Monday, July 30, 2007

A Desperate Blogger

I suggest that you take a look at the link associated with the title of this blog. I found the phrase "sloppy speech" on the site's first example of an "error" in the use of English, namely the claim that "It is nonstandard and often considered sloppy speech to utter an “uh” sound in such cases." The cases concerned uses of "an." Does anyone actually use "uh" for "an"? Usually, it is used for cases of "a" as in "a boy." Interestingly this highly prescriptive site doesn't comment on this sort of usage. I find it hard to avoid and I am a speaker of academic English. I am just not a prig.

The phrase "sloppy speech" is a pejorative way to refer to what linguists call "casual speech," speech that we all use, including our prescriptivist I suspect, in casual or informal speech contexts including intimate speech contexts. We say things like "lesko" for "Let's go" when talking to friends. When the two words collide we have the intolerable sequence "tsg," which is basically not a possible consonant cluster. So, we delete the "t" and turn the voiced "g" into its voiceless counterpart thanks to the "s." No one has any trouble understanding us when we say that. Partly that would be due to context -- two or more people have been talking about going somewhere, most likely.

I am struggling to come up with Blogs, as the beginning of this blog may have suggested to someone. It seems that I have touched on an enormous number of topics, almost all of which involve language. That restriction is somewhat limiting. I cannot, of course, talk about Clinton vs Obama unless I have something they said or that has been said about them to deal with. Actually, I do have my good friend, Ralph's, renaming of "Obama" to "Obambi." If that caught on, Obama would be toast, partly because it seems apt.

One reason I am struggling is that I am spending a lot of time trying not to think too much about the fact that I am going to be a grandfather tomorrow with any luck. I notice that no matter what I do, I cannot refer to this possibility (note the use of "possibility" and the earlier use of "luck") that I will soon be a grandfather. My son-in-law said something like he doesn't want to jinx the pregnancy. I asked him if he really believed in jinxes and he said he didn't but he didn't want to tempt fate. I quit bothering him since I have been doing the same things verbally.

If any of you have any topics you want me to discuss that I feel competent to write about (no guarantee that I am competent to do so), please suggest them in the comment area. I need some help, much like the women of Desperate Housewives.

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Blogger Phil said...

While I find it impossible to conflate you with Teri Hatcher, I wish you congratulations and good luck with your impending blessed event. Is this you first grandkid?

10:21 PM

Blogger Mrs. Geezerette said...

LG, I won't mention that one topic so that I don't end up jinxing it. I have 14 of those unmentionables myself with another on the way.

You are competent enough to give your opinion and write on any number of issues and subjects.

What do you think? Are people who buy SUV's selfish with no concern for the environment? Should we hang them by their thumbs? I own a SUV by the way. But I only drive it on Sundays to and from church. :-)

Why do people buy SUV's? I know why we bought one. Would it have anything to do with the huge number of big trucks that are on our highways these days? Isn't it high time we did something about all those big trucks? Shouldn't they have their own designated lanes or something like that?

And what about environmental issues and global warming? How much will we need to change the way we live in order to have enough of an impact on global warming to tip the scales the other way? Some people are afraid that we will destroy our own species if we do not change the way we treat our environment. What do you think about that?

What about national health insurance? Who is going to pay for it if we go that route and what impact would it ultimately have on the quality of our health care system? What about all those baby boomers who are rapidly turning into old people that require a lot of costly medical care? How should we deal with that?

Inner city schools: What should we do to fix that mess? In what ways can we improve our educational system as a whole? Are charter schools and private schools part of the solution? Or more taxes? Higher pay for teachers? Fewer administrative type positions?

Tell us what you know about how it is that human beings have language while other animals do not. I think you wrote some about that in the past and I enjoyed the debate it generated. Did the Neanderthals have rudimentary language? I read somewhere that they did. Homo Sapiens did not evolve from the Neanderthals though.

Those are my suggestions for future topics you can write on. I enjoyed visiting your blog in the past when there was more debating going on. That seems to have dried up though. I wish we could get Kelly to return here and debate you and others. He was good. But he is busy with a new son and family life.

Good luck with your blog and with other unmentionable things. :-)

11:11 PM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

This of course is true: language extends our 'grasp' of the ungraspable.

This is a quote I pulled from somewhere I don't remember "If the past, the future, the distant, the abstract are to exist, there must be signification systems to create and reference them'"
Here is another quote by Arthur Koestler who suggests that 'often some promising intuition is nipped in the bud by prematurely exposing it to the acid bath of verbal definitions; others may never develop without such verbal exposure'

I get the second part of his statement but not the first, do you understand what he means?

BTW, congratulations. Your new Grandchild will benefit greatly by his/her exposure to you, I'm sure.

11:27 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...


