Reflections cont'd (2)

Mark P. Line mark at
Tue Mar 21 21:21:10 UTC 2006

Salinas17 at wrote:
> I wrote:
> <<In response, I only can tenderly carmelize the teacher to whom you
> ventilated in the left column, weedlessly uncondensed.  That's fine
> grammar but -- unless you are privileged to know something I don't -- it
> makes absolutely no sense.>>
> In a message dated 3/17/06 7:56:12 PM, mark at writes:
> <<While that is presumably true in the context of a linguistics mailing
> list,
> I doubt there's much evidence of the same kind of phenomenon in the
> populations of mere mortals and their utterances that we purport to study.
> >>
> No doubt that it is an improbable sentence.  And it just happens to make
> no sense as well.  Maybe they are connected?

Perhaps when you say the sentence "makes no sense" you really mean that
certain semantic processes lead to contradictory entailments when applied
to the sentence in the usual fashion.

There's no doubt that the fact that a sentence is improbable and the fact
that conventional semantic processing leads to contradiction are indeed
related, as you suggest: speakers tend to devise utterances that lead to
intended and generally non-contradictory entailments.

But my point was that every utterance makes sense in the context of its
occurrence, regardless of how poorly suited it might be for conventional
semantic processing. Linguistically naive speaker/hearers confronted with
contradictions are observed to engage in a divergent, *unconventional*
form of semantic processing in order to produce a non-contradictory set of

"In response, I only can tenderly carmelize the teacher to whom you
ventilated in the left column, weedlessly uncondensed."

I do try hard not to vent to teachers, but it did happen just this once.
The fact that we'd both been waiting in the left-hand line at the ticket
counter for over three hours just made me lose it. As most people know,
the Society for Teacher Ventilation Recovery in Carmel, Indiana was
responsible for their trademark 'carmelization' technique for dealing with
teachers just such as this one, and I'm thankful that your mastery of the
technique was adequate to get her back on an even keel. It was smart of
you to do it with such a tender touch.

On another level, I appreciate the fact that you were able to walk the
fine line between condensing your response to the point of being overly
terse and introducing verbal weeds for me to fight through to get to your

> This goes back to your suggestion about language making reality
> intelligible. My point is it's more useful to see it the other way
> around.  That reality makes language intelligible.

Reality couldn't possibly make language intelligible. At best, a person's
*understanding* of reality might be claimed to make language intelligible.
I can't imagine what the universe would have to be like for reality to
intervene directly in language processing.

But it turns out that nothing extra at all is needed to make language
intelligible: naive speaker/hearers tend to create sense for every
utterance, no matter how far they have to diverge from semantic

> What does that suggest about "language models?"  It might suggests that
> any model of language that does not include the extra-linguistic effects
> of language is fundamentally inaccurate.

That, of course, is not news, nor would I expect you to find anybody here
who disagrees.

-- Mark

Mark P. Line
San Antonio, TX

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