LINGUIST List 7.1826

Wed Dec 25 1996

Disc: Analogy

Editor for this issue: Anthony Rodrigues Aristar <>


  1. benji wald, analogy blues
  2. George Elgin, Suzette Haden Elgin, analogy

Message 1: analogy blues

Date: Sat, 21 Dec 1996 18:19:28 -0800 (PST)
From: benji wald <bwaldHUMnet.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: analogy blues

Is linguistics a science? Ans: Yes, how dare you! Then why do we get all
insecure and awe-struck when confronted with the methods and
accomplishments of the "hard" sciences? Ans: lots of 'em: relative social
prestige, size of grants, (claimed) pay-off (by trickle-down to "society"),
undeniable beauty and "simplicity" of the logic that propels them. We
still don't have a populariser who glorifies the logic we use yet -- maybe
for good reason, something comparable to "people used to think the earth
was flat but then somebody noticed about the horizon/the moon/the sun/etc
etc .... and after sufficient DATA were gathered over the course of
millenia, Kepler/Copernicus/etc etc ... and despite the lousy (cheap!)
instruments of measurement at the time ..."). By the way, the strategy is
that you start with what "people thought" and *it's gotta be obvious why
they thought that*. Why "people" were wrong was because there were certain
FACTS that they didn't know. Then science gets specialised.

But I like the answer: yeah, let the hard sciences try being the observer
and the object of observation at the same time, then we'll see --
Heissenberg effect?

(Actually, I like the histories of "science" -- that means "hard science",
of course, that in some way or other present those histories as
progressively trying to remove the observer from the observations, e.g.,
separating the senses from the "phenomena" which stimulate those senses,
and at a more basic level, separation from anthropomorphic/personification
etc. "analogies/explanations" that give "nature" motives that are popularly
familiar to us creatures, e.g., the universe is a large corporation of
which God is the chairman of the Board, who has issues the following memos
which are henceforth, and until further notice, in effect... In most
cultures intermediate managers must be appealed to for special
consideration, but the spread of Internet should soon allow direct
communication via CC by the grace of AT&T).

As far as social prestige, we're getting there (and faster than the other
sciences did, but will we last?) More people respect linguistics than ever
before (even if they don't know what it is). In French movies, it is a
given, not a matter of humor but of intellectuality, that the young heroine
was taking a course in "phonetics" or something else linguistic at the
Sorbonne when she met the hero and the love story unfolded. In America we
gauge such social advancement by PBS documentaries, like the one where
Chomsky observes that we (he?) don't say "they saw the barn red". (Last
time this came up I wondered what effect this might have on the viewers.
Did they think, "wow, I better make sure I don't say it."?)

Back to the observer and the object of observation, which we so glibly call
"the data".
Pat Farrell offers the following, I think with some scepticism:

....the failure of the seeing the barn red analogy. .... Everett claims that
>Work on processing (see especially Ted Gibson's work in
>numerous articles and a forthcoming MIT Press book) shows fairly clearly
>that in the type of case raised here there are grammatical principles
>ruling out the relevant structures

The scepticism seems justified in view of Ellen Prince's offering:

i got this in an email msg today (from a non-linguist):
'My RAV4 finally got off the boat!
I went to the importer's yard to look for it today. Thought maybe it
was one of 'a few' blue ones. Imagine my surprise when I saw all
of them blue (with only a few aquamarine)!!! So I don't know which
one is actually mine...'

(the writer is obviously a non-linguist. One proof is that s/he uses
underlinings that take up a whole line feed, instead of our brilliant
innovation the *star* brackets.)

So we got a problem (well, I don't because I told you I wrote "I saw the
barn red" into the grammar of English, but I'm still waiting for
interpretation of "to please Joan is eager". But I might have other
problems, like what to make of "his works haven't been keeping being read

As far as spontaneous productions, like "seeing them all blue", those of
us who think that speech data (more generally production data) adds to
other sources of data in getting beyond judgments tainted with vested
interests, are still familiar with the escape-argument (invented by some of
our own at that): "production error" (after all, people do make mistakes,
and there's a whole industry dedicated to speech errors). So, before
someone tries to dismiss Ellen's data that way, let's bear in mind, that
even production/speech errors (which does not seem a likely explanation for
her data, but that might just be my opinion at this point, vested in MY
grammar of English) are supposed to be "constrained", and revealing of
"structure", "grammaticality" or whatever you call it. So you can't
dismiss it, you have to explain it. So maybe if Everett is right, when/if
we read Ted Gibson's principles we will get further insight into this
problem, and find out whether those principles are, in fact, prescriptive
(theory-prophylaxis) or descriptive -- and whether we are performing our
sacrosanct duty to accept (all varieties of) all languages as grist (=
data) for our UG mills.

PS I saw all of them blue: I saw all of them were blue
 I saw them all blue: ??I saw them all were blue

I call this poem "the analogy blues" (Much better is "I saw them boats
all was blue")

- Benji
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Message 2: analogy

Date: Sun, 22 Dec 1996 11:39:03 -0500
From: George Elgin, Suzette Haden Elgin <>
Subject: analogy

"Personally, I just don't see that room red; I see it blue. Maybe with tiny
white flowers."

"Personally, I just don't see that barn red -- it clashes with those
outbuildings you painted in the background. I see it more a kind of
washed-out beige, myself."

(And thousand more.)

Suzette Haden Elgin
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