LINGUIST List 5.877

Fri 05 Aug 1994

Misc: Linguistics in the Media, Ye Gods and Little Fishes!

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  1. Larry Horn, Linguistics in the Media
  2. Ken Laws, Ye Gods and Little Fishes!

Message 1: Linguistics in the Media

Date: Wed, 03 Aug 94 00:05:56 EDLinguistics in the Media
From: Larry Horn <>
Subject: Linguistics in the Media

Today (that's Tuesday, August 2) the New York Times Science section carried a
front page article on the Williams Syndrome we've been reading so much about
on Linguist lately, courtesy of Vicki Fromkin, Paul Deane et al. This appears
to be a relatively informed piece from what I can tell, emphasizing the
implications of linguistically sophisticated but cognitively (severely)
impaired WS sufferers for the uniqueness of the language faculty. The case
writer Sandra Blakeslee leads off with is that of an 18 year old woman who
'has a rich vocabulary and tells wondrous stories' but 'cannot tie her shoes,
set a table, or make change for a quarter'. With an IQ of 49, she lives in a
group home for the retarded. What's equally amazing is that her mother found
her way to Ursula Bellugi (who is quoted extensively in the article) through
reading 'a magazine article by Noam Chomsky on the biological basis of
language'. Unless I'm missing something (which I may well be), Blakeslee's
article is a very encouraging sign of what is possible as far as sensitive
reporting of both the scientific and human sides of linguistic issues, thanks
largely of course to Bellugi's contributions.

 Larry Horn
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Message 2: Ye Gods and Little Fishes!

Date: Tue 2 Aug 94 15:51:33-PDT Ye Gods and Little Fishes!
From: Ken Laws <>
Subject: Ye Gods and Little Fishes!

Ye Gods and Little Fishes has been mentioned as lower and lower-middle class,
British and US Midwest, and dating back about a century. I can't add to
that derivation, but I can suggest a reason for its use. I grew up in
Kansas, in a town where several Christian religions are integral to the
culture. Kids and many adults took very seriously the Biblical injunction
to "have no other gods before me." Also the injunction against swearing.
Ye Gods was a well-known phrase, but came too near to sinning. Adding
the Little Fishes made it clear that one was neither a practicing
polytheist nor seriously invoking divine attention. The phrase denoted
a place where one could have inserted a profanity but chose not to.
As there isn't much need for such a place holder, usage was infrequent.

 -- Ken Laws
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