LINGUIST List 13.2985

Mon Nov 18 2002

Disc: Roger Bacon quote

Editor for this issue: Steve Moran <>


  1. Leo A. Connolly, Roger Bacon quote

Message 1: Roger Bacon quote

Date: Sun, 17 Nov 2002 00:21:55 -0600
From: Leo A. Connolly <>
Subject: Roger Bacon quote

With reference to Linguist 13.2976 :

In a small way, I have to take issue with Paul Kiparsky's translation of
the Roger Bacon quote:

"According to Jakobson (Selected Writings II.581) Roger Bacon said:
Grammatica una et eadem est secundum substantiam in omnibus linguis,
licet accidentaliter varietur. ("In substance grammar is the same in
all languages, though it may vary in accidental (i.e. non-essential)
ways.") Jakobson's source is G. Wallerand, Les Oeuvres de Siger de
Courtrai (1913)."

Clearly it is vastly superior to the one that Dirk Elzinga cited
(without approving), but Kiparsky understates the significance of unity
"secundum substantiam". In scholastic philosophy, this was a clear
reference to the very nature of grammar itself, which is "one and the
same" (una et eadem) in all languages. In contrast, "accidentaliter",
though an adverb, refers to the "accidentia" 'accidents', i.e. the
superficial features which we see but which are just sort of there,
telling us little or nothing about the substantia. We see this in the
scholastic understanding of the eucharist, which has the "accidents" of
bread and wine, though its substance is the body and blood of Christ. 
Bacon is thus making a very strong statement about universal grammar
(not that his understanding could be identified with Chomsky's).

Leo Connolly
University of Memphis
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