LINGUIST List 11.1928

Wed Sep 13 2000

Disc: Linguistics & Nominalising Languages

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Mark_Mandel, Disc: Is our linguistics 'thing'uistics?
  2. HMooney, Noun domination/pronoun domination

Message 1: Disc: Is our linguistics 'thing'uistics?

Date: Wed, 13 Sep 2000 15:47:45 -0400
From: Mark_Mandel <>
Subject: Disc: Is our linguistics 'thing'uistics?

In LINGUIST List #11.1908, Ahmad R. Lotfi wrote:

Indo-European languages are known to have a strong tendency to
nominalise: the speakers of such languages hunt for 'things' in
their roundabout. [...]
Then a nominalising language encourages one to view
the world as more static and less transient than what it actually

[...] If linguistics were born in a less 'noun-dominated
culture' [...] how different would our theories of language be?

Assuming for the sake of argument that your postulates are correct, I
suppose that they would depict the world as *less* static and *more*
transient than it actually is. I'm not (just) trying to make a joke, or
picking a fight: too often, discussions polarize one extreme against the

In #11.1919, Moonhawk wrote:

> how different would our theories of language be? Is it ever possible
> to have a 'verb-dominated' theory/science of language?

Wow -- bingo! Indigenous epistemologies make an entrance for discussion's
sake! What, indeed, would, say, an indigenous linguistics look like? Take
away the "nouns" and you're really removing the verb's mandatoriness for
X-number of NPs -- so take away pronouns as well, focusing on the dancing
rather thab the dancers.

At the Bohmian Science Dialogue ("The Language of Spiritualiy 2") in
Albuquerque this summer, a Blackfoot speaker told us what the prefixes we
call "pronouns" (looking for them through our Latin Grammar len) in
Blackfoot really are from their point of view: there's no 'me' -- only a
coming toward or going away from (me). How could we have listened to them
so badly for centuries? All NPs are optional.

So instead of simply "verb-dominated," I'd take it further to
"relationship/process-oriented" in order to have even more fun.

And since there are no objects per se, let's make it out of kinesthetic
roots which pay attention to animate motion and relationship, so we can
create new words on the fly to capture the nuances of events, and locate
all this in an animate universe. And -- oh! -- let's not forget to
substitute manifesting and intensifying for our parochial Euro-concept of

Now, given that worldview, which is also inclusive rather than exclusive
of the rest of Nature, what would "linguistics" look like? For sure it
would have a larger-than-human focus on its subject matter, language,
showing what we share with other Life as well as what is unique about
us. Its preoccupation would be "diving for roots" -- linguistically,
epistemologically, and ontologically. Especially because each and every
statement would have to obey the inexorable grammatical requirement of
validity markers -- HOW do you know what you're stating? You experienced
it? heard about it? common knowledge? dreamed it? thought it up? etc.

My, my! How different linguistics conferences and writings would be then!!

Dan, I may be be obtuse or just slow on the pickup, but I'm having a
problem telling here if / where you're exaggerating for humorous effect
here. No offense intended; I mean this, too.

- Mark

 Mark A. Mandel : Dragon Systems, a Lernout & Hauspie company : Senior Linguist
 320 Nevada St., Newton, MA 02460, USA :
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Message 2: Noun domination/pronoun domination

Date: Wed, 13 Sep 2000 11:45:33 -0700
From: HMooney <>
Subject: Noun domination/pronoun domination

I can't resist jumping into the discussion regarding the domination of
Linguistics by "noun-centric" languages and cultures. It reminds me of something
I read just recently, in a book not about linguistics, but rather about history.

Reference was made to an early twentieth-century German historian (sorry I can't
be more specific!), apparently a rather influential guy at the time, who put
forward the thesis that the emergence of languages that require pronouns (i.e.,
what would now be called non-pro-drop languages) in very early Europe
corresponded to an increased emphasis on militarism and imperialism. That is to
say, he argued that the languages that require a pronoun make their speakers
think in self/other centered ways, leading to self-ish (i.e., acquisitive and
competitive=warlike) behavior and a perception of other people as objects.

The languages in question, of course, would probably be ancestors of the modern
Germanic languages.

Frankly, I have a lot of trouble with this idea. The Romans, the first really
succesful imperialists in the west, spoke a pro-drop language. And long before
the Romans were various Mesopotamian civilizations and Persia. Does anyone know
enough about these languages to know if they were pro-drop or not?

I have no trouble with the general idea that language can shape worldview and
attitudes. But the idea that a single feature like pro-drop/non-pro-drop could
have global historical influence of this scope is another matter.

Hank Mooney
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