When he was whispered into his ear

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Ron Hardin

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Sep 29, 2001, 5:43:25 PM9/29/01
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Chris Jennings MSNBC 9/11/01 9:45

``President George W. Bush was in Sarasota, Florida; he was reading
to children in a classroom when he was uh whispered into his ear
by his chief of staff Andrew Carr about what had happened at the
World Trade Center.''
--
Ron Hardin
rhha...@mindspring.com

On the internet, nobody knows you're a jerk.

Mike Wright

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Sep 29, 2001, 5:59:31 PM9/29/01
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Ron Hardin wrote:
>
> Chris Jennings MSNBC 9/11/01 9:45
>
> ``President George W. Bush was in Sarasota, Florida; he was reading
> to children in a classroom when he was uh whispered into his ear
> by his chief of staff Andrew Carr about what had happened at the
> World Trade Center.''

English is cool!!! There are languages where you can't say that kind
of thing.

--
Mike Wright
http://www.CoastalFog.net
_______________________________________________
Alas, there is almost no foolishness that will
not be undertaken as A Matter of Principle.
-- Arnold Zwicky

Sebastian Hew

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Sep 29, 2001, 8:18:25 PM9/29/01
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"Mike Wright" <dar...@CoastalFog.net> wrote in message
news:3BB6443F...@CoastalFog.net...

> Ron Hardin wrote:
> >
> > Chris Jennings MSNBC 9/11/01 9:45
> >
> > ``President George W. Bush was in Sarasota, Florida; he was reading
> > to children in a classroom when he was uh whispered into his ear
> > by his chief of staff Andrew Carr about what had happened at the
> > World Trade Center.''
>
> English is cool!!! There are languages where you can't say that kind
> of thing.
>

'This kind of thing' is arguably impermissible in English, unless you are an
adherent of the 'anything goes' school of thought. After all, 'he was
whispered into his ear' is hardly 'good usage'. :-)

Regards,

Sebastian.

P.S., Don't mind me... in the fight between the descriptivists and the
prescriptivists, I invariably take the side of the latter.


John Lawler

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Sep 30, 2001, 12:13:32 PM9/30/01
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Sebastian Hew <rada...@hotmail.com> writes:
>"Mike Wright" <dar...@CoastalFog.net> writes:
>> Ron Hardin writes:

>> > Chris Jennings MSNBC 9/11/01 9:45

>> > ``President George W. Bush was in Sarasota, Florida; he was reading
>> > to children in a classroom when he was uh whispered into his ear
>> > by his chief of staff Andrew Carr about what had happened at the
>> > World Trade Center.''

>> English is cool!!! There are languages where you can't say that kind
>> of thing.

>'This kind of thing' is arguably impermissible in English, unless you are an
>adherent of the 'anything goes' school of thought. After all, 'he was
>whispered into his ear' is hardly 'good usage'. :-)

"'That kind of thing'" is arguably the use of the 'escape character'
marker ".. uh .." (no doubt with special suprasegmental features in the
original oral data), by way of warning the listeners to load their most
liberal and cooperative interpretive software in parsing the next phrase.
That's an obvious fact about English, though I don't know whether it's
what Mike intended, nor whether other languages exist in which one "can't


say that kind of thing".

>P.S., Don't mind me... in the fight between the descriptivists and the


> prescriptivists, I invariably take the side of the latter.

Such fights take place only in the imaginations of prescriptivists.
"Impermissible", by the way, is a meaningless term unless it specifies
who's permitting whom to do what, and how they enforce it, and who cares.
There is, thank heavens, no statutory standard spoken English.

-John Lawler University of Michigan Linguistics Dept
---------------------------------------------------------
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jlawler/aue/
"... and, who knows? Maybe the horse will sing."

