LINGUIST List 10.1292
Sat Sep 4 1999
Disc: Universal Word Order
Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <karenlinguistlist.org>
Dan Moonhawk Alford, Re: 10.1289, Disc: Universal Word Order (and Whorf)
Message 1: Re: 10.1289, Disc: Universal Word Order (and Whorf)
Date: Sat, 4 Sep 1999 12:25:31 -0700 (PDT)
From: Dan Moonhawk Alford <dalfordhaywire.csuhayward.edu>
Subject: Re: 10.1289, Disc: Universal Word Order (and Whorf)
Watch out folks, Dan's gonna tell us how it is...
I appreciate the sarcasm for what it is, Sean, but at least this dialogue
is one of the most interesting ones we've seen for a while on this list.
And as I tried to make clear, the era of people attributing the ideas
behind the Hypothesis Hoax to Sapir or Whorf on this list without comment
from me is over, since they can no longer defend themselves. If that's
offensive, deal with it. I'm just asking for better scholarship around
Benjamin Whorf, whose reputation has been trashed by association with a
failed group of Hypotheses that only tangentially reflect his written
> Pardon me for butting in, but butt in I do when I see serious
> misrepresentations or misunderstandings of Whorf fly by on this list,
> or when someone's peddling the old, tired Hoax again.
Dan's opinion, in case you missed it.
> Aren't people tired of kicking Whorf's corpse yet? You can't imagine,
> and I mean that literally for some, what's actually in his essays when
> you read them! You can even take off the Hypothesis Hoax filters and
> read them for yourself -- essays that many Native >Americans and
> quantum physicists these days take much more seriously >than most
> linguists do!
Well, I don't know. The last time we had this discussion, I think I
pointed out that, at least onomastically speaking, language is influenced
by culture. ... Further, I am also of the opinion that language
influences culture, in that we name things according to the experiences
that we have already had (i.e., rock candy).
That's all I need from Sapir-Whorf to advanced my ideas. No kicking, no
view of the world that is skewed by Whorfian fallacy.
I totally agree with your characterization of mutual interdependence, but
that's simply not obvious when you invoke the Hypothesis, Sean, in which
the unnamed critics have virtually accused S-W of having a one-way
> Wow -- only two human choices, eh? No topic/comment? That's the whole
> of syntactic choices?
Several people asked about this. That's all I was given by the two
authors. Personally, however, what I know about VS languages, little that
it is, I'm not convinced otherwise.
Larry What's'isname gave a cogent reply to that.
>According to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis,
>again, whose version of this academic hoax?
Not that important.
As you can see, when one is intent on stopping insidious nonsense, as I
obviously am, one civil way to do it in an academic forum is to ask where
it came from. And that's also a way of tracking down whether this is the
Carroll, Lenneberg, Cole & Scribner, Landar, Slobin, Premack, Berlin &
Kay, or some other version that's being described once 'the Hypothesis' is
invoked. Let's give them the academic credit they deserve for their work.
However, if we're talking about something Whorf actually wrote, such as
the principle of linguistic relativity, then citing page numbers is
>One hundred years earlier, Humboldt suggests that culture, as its
>benefactor, influences language.
>That's the "and vice versa" Sapir and Whorf were aware of, and also
>probably true -- but where is it from?
Again, not writing a thesis here, but its from On Language, 1834.
Thanks! My asking for references was not gratuitous.
> neither is actually antithetical to the other and it is sufficient to
> say that language and culture have an independent, yet mutually
> symbiotic, relationship.
> yes -- in a complementary, mutually determining, interdependent way.
> Take a look at the yin and yang of the Tao to see graphically what you
> said verbally.
I'm not quite sure I appreciate the academic value of you rhetoric here?
Are you agreeing with me or not? In either case, it seems that you have
missed the fact that I'm trying to build an argument based on progressive
premises. By the way, which particular Taoist book are you refering to,
and on which page?
To the contrary -- I celebrated your argument building with full
agreement, adding a few more hopefully useful terms you could also use.
The sarcasm about the Tao is fully misplaced, since I only asked you to
look at any representation of it for yourself.
> Generally, cultural affiliations determine one's perceptionof the
> world and one's linguistic affiliation; linguistic affiliations
> determine how one communicates with others.
