aware of the effect of this word, at least when the disparity between the connotation of "just" and the claim being made is obvious enough. I presume that most people are aware when the use is particularly bizarre, but sometimes evil can be subtle.

2:29 PM

 
Blogger Language Guy said...

The single most quoted line from one of my books was one in The Languagae of Politics in which I said something like "It is language that does not call attention to itself that is most effective." I had in mind different sorts of examples but what you say is true. If the "just" claim is off-base by a lot we notice. The problem we face is that it is very hard to read for content and for style at the same time. We are not great mult-taskers. Advertisers know that if they talk while a printed disclaimer is presented on screen, if you keep listening, you won't read the disclaimer. Some drug ads, maybe all, now list the major side effects of drugs orally. That is the honest way to go. Of course, they are talking to a nation not well educated in medicine. They depend on that ignorance to encourage everyone to go bother their doctors by asking if they need this or that.

5:02 PM

 
Blogger J_G said...

The “hacks “of politics (as in the foot soldiers) that go out to convince others to join the party or vote for their party's candidate live off of this kind play on statistics and facts.

It takes just minutes to register so you can vote those bums out of office.
We’re just votes away from having this new park become a reality can’t you help us out.
At the Congressional hearing to investigate why the school lunch program is costing so much more money than originally intended “Congressman, if we just had more people to monitor the program we could cut costs by a third”. Another witness testified”
Congressman, if we could just give this free lunch to those in need instead of forcing everyone to accept the program we could cut costs in half”.

That used to be so much fun for me. I could watch C-span for hours and listen to every word that was said and get the transcripts and cut everyone of the words and sentences to pieces to make people understand a different meaning for the benefit of finding votes. I could hold up the transcripts and say, “this is what your Congress people or President are up to” and minimize or maximize what was said using the words LG pointed out like only or just and maybe. Maybe you would like to have your taxes so high that you would have to work two jobs just to pay for those taxes. Only thirty percent of actual citizens bother to vote if we could just get two or three percent more people out to vote than maybe we could gain control of the Congress again one Democrat recently opined.

Before there was an internet and cheap printers though you had to go to the party HQ or local office to get the transcripts of the hearings and have to listen to puffed up bigwigs and their stupid ideas although there were always some very sharp characters and I always tried to pick their brains. The Internet and C-Span changed the whole party structure for both parties with a lot of Mom and Pop operations going on. That’s how the attack organization “Move On dot org” got its dirty start. See, I’m still doing it without even trying. I’m giggling about all of this right now but I used to take all this stuff too seriously like it was life or death if the Dems would gain an just an inch or get one of their bloated spending bills passed. :-)

It’s not fun anymore because of all the hate and personal attacks. I’m out of that vote getting business and only one thing can get me back into it; ol’ Aunty Hill.

6:47 PM

 
Blogger Paramendra Bhagat said...

Can't Take Back Congress Without Strong On Defense
Long War
Iraq Intel: The Spy Who Failed Me
Complicated Iraq

7:42 PM

 
Blogger Kelly said...

Spam?^^^

In regards to the drug companies, I think they're required by federal law to either
a. list the side effects orally or
b. don't say what the drug is for

It used to be that they had only option b (man, were those commercials frustrating) but after a big lobbying push they added option a.

9:51 PM

 
Blogger J_G said...

Oh yeah, almost forgot. LG, when you get that lawnmower fixed how about a hand with my lawn. It's just an acre and a half and it is great excercise ;-)

12:21 AM

 
Blogger L>T said...

You are right , L Guy, drug companys depend on our ignorance.

"Just listen to us" is the message As they rattle off all the horrible side affects of their 'pills' in a barely audible voice.

1:47 AM

 
Blogger Language Guy said...

J_G, the Democrats were late to use of the "independent" smear machines the Republicans have been so good at. I was very pleased to see Move On and the other major group enter the fray. The Republicans created modern dirty politics when Newt Gingrich and others lied their way into the hearts and minds of voters. And when Clinton got elected Republicans went after him from his first day on the job if not sooner, with the fat radio guy who should be in jail for possession of narcotics illegally. All the investigations Republicans got started came to nothing but they did throw dirt on Clinton anyway. That's what the Republicans wanted. Clinton helped them out by not keeping his pecker in his pants when not in bed with his wife but that was long after the smearing began. You must be blind to think that Move On is evil, implying that there was something special about this group. It was just a late comer to the Political Smear Party.

