LINGUIST List 3.608

Mon 27 Jul 1992

Disc: Linguistics and Culture; Dissimilation

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  1. Mark Peterson, Re: 3.592 Narrative Voice Switches; Physics and Language
  2. Robert D Hoberman, Anthropologist or linguist?
  3. Jacques Guy, Dissimilation

Message 1: Re: 3.592 Narrative Voice Switches; Physics and Language

Date: Mon, 20 Jul 92 11:38:52 EDRe: 3.592 Narrative Voice Switches; Physics and Language
From: Mark Peterson <>
Subject: Re: 3.592 Narrative Voice Switches; Physics and Language

As far as demonstrating the cultural basis of any scientific field, I'd look
less to linguistics that to cultural anthropology and intellectual historians.
In anthropology, Elizabeth Martin has a fascinating account of how the
models and metaphors used by Medical textbooks construct human reproduction
in culturally biased ways - the book is called "The Woman in the Body."

S Traweek is a cultural anthropologist who studies the cultural worlds of
"big" science - i.e., those sciences which cannot be done at all without
expnditures in the billions of dollars (for takamaks, particle beam accelerator
s and so forth). I forget the title of her book except that "Beamtimes" occurs
in it.

The linguistic aspect of all this seems to involve concepts of scientific model
s as metaphors. And as Lakoff and Johnson insist, we seem to be prisoners of
the metaphors we use to construct our perceptual worlds.

There's a large bibliography on the cultural, poetic and literary construction
of the hard sciences. I have some references at home which I will try to
remember to bring with me and post next time. Come to think of it, I believe
the Pembroke Seminar here at Brown was on this subject last year.
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Message 2: Anthropologist or linguist?

Date: 21 Jul 1992 12:29:54 -0400Anthropologist or linguist?
From: Robert D Hoberman <>
Subject: Anthropologist or linguist?

Victor Raskin mentioned a news item on CNN about an "anthropologist" who was
doing what the broadcasters imagined was unprecedented work on languages of
Mexico. In the past year or two I've noticed several mentions of people doing
field work on endangered languages, and they were INVARIABLY called
anthropologists. Now, there is some truth in this: many linguistic
anthropologists or anthroplogical linguists do lots of work out in the field,
many other kinds of linguists never look at a "weird language". But I think
there is a perception in the public and among academics that the people who
work out there with "tribes" and bring home important new information are
anthropologists, and conversely that linguists are just head-in-the-clouds
pencil-pushers, engaged in their esoteric debates. This misperception (if it's
really as widespread as I suspect) is very harmful to our profession. When
I've described my own linguistic field work people look puzzled, then brighten
up when they realize it's "almost like anthropology".

And anyway, isn't anyone who does good work on language a linguist, in some

Bob Hoberman
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Message 3: Dissimilation

Date: Mon, 20 Jul 92 13:31:48 ESDissimilation
From: Jacques Guy <>
Subject: Dissimilation

I have been passively watching this discussion, without realizing
that I had one piece of information to contribute. It concerns
the Austronesian language spoken in Shark Bay, Espiritu Santo,
Vanuatu, in which

 aCa --> i:CE

(C = any consonant E = IPA epsilon)

E.g.: *matana = his/her/its eyes --> nati:nE
 *mwata = snake --> mi:tE

(The reconstructed forms *matana and *mwata are in fact still attested
in several languages of Vanuatu)

At the time it had struck me as a very unnatural case of phonological
evolution. Another strange case, in a different language (Sakao, NE
Espiritu Santo) was:

eC(aeo) --> AC (C=any consonant A = low back rounded vowel, much like
 Hungarian 'a')

e.g. *mena = ripe --> nAn
 *pweke = owl --> BAG (B = IPA beta, G = IPA gamma)
 *pwero = mushroom --> BAr

The Sakao examples make me wonder if one can rightly speak of "dissimilation".
It seems rather a case of a sound becoming most unlike itself: from low open to
high close in Shark Bay, without any parallels in the rest of the vowel system;
from front unrounded to back rounded in Sakao. Self-dissimilation?
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