> ... if one wants to wallow in 19th-century determinism more suited to
> billiard balls than to invisible mental/linguistic forms, that is.
Ah, a return to opinions...
You miss my point here, which has to do with the entire enterprise of
scientism, i.e., 19th-century monocausal determinism being deployed not in
the physical but in the linguistic realm. This scientism is rife in the
literature of 'the Hypothesis," and shows itself with "X determines Y"
statements. It was Dan Slobin, I believe, who ported this from psychology
with the strong/weak version concept. (see my 'Demise of the Whorf
Hypothesis" at webpage for supporting details.)
> and what if there is no universal word order? Do you mean to imply
> that cognitive reality is fixed and has nothing to do with language?
Not at all Dan, you missed the point. There is no universal word order
because all "true" word orders are universal. From what I have found from
analyzing languages, the closest thing to a universal word order is SV,
and the O is inconsequential. For those who acknowledge VSO as a "true"
word order, which I don't, add that to your pantheon of universal word
orders. In short, searching for a single all encompassing word order is a
We couldn't agree more. And I did miss it.
> I must have missed the article or book demonstrating that the Roman
> alphabet is simpler and easier to master than a *syllabary* for
> speakers of simple-syllabic languages. Can you provide a cite?
> Otherwise, this just seems to prefer what you are used to.
Actually Dan, I'm used to three alphabets these days, eight or nine if you
want to count variants of the Roman alphabet. Let cite an example from
Korean. Before the 15th century, the Korean language used the Chinese
script as its orthographic system. During the reign of King Sejong, the
current phonetic alphabet was invented so that writing would be made
easier (if you could pronounce it, you could write it).
(in editing the sarcasm out of your last two turns, I find the
argumentation much clearer.)
my "for speakers of simple-syllabic languages" clause was intentional.
Speaking from ignorance, I ask whether the syllable structure of Korean is
more or less complex than that of Chinese. My own hypothesis would be that
phonetic writing systems, even ours, arise when writing systems developed
for simple-syllabic systems only badly fit complex-syllabic phonological
And I speak from the experience of developing a Roman alphabet and writing
system for Northern Cheyenne in the early '70s, only to find that writing
Cheyenne in Algonquian/Blackfoot/Cree Syllabary was incredibly more
parsimonious and elegant. So, to phrase it differently: do you think a
phonetic/phonemic writing system is simpler than a syllabary for
Similarly, the Roman alphabet is simpler than the Northern Semitic
again, for whom? Seakers of N. Semitic langages?
>[moonhawk] > >What if you spoke a language with 80 permissible syllables,
each of >which >iconically embodied root-level kinesthetic feelings of
>biological >movement, process, and relationship? These roots combine
>and recombine >endlessly to create what we woulld variously label a
>single word OR a >sentence, with a morphosyntax that has so far >defied
sensible analysis >because of universalist blinders. A >language with no
separate subjects and >objects, no tense system but evidentials instead),
a kind of "vector" system >instead of our >pronouns -- where you can talk
all day long and not utter a >single >separate noun, and you don't ever
use metaphors because the transparent-root system nearly forces you to
make up completely novel >WORDS (and be understood) with the same ease
with which we utter >novel >sentences. At least, that's how the
doctorate-educated Natives >explain it >to me, from the insides of such
Two points here. One, a part-of-speech argument is unrelated, unless you
want to link specific POS to word order positions. Outside of the
occasion interchange of "preterit" and "verb' for V, I've not used POS
terminology, so I don't know why you're bringing it up.
I was simply describing a language, not arguing with you.
Second, how is the language you are conjecturing any different from those
we speak now?
Gosh -- the iconically rmbodied kinesthetic feelings of biological
movement, process, and relationship, no nouns, no tense, no metaphors --
these are often flashpoints for debate. I'm glad we agree!
I doubt very seriously that, in my linguistic realm and world of POS
terminology, you could ramble all day long without uttering a single noun.
Well, that's one then, where you agree it's different. Great discussion,
Sean, but your sarcasm is unwarranted since your clarifications, and
hopefully mine, show how much we agree once we push past the hallucination
of the Hypothesis Hoax.
warm regards, moonhawk