7:29 AM

 
Blogger J_G said...

LG, if William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States had just called on you during his testimony before the grand jury maybe they would not of convicted of lying by having you just explain to him what the word ‘is” meant. I’d bet a year’s worth of “cattle futures” on that.

2:11 PM

 
Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

Kelly and J_G, just how difficult would it be to just post a comment without bringing up evil or the Clintons (either Hillary in toto or just Willy's wick)?

Just wondering....

; )

3:25 AM

 
Blogger J_G said...

I know it's all too easy to just point out that Hillary and Bill were probably the most corrupt adminstration our country has ever seen but it must be put into perspective as such.
I have no problem letting it go but with ol' Aunty Hill running for pres expect more of the same. Write her a letter and tell her not to run and spare the country of rehash of evil personified. How's that?

12:44 PM

 
Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

Unfortunately, just what I expected.

(You used "just" just once. I'd have written "I have no problem just letting it go...just with [her] running.... Write her a letter and tell her to just not run....")

(Pssst! I'm ahead. And not just by a little.)

2:44 PM

 
Anonymous Deborah said...

Some of your examples appear to imply comparison to an odious alternative.

Your wife suggests "just put it on" as opposed to "struggle, moan, suffer, and have difficulty." Or something.

"I just need $300" sounds to me like "the last time I asked you it was $900, but don't flinch, this time it's just $300."

The Iraq war estimates are "just 2 billion" in retrospect, compared to the much larger actual cost.

6:25 PM

 
Blogger Kelly said...

I think you "just" went a little too far JG (here it's used to denote that the event happened recently--did LG miss that meaning?).

I find it hard to believe that the Clinton administration was the most corrupt ever. Grant probably has him beat, and I'm almost sure there has to be others.

And Ibad, I brought up evil because I was referring to LG's subheader, which tells us to "think of it as a linguistic self defense course in which you and I prepare ourselves to do battle with the forces of linguistic evil".

6:25 PM

 
Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

Ah, yes! Very subtle of you.

In the hours since I posted my last comment, I've thought a bit more about J_G's before it. I'm no great fan of either "Bill or Hill", but if you think seriously about how some governments and leaders around the world abuse both their power and their peoples, characterizing the Clintons as "evil personified" seems a bit unfair. Not that we won't see worse in the media if J_G's fears are realized.

That this sort of thing can pass for informed political discussion shows, perhaps, just how far removed from reality we have become?

10:34 PM

 
Blogger Kelly said...

Perhaps that's another contributing factor to my apathy towards politics: none of our major politicians are that bad, at least not in the greater scheme of things.

11:01 PM

 
Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

But why settle for less than the best? If politicians believe they can get away with half-assed performance and outrageous shenanigans, isn't it because we have let them do so in the past? And continue to do so now? There's no justification for apathy. But we've done this one already.

7:25 AM

 
Blogger J_G said...

Make no mistake IBRon, if Aunty Hill gets the nom it's going to be the biggest political firefight this nation has ever seen. The evil personified thing will be taken to it's extreme. It's not like they just dislike the woman most Republicans can't stand the sight of her. I stated to you before or maybe I asked you before if you or anyone else would be up for Bush, Clinton, Bush and Clinton again. I just don't think it's a good idea and that we need new blood because the old blood has became really bad blood. You can argue or discuss (hehe)who you'd like to see win the presidency but I say no more Bushs and no more Clintons we've had enough. I took myself off the frontlines because it was just too much for me and that's syaing a lot because I really liked the heat for a long time. It was fun to me but I guess the times they are a changin.

Anyway ,I did go for many posts though without mentioning Willy's Wonka.

9:56 AM

 
Blogger Language Guy said...

How about stopping the character assination of political figures! That wasn't a question but an emphatic suggestion.

As for Clinton's "It depends on what the meaning of "is" is?" I can't say I have studied the context in which he said that but the fact is that "be" has a host of meanings. It would be interesting to look at the question and his answer in terms of how the "be" of the question might reasonably be interpreted. Since both Q and A dudes were lawyers, you can be sure that both were trying to trap (Q) and evade (A) the other.

12:02 PM

 
Blogger Kelly said...

