LINGUIST List 2.539

Sat 21 Sep 1991

Disc: Warning

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. "Michael Kac", Re: 2.531 Warning
  2. , Re: 2.531 Warning
  3. "Bruce E. Nevin", trespass
  4. , Re: 2.531 Warning

Message 1: Re: 2.531 Warning

Date: Tue, 17 Sep 91 19:18:41 -0500
From: "Michael Kac" <>
Subject: Re: 2.531 Warning
The original discussion of the meaning of *warning* was, if I recall, mo-]
tivated by a sign that read WARNING: NO SWIMMING, which the poster of the
note found odd. Without finding it that odd myself, I understand why one
might think it odd. It has just occurred to me, however, that we appear
to be able to say -- quite naturally and easily -- things like *I'm warn-
ing you not to do that*. That seems to me parallel in essential respects
to the original datum that got all this started. Or are there those who
wish to take issue with me on this point?
Michael Kac
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Message 2: Re: 2.531 Warning

Date: Wed, 18 Sep 91 11:21:26 BST
From: <>
Subject: Re: 2.531 Warning
in response to michael kac's claim that warnings indemnify the warner
with regard to claims by warnees:
there has (fairly) recently been considerable fuss in britain over the
idea that in actual fact putting up a warning sign makes the warner
MORE LIABLE! the theory behind this is that the act of putting up such a
sign constitutes an acknowledgement of the danger and thus a wilful
failure to remove said danger, whereas if no sign is present there is no
reason to claim that anyone was aware of or responsible for the danger
and even that the danger does not exist! for example, a "beware of the bull"
sign is an admission that a dangerous animal has been left in a field where
it constitutes a menace to the public: on the other hand, if little sammy
is gored and trampled to death but there was no warning sign the bull's owner
can reasonably claim that the event could not have been foreseen!
	alex monaghan.
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Message 3: trespass

Date: Thu, 19 Sep 91 09:05:28 EDT
From: "Bruce E. Nevin" <>
Subject: trespass
Lou Burnard writes of signs saying only "TRESPASS" on Mauritius.
Perhaps this is a notice that the space beyond is a trespass,
as in "forgive us our trespasses."
A Native American friend had a sign that said "No Pestressing"
but that's another matter.
	Bruce Nevin
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Message 4: Re: 2.531 Warning

Date: Wed, 18 Sep 1991 08:23 CST
From: <>
Subject: Re: 2.531 Warning
This is in reply to Bruce Fraser's suggestion that the different content
of warning signs in French, German and Italian may be some indication
of cultural difference. WARNING: it's very dangerous to start thinking
along those lines. Consider how decisions are made about what goes on
signs. There are as many possibilities as there are types of bureaucracies,
whatever that means. Maybe there's a committee where linguists and sociolo-
gists sit around and try to figure out what the culturally appropriate
wording would be. Or maybe some bureaucrat was given the directive that
they'd better get some warning signs up right away; in this case it may
have been the decision of a single person in a rush. Maybe this person
was a linguist/sociologist, maybe a sociopath, maybe a mere dullard, maybe
a foreigner or someone eise who really didn't have a finger on the pulse
of the culture.
I suspect that any of the three cultures under discussion here would
respond the same way to either version of the sign, without indignation
or surprise at how culturally inappropriate it might be. I just don't
think we can make any inferences about cultural differences from how
these signs are worded, especially not the French, German and Italian
By the way, I forgot to put a :-) up there with the suggestion that
a linguist/sociologist committee decides the wording of warning signs.
Christine Kamprath
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