Monday, 31 October 2011

Where I have and have not been

I have been in many places, but I've never been in Cahoots. Apparently, you can't go alone. You have to be in Cahoots with someone.

I've also never been in Cognito. I hear no one recognises you there. I have, however, been in Sane. They don't have an airport; you have to be driven there. I have made several trips there, thanks to my friends, family and work.

I would like to go to Conclusions, but you have to jump, and I'm not too much on physical activity anymore. I have also been in Doubt. That is a sad place to go, and I try not to visit there too often.

I've been in Flexible, but only when it was very important to stand firm. Sometimes I'm in Capable, and I go there more often as I'm getting older.

One of my favourite places to be is in Suspense! It really gets the adrenalin flowing and pumps up the old heart! At my age I need all the stimuli I can get!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Four and twenty virgins

Once upon a time it was claimed that rugby was a game for hooligans, played by gentlemen. Inappropriate behaviour was confined to the signing of lewd songs such as this:
Four and twenty virgins came down from Inverness,
And when the ball was over there were four and twenty less…
The composer of this ditty was clearly not a linguist. Four and twenty less? Four and twenty fewer!

Can anyone think of a place name that rhymes with fewer?

Monday, 3 October 2011

Pinker joins the ranks of loopy linguists

Canny Linguist has a very low opinion of Noam Chomsky, considered by many to be a linguistic genius.

In the late 1950s, Chomsky developed his innateness hypothesis which promulgated the concept of a genetic disposition to acquire language. This innate ability is widely referred to as the Language Acquisition Device. However, students of classical Greek philosophy will recognise that Chomskian theory is, in fact, based on work by Socrates who, through a series of experiments, demonstrated how a young slave was able to solve a geometric problem despite not ever having been taught geometry.

Taking the credit for someone else’s research is not new, but CL’s real issue with Chomsky is the latter’s abhorrent political views. Or, rather, the way that Chomsky seeks to intellectualise every issue, and belittle and vilify anyone who dares to hold a contrary position.

Which leads us on to Steven Pinker, another renowned linguist. Pinker has won considerable praise for his numerous books on language, written in a style accessible to linguists, students and the general public. In his latest book ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’ he argues that, contrary to popular belief, society has become less violent over time. Statistics are used to support his theory; for example 150,000 Iraqi deaths compared to 2 million in Vietnam. Atrocities such as the Nazi Holocaust are merely statistical blips. Well, that’s all right then.

When interviewed by Tony Allen-Mills for the Sunday Times, Pinker explained that the reason we mere mortals are prone to challenge his book’s rather startling conclusion is simply because we do not understand the facts of the matter. He is a very clever man, don’t you know, and, unlike us, he has studied this subject in great detail.

Pinker is, of course, entitled to his opinion but once academics start claiming that non-academics cannot possibly understand the argument, it is a sign that perhaps it is they who do not understand. Not every question can be answered by mere statistical analysis.

Watching the current BBC series on Language with Stephen Fry, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that he, too, has become consumed by hubris as he pontificates in an insufferably pompous and patronising manner.

CL wonders whether there is something about the study of linguistics in particular which makes people say stupid things. If so, will that be a valid excuse if his next English essay fails to meet the mark?!