LINGUIST List 2.510

Fri 13 Sep 1991

Disc: In Case and Being

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  1. "Michael Kac", Re: 2.493 Responses: JustIn Case, and the Curate
  2. , "Just in case"
  3. "Bruce E. Nevin", Response to Susan Ervin-Tripp (on being being)

Message 1: Re: 2.493 Responses: JustIn Case, and the Curate

Date: Thu, 12 Sep 91 19:35:43 -0500
From: "Michael Kac" <>
Subject: Re: 2.493 Responses: JustIn Case, and the Curate
A Linguist subscriber laments the use of *just in case* in the sense of
'iff' since it conflicts with standard idiomatic practice.
Such conflicts occur fairly frequently. What a linguist means by *grammati-
cal*, for example, is quite different from what nonlinguists believe by it
(insofar as we confine attention to English speakers). Similarly, linguists
talk about predicting e.g. that such and such a sentence should be ambiguous
when in fact no prediction is being made in the lay sense. (To the layperson,
prediction involves foreseeing what is going to happen in the future, not
merely perceiving the logical consequences of a set of statements. Indeed,
I have had students in Introduction to Linguistics not understand what I
was talking about because of this particular clash of senses.)
Many other examples can be found from many fields. For example when a lawyer
talks about an interested party, the reference is to someone who stands to
gain or lose by some action (and a disinterested party as one who does not).
Another good example back in the linguistic sphere: *informant* (a term now
avoided by many linguists for precisely the reason of conflict with colloquial
usage even though the term was created within linguistics!)
It makes me wonder if *just in case* is not in fact a usage of such ancient
vintage that what we have is both a conservative sense (the philosophers')
against an innovative colloquial one. But that's just a guess.
Positions can differ on this point, but my own inclination is to say that
the practitioners of learned disciplines have the right to their own language,
however alienating it may be to the laity.
Michael Kac
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Message 2: "Just in case"

Date: Fri, 13 Sep 1991 8:39:54 EDT
Subject: "Just in case"
As a logician who first encountered the idea that 'just in case'
is used to mean the same thing as 'if and only if' in a logic text,
and thought this a non-standard usage, I've been puzzled by this
phenomenon, too. My conjecture is that some logician a couple of
generations back began using this expression as an ill-considered
compression of "just in those cases in which", i.e. "exactly in
those cases in which", which in turn was intended as an explication
of "if and only if". If so, then a generation of his/her students
would grow up feeling a need to explain this expression in any
lectures they gave/texts they wrote.
I have no evidence for this conjecture other than its internal
Mark Brown
Syracuse U.
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Message 3: Response to Susan Ervin-Tripp (on being being)

Date: Thu, 12 Sep 91 09:22:07 EDT
From: "Bruce E. Nevin" <>
Subject: Response to Susan Ervin-Tripp (on being being)
In 2.414 in a message of Thu, 15 Aug I quoted
>An interesting example from Harris's _A Grammar of English on
>Mathematical Principles_:
> The uncomfortableness of -ing on adjectives leads to
> occasional elisions of it: in _Don't be horrid. I'm not
> being horrid_ the retort shows that the first sentence
> can be taken as reduced from !Don't be being horrid.
>(Using ! here for Harris's dagger, quote from p. 297.)
Susan Ervin-Tripp responded with a query a couple of days later, in
2.419. I apologize for the long delay. Swamped with other
responsibilities, I have been stuffing my linguist digests away into a
file for reading at a future time that only arrived this week. Her
>tHe examples from Harris in Nevin's letter seem a peculiar argument.
>Something is missing.
	<quotation from my post>
>Children in role play:
> A: I'm being the mommy
> B: Don't be the mommy, I'm gonna be the mommy.
> A: Well, I'm washing the dishes.
> B: No, don't wash the dishes.
> A: I'm being nice to the baby.
> B: Don't be nice to the baby. I'm the mommy.
>This is an invented example, but the A turns at least are
>consistent with the genre. The
>convenience for discussing use of -ing is that children often
>constitute roles by identifying what they are doing explicitly this
>way by the use of -ing.
>Could somebody explain why, given the parallelismss in these examples,
>there is some elision in Don't be horrid?
You are right that something is missing, and that is an explanation of
the pervasive role of elision in Harris's grammar. He derives sentences
by morphophonemic reduction from other, more explicit sentences. It is
possible to reconstruct a maximally explicit base form for any sentence.
On the one hand, the syntax of such a sentence is quite simple--the
dependence of operator words on the prior entry of their arguments.
This syntax of word dependencies corresponds with one important
component of semantics, namely the "objective information" reported by
the sentence. On the other hand, such a reconstructed base form for a
sentence is almost always unspeakably awkward and unnatural. This is
because it does not reflect the reductions that normally apply each time
an operator enters on its arguments. The reductions in part reduce
redundancy, and in part are simply mandated by convention. The
information report is in the operator-argument dependencies. In the
reductions are much of the conventionalization of language as a social
institution. (Other things, such as the arbitrariness of vocabulary,
also reflect this.) Reductions include changes of shape that affect
other aspects of meaning such as emphasis within and attitude toward the
reported information, and relationship of speaker and listener to one
another and to others referred to.
Susan points out that sentences with -ing on adjectives are parallel to
sentences with -ing otherwise:
	A B
Don't be the mommy. I'm not being the mommy.
Don't be nice to the baby. I'm not being nice to the baby.
Don't be horrid. I'm not being horrid.
The parallel is precisely that the copula be occurs twice in the
sentences of column A, but only once in those of column B. Harris's
suggestion was that a possible source for the last A sentence also had
"be" twice. This would apply to other sentences with be as the carrier
of tense/aspect for the highest operator (mostly adjectives and nouns)
as well. Perhaps this is clearer without the negation:
[You] be [being] the mommy! I am being the mommy!
[You] be [being] nice to the baby! I am being nice to the baby!
[You] be [being] good! I am being horrid!
Words in square braces are conventionally elided. The elision of "being"
is almost obligatory.
Harris makes this suggestion at the close of a discussion of how -ing is
uncomfortable on adjectives, that is, on the be that carries tense and
aspect morphology for adjectives when they enter as operators. The same
applies to all operators that are relatively durative (adjectives,
nouns, prepositions) and require "be" to carry tense/aspect morphology.
I liked the children's dialogue. A favorite, which you may have heard:
	I am being have!
Bruce Nevin
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