LINGUIST List 3.255

Mon 16 Mar 1992

FYI: Online Spanish, Hayakawa & Bolinger

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  • Antonio Moreno-Sandoval, On-Line Spanish Resources
  • Geoffrey Nunberg, Hayakawa and Bolinger

    Message 1: On-Line Spanish Resources

    Date: Fri, 13 Mar 92 11:35:11 -0On-Line Spanish Resources
    From: Antonio Moreno-Sandoval <morenoaOSCAR.CS.NYU.EDU>
    Subject: On-Line Spanish Resources


    Prof. Marcos-Marin has asked me for adding this extra information about the monolingual corpus that is being developed by the Sociedad Estatal Quinto Centenario: An oral corpus of a million words is now available; Carmen Restoy is not longer involved in the project; and people interested should contact Prof. Marcos-Marin BY SNAIL MAIL or FAX. This is the address:

    Prof. Francisco Marcos-Marin Industrias de la Lengua Aravaca, 22 bis 28040 - Madrid, SPAIN

    FAX: +34 -1 535 0129

    Regards, Antonio Moreno

    Message 2: Hayakawa and Bolinger

    Date: Wed, 11 Mar 1992 21:10:52Hayakawa and Bolinger
    From: Geoffrey Nunberg <nunbergparc.xerox.com>
    Subject: Hayakawa and Bolinger


    Several people have written me to ask for a copy of the piece on Dwight Bolinger and S. I. Hayakawa that ran as one of the language features I do on the NPR program "Fresh Air." So I'm attaching it here. This aired on Februrary 4.

    Geoff Nunberg

    When former Senator S. I. Hayakawa died last week at 85, the San Francisco Chronicle described him as "one of the nation's specialists in semantics and linguistics," and the New York Times called him "a noted scholar." That's probably overstating things a bit. But it was a life lived by language, and it took him on a remarkable course. He was an obscure professor of English in 1941 when he wrote a surprise best-seller called Language in Action. It was a popularization of the curious theories of the Polish-born philosopher Alfred Korzybski, who held that misunderstanding and social pathologies are the results of a uncritical acceptance of the patterns of "Aristotelean logic" that are implicit in our speech. The book was not serious scholarship, and Korzybzki's theory of "general semantics" has remained something of a cult. But Language in Action deserves credit for awakening a lot of Americans to the insidiousness of totalitarian propaganda, a decade before Orwell developed the theme in earnest. Language in Action taught a healthy skepticism about the mischief that language could do. But as time went by Hayakawa's mistrust of language seemed to deepen, to the point where he came to believe that some forms of speech were too dangerous to be permitted. As president of San Francisco State University, he came to sudden political prominence during the student unrest of 1968 when he banned all campus speeches, and the national media broadcast pictures of him jumping on top of a platform to rip out the wires of an amplifying system being used at a rally of student strikers. He became a symbol of hardnosed suppression of campus activism, a reputation he parlayed into a Senate seat in 1976. After he retired from the Sentate in 1982, he devoted himself to a campaign to make English the official language of the United States. That was how I met him a couple of years later, when we found ourselves on opposite sides in a Stanford University debate about the English-only question. Perhaps he had mellowed by then, but I saw little of his celebrated feistiness. He was courtly to me and polite even to the angry students who tried to beard him in the question period. But the deep suspicion of language remained. He spoke of the need to prohibit foreign-language billboards and television programs. He warned that language minorities could become breeding grounds for sedition and political separatism. He seemed to have lost his earlier faith that people in a free society would make the right decisions about language for themselves. When Dwight Bolinger died last week just a couple of days before Hayakawa, the loss was chiefly felt in the small field of linguistics. The irony here is that Bolinger was the genuine article -- one of the most distinguished semanticists of the age, with an uncanny ear for the nuances of words. Of course Bolinger spent most of his life in academic cloisters like USC and Harvard writing scholarly books and papers. So far as I know, his only foray into electoral politics was to serve as president of the Linguistic Society of America and some other professional associations. But he also believed that language was too important to be left a purely academic preoccupation. In a wonderful popular book called Language, The Loaded Weapon, he wrote that the the manipulation of language was "the most devastating form of social control [of our time]." At times the book sounds like Hayakawa's Language in Action -- and in fact Bolinger is one of the few mainstream linguists to have talked seriously about Hayakawa's work. The difference is that Bolinger never lost faith that the remedy for abuses of speech was more speech. He wrote that people had to "reassert the public ownership of language;... [it should] take its place alongside of diet, traffic safety, and the cost of living as something that everybody thinks about and talks about." I don't know why Bolinger's popular writings never got the wide audience that Hayakawa's did. It may be that he lacked Hayakawa's gifts as a controversialist. It would be hard to imagine him interrupting somebody he disagreed with, much less pulling the plug on them. Nor was he much of a hand at the keening derision of the pop grammarians. He did the best he could with civility and good sense, and I suppose he won as large a readership as he could have reasonably expected. Maybe every age gets the linguists it deserves.