So it was like some insane game of chess. I don't think I would try Willy's "What is the meaning of 'is'?" trick. If there is no "be" then the whole language falls apart. I have a hard time imagining a language without that particular verb.

12:13 PM

 
Blogger Sean said...

I'm with LG. While I have many qualms about the Bush's, I never refer to them as "evil personified." The statement seems worthless in the end; it imparts no information apart from a vague implication of general wrong doing, and begs the question "how is he evil?" Evil is exceedingly subjective as well. I prefer, "Bush spends more than Democrats ever have," or "Bush went into a war unprepared and his motivations are more than questionable." Both statements can be the beginnings of discussions, and neither impugn his personal character. I've never met the man, people say his quite nice, so I have no need for character assassination, but I don't like what he's doing or what he's done, and I'll stick to questioning those actions.

As for Bill and Hill, to say they were the most corrupt is hyperbolic, and also begs for explanation. I think there are plenty of better people out there to run for office than Hillary Clinton, her nomination would be silly. I've never been one for idolatry, and that is what her nomination would be. Personality should be much needed icing on a cake (cakes aren’t so good without icing I’ve found), but all icing and no substance is kind of disgusting. I’m tired of icing. Perhaps Barak Obama instead? Good icing there, and from what I’ve seen so far the cakes pretty good too. Now that could be an interesting nomination :)

PS The J word does not appear in this post. While I support some forms of passive-aggression, that is not one of them I enjoy.

4:11 PM

 
Blogger L>T said...

Calling someone 'evil-personified' is interesting to consider. Literally it would mean 'Satan' I think.

9:07 PM

 
Blogger Sean said...

Exactly L>T, and while some may consider B&H up there in the evil department, I hardly think they qualify for his job.

10:35 PM

 
Blogger Language Guy said...

Kelly, you betray a great ignorance of language and a basic ability to read. First, I didn't say that there was no verb "be." I said the verb "be" has a large number of meanings/uses. Moreover your claim, "If there is no "be" then the whole language falls apart. I have a hard time imagining a language without that particular verb" runs afoul of hosts of languages of the world that dispense with the use of the simple present tense occurences of the verb. The idea that "be" is of such critical importance that without it the whole language falls apart is just plain silly. As noted, lots of languages omit it in the present tense. Their languages do not thereby fall apart.

Clinton tried to defend himself from sordid sexual activity while the Bush administration folks have engaged in massive linguistic deceptions that have had life and death implications. This shows how shallow conservatives are -- more worried about Clinton's lies about sex (probably the one thing humans lie the most about) while Condy Rice and others lied about what Iraq/Saddam was and was not up to that "forced" them to go to war. At LewRockwell.com, the International Hearld Tribune wrote, quite correctly, the following

In a part of his State of the Union speech designed to portray Iraq as posing an urgent and immediate security threat, Bush said that 'the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.' 'The statement that he made was indeed accurate,' Rice said on the Fox News Sunday television program. 'The British government did say that.'"

Saying something that implies "P" is true is in some cases worse than actually asserting "P" for it is used to deceive people. In this case, Rice was playing the same sort of verbal games Clinton did but about vastly more important matters of state.

8:12 AM

 
Blogger Language Guy said...

Sorry, I meant a "basic inability to read"

8:13 AM

 
Blogger J_G said...

On one side you have the people that just keep saying Bush lied. Bush didn't lie, it’s plain and simple and no one is listening to it anymore because it was already proven that he wasn't. The source of the whole premise that Saddam was trying to obtain nuclear materials came from French Intelligence agents working in North Africa and the story they told to the other intelligence sources were proven to be false. Every intelligence agency in the world believed Saddam Hussein had chemical/biological weapons. It turned out that his own Generals thought he had them too because they wanted to use them on advancing American forces at the beginning of the war.

On the other side you have people that want to win a war with a limited engagement. Just what the heck is going on here? Is this admin purposely trying to embarrass us by losing another war? We had plenty of reason to want to eliminate Saddam Hussein because he was engaged in terrorist plots and other malfeasances. It is now known that Saddam was fully engaged with high level Al Qaeda operatives such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Now to try and gain control of the situation without using a full engagement is utterly preposterous and it's just not going to work and that's just plain and simple. You have to be in control in order to maintain control is that simple enough. Hey yo! Yeah, you over there! Yeah you, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee brewing Mr. Rumsfeld. Wouldn’t it have been better to hold the position with a strong and overwhelming force and trained those Iraqis and have been done with it by now? Sheesh, this is why we record things down in history books, it’s so we can learn from mistakes that have already been made. We’ve wasted so much time just trying to hold a position and not had the strength to improve our position. As the famous Yogi Berra said it so well, it’s like Déjà vu all over again.

