17.2149, Disc: Phonetics in Grammar; 'Silenceme'; Logical Form 'Meaningful'?

Wed Jul 26 17:35:58 UTC 2006

LINGUIST List: Vol-17-2149. Wed Jul 26 2006. ISSN: 1068 - 4875.

Subject: 17.2149, Disc: Phonetics in Grammar; 'Silenceme'; Logical Form 'Meaningful'?

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Date: 26-Jul-2006
From: Heriberto Avelino < avelino at berkeley.edu >
Subject: New: Phonetics in Grammar? 

Date: 25-Jul-2006
From: Debaprasad Bandyopadhyay < anekanta at rediffmail.com >
Subject: New: Silenceme: the silent other in Linguistics 

Date: 25-Jul-2006
From: Debaprasad Bandyopadhyay < anekanta at rediffmail.com >
Subject: New: Logical Form: 'Really Meaningful?' 

-------------------------Message 1 ---------------------------------- 
Date: Wed, 26 Jul 2006 13:33:14
From: Heriberto Avelino < avelino at berkeley.edu >
Subject: New: Phonetics in Grammar? 

Recently, I was part of a discussion regarding an issue that I thought was
uncontroversial. However, it seems that this is not as straightforward as I
first thought. The debate is about the place of phonetics in the study of
'grammar'. More precisely, whether the study of sound patterns using
phonetic methodologies and techniques falls within the broad scope of the
term 'grammar'.

My position is that phonetics, indeed, belongs and should be included in
'grammar', whatever notion we may have of it, either as the more abstract
idea of grammar as universal grammar or the more practical notion of
grammar as the grammatical description of a given language. The
antagonistic view to my own seems to be rooted in the fact that some
traditional descriptive grammars have not included sections of the sound
patterns of similar length to those dedicated to morpho-syntactic aspects
of the language. While this is true and we often find that the phonology
section of many grammars are reduced to the inventory of phonemes, I
believe that this is, in part, because in the past the access to the tools
and techniques was limited and linguists didn't have the training to
provide more detailed descriptions of the sound patterns (Maddieson (2003)
shows the low proportion of phonetics in 20 recent grammars). However, it
is clear that many earlier and quite solid grammars, which have been
praised as exemplars in the field, such as Sapir's Southern Paiute, Dixon's
Yidin or Aoki's Nez Perce contain rich sections devoted to the fine
phonetic description of the sound patterns of the languages. (I always
wondered whether Sapir would have included acoustic analysis of the
remarkable glottal processess in S. Paiute and corresponding illustrations
if he had had expedite access to a sonograph.)

Another point to consider supporting the inclusion of phonetics in
'grammar' comes from languages with complex phonological processes which
indicate grammatical categories, such as tone, non-modal phonation,
nasalization and consonant mutation processes, among others. In these
languages is especially clear that the instrumental study of the sounds
might help to a better understanding of the nature of these processes and
the interface of the different levels of linguistic analysis. Just to
mention an example, a phenomenon called a 'ballistic syllable' has been
described for several Otomanguean languages. The descriptions (as well as
my own impressionistic observations) suggest processes related to the
control of tone, non-modal phonation, intensity and overall 'effort' in the
implementation of the contrast. Interestingly enough, the contrast is not
only lexical but also is exploited in inflection of verb and noun
paradigms. However, even with the heroic efforts of several scholars, we
still do not know completely what the nature and appropriate description
and analysis of 'ballistic syllables' is; in fact, we don't even know if
the term refers to the same phenomenon across languages or covers several
distinct processes. Nevertheless, how to produce a ballistic syllable has
to be part of the speaker's knowledge, and thus grammar. I think that with
languages of this type the study of phonetics shows particularly clearly
that it merits being included in 'grammar'.

