Analytic languages and their function. (4)

Lise Menn lise.menn at
Tue May 30 01:16:35 UTC 2006

One more caution, then: while conclusions derived from multiple  
observations such as Aya gives at the end of her reply are very  
strong, very often it is necessary to be carefully agnostic on the  
issue of what a child's utterance means in itself, as opposed to what  
the child means by saying it.  The notion of the 'holophrase' - the  
single utterance that supposedly means a whole proposition - is to be  
regarded with considerable suspicion; it arose in child language 40- 
odd years ago, before linguists in general, Austin's lessons having  
sunk in, began to routinely distinguish semantics (what this form  
means) from semantics plus pragmatics (what this person means by  
producing this form in this context), and it has hung around in child  
language since then.  I have never been convinced that there is any  
such thing.
	A claim that a particular child means a whole proposition by  
producing 'horsie' or 'banana' in a given situation is of course  
often quite reasonable, as judged by the child's actions and  
reactions.  But claiming that the form itself 'means' a whole  
proposition is very dicey indeed.  If I yell 'fire', I mean a whole  
lot of things at once, including warnings as well as propositions,  
but the word 'fire' itself does not mean those things.  I may yell  
for my husband, but the name 'Bill' does not then mean 'Where are  
you, can you hear me, if you can would you please yell back to let me  
know where you are?'; it's my calling his name that has this meaning.
	We all know this about adult language, but forget it too easily in  
dealing with child language.  Yet the call 'yoo-hoo', which has the  
same functions as calling a name, is similar to Aya's 'mama' example  
below.  'Ouch' and 'hello' are two more examples of words whose  
meaning can only properly be described as 'what you say in situation  
X (if you want to produce effect Y)'.  This kind of meaning is very  
observable to kids who want to do things with words, and it is often  
present much earlier than referential meaning. Liz Bates wrote good  
stuff about this years ago, though her terminology, derived directly  
from Austin, was not transparent enough to catch on widely.

On May 29, 2006, at 12:18 PM, A. Katz wrote:

> Lise Menn wrote:
>> First: Children learning English and other languages often have a mix
>> of longer unanalyzed phrases, words + 'fillers', and single words.
> Yes. And sometimes unanalyzed phrases stand for whole propositions,  
> from
> which names for participants are identified only later in the  
> development
> of the child's speech. In such cases, the unanalyzed phrase  
> describes the
> whole event holisitically.
>> Secondly, having a modest amount of inflectional morphology (say a 2-
>> way marking of person or case distinction) is not tantamount to
>> having a full grammar - NOR is it the same as having a totally
>> monomorphemic language.  Children who use accusative case for things
>> they are throwing or eating and nominative case for someone who is
>> doing something do have a case contrast - but it's very restricted -
>> and it may be almost completely predictable by the animacy of the
>> noun (nominatives animate,  accusatives inanimate), as early pronoun
>> use may be in English.  It does not make sense to be dichotomous
>> here, to say 'either there's a grammar or there's no grammar'.
> Agreed.
>> Third: What does it mean to say that a child who says 'dog' is or is
>> not using a noun?  If she is pointing to a dog, you can say that
>> she's referring to a concrete object.  Whether that is sufficient for
>> it to be a noun is going to depend on your theory of grammar.
> Sometimes children don't use "Mommy" to name a concrete object.  
> Sometimes
> they use it to mean "come here!" I have anecdotal evidence.
> When my daughter was 18 months old, we were living in Taiwan. I spoke
> Hebrew to her, and her nanny spoke Mandarin. When my daughter  
> wanted one
> of us to come help her with something, she would call out: "Mama!  
> Mama!"
> It didn't matter if it was the nanny who was there or me. She  
> called for
> both of us the same way. (She learned to do this by observing the  
> nanny's
> daughter.)
> However, she did not use "Mama" to refer to either of us. If I  
> showed her
> a picture of the nanny, she would point at it and say "A Yi" (which  
> is how
> the nanny referred to herself: Auntie.) If my daughter saw a  
> picture of
> me, she would point and say "Ani". "Ani" is the Hebrew 1st person
> nominative pronoun. I referred to myself in first person, so my  
> daughter
> used the first person pronoun to refer to me, too.
> It doesn't matter what the nanny or I originally thought "Mama"  
> meant. It
> doesn't matter that most people use that word as a nominal or  
> participant
> reference. For my daughter, it was the way to summon help. It was  
> not a
> way to refer to anyone, because she never pointed at any person and  
> said
> Mama.
> Regardless of their derivation, words mean only what they are used  
> for by
> the particular speaker at a particular place and time. That was my  
> point.
> Best,
>      --Aya
> ================================================================
> Dr. Aya Katz, Inverted-A, Inc, P.O. Box 267, Licking, MO
> 65542 USA
> (417) 457-6652 (573) 247-0055
> =================================================================

Lise Menn                      Office: 303-492-1609
Linguistics Dept.           Fax: 303-413-0017
295 UCB                         Hellems 293
University of Colorado
Boulder CO 80309-0295

Professor of Linguistics, University of  Colorado, University of Hunan
Secretary, AAAS Section Z [Linguistics]

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