Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Practice precedes theory, mutherfuckers

Every once in a while in my twitter years I would google "grammar doesn't exist" just to see what came up.

Leiter: Two in order, posted half an hour apart. Perfect. 

Philosopher David Papineau explains in the pages of the NYT.
This popular piece suggests it does.  I'm curious to hear from experts, so comments are open. 

Papineau[!] replies in comments to Leiter's question: "Of course it does." 

“If you ain’t trying to cheat a little, you ain’t likely to win much.” Richard Petty

"The rules are the entirety of how the game is actually played."  Diego Maradona 

“Football is a gentleman's game played by hooligans, and rugby is a hooligan's game played by gentlemen.”  

It's the most popular sport in the world because it's a team sport and a poor man's game. You can make your own ball and any patch of ground will do. It takes grace and finesse. A small boy can run rings around a giant. 


One of the most prominent displays in the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Heritage Speedway is a genuine whiskey still built by racing legend and former moonshine runner Junior Johnson, a member of the Hall’s inaugural Class of 2010.

Why a whiskey still in an auto racing museum?

The answer is simple: In the first decade or so of NASCAR racing, the transportation of illegal liquor in the South was huge business, and a lot of the sport’s early stars drove, owned or built moonshine cars. Johnson was the best-known bootlegger in Wilkes County, North Carolina, a hotbed of the moonshine industry.

Another center of the liquor business was Dawsonville, Georgia, home to Hall of Fame team owner Raymond Parks (2017), who ran one of the largest liquor operations in the entire South. Virginia drivers who were whiskey trippers – slang for bootleggers – included Wendell Scott (2015) and Curtis Turner (2016). Tim Flock (2014), a two-time NASCAR premier series champion in the 1950s, shuttled hooch back and forth between Alabama and Atlanta before turning to racing.

memories. 18 years ago.

Since the rise of the structuralists, mainstream linguistics has not thought highly of artificial languages. The main reason for this is the belief that the true object of study for linguistics is the vernacular, and that any sort of role in managing language problems is a sort of unscientific prescriptivism. While I think this is no longer an appropriate attitude for linguistics, I too don't think very highly of Esperanto.

Esperantists talk at great length about how easy their language is to learn, but the simple truth is that it is very hard to learn and effectively impossible to use "correctly." Esperantists also have a long history of complaining about how poorly Esperantists speak Esperanto. But the reason Esperanto is doomed in its current form is because Esperantists believe that language is, in Steven Pinker's words, words and rules which are internalised by the speaker. I don't think that it is any such thing. A language is the set of things a community of speakers does to communicate linguistically.

It is that belief, and the claim that the above is not a circular definition, that places me far outside of the linguistics mainstream.

What this means is that English is defined not by a body of rules and a set of words, but as the protocol English speakers use to communicate when they believe they are speaking English. This shifts the definition of English to a definition first of the English-speaking community, and second an explanation of why they identify some communicative acts as speaking English and other communicative acts otherwise. This makes language not a property of individuals but a communal property. It sets the boundaries of what is and isn't English, and what is and isn't language, where it belongs: in the field of socially constructed categories. 

Scott Martens then and now.

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