One  further domain where the need of phonetics is evident is in the study
of intonation. Prosody is one of the less well-known areas of many
languages and one where grammars do not abound in basic facts. However, I
believe, nobody could deny that intonation is, indeed, a crucial component
of grammar. Perhaps, its exclusion from descriptive grammars is due first
to the limited access to tools that could adequately capture the phonetic
nature of the phenomenon, but also (and maybe derived to some extent from
the latter) to the absence of a descriptive framework within which to
describe the patterns and handle the relationship between prosody and
syntactic/semantic aspects of the language. With the development of better
models and methods for the study of intonation, there has been a clear
advance in knowledge of universal and language-specific patterns in this
area but so far this is not typically reflected in descriptive grammars.

In  sum, I would like to see the grammars of the future including rich
informative sections dealing with the phonetics of languages, including as
far as possible instrumental measures of the basic acoustics and the most
prominent phenomena of their sound patterns. Now we have the conditions to
produce these more complete grammars: A basic grounding in phonetics is
taught in most linguistic programs, acoustic analysis tools are accessible
to almost anyone with access to a computer and internet, and - just as with
any other aspect of grammar - the data to construct typologies of phonetic
phenomena must come from descriptions of individual languages. Describing
the grammar of a language entails necessarily describing its phonetic

Anyhow, because it seems that not everybody shares the idea that phonetics
should be considered a substantive part of grammar, I'd like to hear the
reactions from the community. I would appreciate very much your comments
and views.

Maddieson, Ian.  2003.  ''Field phonetics.''  In J. Larson & M. Paster,
eds., Proceedings of the 28th Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics
Society, 411-429.
Dixon, R.M.W. 1977. A Grammar of Yidin Cambridge. Cambridge studies in
linguistics ; 19) New York : Cambridge University Press,
Sapir, Edward. 1931. Southern Paiute, a Shoshonean language. Texts of the
Kaibab Paiutes and Uintah Utes. Southern Paiute dictionary, (Proceedings of
the American Academy of Arts and Sciences ; v.65)
Aoki, Haruo. (1970). Nez Perce grammar. University of California
publications in linguistics (Vol. 62). Berkeley: University of California
Press. (Reprinted 1973, California Library Reprint series).

'Life is short but wide'
Heriberto Avelino
Department of Linguistics
1203 Dwinelle Hall,
University of California at Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720-2650
Phone: (510) 642-2757
Fax: (510) 643-5688

Linguistic Field(s): Discipline of Linguistics
                     General Linguistics

-------------------------Message 2 ---------------------------------- 
Date: Wed, 26 Jul 2006 13:33:19
From: Debaprasad Bandyopadhyay < anekanta at rediffmail.com >
Subject: New: Silenceme: the silent other in Linguistics 


If Linguistics is stipulated, for the time being, as an epistemological
discipline for the deployment of algocentric (a discourse that is motivated
by metamathematical formalism or computational algorithmic simulation and
which ignores the non-algorithmic constitutive "rules") meta-symbolic order
on the symbolic order, one may find a marginal other in Linguistics?an
order of non-signs.  For these non-signs, let me introduce a term:
"silenceme", which is at a time a non-sign and a sign and does not have a
fixed componential meaning and thus violates the law of excluded middle. 

A blank parchment with the supposed seal of Caesar, when "read" by  Antony,
swayed the commoners (Julius Caesar, 3.2). In Tagore's play, Post-office, a
conspirator, out of fun, sent a blank letter to an "illiterate" boy, who
was expecting king's letter, when he was waiting for death. However,
another character altogether differently interpreted that blank letter.
This blankness of the white letter, then, was not interpreted as a
poisonous fun, but as a "real" remedy for that boy. 

When you were asking me, "What're you doing?" I said, "Nothing." This
single word, "nothing" , a supposed minimal "free" (Where lies the
essential freedom of word? ) form, is not free at all?"nothing" 's freedom
was pervaded by "other" non-signs, nothingness, the unspoken or something
unspeakable, the non-discursive sonority or unintended sounds (as in John
Cage's musical compositions or in Rauschenberg and Robert Ryman's
Minimalist paintings with almost white surfaces.) 