This guy Bush is just like his old man; 100 percent weenie. Bush 43 is a “One Worlder” just like his old man and has no intention of protecting our own sovereignty at our borders but has no problem fighting a war as stupid as it can be fought just like his old man. Clinton was just a “yeee haa” party boy and was just along for the ride. Clinton signed a few bills partied hearty and left everything important to his predecessor. I wouldn’t classify his admin as evil just extremely negligent, if you think that is evil than that’s up to you. We need new blood and the time is coming soon.

9:44 AM

 
Blogger Kelly said...

LG, I did not display any such "basic inability to read." In fact, you jumped to a silly conclusion based on what I said. It would be fairer to say that you are displaying such an inability, but I know better than that.

I never said that you claimed there was no verb "be." I'm not sure where you got that from my comment. I was channeling Lewis Black in my confusion over the very idea of asking the meaning of "is" by any English-speaking person. The very question of "is" evoked my comment about the non-existence of that verb, and that part of my comment was not directed as a reply to your comment.

It is interesting, though, that many languages don't have "is." How do they deal with that absence? Do they replace "He is there" with "He there" as many two-year-olds and Tarzan do? And do some of their sentences merely consist of the object of the sentence? From a philosophical standpoint that's very interesting, because someone speaking a language such as that would probably not be inclined to question existence. To them, the very presence of the word "I" would imply "I am," leading them to ignore the question "Am I?" Is that accurate? Also, are these languages considered primitive (if there is such a thing as a primitive language) and are their cultures primitive?

Now I'm going totally off on a tangent, but I remember in Cultural Anthropology class that more technologically-advanced cultures identify more basic color words. The most primitive languages only identify black and white, and as they advance they identify (in order) red, then green-blue, and so on. It's also interesting to note that members of a particular culture will generally identify the same hue as the ideal of that color word, which is really a tribute to the idea of shared meaning.

12:47 PM

 
Blogger Kelly said...

I'd just like to add that I'm not sure if it's out of vogue or offensive or even to refer to a culture as primitive, or if there can be any useful meaning to calling a culture as such. I think I'm speaking from an ethnocentric standpoint.

12:50 PM

 
Anonymous pf said...

I just can't decide if I like the blog better or if I just like all the bickering that goes on back and forth in the comments. Either way, it justifies my coming back here time and time again. Just keep it coming...

2:33 PM

 
Blogger Language Guy said...

Kelly, you said, "If there is no "be" then the whole language falls apart" which implicates that someone had posited that there might not be one. And no one did say that.

Your leap from the absence of "be" in some dialects and some languages to cognitive conclusions exhibits a lack of understanding of language, cognition, and the relationship betwen them. The verb "be" is redundant in "John is tall." It does not have to be there since the sentence predicates a propert of John, which is the function of "be" in that sentence. The verb "is" does carry tense and number. Number is redundant since "John" refers to a single person. Since "be" here is multiply redundant, speakers simple elide it in the present tense. Since "be" is kept in the past tense, its absence in "John tall" entails that a present time claim is being made. I suggest you not jump from any linguistic fact to a cognitive conclusion without some serious training in linguistics and cognition.

You had an idiot as your teacher of Cultural Anthropology. There are no primitive languages other than pidgins and these are languages used only when people speaking different nonprimitive languages must communicate.

Different languages do have different numbers of basic color terms and the basic color terms in any two languages may not line up exactly the same way as to what colors the words refer to. If you look at the color spectrum you will see that cutting into it, which is necessary to provide different names for different parts of the spectrum, involves somewhat arbitrary choices. And no matter how many basic color terms a language has, its speakers will be able to provide names for whatever colors they wish to draw attention to, using locutions perhaps like "the color of the such-and-such leaf" or "the color of the tree frog" or whatever. I have never read a competent source say that the level of technology determines how many basic color terms there are. I suspect, for instance, that the English basic color vocabulary was created well before we had anything resembling any kind of serious technology. I suggest you forget everything your CA teacher taught you. There is a good chance that a lot of it is wrong based on the things you are writing.

