Public Linguistics Presentation Q

Ellen Contini-Morava elc9j at
Thu Jun 13 17:03:11 UTC 2013

I confess that convincing a public audience that (even) non-standard 
varieties have "rules" itself panders to the hegemonic language ideology 
that having reified "rules" is a badge of legitimacy. But one has to 
pick one's battles; there's only so much that can be done in an hour. 
(See Michael Silverstein, 1996. “Monoglot ‘Standard’ in America: 
Standardization and Metaphors of Linguistic Hegemony.” In D. Brenneis 
and R. Macauley, eds. The Matrix of Language: Contemporary Linguistic 
Anthropology. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Pp. 284-306.)


Ellen Contini-Morava
Professor, Department of Anthropology
University of Virginia
P.O. Box 400120
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4120
phone:  +1 (434) 924-6825
fax:    +1 (434) 924-1350

On 6/13/2013 8:12 AM, Ellen Contini-Morava wrote:
> Oh dear, to be accused of believing in determinative rules! I'm glad 
> you noticed the scare quotes, which were there exactly to place the 
> word in others' mouths (such as those of the likely audience of 
> Shannon's talk). My point was that people find it illuminating to 
> discover that there are indeed regularities that they may be aware of, 
> in some sense, without being conscious of, and simultaneously that 
> nonstandard varieties are not chaotic. Right now we're awaiting some 
> major thunderstorms with threat of tornados so I'll limit this post to 
> referring you to my response to Wally Reid's paper debunking the 
> English verb "agreement rule" (Reid: "The communicative function of 
> English verb number", Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 29, 2011: 
> 1087-1146); Ellen C-M: "And now for something completely different: 
> Reid on English verb number", pp. 1147-1162 of the same issue).
> Ellen
> ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
> Ellen Contini-Morava
> Professor, Department of Anthropology
> University of Virginia
> P.O. Box 400120
> Charlottesville, VA 22904-4120
> phone: +1 (434) 924-6825
> fax: +1 (434) 924-1350
> On 6/13/2013 3:41 AM, Tahir Wood wrote:
>>>>> Ellen Contini-Morava <elc9j at> 6/12/7:42 pm >>>
>> People also find it cool to discover that they know "rules" that they're
>> not aware of knowing, and that these even apply to nonstandard
>> varieties.
>> Ooh! You've hit right on my current favourite debating topic. You may 
>> just be referring to something called 'constitutive rules'. I don't 
>> believe that any such things exist and I would really like to canvass 
>> other opinions. I'm working at producing a comprehensive manuscript 
>> on this soon, but let me just make the main point briefly.
>> I would say that the only sorts of rules that exist in language apart 
>> from 'regulative rules' (prescriptions basically) are descriptions of 
>> regularities. If that's what you mean then I'm with you. But if you 
>> mean Searlean constitutive rules then you must be committed to rules 
>> as causal or 'creative'. The rules in that case create the 
>> regularities, don't just describe them. If so, than I think this is 
>> dead wrong. The approach is unscientific because it formulates a rule 
>> after having observed a regularity and then it backtracks to say the 
>> rule caused the regularity. At best one has a Humean causality in 
>> that case: X behaves in manner Y in context C, just because all Xs 
>> do. Oops. Constant conjunction redux.
>> OK then, one may ask, what about Searle's linguistic example (his 
>> only real one as far as I know) around the nasal consonants in 
>> 'finger' and 'singer' respectively? The rule is that the velar stop 
>> occurs after the nasal whenever the word is not a noun formed from a 
>> verb. Isn't this a clincher? Actually, no, it's not. All the rule has 
>> done is describe a pattern not 'created' (Searle's word) it. So what 
>> does create it? That is precisely the true scientific question. I 
>> think what is at stake is something like Bourdieu's habitus, which I 
>> would like to draw into linguistics and then explore further. I 
>> wonder if anyone else is interested in this?
>> You see, what I have admired in cognitive linguistics is that it has 
>> dispensed with Chomskyan rules in explanations of syntax and 
>> semantics. That is still very far from a reality in pragmatics 
>> unfortunately, which still tends to suffer under the weight of 
>> Searlean and Gricean philosophy, but a change is surely gonna come.
>> If no-one objects I might just take this debate onto cogling as well. 
>> But let me say I appreciate the scare quotes around 'rules' and the 
>> important reference to nonstandard varieties, where Searle sees only 
>> mispronunciation.
>> Best
>> Tahir

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