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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Structural Linguistics 101

Before you zap because this is dry, dusty stuff...
Have I got a scoop for you..
Today I'm going to do better than Wiki for you.
In a comment on Okie's last post, I told him that "it all hangs together".
That sounds mystico-religious to most of you, but verily I say unto you, it is NOT JUST mystico-religious. If you want to, you can also connect to this from a scientific point of you. It depends on... how much of an open mind you have. Let's see.
A little while ago I did a post on synchrony/diachrony, which are also concepts coming from structural linguistics. Recap : for any given phenomenon, you can look at it from two different points of view (at least, but I'm interested in these two here). Diachrony, which is a way of situating it in history. Like, for example examining the way fiat money has evolved OVER A LONG PERIOD OF TIME. And, you can look at fiat money NOW, in our society (synchrony). And I said that these points of view are like axes, an ordinate and an abcissa. In order to get the WHOLE picture, you have to examine phenomena from BOTH POINTS OF VIEW. Under these conditions... PERSPECTIVE opens up.

Next chapter.

We are going atomic in language.
Let's start with this little paradigm. (I'm looking at oral language, and at sounds.)


Take a look at the first two "words". Both of those words are different.
The first sound and the last sound in each of those two words is the same. (I have held them constant, see, just like in a scientific experiment ?)
But there is a difference, and you can tell it.
The answer is in the question : the difference BETWEEN.
You are comparing those two words, and you hear the difference in that middle sound, the vowel sound. Bravo. You knew the DIFFERENCE. Almost automatically.
Let's go on to the second and third word.
Compare again. You hear the difference again. This time it is not in the vowel sound, but in the initial consonant. You were comparing again.
Third and fourth. You're picking up quickly. This time the DIFFERENCE is in the final consonant.
This is the atomic level. So that you can understand how you understand with the MOST ELEMENTAL BUILDING BLOCKS, what are called phonemes in the jargon.
Now.... if I take away that little paradigm, constructed that way, how do you know which word is which, when you are listening, which word fits ?
You know it because you have the SYSTEM in your head, and you are constantly comparing the SOUND YOU HEAR (the one PRESENT) to all the other ABSENT sounds that are part of the system, but that are possible. And dink ? There are complicated rules that determine which sound fits where. Not all sounds are possible everywhere, but... you KNOW this. Without ever having learned it in a book either...
Pretty nifty, huh ? Just at the most elemental level, it is ALREADY ASTOUNDINGLY COMPLEX.
And you see that in order for you to be able to TELL THE DIFFERENCE, all the sounds are in relation, they are all OPPOSED to each other in a particular way. Without this opposition, YOU CAN'T TELL THE DIFFERENCE, and what you hear is mumbo jumbo.
Let's go to the molecular level.
John drinks Coca Cola.
Mary drinks Coca Cola.
Mary sells Coca Cola.
Mary sells French bread.
Now.. that looks like what you saw at the atomic level, doesn't it ?
It is the most basic structure of all the Indo European languages : subject/verb/object.
With this basic structure, and with VARIATIONS on this structure, I CAN GENERATE ALL OF THE SENTENCES IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.
Pretty nifty, huh ?
And I can even generate sentences like...
The cat ate the tree.. or
The car drank Coca Cola.
Pretty nifty too, huh ?
That's a big problem, those sentences...
For RATIONAL people. Perso, I think they're fun. And humbling..
I'll let YOU draw the conclusion...
(For you, Thai sweetie. You've been asking for this one for a while, right ? ;-) )


Dink said...

Responding to John's comment from the last post:

"I am following for more wisdom"

Me too. I considered the name "Dink" after a favorite sci fi character, but determined it had to be mine when I found that in the military it stands for "Desperately In Need of Knowledge" ;)

Dink I will shoot you an email as I am not sure what you mean by creating a post beyond this?

These are "comments" that we're adding to Deb's "post". As an author you can create the actual "post" itself. Nail your edicts to the cathedral door and start a revolution! Or at least cry into your beer so the rest of us can sympathize and/or fight in the comment section.