There may be a strategic taxonomy of silenceme: cognitive silenceme,
transcendental silenceme (as in case of seeking absolute silence and that
is impossible!); Pathological silenceme (as in case of Foreclosure or
Psychosis, the symbolic order is totally or partially rejected [instead of
being repressed]; one's Language Acquisition Device is not working  due to
the outside threat and violence); Creative silenceme ( as practiced by some
Buddhists by non-internalizing the outside threat and violence.); Silenceme
of conspiracy (the phrase "conspiracy of silence" was often used by Marx
and Engels)  etc.   Thus, spoke Sartre: being silent does not entail that I
am refusing to speak but it is a mode  of keeping  on speaking (What is

What will we, the linguist community, do with such so-called ambiguous
category?  In Linguistics, what will be our agenda now? May we take
Wittgenstein or John Cage seriously? Alternatively, we may ignore the
silent marginal "other" space in Linguistics: the silenceme! 

Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
                     Philosophy of Language

-------------------------Message 3 ---------------------------------- 
Date: Wed, 26 Jul 2006 13:33:22
From: Debaprasad Bandyopadhyay < anekanta at rediffmail.com >
Subject: New: Logical Form: 'Really Meaningful?' 


Is it "true" that when anyone is rewriting a "sentence" in Logical Form
(LF) by deploying metalinguistic constants and variables, the ultimate
output would reveal the 'true' meaning of a given sentence? In LF, a major
concentration is devoted to describe and understand the 'real world'. This
supposed logical positivist "real" is incorporated in the logical analysis
of sentences in the algorithmic chain of LF of S-Structure by deploying
sentential calculus. LF mainly follows Fregean compositionality or its
derivatives like Katz-Fodorian Model. The following questions may be asked: 

1.  What is "real" in this real world? (To answer such question, one may
take a clue from Russell's An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth: "We all start
from 'naïve realism,' i.e., the doctrine the things are what they seem. We
think that grass is green, that stones are hard and snow is cold. But
physics assures us that the greenness of grass, the hardness of stones, and
coldness of snow are not the greenness, hardness and coldness that we know
in our own experience, but something very different. The observer, when he
(sic) seems to himself (sic) to be observing a stone, is really, if physics
is to be believed, observing the effects of the stone upon himself (sic).
Thus science seems to be at war with itself: when it most means to be
objective, it finds itself plunged into subjectivity against its will.
Naïve realism leads to physics, and physics, if true, shows that naïve
realism is false. Therefore naïve realism, if true, is false; therefore it
is false." (1940:15)

2.  What happens in LF if anyone puts Russell's paradox (1913) in LF? How
do we incorporate Gödel's theorem to tackle a formal system like LF?
According to Goedel's theorem (1931), no formal system is complete enough
to handle all the problems within a formal paradigm. If anyone puts any
Goedel's proposition or Russell's paradox ("One Calcuttan says that all
Calcuttans are liars") in LF of S-Structure, the total formal as well as
mechanical algorithmic system to gauge the meaning may collapse. 

3.  Katz-Fodorian (1963) system of binary componential analysis ignores the
prototypical cognition of meaning by the human being. As some cognitive
scientist observed that the meaning as endorsed by human beings, could not
be analyzed by the stipulated components as humans understand meaning
through prototypical cognition. What should we follow in semantic analysis:
technical intelligentsia's critical discursive habit of paraphrasing or
commonsense deployment of prototypes?

4.  Let us switch over to another schooling and try to understand semantic
problems raised by continental philosophers (under the umbrella of
so-called Post-Formalism/ Structuralism). These Post-Formalists are talking
about plural meanings of non-disposable texts as well as something called
'surplus meanings', which is not at all analyzable or quantifiable .
According to them, the meaning-site is too slippery area and any futile
endeavor to formalize such site will be ended in vain. Do you think that
they are neglecting 'science' and its formalism by promoting
"un-scientific" non-formalism? 

Linguistic Field(s): Cognitive Science
                     Linguistic Theories
                     Philosophy of Language

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