Public Linguistics Presentation Q

Tahir Wood twood at
Fri Jun 14 07:43:35 UTC 2013

But my point was that there is a quite legitimate notion of rules that
one gets in ordinary English speech. That is where one says "as a rule X
happens in manner Y in context C", a description of a regularity where
one is NOT claiming that the rule creates the regularity. The trouble is
then you have to take pains to clarify what 'rules' means. But our
analytic friends might deny that there can be such a thing as a
descriptive rule. Yet they have no problem with the hocus-pocus of
'constitutive rules' (very scary quotes).

>>> Ellen Contini-Morava <elc9j at> 6/13/2013 7:03 pm >>>
I confess that convincing a public audience that (even) non-standard 
varieties have "rules" itself panders to the hegemonic language
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
> 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
> 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,
> 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
>> not aware of knowing, and that these even apply to nonstandard
>> varieties.
>> Ooh! You've hit right on my current favourite debating topic. You
>> just be referring to something called 'constitutive rules'. I don't

>> believe that any such things exist and I would really like to
>> 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
>> from 'regulative rules' (prescriptions basically) are descriptions
>> 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
>> 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
>> 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
>> 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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