LINGUIST List 13.3156

Mon Dec 2 2002

Disc: Roger Bacon Quote

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Joseph F Foster, Re: 13.2985, Disc: Roger Bacon quote

Message 1: Re: 13.2985, Disc: Roger Bacon quote

Date: Mon, 18 Nov 2002 21:21:20 -0500
From: Joseph F Foster <>
Subject: Re: 13.2985, Disc: Roger Bacon quote

With reference to the Roger Bacon quote (Linguist 13.2985 and 
Linguist 13.296), the quote indicates Bacon had some notion 
that grammars of all languages were alike in in substance though
different in "accidence". Substance is being taken to mean or have
meant "essential ways" and accidence to mean "non-essential" ways.

I wonder, not about the translation, but rather about the evaluation
of such a claim, both then and now.

 Can anybody tell us how many languages Bacon knew, or at least had
more than a passing acquaintance with? Or even supposed existed?
Certainly English, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, (and Arabic?); Others?. And
how many really different ones did this list include?.

Of couse to answer my last, one must say what really different
means. How different can languages be to be considered really or quite
different? But then one must also say what differing in essential
ways means and what differing in nonessential ways means.

Erudite and for his day and locale though Roger Bacaon may have been,
we now are much more aware than he then of the wide range of variation
among the world's languages. Languages have been often shown by
Linguistics to be alike in some ways where they had seemed more
different; the converse has also happened and some languages appearing
to be similar in some aspects turn out upon close analysis to be more
different than thought.

But I cannot see that Linguistics has been able to characterize these
notions such as "essential difference", "nonessential difference" or
even my "really different" in any nonarbitrary principled way. If it
has not, and if cannot, then much if not most of the talk about
"universal grammar" and of us all speaking dialects of one language,
"World", or "Human", rests on empirical quicksand and would seem to be
in the end ideological rather than scientific in nature. How much of
Bacon's notion in the quote was really ideologically based, and how
far from Roger Bacon, let alone from early Chomsky, have we actually

Joseph F Foster
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