Debra said...

;-) dink.
The more the merrier.
It will take some time before we're all in fisticuffs fighting for the micro, right ?

Debra said...

Lawnmower psychotherapy....!!!
Chapeau bas, un génie.. (Hats off, messieurs, a genius.)

Dr John said...

So Deb are you saying without language we would have no social structure? How do you account for social structure in insects? Clearly they have communication but it is not language as we see it. Dink which is perhaps the best acronym ever. I have heard that someplace and it was in the recesses of my mind but it is wonderful to be able to attach it to someone now. I will have to give some thoughts to a post. If you are interested in reading some of my writing I just had a paper published in Skeptic.John

Debra said...

No, Doctor John, I am NOT saying that.
That is a false debate from my point of view.
I AM saying that FOR OUR SPECIES, our social structure is structured like and with our language.
Through distinctive oppositions.
We HAVE to create differences in order to be able to think. And... we think with language.
And that language is more or less incarnated in our bodies. (Plato skewed our perception of this pretty well.)

Dr John said...

That would seem to be along the lines of the work of Chomsky as I understand it which makes sense although almost nothing else he says seems to.

jp said...

Uh, what is this Street Rat Crazy Saloon place?

Dink said...

"If you are interested in reading some of my writing I just had a paper published in Skeptic"

HOLY CRAP!!! Skeptic is awesome! I subscribe to Scientific American and generally have to start with Michael Shermer's not-so-subtle rant :)

I only had a quick minute to scan over your article, but I did see a reference to Malleus Maleficarum ...sweet! I'll read it thoroughly soon.

BTW, this month's Sci Am had an interesting article called "Faulty Circuits" which had some interesting stuff on MDD/OCD/PTSD.

It'd be interesting to create a saloon "dictionary" to summarize all the concepts we've come to define. We've kind of duct-taped together some fractal/evolutionary biology/systems theory terms along with some Jabberwocky/Wonderland quotes.

Oh, and:


Dink said...

"Uh, what is this Street Rat Crazy Saloon place?"

HOLY CRAP! Another new guest! Welcome JP. You write some interesting stuff over on Sudden Debt.

(Dr. John- Sudden Debt is a respectable website where a Knight Templar named Hellasious tells us the secrets of international finance. We kept rudely going off-topic in the comment section. To be polite we started a saloon)

JP-feel free to fight with us in comment section or send me an e-mail and I'll add you as an author. As I mentioned to Dr. John "Write about whatever the hell you feel like". Its that kind of place.

Debra said...

Malleus Maleficarum ?
Let me see... this term conjures up in my imagination visions (not of sugar plums...) but of Hogwart's spells ?
What does a Malleus Maleficarum do, Doctor John ?
I shall make a try to read your article.
I am resisting Thai's annoying habit (lol) of drawing me ever further afield to explore new blog universes...
If I keep opening up all those doors, I may never come home again and end up dying of starvation due to my blog addiction...

Debra said...

Welcome jp.
This blog is our organized attempt at collective anarchy...
I take exception with Dinky's statement on the RULES of thermodynamics..
We don't.. AGREE on everything in this institution...

Debra said...

Yes, Doctor John. Good guess.
The SECOND part of my little exposé leans heavily on Chomsky.
I will not, in future be devoting too much time to generative GRAMMAR, which deals with syntax (the WAY the words are put together to form sentences).
I am interested in... the lexic. Like what you find in the dictionary when you crack it open.
Stay tuned for an episode on the S word.
S, as in... SOCIALISM. Travaux pratiques, as we say here. You'll have to be a little patient (lol) for that one. Some ideas that need developing before...
By the way, like in Wiki (ew, yuccky) I welcome anyone who feels that he/she has greater knowledge about these subjects than I. I am NOT an expert.

Dr John said...

