LINGUIST List 5.1086

Wed 05 Oct 1994

Misc: The New Yorker, French, Comparative method, "linguist"

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Victor Raskin, The New Yorker Phonology Primer
  2. Jacques Guy, Re: 5.1074 French clitics
  3. , Alleged Time Ceiling on the Comparative Method
  4. "Vern M. Lindblad", "linguist" wounded

Message 1: The New Yorker Phonology Primer

Date: Sat, 1 Oct 94 18:53:51 ESTThe New Yorker Phonology Primer
From: Victor Raskin <>
Subject: The New Yorker Phonology Primer

In his peculiar lecture on Robert Frost (The New Yorker, September 26,
1994, p. 73), Joseph Brodsky writes that "the opposition [between the
words 'dusk' and 'dark' in Frost's poem "Come In"] is but the matter
of substitution of just two letters: of putting "ar" instead of "us"
(emphasis is mine--V.R.). What we've got here is the difference in
just one consonant."

That the Nobel Prizes are not awarded for recognizing the difference
between letters and characters is no surprise to anybody. That to
Brodsky's ear, the two vowels do sound "essentially the same" is not
surprising to anybody who has heard him confidently substituting his
native Russian [a] for both of them. (And the quote above probably
pales before quite a few other astonishing statements in the lecture
by the notorious autodidact.) But that the sophisticated editors of
The New Yorker can overlook the fact that the two different phonemes
of English, which distinguish dozens of words, could not have possibly
sounded the same to Robert Frost illustrates a pretty sorry state of
affairs in the humanities, in which the ignorance of the most basic
linguistic facts seems perfectly acceptable.


Victor Raskin
Professor of English and Linguistics (317) 494-3782
Chair, Interdepartmental Program in Linguistics 494-3780 fax
Coordinator, Natural Language Processing Laboratory
Purdue University
W. Lafayette, IN 47907-1356 U.S.A.
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Message 2: Re: 5.1074 French clitics

Date: Mon, 3 Oct 1994 13:18:22 +Re: 5.1074 French clitics
From: Jacques Guy <>
Subject: Re: 5.1074 French clitics

> From: Pierre Larrivee <>
> Subject: French clitics
> anywhere in a sentence ("(Le enfants) je les
> ai vus (les enfants) qui foutaient le camp (les enfants)"); so French would
> then not only be pro-drop but also non-configurational!!! I invite linguists
> to ponder seriously on such a proposal, and i hope those few elements here
> will help them make an enlightened choice.

I have, for a long, long time now, considered that such sequences of
morphemes as "je les ai vus" is as much of a single verb as Swahili
"niliwaona" is (same meaning, perhaps with a mistake or two, my
Swahili is *very* rusty). Thus, "je l'ai lu, le livre", is
exactly "nilikisoma kitabu". Under this analysis this variety of
French (colloquial) is characterized by a very free word order.
For example:

 Verb: il leur en a donne
 Object: des bonbons
 Benefactive: aux enfants
 Subject: l'epicier

Whence: Il leur en a donne, aux enfants, des bonbons, l'epicier
 L'epicier, il leur en a donne, des bonbons, aux enfants

In such constructions, my intimate feeling is that the diverse
complements of the verb occur as afterthoughts when following
and as themes when preceding. Thus, in the second sentences,
"l'epicier" is the theme, the verb and its "afterthoughts" the
rheme. Those elements are separated by short pauses, too, which
are absent from, say, "l'epicier a donne des bonbons aux enfants".
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Message 3: Alleged Time Ceiling on the Comparative Method

Date: Mon, 3 Oct 94 08:29:07 EDTAlleged Time Ceiling on the Comparative Method
From: <>
Subject: Alleged Time Ceiling on the Comparative Method

The recent posting by Johanna Nichols, although it disputes some
minor points in my previous posting, clearly concedes that there
is no basis for the claim that the comparative method is restricted
to 8000 or 10000 years OTHER THAN the fact that no one has so far
succeeded in establishing anything older THAT IS UNCONTROVERSIAL.
To conclude from this that the problem lies with the comparative
method is like saying that because we have no succeeded in achieving
cold fusion, that therefore cold fusion is impossible, or that it
is impossible for it ever to happen that the entire goverment of
some country would be composed of women, and so on. There ARE in
many sciences results that show that something is impossible, but
they are never merely that it has never been done before.
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Message 4: "linguist" wounded

Date: Wed, 28 Sep 1994 04:39:56 "linguist" wounded
From: "Vern M. Lindblad" <>
Subject: "linguist" wounded

On Sunday 940925 on the CBS(Columbia Broadcast Systems) TV program
Face The Nation, General John Shalikashvili, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff of the USA, several times referred to the first US serviceman
wounded in action in Haiti (a native speaker of Haitian Creole serving as
an interpreter who was wounded during the firefight in Cap-Haitien on 940924)
by calling him "a Navy linguist."

My first bemused reaction was to ask: Is 'linguist' on its way toward
becoming known as a macho profession? (It certainly can take guts to do
field research on many languages that are spoken only in truly remote
areas of the world, but that aspect of the profession does not affect all
practitioners, nor is the public at large generally conscious of it.)

My second reaction was that Gen. K's usage of 'linguist' to mean
'interpreter' somehow seemed abnormal, so I checked my New Shorter OED
(1993 ed., p. 1597) and found this listing:

linguist n. L16 [f. L LINGUA + -IST.] 1 A person skilled in foreign
languages. Freq. w. specifying wd. L16. +2 A person who speaks freely
and eloquently; a skilful speaker. L16-L17. 3 An expert in or student of
language or linguistics. E17. 4 = INTERPRETER 2. Now rare or obs. E17.
... (plus citations; one of the citations adduced for 3 is by N. CHOMSKY)

Most subscribers to Linguist List, whether Chomsky fans or not, probably
consider 3 to be the primary definition in our era (i.e., L20), though I
suspect that 1 is dominant in the minds of the uninitiated laity. But
Gen. Shalikashvili apparently is using the "rare or obs[olete]"
definition 4. Now I'm left wondering whether this is because: a) he is
not a native speaker of English and therefore doesn't know the norms, b)
this is an official US Navy job classification (possibly frozen for
decades or centuries), or c) ???

Vern M. Lindblad
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