An anaphora joke, from A Walk in the WoRds:
A wife asks her husband, “Could you please go shopping for me and buy one carton of milk, and if they have avocados, get 6.”
A short time later the husband comes back with 6 cartons of milk.
The wife asks him, “Why did you buy 6 cartons of milk?”
He replies, “They had avocados.”
What makes the above joke humorous is actually called zero anaphora or gapping. [more explanation]
A wife asks her husband, “Could you please go shopping for me and buy one carton of milk, and if they have avocados, get 6 [gap].”
The gap leaves open the possibility of referring back to either noun phrase, “avocados” or “one carton of milk”. However, it makes more sense to start the anaphora resolution process by looking at the nearest antecedent first.
Ambiguities of anaphora and reference are fairly often the source of humour. An example from Literal Minded:
Eunoia, by Christian Bök -
The word eunoia, which literally means beautiful thinking, is the shortest word in English that contains all five vowels. Eunoia is a five-chapter book by Christian Bök in which each chapter is a univocal lipogram (the first chapter has A as its only vowel, the second chapter only E, etc.). Each vowel takes on a distinct personality: the I is egotistical and romantic, the O jocular and obscene, the E elegiac and epic (Bök actually retells the entire Iliad in Chapter E; you have to read it to believe it).
It’s interesting to see just how far language can be stretched without breaking; in this case, by only using one vowel per chapter (but 98% of the available vocabulary). The entire book Eunoia is available to read free at the link, and it’s well worth clicking around even though I doubt that most people read the whole thing.
Grice’s conversational maxims.
aka, conversational rules that we all break.
The best way to think about Grice’s Maxims that I’ve ever encountered is that
- They are NOT RULES.
- They are baseline conventions
- Flouting them is adding a layer of meaning, not “breaking a rule”
This means that you aren’t “doing something wrong” when you respond to “How are you doing today?” with “It’s raining.” It means you are actually giving an even more meaningful statement.
Let’s break this down a tad:
This is a great explanation. I like to think of Grice’s Maxims as rules for the hearer, more than rules for the speaker. So whenever you hear someone saying something, you assume that they are following the maxims and you interpret their speech as if they are. So if something looks like it violates a particular maxim, you assume that the speaker had some good reason to do so and try to figure out what additional meaning they were trying to add.
For example, if you ask someone what’s for dinner, they might reply “food”, which violates the maxim of quantity (it’s not as informative as the answer you’re looking for). But because they didn’t give a more specific answer, you can interpret that to mean that they don’t know or they don’t want to tell you, so you’ve still gotten a relevant answer. Flouting a Gricean Maxim is the first step to inferring a layer of additional meaning, not a sign of bad speech!
Free Lectures on Language Evolution -
There is not currently a coursera on Language Evolution, so as a vague substitute, I thought I’d do a run down of places on the internet you can find some pretty decent free lectures on the evolution of language…
Interesting-looking lectures at the link, including: “Towards Language Acquisition by Cognitive Developmental Robotics” by Minoru Asada, “Outgroup: The Study of Chimpanzees to Know the Human Mind” by Tetsuro Matsuzawa, and “Out of the Brains of Babes: Domain-general Learning Mechanisms and Domain-specific Systems” by Jenny Saffran.
I haven’t watched them yet, but I’d wager they’re much more accurate than that language reconstruction article that’s been widely criticized.
Dear Red Squiggles,
I understand why you correct me when I try to spell the opposite of “output” as “imput”.
I understand but I object.
The Ontology Recapitulates Phylogeny Theory of Language Origin
Ontology Recapitulates Phylogeny (also known as Recapitulation Theory) is a theory of evolution that suggests that as an organism develops (ontology) it follows the same developmental steps as its whole species followed in evolution (phylogeny). For example, a cluster of cells becomes a fish-like organism becomes a mammal.
This theory is not generally accepted anymore for animal evolution, but some people still propose it for the origin of language. By this account, children’s gradual development of more and more complex expressions mirrors how human language as a whole grew gradually more complex, so studying child language acquisition might provide insight into how early humans began speaking.
However, not everyone agrees that language complexity happened gradually, since modern examples of new languages formation are creoles, which are made fully complex by the first generation of child speakers. This being said, circumstances like brain development and linguistic input are definitely different between modern children in a creole situation versus the earliest humans, so this might also account for some differences. It’s still an open question.
A really inaccurate way to use ontology recapitulates phylogeny in language development is to assume that every speaker of a language must know everything about the language’s history in order to speak it. Reasoning along this line is often used to argue that the etymology of a word is its only meaning (which can, incidentally be used to prove that black is white), or that inflectional processes from one language must be used when its words are borrowed into another (see cactus, cacti).
Does this also allow you to make a lexicon/lexical database? I know toolbox does but it’s… not easy.
Nope, LaTeX is a typesetting method (think substitute for Word), not a databasing method like Toolbox.
Other linguistic databasing tools that I’m aware of:
More links to documentation tools and other resources. Making really good language databasing tools is quite a hard problem that I think people are still working on solving.
Map of the principal sign language families of the world!
A few other sign languages that aren’t on this map (which I think are isolates?) are Hawaiian Sign Language, which was only recently recognized as distinct from ASL, and Nicaraguan Sign Language, which is often cited in linguistics courses as evidence of an innate human language ability.
And another language family to overlap with all that red in North America is Plains Indian Sign Languages (PISL).
An excellent and through takedown from Language Log of the proto-Euroasiatic article that’s been making the rounds: Ultraconserved Words? Really??
Sally Thomason’s conclusion:
If the reconstructions used by Pagel et al. for their statistical analyses are not reliable in either form or meaning, then the statistical results of comparing these reconstructions cannot provide any evidence for distant relationships among the seven groups they compare. If the selection procedure for choosing among several candidate proto-words to use for the statistical analysis is flawed, then there may be problems with the statistics as well. But even if there are no statistical flaws, the Pagel et al. paper is yet another sad example of major scientific publications accepting and publishing articles on historical linguistics without bothering to ask any competent historical linguists to review the papers in advance.
I’ve been posting recently about how I use LaTeX for drawing syntax trees and typing IPA symbols, but I realize that not everyone is familiar with it. I’ve only been using LaTeX for all my linguistics stuff for a year and a half, but I was a huge fan within weeks and I wish I’d started earlier. I’m still learning as I go, but here are some things about LaTeX, getting started, and why/how linguists use it.