3:54 PM

 
Blogger Paul F. said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:38 PM

 
Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

Russian is a "be-drop" language: он молодой адвокат, "He (is) (a) young attorney." And the good folk of my adopted country do quite well without present-tense be in casual (non-emphatic) conversation as well. Note that both languages also do not have articles like a(n) and the. It's truly amazing what you can do without, linguistically. As are the things other languages have decided you can't live without. Like tensed adjectives: Kyô wa atataka-i. Kinô mo atataka-katta. "Today is-warm. Yesterday also was-warm."

I've only seen the basic colors thing presented as an implicational hierarchy: if a language has only two major color terms, they will mean black and white (or dark and light); if it has three, they will mean black, white and red; etc. Tying this in with technological advancement is simply wrong, as LG has stated.

The way languages divide up the spectrum is also interesting. Over here, I can pass through an intersection when the light is blue (ao). And "blue" is also the color used for something (or someone) not yet mature and still inexperienced.

10:03 PM

 
Blogger J_G said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:40 AM

 
Blogger J_G said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:49 AM

 
Blogger Language Guy said...

ENOUGH ALREADY. PLEASE STOP ALL PURELY POLITICAL COMMENTS OR I WILL BEGIN DELETING THEM.

8:17 AM

 
Blogger Language Guy said...

IN FACT I HAVE STARTED DELETING ANY COMMENT THAT HAS NOTHING WHATEVER TO DO WITH LANGUAGE. POLITICAL COMMENTARY IS FINE IF IT IS RELATED TO LANGUAGE IN SOME WAY -- IF IT HAS TO DO WITH SOME FEATURE OF WHAT A POLITICAL FIGURE HAS SAID THAT IS OF LINGUSITIC INTEREST.

8:25 AM

 
Blogger Kelly said...

I suppose it might imply that someone had posited it, but now that you say that I understand where you got the idea.

As for my CA teacher, well, actually it was the textbook that said that. She didn't really teach the class--we just read the book, had guest speakers, and people in the class did presentations. I think she knew she was out of her depth in that class, being more an expert in sociology (formerly at Purdue).

9:26 AM

 
Blogger Language Guy said...

Kelly, you touch on an interesting point. Early on, there came a time when language and linguistics became sexy and the demand by students to learn about these things outstripped the supply of well-trained linguists so all sorts of people had to fill in. I suspect the same thing goes on today at small colleges that can't afford to hire a linguist. Despite the great importance of language to human life and thus the great importance of linguistics, we are still a delicacy that only the richest university can afford.

9:44 AM

 
Blogger den said...

Back in the 60's Dusty Springfield had a hit record, titled "I only want to be with you." I'm not sure it was good grammar, but the economy of the dual meanings of "only" in this context was more than just catchy. a) There is just one thing I want: to be with you. b) You are the sole person I want to be with.
I believe this is where prose becomes poetry.

9:50 AM

 
Blogger L>T said...

I would have written' "I 'just' want to be w/you."
That's why He's a poet & I'm not. :)

10:09 AM

 
Blogger J_G said...

Gosh, pretty sensitive eh? Must of struck a nerve.

12:58 PM

 
Anonymous pf said...

I sincerely apologize Language Guy for posting a political response to those political comments. If they want to spread lies, I want to rebut it with the truth. The truth is ugly and forbidden. I prefer this to be a language forum and that is why I come here. I find language facinating and it's that, not the politics, that keeps me interested in this blog. I personally will refrain from expressing my political opinions in here and I'd appreciate the same from the other regulars, etc.

1:00 PM

 
Blogger Language Guy said...

Meanwhile I will struggle to suppress my strongly held political views. My next post is on objectivity. I may have to toss it.

2:23 PM

 
Blogger Kelly said...

I wouldn't toss it. I think it could be a helpful exercise to be as objective as possible and to have others point out where you failed. Of course, if you believe in the relativity of truth, then objectivity is impossible, isn't it? Or perhaps that would mean that everything is objective. I'm not sure.

As to the language and cognition / philosophy point I brought up, I was thinking along the lines of the S-W hypothesis (not sure how to spell it, so I'm not trying), which was about as far into linguistics as my major in communications brought me. Incidentally, I did go to a small undergrad university (~1400 students, it was just a teacher's college about twenty years ago) and while I did not take linguistics, my adviser did teach a class on English language and linguistics. Students in the class seemed to like the word "fricative" and found it amusing, in a juvenile way. I'm not sure if she was well-qualified to teach the class or not.