Mike Wright

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Sep 30, 2001, 1:26:28 PM9/30/01
to
John Lawler wrote:
>
> Sebastian Hew <rada...@hotmail.com> writes:
> >"Mike Wright" <dar...@CoastalFog.net> writes:
> >> Ron Hardin writes:
>
> >> > Chris Jennings MSNBC 9/11/01 9:45
>
> >> > ``President George W. Bush was in Sarasota, Florida; he was reading
> >> > to children in a classroom when he was uh whispered into his ear
> >> > by his chief of staff Andrew Carr about what had happened at the
> >> > World Trade Center.''
>
> >> English is cool!!! There are languages where you can't say that kind
> >> of thing.
>
> >'This kind of thing' is arguably impermissible in English, unless you are an
> >adherent of the 'anything goes' school of thought. After all, 'he was
> >whispered into his ear' is hardly 'good usage'. :-)
>
> "'That kind of thing'" is arguably the use of the 'escape character'
> marker ".. uh .." (no doubt with special suprasegmental features in the
> original oral data), by way of warning the listeners to load their most
> liberal and cooperative interpretive software in parsing the next phrase.

I noticed that, too, but not till I was reading it out loud to the GD.

> That's an obvious fact about English, though I don't know whether it's
> what Mike intended, nor whether other languages exist in which one "can't
> say that kind of thing".

I was just being silly. I guess I shouldn't have omitted the smiley.

> >P.S., Don't mind me... in the fight between the descriptivists and the
> > prescriptivists, I invariably take the side of the latter.
>
> Such fights take place only in the imaginations of prescriptivists.
> "Impermissible", by the way, is a meaningless term unless it specifies
> who's permitting whom to do what, and how they enforce it, and who cares.
> There is, thank heavens, no statutory standard spoken English.

The real problem arises when the prescriptivists *think* that they are
being descriptivists.

Tommi Nieminen

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Oct 1, 2001, 9:54:20 AM10/1/01
to
On 30.9.2001, 20:26:28, Mike Wright <dar...@CoastalFog.net> wrote regarding
Re: When he was whispered into his ear:

> The real problem arises when the prescriptivists *think* that they
> are being descriptivists.

Not really, since there is no description without SOME prescription.

The only `truly real' description of a thing is the thing itself in
all its spatio-temporal glory. Anything else is describing a
selection of features of the thing the describer thinks relevant;
and once you take the first step in that direction, you may as well
go all the way to the bottom and describe only what you think is
worth describing at all--i.e., presribe the thing.

--
.... Tommi Nieminen ... mailto:tommi.n...@uta.fi ....
So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
-John Donne-
.... http://www.uta.fi/~sktoni/ ....

Tommi Nieminen

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Oct 1, 2001, 10:04:34 AM10/1/01
to
On 30.9.2001, 0:59:31, Mike Wright <dar...@CoastalFog.net> wrote regarding
Re: When he was whispered into his ear:

>> ``President George W. Bush was in Sarasota, Florida; he was


>> reading to children in a classroom when he was uh whispered into
>> his ear by his chief of staff Andrew Carr about what had happened
>> at the World Trade Center.''
>
> English is cool!!! There are languages where you can't say that
> kind of thing.

Well, of course you can't translate the sentence with that kind of
agent passive into a language where there is no agent passive(*) at
all, but the meaning is fairly straightforward--in English as well:
`he was reading...when...Andrew Carr whispered into his ear...').
So, the problem is just with the passive construction. Someone told
me that English has possibly the strictest word-order rules of all
the languages in the world. Does the above example constitute a
proof? What about other languages with agent passives?

*) Probably not a widespread technical term; I'm meaning just
`the kind of passive that can take an agent'. You might as
well say `real' passive.

Ron Hardin

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Oct 1, 2001, 11:20:40 AM10/1/01
to
John Lawler wrote:
> >> > Chris Jennings MSNBC 9/11/01 9:45
>
> >> > ``President George W. Bush was in Sarasota, Florida; he was reading
> >> > to children in a classroom when he was uh whispered into his ear
> >> > by his chief of staff Andrew Carr about what had happened at the
> >> > World Trade Center.''

> "'That kind of thing'" is arguably the use of the 'escape character'


> marker ".. uh .." (no doubt with special suprasegmental features in the
> original oral data), by way of warning the listeners to load their most
> liberal and cooperative interpretive software in parsing the next phrase.
> That's an obvious fact about English, though I don't know whether it's
> what Mike intended, nor whether other languages exist in which one "can't
> say that kind of thing".

