Monday, March 9, 2015

Language, linguistics, logophilia

Quotes out of context;  click for the real meal.

I studied Old Norse at Berkeley; accordingly, I can more or less read modern Icelandic.  Norwegian is a different kettle of kippers, however.  Even so, though I am not expert here, it does appear to my unpracticed ear that Mr Dylan (or his Norwegian lyricist) has taken certain liberties with the text.

The ISIL flag  functions internationally rather  like MacDonald’s Golden Arches -- an instantly recognizable visual brand.

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It is difficult to find any passus  in which round  is used in dispraise.

Familiar examples are bipartite constructions like “either … or…”  (German “entweder … oder”,  and (somewhat less structured) French “ou bien … ou bien”):  whenever you meet the word either in a sentence, you know that or cannot be far behind -- or rather, actually, in this case, it can be quite far behind;  but come it must.  Cf. and contrast French celui:   it must be followed by qui, but in this case, followed immediately.

This antinomy of language-per-se versus languages, has become acute since Chomsky, who has little interest in the endless gabble of actual tongues.  If this seems an extreme position, it is nonetheless exactly parallel to that of physicists, who seek general physical laws, rather than endless descriptions of individual objects falling or rolling or spinning or colliding or what have you.

Compare that elegant phrase, which slips so smoothly from the pen of Quine:  “substitutable salvâ veritate”.   I have here further spiffed up the expression, by giving the â its neat little ablative hat.)
The fault by no means lies in any pointless, Basque-like complexity of the lending languages:  in Latin and in French, the stress-patterns are as easy as can be.  Yet somehow English managed to ingest these borrowings sideways, or wrong-way-round …

Arabic does notoriously avail itself of this morphosemantic flourish;  in classical Arabic, it's called jinaas, or tajniis.


The ‘attribute’ of paternity  fits so comfortably into our language (there is even a synonymous saxonism, fatherhood), that the plain man is satisfied.  But hold on: both sired a son.  So they share something more than mere paternity (once again reifying), call it virpaternity.  Those who are happy of two sons, share duovirpaternity. Or consider the sire of Romulus and Remus, and that of Tweedledum and his twin: these share homoduovirpaternity.

 “I’d say ‘Res ipsa loquitur’, if I thought you knew what it meant.”

Every carpet has an underside.  We may even concede (perhaps over-generously) that both sides are interderivable:  given the one, you can work out the other.  Now, you and I prefer the upper side, where green birds are depicted in an azure sky, and the prince urges his huntsmen  forward in the chase.  Equally -- and it is their right, -- the proctoscopic philosophers prefer to ogle the underside, an unintuitive tangle of knots and loose ends. 

Fuite en avant has long been one of my favorite phrases, in large part because of its complex meaning, and its lack of an equivalent in English.  But later a new term spread generally throughout our American tongue, one which, while not an exact equivalent, still covers important shared territory:  doubling-down.

On Fox, an airhead prattles for a bit; then the anchor, equally clueless, raises no questions and elicits no details, but simply dumps on a bit of his own emotion.   They seem to be descended, not from the line of Murrow, but from game-show hosts:  dolts, and happy to be so.

Here  phlogiston plays ever and again the useful role of whipping-boy.  (Indeed, given the continued prominence of this ethereal etwas in philosophical debate, it must count as one of the most fruitful scientific hypotheses ever.  If it didn’t not-exist, someone would have to uninvent it.)  

We have seen how the pejoration of savant came about -- a trajectory peculiar to this term.  But what of sophist, and its (commoner and) equally pejorative derivatum, sophistry?

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