LINGUIST List 2.885
Sat 28 Dec 1991
Disc: Infinite, Language & Culture, Washed
Editor for this issue: <>
, 2.837 Infinite Languages
, Textbook for ... Language & Culture,
, Re: 2.866 Responses: Language & Culture, Washed, No way
Message 1: 2.837 Infinite Languages
Date: Thu, 19 Dec 91 22:35:02 EST
Subject: 2.837 Infinite Languages
Bruce Nevin raised an important issue in his recent posting
on this topic, whether it makes sense to talk about the
infinitude of language given that languages are (as he
claims) ill-defined. While Bruce makes a very strong
case for languages being ill-defined, it seems to me that
the connection between this and the cardinality issue is
not what he assumes. Moreover, since what he assumes
seems to be commonly assumed in the field, I thought I
would impose on the readership by briefly responding.
I think that people who dislike mathematical claims
about language (e.g., that it is (in)finite, (non)context-free,
and the like) tend to argue in precisely this way, to wit,
that language is not a well-defined set and hence it cannot
have any such properties predicated of it. At the same time,
people who like formal linguistics tend to make precisely
the same connection and insist that languages are well-
defined precisely so that they can then predicate such
properties of them.
But as a matter of fact, there is no such connection.
For example, the set of living human beings is not
well-defined, yet we can all agree that there are only
finitely many human beings. Conversely, the union of
the set of even natural numbers with the set of primes
which I happen to know is infinite although again not
well-defined. (Perhaps it is not even a set, but whatever
it is, it is infinite, because the set of natural numbers
Now, there may or may not (I simply do not know) be
an adequately worked out mathematical theory in which
one can talk about such ill-defined objects, but even
if there is not, that would not preclude us from
reasoning about such objects in the way I just did.
It would only mean that someone should develop a
suitable nonstandard set theory (and maybe they already
Message 2: Textbook for ... Language & Culture,
Date: Tue, 17 Dec 91 13:40:18 GMT
Subject: Textbook for ... Language & Culture,
Hi Charlotte, and all who are interested.
What about a collectin of papers as well as / instead of
the Saville Troike.
What springs to my (crazed) mind would be stuff by Halliday -
Lang as Social Semiotic /Learning how to mean plus
Malinowski, Sapir Whorf. A stiff diet for awhole course
but then Saville Troike needs a bit of stiffening
don't you think.
Look forward to your comments
Message 3: Re: 2.866 Responses: Language & Culture, Washed, No way
Date: Sun, 15 Dec 1991 23:08 EST
Subject: Re: 2.866 Responses: Language & Culture, Washed, No way
I am an originally a native speaker of a "needs washed" dialect. Even though I
have lived in the NY and Boston areas since age 13, I never realized
the form was not used by those around me until someone commented on it.
Until age 13 I lived in the Akron area of Ohio. My parents are natives of the
Akron and Columbus areas.
The form has always been interesting to me both in terms of its origin and its
structure. In recent years I have often remarked on the frequency of its
occurence among speakers of the dialects that use it. Among them I have
encountered a native of Buffalo (which led me to theorize that such usage was
spread via Lake Erie), and a Scot from Glasgow. The native of Buffalo had
lived much of her childhood in West Virginia however.
The structure must be interesting in light of the fact that many people find it
extremely weird-sounding. In fact, a linguist I know was hard pressed to
accept my account of its existence. The only inkling I have as to the
syntactic origin is that it is produced by some mechanism created by the
language learner to account for other "to be" "deletions." (Please don't quote
me on this unless you like the idea!) Example:
(All dialects) I need this car to be fixed. --> I need this car fixed.
(Some dialects) This car needs to be fixed. --> This car needs fixed.
A more likely account of its current syntactic structure is probably that it is
the result of NP raising from a small clause:
e needs [ this car [ fixed] ] --> this car needs [ t fixed]
In this case "need" is a lot like the verb "seem." Another possibility is that
"need" here is a subject control PRO verb:
this car needs [PRO fixed]
This seems less likely because "need" usually assigns case to an NP that
follows it and PRO must be ungoverned.
Also notice that a "to be"-deletion analysis is doubtful because of the
* tabs need kept on jones.
* headway needs made right away.
where "tabs" and "headway" should be grammatical as D-str objects of "keep"
and "make" respectively (those with native speaker intuitions will vouch for
these judgements i hope.)
Maybe some lively discussion will help to figure out what's going on. Of
course, it is plausible that the "needs washed" dialect analyzes the verb
differently from other dialects.