If there's any interest there's an audio clip of it at
http://rhhardin.home.mindspring.com/whispered.ra (32kb)

Mike Wright

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Oct 1, 2001, 12:23:46 PM10/1/01
to
Tommi Nieminen wrote:
>
> On 30.9.2001, 20:26:28, Mike Wright <dar...@CoastalFog.net> wrote regarding
> Re: When he was whispered into his ear:
>
> > The real problem arises when the prescriptivists *think* that they
> > are being descriptivists.
>
> Not really, since there is no description without SOME prescription.

It's a question of attitude. Some prescriptivists say "is" when they
mean "should be (according to the set of rules that I support)".

> The only `truly real' description of a thing is the thing itself in
> all its spatio-temporal glory. Anything else is describing a
> selection of features of the thing the describer thinks relevant;
> and once you take the first step in that direction, you may as well
> go all the way to the bottom and describe only what you think is
> worth describing at all--i.e., presribe the thing.

Sure, but the prescriptivist normally cares deeply about how people
talk, and it grates when language usage departs from the model that
they support. The descriptivist is just interested in finding out how
people actually do talk. Any "agenda" is unconscious, and the ideal
descriptivist, like any ideal scientist, really wants to know what is
going on and is willing to modify the model on the basis of evidence.
For the prescriptivist, the model was carved into stone tablets by
God. The prescriptivist doesn't care how people *do* talk, but about
how they *should* talk.

Arnold Zwicky

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Oct 1, 2001, 3:42:15 PM10/1/01
to
in article <3BB89891...@CoastalFog.net>, mike wright
<dar...@coastalfog.net> summarizes that ol' de-/pre- thing:

>... the prescriptivist normally cares deeply about how people talk,


>and it grates when language usage departs from the model that they
>support. The descriptivist is just interested in finding out how
>people actually do talk. Any "agenda" is unconscious, and the ideal
>descriptivist, like any ideal scientist, really wants to know what
>is going on and is willing to modify the model on the basis of
>evidence. For the prescriptivist, the model was carved into stone
>tablets by God. The prescriptivist doesn't care how people *do*
>talk, but about how they *should* talk.

this is roughly the usual caricature of the distinction, as seen from
a decidedly "descriptivist" point of view. and the caricature is
encouraged by the all-too-human tendency to see things in terms of two
opposed forces. but, as a great many people have pointed out, the
distinction arises from two values, *both* of which almost everyone
subscribes to:
1. variety is a good thing.
2. shared norms are a good thing.

extreme positions are obtained by minimizing one of these at the
expense of the other, but most people take some more complicated,
mixed position, sacrificing one value in some contexts, the other
value in other contexts. (few modern scholars, even the most
hard-line "descriptivists", are willing to say that all variant
spellings in english are fine, so long as they either conform to
generalizations about the system or have the justification of
tradition. there are costs on either side - the time cost to readers
of coping with huge numbers of variants, the time cost to learners in
having norms enforced.)

these two values tend to attract others - reliance on the voice of the
common person vs. deference to institutions and authorities, embracing
change vs. resisting it, celebration of the idiosyncratic
vs. suspicion of it, appeal to individual experience vs. reasoning
from a priori principles, and many others. that is, there are
resonances among these values that tend to produce opposed ideologies,
but in principle there are many different positions, and most scholars
hold complicated, nuanced positions.

it's ok to trot out the ten-second dichotomist text when you've got
only ten seconds and other fish to fry, but this is not a simple
matter of Good vs. Evil (or any other of your favorite oppositions).
and i say this as someone way over on the "descriptivist" end.

arnold (zwi...@csli.stanford.edu)


Mike Wright

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Oct 1, 2001, 5:11:32 PM10/1/01
to
Arnold Zwicky wrote:
>
> in article <3BB89891...@CoastalFog.net>, mike wright
> <dar...@coastalfog.net> summarizes that ol' de-/pre- thing:
>
> >... the prescriptivist normally cares deeply about how people talk,
> >and it grates when language usage departs from the model that they
> >support. The descriptivist is just interested in finding out how
> >people actually do talk. Any "agenda" is unconscious, and the ideal
> >descriptivist, like any ideal scientist, really wants to know what
> >is going on and is willing to modify the model on the basis of
> >evidence. For the prescriptivist, the model was carved into stone
> >tablets by God. The prescriptivist doesn't care how people *do*
> >talk, but about how they *should* talk.

