Rules vs. Lists

Rob Freeman lists at
Thu Jul 3 02:08:40 UTC 2008

Thanks for playing the good part in this David. Very few people will
even listen to a new (unentrenched? :-) argument.

We are really in very broad agreement. It is just that I think there
is something extra.

On Thu, Jul 3, 2008 at 8:11 AM, David Tuggy <david_tuggy at> wrote:
> I'm afraid I'm not following you, Rob.

Language is fallible, on that we can agree!

> ...I don't see why "the complexity, power, or
> number of rules which can be generalized" is the only important point: to me
> the complexity, power or number of rules that actually are generalized, and
> entrenched as conventional in users' minds, is at least as important. It is
> only those rules, not the potential ones, that constitute the languages they
> speak.

I don't think "the complexity, power, or number of rules which can be
generalized" is the only important point. I am only focusing on it
because I think it is an important point we have been missing.

But since you are not contesting this core complexity point, perhaps I
should look at the importance you attach to entrenchment.

I don't really want to attack the importance of entrenchment.
Undoubtedly it is an important mechanism.

I just don't think it is the only one.

As you say "I expect all of us have had, repeatedly, the experience of
having someone point out a generality and immediately sensing either
(a) Of course, I already half knew that, and (b) Whoa! Really?? I
would *never* have seen that! (But sure enough, it's there in the

It is these experiences I am talking about.

I agree that once a generality becomes entrenched through repeated
observation, especially when it assumes a "negotiated" symbolic value
in a community, then people can communicate using it.

It is just I also think people can communicate by pointing out
generalities which are not yet entrenched, might never have been
observed at all, and which you might never have suspected of the data.
But yet as soon as such a generality is pointed out, it is immediately
"meaningful" to you ("I already half knew that".)

In short, I think entrenchment is an important mechanism, but we need
to pay attention to all the unentrenched generalities implicit in a
language also.

A vast power of generalities implicit in the examples of a language
(more than there are examples), and those generalities immediately
meaningful should we happen to observe them (though of course to
observe them all impossible in practice), and we have what I am
suggesting is missing from our current models of language. (Especially
models which contrast rules vs. lists.)


More information about the Funknet mailing list