I absolutely agree that language gives us the ability to create definitions and in the process make distinctions between abstract concepts. In this sense thought critically depends on language.

I think the second point is that by being explicit though the use of language, including mathematics, can spell doom for a premature concept. That is not a bad thing since it forces a deeper or wider or different approach. The second part is more or less what I said in my first paragraph.

This does not mean that thought is determined by language. We are able to think before we are able to speak. Very young children who cannot speak yet still communicate request by reaching out for something and offering things by holding them out for someone.

11:36 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

susieq you have raised a bunch of interesting questions that I have thoughts about but they aren't linguistic issues. Maybe I will cheat.

There is no question in my mind that we are responsible for the huge increase in co2 levels, unprecedented in the last 400,000 years or so (ice core samples and other tests). Check out my blog "Global Warming and Global Cooling".

It is clear that government is the only vehicle for financing universal health care but we may want to use insurance companies to create the plans. The upside is that poor people get help. The down side is rationing. In the UK, where they have excellent health care, the better off people use private doctors. We already have universal health care for the elderly. This the government finances but doesn't seem to administer (good thing). I just checked to see when I might be able to get a new CPAP machine and was told I could get one when my current one becomes unrepairable. I applaud that decision.

I wrote a lot on the origin of language covering all but the Neanderthals. They seem not to have as descended a voice box/larynx as humans did and so likely didn't have a very sophisticated means of communication. Ergo, they died out.

The inner cities are sick. There is way, way too much Black on Black crime and too little emphasis on education. Slavery and the racism that caused it and followed it is the origin. There is a totally different dynamic here than among essentially all immigrant communities who came here voluntarily to improve their lives. They have to be helped but they have to want to be helped. Neither is in place right now.

11:48 AM

Blogger Mrs. Geezerette said...

LG, I hope you will go ahead and cheat in the future and write about topics other than language now and then.

After I wrote about the Neanderthals in your comment section, I ran across an interesting article from the BBC Science and Nature Homepage about possible reasons why the Neanderthals became extinct other than the one you suggest which is lack of language skills. Here is the link: Neanderthal

Congratulations must be in order by now and you a grandfather. Congratulations!

I will be following your blog to see what topics you decide to write about in the future.

12:15 AM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

This does not mean that thought is determined by language. We are able to think before we are able to speak.
Delving into philosophy has forced me to discipline myself to study definitions of abstract concepts. Not only definitions but, definitions of definitions. It's odd to think that a person has to go back-wards & learn definitions to articulate their own thoughts to themselves.

Speaking of thinking for yourself:
I have come up against so much apathy & defeated attitude & seemingly willful ignorance in people as a result of the project I'm involved in. I've given the reasons for this pessimism alot of thought.

It seems people (the ones I'm around anyway) do not think much past their emotions and they are not very reflective. I don't believe this is because they are inherently stupid or lazy. I'm not really sure what the problem is.
As you have often pointed out, there are negative factors at work on the minds of American citizenry, manipulation by the media, false advertising, lying Politicians & the persistence of religion to perpetrate myths.(these are just the things I can think of) How can people think beyond all this to the truth of matters when their heads are being filled with these lies?
Being involved in formal education all your life, which areas of education do you think is most helpful in addressing these problems of our society the best... the communications of Linguistics? the reflectiveness of Philosophy? or the practicality of Science? Or do you think religion is the answer to our present woes?

11:17 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

I fear I can only feed your pessimism. The fact is that the only thing that can save people from themselves is learning to think properly -- learning to distinguish empirical, testable hypotheses from those that cannot be tested, learning what data have a bearing on whether these hypotheses are true or not, and learning whether the data support (not prove!) or refute these hypotheses. If everyone could do that we would not be beset with dogmatic religious views, the lies of the Bush administration, and the like. You can get this sort of training in any discipline that is intellectually rigorous like certain philosophic disciplines, modern linguistics, science and engineering, history properly done, or any other discipline which has rigorous intellectual standards.

I found that the study of literature ill prepares one for rigorous thinking. Rather, it consists for the most part of imprecise hypotheses and no rigorous examination of hypotheses whatsoever.

I am anything but hopeful. Just look at the quality of our political campaigns. Clinton and Obama are both smart but you can't tell that from how they campaign. Guiliani just said that the Democrats are supporting socialized medicine. They aren't doing this and I must assume either that he doesn't actually know what this means or he is being intellectually dishonest. He is smart but I suspect he is not honest.