<none of the following seems snippable>

Ah. But I don't know any scholars--just the folks who post here on
sci.lang--and yours is the first complicated, nuanced position I've
seen here on this particular topic.

> it's ok to trot out the ten-second dichotomist text when you've got
> only ten seconds and other fish to fry, but this is not a simple
> matter of Good vs. Evil (or any other of your favorite oppositions).
> and i say this as someone way over on the "descriptivist" end.

So, I take it you oppose capital punishment for prescritivists?

_____________________________________________________________
Akka: "Hey, I just figured out how to make a fire."
Gulk: "Good, let's diversify our verb conjugation system."
-- Harlan Messinger

Ron Hardin

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Oct 1, 2001, 6:13:57 PM10/1/01
to
Arnold Zwicky wrote:
> this is roughly the usual caricature of the distinction, as seen from
> a decidedly "descriptivist" point of view. and the caricature is
> encouraged by the all-too-human tendency to see things in terms of two
> opposed forces. but, as a great many people have pointed out, the
> distinction arises from two values, *both* of which almost everyone
> subscribes to:
> 1. variety is a good thing.
> 2. shared norms are a good thing.

I think the interest starts with some bit of syntax felt as wrong, or
some misgiving anyway.

How could any syntax be felt as wrong? There has to be a rule in some form,
or more than one rule.

The prescritivist decides they're rules you enforce; the descriptivist decides
they're rules you uncover.

Neither gets to the feeling, which remains mysterious.

(For instance, how does ``when he was whispered into his ear'' get constructed?
There's a willingness to make a minimal error in order make something else
correct, on the part of the speaker. My previous favorite, from an Ohio
supermarket aisle (teenager), ``Guess who I stopped by's house,'' which I
believe was changed on the fly so as to be less personally committing. A change
from ``Guess who I stopped by to see'' to ``Guess whose house I stopped by.''
It doesn't quite work out but the forces in action make it follow as many rules
as possible under the circumstances. That would be a descriptivist stance.
I don't know that a prescriptivist would have anything to say about it. Neither
explains why the teenager is driven by the rules.

It's not like a machine, in particular. That would be the scientific move
to drive out the other, on whom language depends; and on which that feeling
depends.

The prescriptivist inclination could be seen as the substitution of a rule
for that other. The descriptivist inclination could be seen as a listener
to the other, a willingness to restate again without ceremony what has been
badly said.

It's not an accident that ordinary speech is not very fluent.)

Arnold Zwicky

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Oct 1, 2001, 6:18:25 PM10/1/01
to
in article <3BB8DC02...@CoastalFog.net>, mike wright
<dar...@coastalfog.net> follows up on my pocket-sized de-/pre- note
(which talks about "scholars" doing this or that):

>Ah. But I don't know any scholars--just the folks who post here on
>sci.lang--and yours is the first complicated, nuanced position I've
>seen here on this particular topic.

ah, some of us folks have secret lives as scholars. and, truth be
told, lots of ordinary folks hold complicated positions on these
matters (wanting self-determination on some matters, guidance on
others), as deborah cameron points out in Verbal Hygiene.

>>[a.z.:]


>> it's ok to trot out the ten-second dichotomist text when you've
>> got only ten seconds and other fish to fry, but this is not a
>> simple matter of Good vs. Evil (or any other of your favorite
>> oppositions). and i say this as someone way over on the
>> "descriptivist" end.

>So, I take it you oppose capital punishment for prescri[p]tivists?

absolutely.

arnold (zwi...@csli.stanford.edu)

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