At a small U like that you have to make a decision on whether you want to try to teach it and work around your shortcomings or to fail to offer it at all. It's not really a good choice.

2:56 PM

 
Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

Everything is objective. From someone's point of view.

; )

Perhaps "...to try to be as objective as possible..."? Otherwise that sentence strikes me as kind of weird; implicational mismatch, maybe? (Then again, I could still just be in correction mode following my composition & grammar class?)

(It seems characteristic in modern American to avoid geminate frication (two fricatives of the same type coming together to produce one long sound). Some argue this to be a constitutional restriction inherent to the English language; I prefer to view it as a current, temporary tendency.)

4:10 AM

 
Blogger Language Guy said...

You are right, Kelly, that a small school faces a difficult problem when it must either not offer some subject matter or offer it with an inadequante lecturer. Interestingly, if the inadequate teacher is smart, he or she will seek aid from others -- lingusists, say, from nearby state universities asking about the texts they use. I think that many schools use a combo work book/text book think Ohio State puts out which our graduate students are responsbile for putting together. With a good text and the OSU thing, an unprepared teacher should be able to "fake it" well enough that the kids get a decent course. Education is ultimately up to them anyway.

8:05 AM

 
Blogger Kelly said...

Ibad: interesting point. I think the "try" is implied when one is being as objective as possible [within his/her own abilities]. The bracketed phrase is also implied, unless you're being as objective as humanly possible.

Or perhaps it's my aversion to the word "try," because, as a great philosopher once said, "Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try."

:)

9:28 AM

 
Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

Facetiousness aside (this time...maybe), my problem was with the hav[ing] others point out where you failed, which implies to me that you believe it is impossible for someone to be completely objective. (Does that therefore mean that you believe in the relatively of truth? Probably not, right? I mean, Socrates essentially demolished that one.) If that's what you meant, I would find it a more felicitous usage of the language to say so explicitly (using try). Again, maybe this is just an occupational prejudice. (As a linguist trained by LG and other greats [grovel grovel] I am strictly a descriptivist, but as a language teacher I have to be a prescriptivist. Fortunately I'm a Gemini and juggling contradictions comes fairly naturally! : )

The bracketed phrase is also implied, unless you're being as objective as humanly possible.

Congratulations! You just broke my parser! (Huh?! I'm so confoosed!)

(A philosopher great and wise you quote. Indeed. But of this dictum dubious I am...excuse for apathy to me it seems. "Try there is no," he should have said, besides!)

6:38 PM

 
Blogger Kelly said...

I certainly wouldn't personally assert that no one can be objective.

If one does believe in the relativity of truth, then I was confused as to whether objectivity is impossible or whether everything is objective. I suppose either conclusion could be appropriate, especially since the relativity of truth allows you to go either way with conclusions . . . or does it? I'm confusing myself now.

Regardless, although I believe in absolute truth (if Socrates didn't have me convinced, then by the time Aristotle came around I would have to be, right?) I'm not sure if any mortal human can be truly objective. Anything you say is colored at least by the language you speak, if not by other experiences.

2:36 PM

 
Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

I guess we'll have to wait until immortal humans hit the scene, then? (Seeing as we only have direct access to mortal versions at present, discussing anything else seems a bit pointless, no?)

Language, experience, the nature of perception of the world itself...these all have an effect.

I also believe in absolute truth, as a matter of fact, but also recognize the roles of belief and perspective.

Three sides to every story, right? Yours, mine, and the truth.

2:12 AM

 
Blogger Kelly said...

Very true!

Speaking of immortal humans, Asimov wrote a story called "The Last Question" (I believe that was the title; maybe it was "The Final Question") in which humans and computers evolved over thousands of years. Humans continually asked computers whether entropy could be reversed. Humans eventually gained the capacity for eternal life, but only as long as there was still enough energy to sustain them. They eventually became a single entity called Man and there was only one computer, but the energy ran out and Man died. The computer kept working on the problem and finally had an answer, but since there were no humans left to give the answer to he decided to demonstrate the answer: "Let there be light." Totally off-topic, but very interesting nonetheless.

2:13 PM

 

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