LINGUIST List 2.639

Thu 10 Oct 1991

Misc: PC, Pronouns, Plurals and Turkic

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  1. Geoffrey Russom, Re: 2.635 Queries
  2. "Bruce E. Nevin", rejecting plural of respect
  3. Dan I. Slobin, Turkic
  4. , plural data

Message 1: Re: 2.635 Queries

Date: Thu, 10 Oct 91 11:08:33 EDT
From: Geoffrey Russom <>
Subject: Re: 2.635 Queries
On the "cui bono" of political correctness: The "PC" concept is invoked
by conservatives to suggest that liberals are unthinking doctrinaires:
i.e., it's a variant of the "knee-jerk" label. A divide-and-conquer
strategy has pitted liberal camps against one another as well, with
those opposed (like most Americans) to ideology placing the PC label
on other progressives whose political stances are theorized.
 -- Rick Russom
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Message 2: rejecting plural of respect

Date: Wed, 9 Oct 91 12:10:00 EDT
From: "Bruce E. Nevin" <>
Subject: rejecting plural of respect
No one has mentioned socalled "plain speech" traditional among members
of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).
	Let me give thee this gift for her. Thee has spoken to my
	condition Is thee prepared?
The particular levelling of the agreement paradigm is I believe
preserved from a 17th-century dialect of the north of England, where
Quakerism was strongest in the early years.
Originally, use of the singular was refusal to use the plural of respect
to supposed social betters, along with refusal to doff hats, bow, etc.,
in recognition of irrelevance of rank with respect to "that of God in
every person." Today it seems to function as a mark of membership in
"birthright Friend" families with perhaps some extension to "convinced
Friends" who may take it up. One hears of an incensed teenager retorting
to an offending sibling something like "Thee--thee *you*, thee!," whose
point hinges on the insider/outsider function.
	Bruce Nevin
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Message 3: Turkic

Date: Tue, 8 Oct 91 19:47:31 -0700
From: Dan I. Slobin <slobincogsci.Berkeley.EDU>
Subject: Turkic
Steve Seegmiller asks if there is any evidence that
political motives may be found in Soviet alphabet reforms
for the Turkic languages. The early reforms from Arabic to
Roman, and the subsequent replacement by Cyrillic, clearly
had political motivation. Bernard Lewis offers the
following summary in _The emergence of modern Turkey_
(Oxford Univ. Press, 1968:432): "In the spring of 1926 a
congress of Turcologists assembled in Baku, under Soviet
auspices. One of its decisions was to introduce the Latin
in place of the Arabic script in the Turkic languages of the
Soviet Union, and in the following years a number of varying
Latin scripts were introduced in Central Asia. One aim of
this Soviet policy of romanization was to reduce the
influence of Islam; another was no doubt to cut off contact
between the Turks of the Soviet Union and those of Turkey,
who were still using the Arabic script. The contrary
consideration--that of maintaining contact between the
different Turkic peoples--induced some Turkish nationalists
to favour the adoption of the Latin script in Turkey. When,
eventually, this was done, the Russians countered again by
abolishing the Latin script and introducing the Cyrillic,
thus reopening the gap between the Soviet Turks and Turkey."
As for the next phase--the establishment of differing
Cyrillic alphabets for the various Turkic languages--I can
find no direct evidence that these inconsistencies were
politically motivated. Nicholas Poppe, in his _Introduction
to Altaic linguistics_ (Harrassowitz, 1965: 56), speculates:
"It is hard to say what the reasons for rendering the same
phonemes with so [sic] different letters are. They may be lack of
coordination of work in this field in the various countries
of the USSR or the result of a deliberate policy of making
closely related languages and dialects unintelligible to
their neighbors." The latter possibility is a widespread
suspicion, and I would be interested in knowing if there is
any direct evidence for it.
-Dan Slobin (
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Message 4: plural data

Date: Wed, 09 Oct 91 21:08:53 EDT
From: <>
Subject: plural data
Many people who may have less Latin that Jonson attributed to Shaxper
continue to be overheated about the use of 'data' as a singular. In
Latin this form was the neuter plural (nominative and accusative) while
'datum' was the nominative and accusative singular. These people feel
that to 'misuse' a plural like 'data' as a singular, taking singular
demonstratives and verbs, does violence to Latin, and thus to English.
If these people knew more about Latin, they would realize that already
in Classical Latin such second declension neuter plurals were often
used as singulars syntactically, sometimes with collective force as is
clearly the situation with 'data'. Further, the Romance languages have
carried this further, so that it is not at all unusual for one Romance
language to take the singular of these former neuters as a singular, and
make a new (masculine) plural, and for another RL to take the neuter plural
as a singular, creating a new (feminine) plural. There are also traces of
this in other Indo-European languages, leading one to suspect that the same
situation held in part for PIE (whatever that was). For Latin, a handy
reference might be Ernout, _Morphologie historique du latin_ #2A, or for
Romance treatments Rohlfs _Grammatica storica della lingua italiana...:
v.2 Morfologia #384. Let us not stand in the way of an historical process
that has been under way for millenia (My god, there's another one of those
wretched neuter plurals!)
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