LINGUIST List 5.784

Thu 07 Jul 1994

Misc: Awkward questions, Endangered lgs, Orthographic peculiar

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Ted Harding, "Awkward" questions
  2. Anthony C. Woodbury, Re: 5.757 Qs: Endangered languages, Cognate N + V, Ginzberg,
  3. Lou Burnard, RE: 5.760 Orthographic peculiarities

Message 1: "Awkward" questions

Date: Wed, 29 Jun 1994 16:51:08 "Awkward" questions
From: Ted Harding <>
Subject: "Awkward" questions

I have been following the discussion prompted by Bruce Nevin's query
about "have-you-stopped- ... " questions from the sidelines, with interest.
As a non-linguist (I only sort the mail, when it's from LINGUIST) I had
hoped that some linguists could come up with the obviously definitive
term for these. Apparently not.

The phenomenon is closely related to what philosophers call "Counterfactual
Conditionals" (see e.g. Nelson Goodman "Fact, Fiction, & Forecast"), but
I've not encountered _questions_ discussed under this heading.

Since getting involved in the question means appearing to accept a
(possibly false) premiss about which you are offered no choice, maybe an apt
term might be

 Begging Question.

This leaves unresolved the fact that, because it is a _question_, the
respondent is involved in a sort of sequential game; a "begging question"
forces the respondent to start the game on the wrong foot. This sets it
apart from discussions of _propositions_ involving Counterfactual
Conditionals, which can stand in isolation. Surely some linguists
somewhere must have looked into this?

Ted Harding
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Message 2: Re: 5.757 Qs: Endangered languages, Cognate N + V, Ginzberg,

Date: Wed, 29 Jun 1994 11:01:03 Re: 5.757 Qs: Endangered languages, Cognate N + V, Ginzberg,
From: Anthony C. Woodbury <>
Subject: Re: 5.757 Qs: Endangered languages, Cognate N + V, Ginzberg,
 Susan Hertz

John E Limber <> writes:

>In the June, 1994 LSA Bulletin, there is a short "policy statement"
>urging documentation on endangered languages (p.5). As justification for
>this, they say "..linguistic typology is obviously enriched by knowledge
>of linguistic diversity, as languages on the geographical or linguistic
>'fringe' sometimes turn out to be the most diverse typologically
>(Nichols, 1990)..."
>Unfortunately the reference to Nicols (1990) is not provided. Can
>someone give this to me?
The reference is probably to:

Nichols, Johanna. 1990. Linguistic diversity and the first settlement of
the New World. Language 66(3):475-521.

Equally relevant, and with more elaboration, is:

Nichols, Johanna. 1992. Linguistic diversity in space and time. Chicago:
U of Chicago P.

> (If this claim is true, it raises the
>probability that the extinction of languages such as Ubykh--rumoured to
>have 80 consonants--come about in part due to their "psycholinguistic
>overhead" and not just the usual historical-social factors often cited.)

This comment raises some important issues. But I'd like to suggest that
before drawing such an inference, at least three issues should be

First, some exotic features are indeed unstable--but they ordinarily
disappear by types of change well short of complete language shift. Should
we assume such a radical response in the cases of languages now dying,
especially given the apparent sufficiency of sociopolitical explanations
for language shift?

Second, the fact that "fringe" areas show a great deal of internal
typological diversity doesn't mean that languages in the "core" can't have
unusual complexities. English complementation--arguably the principal
empirical project of generative syntax--is extremely complex and probably
surpasses that of languages in most other parts of the world. For example,
its particular forms of elaboration are not matched in such Native American
families as Eskimo-Aleut, Algonkian, and Athabaskan (even though these
languages have other complexities of their own). One would have to explain
why its unusually elaborate complementation system hasn't hampered or
endangered English. And one would have to explain why comparably onorous
features--since nearly every language is unusually elaborate in at least
some way--haven't hampered Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Quechua, Mayan, and
other languages which have lived and spread vigorously.

Third, it must be remembered that language endangerment is an issue
everywhere, not just in Nichols' periphery (mainly Oceania, the Americas,
and parts of east Asia). It is a serious problem in Africa (which Nichols
finds to be relatively less diverse than the 'periphery,' both genetically
and typologically); and it is a problem for the marginalized languages of
Europe, including the (Indo-European) Celtic languages. Moreover,
throughout Europe dialect diversity is also at risk--surely we cannot blame
the minor structural differences between these dialects and the encroaching
standards for their endangerment, when a sociopolitical explanation is so
easily at hand.

Tony Woodbury
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Message 3: RE: 5.760 Orthographic peculiarities

Date: Wed, 29 Jun 1994 15:47:54 RE: 5.760 Orthographic peculiarities
From: Lou Burnard <>
Subject: RE: 5.760 Orthographic peculiarities

The use of apostrophe to indicate plural forms is so common in English
now it is often referred to jocularly as the "greengrocer's plural" (a
slur on the fruit and vegetable selling trade's supposed competence)

I'd compare the reasoning you postulate to the existing of a similar
phenomenon in modern French, where 's is often used to mark non-French
imports (yes, there still are some despite the French government) such
as "le pin's" for those spiffy little lapel badges that were all the
rage a year or so ago

Lou Burnard
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