You know Dink I in general I enjoy Sci Am. but I do not read it as much as I found many of the articles on "the mind" full of pseudo science and outright bullshit more befitting of the NY Times than a scientific journal.I have been reading but have not posted on Sudden Debt. I have just started but find the writing very engaging and I am learning a lot on a subject I frankly do not know much about.I had another article called "The Trouble With Psychiatry" published in 2007' in Skeptic if you like the more recent one. It is a broader critique of psychiatry as a paradigm in general. It is funny. I had never written a published article such as that prior. I have been a Skeptic reader for years and very much admired the magazine and Michael Shermer. I had an idea and an outline and I just called the Skeptic's Society in CA. 30 mins later Michael Shermer calls me back on my cell phone! People have suggested I pitch my writing to a magazine that gets to a broader audience but I love Skeptic. I think my next paper will be on the bullshit myths of chemical dependency and its TX. Maybe I will do a post on the subject and ask for you and my new friends to critique it. John

jp said...

Dr. John:

We love to critique!

We also love to critique each other.

Personally, I love to critique Thai, even when I agree with him.

I need to post an article here so that I can self-critique.

jp said...

Debra says:

"S, as in... SOCIALISM. Travaux pratiques, as we say here. You'll have to be a little patient (lol) for that one. Some ideas that need developing before..."

Eh, Socialism is just the last thought of Faustian civilization. It is the driver of the final world-system of the inorganic cosmopolitanism of the megalopili of West.

Dink said...

From a Thai comment over on Sudden Debt:

"I think the issue you have convinced the rest of us on (or at least me) is why talented people are wasting their time fiddling with this nonsense in the first place.
It is just glorified betting and that seems to me a real waste of time except for it's small entertainment value."

YES! Its a ridiculous way to run a planet.

"as I found many of the articles on "the mind" full of pseudo science and outright bullshit"

It has lost a lot of its "gravitas" the last few years. Remember when James Burke used to write those articles in the back about the history of science? Those were the best; they demonstrated that those serious, austere people were really just maniacs.

"30 mins later Michael Shermer calls me back on my cell phone!"


"I think my next paper will be on the bullshit myths of chemical dependency and its TX."

Scandalous! Write immediately!

"Personally, I love to critique Thai, even when I agree with him."

Trouble brewing....

"Eh, Socialism is just the last thought of Faustian civilization. It is the driver of the final world-system of the inorganic cosmopolitanism of the megalopili of West."

Intriguing! Write immediately!

Thai said...

Great Post!

All I can say- indeed all I ever seem to say- is I LOVE FRACTALS!!!!!

As there is was no way you didn't see all the pretty little fractals inherent in this post- there are quite a few really- I thank you for yet again feeding my addiction/fetish.

I really do need to get into a 12 step fractal addicts anonymous program... It's a shame 12 step programs simply don't work. ;-)

Thanks Deb, this really is great.

@Dr John, Deb has kindly been introducing the rest of us to the field of linguistics.

I still seem to have trouble shaking the conviction that it is all just conservation of energy quantum rabbit hole nihilism , but she paints a wonderful journey so we are enjoying the ride.

JP- Hell asked us to stop going off topic so often (I can't imagine why?) so we created a space where we could do just that.

You are welcome to join whenever you wish.

Thai said...

JP- send Dink your email and he can set you up as an author.

Remember, there are no rules. ;-)

Dr John said...

Thai. You must have a lot of Jhane Barnes clothes in your closet. She is a fractal freak. Dink "they demonstrated that those serious, austere people were really just maniacs." Great observation. I am reading the biography of the great physicist Paul Dirac "The Strangest Man" An odd man by standard accounts. It makes me weak to imagine an intellect that can conjure up the concept of anti-matter de-novo. Physicists are the gods of science. There is a wonderful quote in the beginning of the book by one of my personal libertarian heroes JS Mill where he states "the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and courage which it contained. " We have no room for eccentricity in society which is why I loath psychiatry I think. It has no tolerance for anything while at the same time having no identifiable core values. I look forward to Debs comments on linguistics. I am no expert but I am not sure it all did not end with Wittgenstein and the Tractus.I love Metaphysics but agree with his conclusion that all the arguing is a big waste of time. Maybe there is more but I am not sure I am smart enough to go beyond it. I look forward to more from Deb and everyone else.

