Reflections on Grammaticalization, Epiphenomena, etc....

Salinas17 at Salinas17 at
Thu Mar 16 21:58:46 UTC 2006

In a message dated 3/15/06 2:29:27 PM, mark at writes:
<< Perhaps not so much to blind and protect us, but to make reality[1] 
intelligible (whatever the cost). Making reality intelligible does have the common 
*side-effect* of blinding us to and protecting us from the reality (or lack 
thereof) we ostensibly understand >>

On the cheery assumption that every comment is helpful, here's yet another 

Is "reality intelligible" to my cat or dog?  They certainly act like they 
understand what's going on, sometimes, at least for their purposes -- maybe not 
as much as I do, but I know some who would argue with that.

These two animals navigate about the world in what seems a relatively 
rational way.  They particularly know how to get me to give them food, open the door, 
get the lease, liberally provide catnip and noisy toys. 

Is their reality "intelligible" to them?  If so, how did they do it without 
human language?  Or is "intelligible" in some way reserved to humans?  And if 
so, how is it defined so that it excludes animals?  It would be circular to say 
intelligible reality is reserved to language users and then say language is 
what makes reality intelligible.  You might as well say reality is linguistic, 
which would mean my dog and cat are somehow deprived of reality.

Before the first human set foot in America, America was already there.  It 
already had a geological and biological history that can be read today.  It was 
REAL before any human ever got there.  Most things are like that.  They don't 
depend on us to be created.  If we get the odd idea that we can negotiate them 
out by cognitively creating a reality without them in it, they will fall off 
the shelf and hit us in the head.  Just to remind us that we don't really 
"make" reality.

Language does to some degree have to be "a mirror of the world" in order for 
it to make any sense.  Grammar -- no matter how "correct" -- still makes 
absolutely no sense if it is referring to a six foot rabbit in the room and there 
is no six foot rabbit in the room.

The ultimate test, after all, of an MT machine is not whether or not we can 
harmonize the corresponding switches in the heads of speakers of different 
languages, but whether those speakers end up talking about the same things -- out 
there, where nature seems to be impatient with "realities" that don't conform 
to reality, no matter how the switches in our heads are set.

Steve Long

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