LINGUIST List 6.1422

Fri Oct 13 1995

Misc: Delimiters, Ling&Prescriptivism, Double Positives

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>


  • benji wald, Re: 6.1395, Disc: Between-word Delimiters
  • Alexis Manaster Ramer, Re: 6.1369, Sum: Creeping reflexives
  • Joseph Davis, Yeah, yeah

    Message 1: Re: 6.1395, Disc: Between-word Delimiters

    Date: Fri, 13 Oct 1995 13:41:00 Re: 6.1395, Disc: Between-word Delimiters
    From: benji wald <IBENAWJMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU>
    Subject: Re: 6.1395, Disc: Between-word Delimiters

    Let's not overlook that numerals with their place systems do not separate into words, while the same numbers spelled out do, e.g., 75 = seventy five, not *seventyfive. There are other interesting aspects of writing numerals vs. spelling out numbers. EG order of reading for say German is 5 and seventy, and so on. Then, there is the obvious historical development of single words out of separate (?) words, e.g., seven-ty < seven-ten(s), etc. I don't recall offhand whether the place system, which I believe is Indian developed at a time when words were not separated by spaces in Sanskrit. Spacing is a separate consideration from placing, since whether there is a space or not, the order of numberals could be used to indicate place, and thus the intended value (place in the 10/n column) of a particular number.

    Apart from the above, there is vacillation in writing conventions for Bantu languages as to whether monosyllabic words of some types are considered part of the (usually) following word or not. EG Swahili separates na (and/with) from a following noun, e.g., na mtu (with somebody) but not from a monosyllabic pronoun, naye = na-ye (with-him/her). Because of the prosody, there was the attempt on the part of some Bantuists to write namtu instead of separating the words, but the already established convention was too resistant. I believe there are some other Bantu languages where the writing conventions do join transparent cognate constructions in such cases, but offhand I don't remember which ones. Also, Swahili written in Arabic script does tend to join such constructions, maybe because it makes writing faster. As those who know Arabic script realise, Arabic letters in final position have additional flourishes (extended curves) that take longer to write. Linguistically, there is an issue in these different writing conventions about when we have a sequence of words and when we have a cliticised construction, cf. seven-ty above, or is-n't, and the unique English spelling "cannot" for "can not" (on the way to "can't"?)

    In sum, there are quite a few issues in the development of word delimiters and that aspect of spelling systems in various languages. Benji

    Message 2: Re: 6.1369, Sum: Creeping reflexives

    Date: Thu, 12 Oct 1995 14:58:05 Re: 6.1369, Sum: Creeping reflexives
    From: Alexis Manaster Ramer <amrCS.Wayne.EDU>
    Subject: Re: 6.1369, Sum: Creeping reflexives

    Just one tangential observation on an issue raised in this summary: it surely is not correct to assume that "Real Linguists" are not prescriptivists. For many if not most of the world's written languages, the folks who are writing prescrriprive grammars and dictionaries are in fact linguists. This used to be the case even more generally, even if today there is a bit of a dissociation between linguists and grammarians/lexicograaphers of languages such as English and a few others today. And even so, if you look at the lists of contributors to the various prescriptive dictinaories of English, you will find the names of some very well known linguists.

    It is I think correct to say that the opposition to prescriptivism in language originated with some linguists around the turn of the century, but I do not think it is true that all or even most linguists ever adopted this stance. Nor is it clear to me whether the anti-prescriptivists were/are really any closer to the truth of the matters than the prescriptivists. While much of the prescriptivist "theory" is drivel, I tend to feel that the response to it has not really been very compelling either, the problem being that the notion of CORRECTNESS is obviously a very widespread and a very difficult part of many (all?) cultures and it will not do to dismiss it the way that anti-prescriptivist linguists have tended to.

    Alexis Manaster Ramer

    Message 3: Yeah, yeah

    Date: Wed, 11 Oct 1995 11:42:55 Yeah, yeah
    From: Joseph Davis <>
    Subject: Yeah, yeah

    Wasn't there mention recently on the List of this famous response to the claim that no language has a double positive that results in a negative? The New York Times Magazine of October 1 credits the response "Yeah, yeah" to Sidney Morgenbesser of Columbia University, attending a lecture by Stuart Hampshire (who reportedly made the claim). Perhaps the anecdote is still in the realm of history, not yet in mythology.