Thai said...


Though in truth I have never heard of her clothes before. In truth I'm kind of boring from a fashion standpoint: jeans and T-shirts. I tend to keep my fractal fetishism to blog land as much as possible or I'm quite sure my colleagues would commit me.

And re: not toting the party line. I'm also quite sure there's some kind of oppositional defiant DSM diagnostic label we can conjure for such views. And of course after we do, I'll charge Blue Cross $175 for my wisdom. ;-)

Debra said...

Hey you guys, way cool !!!
Do you realize that our blog has just gone into warp drive ??
jp, I call your hand on the Faustian socialist comment.
It sounds like a diabolical critical shortcut.
You will have to spend mucho posts priming me to follow your reasoning...
Doctor John, you did not answer my Malleus question ?
Thai... great links, as always... (BUT WHERE DOES HE FIND THEM??)
Mel Brooks is before your time, isn't he ?
He is just a glimmer in my consciousness these days.
Doctor John, Thai has NOT told you yet that Mrs Thai will not let him blog at home.. (I'm squealing on you Thai, sorry...)
Now, Thai hasn't told us yet whether Mrs Thai will LET HIM BRING FRACTALS AND ZERO SUMS HOME FROM WORK EITHER ?? (Sometimes I think that if I WERE MRS. THAI, I would beat him around the head a little bit if he pulled the zero sum out of his hat on any/every occasion.
Even I do not was poetic about structural linguistics 20 hours a day. Gotta eat. Gotta do other things.
In any case... if Thai doesn't bring blogging home with him, I see a serious zero sum issue involved with THE AMOUNT OF TIME HE WILL HAVE LEFT TO WORK DURING THE DAY due to our new warp drive status.

jp said...

Mrs. jp doesn't want an internet connection at home, so, hey, that's life. I couldn't blog at home right now if I wanted to blog.

Dr John said...

Debra. what was your Malleus question? I am afraid I missed it amongst the endless fractals. John

Dr John said...

Debra I did find your question. Read my paper here and it explains my views on the Malleus and my point.

Debra said...

Oppositional diagnostic view..
There is a guy on my loony forum who I have weaned away from that sodding S label (S for schizophrenia, NOT S for socialism...) and he now refers to himself as a "neurotic chimpanzee"..
HOORAY !! (Dr John will appreciate, I am sure, right Dr John ?? ;-) )

Dr John said...

Deb, I am new and hate to commit this early at the risk of either playing my hand or being disliked on a new blog.I will say however "neurotic chimp" is much more endearing than Schizophrenia.Well done. John

Thai said...

"...with new disorders
such as “Post Traumatic Embitterment Disorder,”
“Compulsive Shopping,” and “Internet
Addiction Disorder,” all being considered for addition
to the official list of psychiatric disturbances.
The folks writing the new DSM-V are even considering
a new classification of “prodromal” disorders,
which means you may qualify for diagnosis of a
mental disorder just based on the hunch of your


John, I tip my stethoscope.

Of course, JP might get cut out of the picture if enough people start realizing this. ;-)

Oh, and JP, don't feel too poorly about being supported by debt- if you do at all- I think a lot of us tend to feel exactly the same way. ;-)

Thai said...


I skimmed your Spengler link and would love it if you would do us the honor of a post with your thoughts on it.

I think you know I tend to concur with the underlying construct inherent in these kinds of models, but I draw the line at actually using them to predict the future, which I am far more skeptical of our ability to do.

Having said that, if you are making money off them then good job. If you ever care to share just how I'm sure we would all appreciate (except Deb).

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.

-- Soren Kierkegaard

or my old favorite...

"The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes."

-- Mark Twain

Debra said...

The Wiki link for the Spengler "chart" is unreadable to me.
You are going to have to do MUCHO posts to make sense out of it for me.

The Most Fabulous Objects In The World

  • Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe trilogy
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  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Time Bandits