And, if I recall correctly, you are a Platonist (or, at least, a rational
realist).  So am I, in fact, so we've got some common ground.  I think, for
example, that possible syntactic structures exist whether or not they are
instantiated in any one particular person's speech.

But Hockett's principles (which is what we're working on tomorrow, in an
abbreviated version -- hey, there's finally an 11th edition of Language
Files!) don't strike me as all ideal (in the Platonic sense).  For example,
a perfectly good system of communication might exist that isn't arbitrary;
but if it does, it's not human.  Similarly, very effective systems of
communication exist that aren't productive.  Bees, for example.  But if
linguists had to spend their time looking at bees wiggle, we'd be
entomologists (and I'm more interested in etymology).  So by saying
"productive!" we can get rid of a lot of communication systems that aren't
human, and focus on one that is.

Again, I see nothing wrong with this.  We should by all means define the
boundaries of our discipline.


On Tue, Jan 8, 2013 at 8:17 PM, And Rosta <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> George Corley, On 09/01/2013 01:14:
>  On Tue, Jan 8, 2013 at 6:32 PM, Patrick Dunn<[log in to unmask]>  wrote:
>>  I don't think that line-drawing is a bad thing.  I think it's necessary
>>> that linguistics fixes its targets.  But just because you define a thing
>>> as
>>> "language" doesn't mean that it's not part of a fuzzy set of
>>> communication
>>> strategies.  Defining an area of study is picking it out of a set on the
>>> basis of perceived characteristics.
>> I would tend to agree.  More traditionally and non-technically, "language"
>> can have a much broader meaning, but linguists need a technical definition
>> so that we're all on the same page.
>> It's rather like the whole Pluto controversy.  Astronomers needed a
>> definition for "planet" that was more technical and specific than the
>> general idea that they had before, and when they came up with a good
>> definition, it happened to exclude Pluto.  This helps them define things
>> more based on characteristics that matter to astronomy than by tradition.
>> Linguists wanted to single out this certain kind of communication that so
>> far has only been observed in humans, and exclude a large number of
>> communicative signals we send with facial expressions, non-linguistic
>> gestures, etc, so they came up with a definition of "language" that makes
>> sense for that.
> The category Language is antecedent to the attempt to make its definition
> explicit. Language is defined by a set of functional principles concerning
> what the tool (i.e. language) must be able to accomplish and under what
> constraints; language is the set of possible solutions satisfying those
> principles. The principles aren't arbitrary or anthropocentric; they define
> a natural logical class of communication systems.
> If anyone here disagrees with that, it would be interesting to see
> arguments for why the Hockett principles (or similar) are arbitrary or
> anthropocentric.
> --And.

Second Person, a chapbook of poetry by Patrick Dunn, is now available for
order from Finishing Line