7:05 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

As for the Neanderthals, it occurred to me while visiting my granddaughter a theory as to why we survived and they didn't which I saw on some educational TV show which intrigued me and this is because we descended from carnivores and they descended from herbivores. The reason this gave us an evolutionary advantage is that this put us in competition with other, much more athletic carnivores like lions and tigers and baboons who were faster and stronger and liked to eat us. This forced us to engage in cooperative hunting behavior, something known to happen in some other animal communities, which was, perhaps, a precursor to our social and linguistic development. We had to get smarter because we weren't going to get any faster or fiercer. I think this is an insightful idea but we will never really know the truth.

2:18 PM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

Actually, I choose to be an optimist. It's other people that are the pessimists.

You say The fact is that the only thing that can save people from themselves is learning to think properly I agree & I also think pessimism is part of the problem. Pessimistic attitudes perpetrate lies & myths. For instance, in talking to people frustrated by the judicial system, I hear things like, "The police can get away with anything."

Well of course, that's not true. But... I hear people say it all the time. This kind of pessimistic thinking stops any hope of positive progress dead in it's tracks.

Well, the only way for us to judge politicians is by the quality of their campaigns, right? I was listening to Barack Obama give a speech on the TV last night as I was drifting off to sleep. Even though he sounded as if he were floundering or casting about, he had a kind of naive honesty I found appealing. Which is something Hillary Clinton certainly doesn't project. & Rudy Giuliani? he comes across too slick, too political. It would be nice if there were a Ralf Nader or a Ross Perot in the mix for us optimists, but someone will rise to to top, I'm sure.

I'm not sure what you mean by the study of literature.?...My experience in this area is, I've always enjoyed classic fiction & recently spent a lot of time studying James Joyce's Ulysses, which of course required reading Homers Odyssey & making the correlations between the two. What kind of practical knowledge I got out all that, I'm not sure, except when I hear those two works brought up I have some idea what they are about. Not that anyone I know will ever bring them up, though.

Speaking of carnivores vrs. herbivores. There is one anthropologist (i can't think of his name) that bases a lot of theorys on the human need for a protein rich diet.

2:48 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

I totally advocate reading good literature. It is the academic study of literature that is the problem, including the proposing and arguing about literary "theories."

There are two opposed positions: cynicism and skepticism. Cynicism makes one seem smart but is useless. One must vote for someone or buy this product, not the competitor, and so on. In this context cynicism does not provide on any protection since all are seen as bad. Skepticism on the other hand protects one. In my case, it has also led to pessimism.

Believe me, Ralph Nader is a megalomaniac, not an idealist, more interested in promoting himself than the American people. He gave us Bush. Bloomberg might be the sort of person you are looking for. He is an independent, more or less, and is extremely rich, so he doesn't need political office for that. I would like to see him in the picture if Hilary is not the Democratic candidate.

5:49 PM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

literary "theories now that's an interesting subject. I can understand the use of it in looking at the underlying meaning in religious text or myths. I just happen to be studying Ancient Near Eastern mythology. one of the things that keeps popping up is the OT & the history of hermeneutics (with the idea that the meaning of text must be found within its cultural, historical, and literary context.) attached to it. The Bible has to change as new archaeological finds are made. I think it is absolutely essential to see any religious text in this critical way. I do have a problem with literary theories that involve a lot of psychology, though. Only because I have a problem with the vague "Science" of Psychology in general. Although, I do enjoy abstract thought & I like exploring philosophical ideas like Existentialism... psychology just seems to be presumptuous, if not taken with a grain of salt .( But, I don't know that much about it, so there you go.)

Ralph Nader didn't have to be a idealist. Only his followers did. :) & he did NOT give us Bush. I'm still pissed about the Green Party caving into that line of reasoning. Bush would of happened, anyway. If they (the Green Party) hadn't caved & had been patient they might be a party with some clout, now. The Green Party sold out, IMO. I haven't forgiven them for that. Although, I am a believer in the third party idea. Lately, I've been looking into the Populist party as a party with some possibilitys. What I mean is that it is moldable. Because it isn't that big or organized...
I like the idea of being patriotic but liberal. This is what I want to do with Concerned citizens of Coquille. I want to see if I can make that idea fly.

8:59 PM

Blogger Le vent fripon said...

A response to the idea about the study of literature: as a student of this subject, I agree that there are big problems in the field. Sometimes I am so frustrated with all the nonsense, that I'd rather switch to linguistics or some other more rigorous subject. Writing about literature seems either to focus on making trivial observations (Hamlet can't make up his mind) and speculative claims (Don Quixote is a novel about the arbitrariness of the sign).

On the other hand, there is a small minority of professors in the subject who do spend their careers making interesting claims and trying to argue them as rigorously as the subject matter allows. These professors focus on writing as clearly as possible and dislike the obscurantism which has plagued the field in the last decades. I am curious to see whether such persons will eventually save the disciplines.

As to the request for subjects: why not a blog about how linguistics can be used in the study of literature? What do we mean by the meaning of a novel?

4:19 AM


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