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Thus speaketh Paul Rooney:

Depends on what you mean by 'functionless'.
Examples?
Adverbs. That's what I was taught: if you don't know what it is, or what it does, it's an adverb.

Ha ha! That's what I was taught too. I had some difficulties trying to understand how some 'adverbs' could be said to qualify verbs.

Yeah, 'adverb' is the wastebasket category for the creationist "8 parts of speech" approach. If it doesn't fit anywhere else, it's bound to be an adverb, right? This is because adverbs are defined negatively. Any modifier that modifies anything but a noun gets labelled an adverb.

This subsumes a lot of varieties, including modification of verbs, of verb phrases, of clauses, or of whole sentences. And formally, lots of adverbs (in these senses) are multi-word chunks themselves, like practically all prepositional phrases, or subordinate clauses marked with a conjunction.

And in terms of syntax, they can pop up practically anywhere, unlike nouns or verbs or adjectives it reminds one of Latin word order:

The old man has been brushing his teeth carefully. ?The old man has been brushing carefully his teeth. The old man has been carefully brushing his teeth. The old man has carefully been brushing his teeth. ?The old man carefully has been brushing his teeth. Carefully, the old man has been brushing his teeth.

...etc. Not an altogether helpful category.
-John Lawler http://www.umich.edu/~jlawler Michigan Linguistics Dept "The world is emblematic. Parts of speech are metaphors because the whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind." Emerson, Nature
Also spricht Raymond S. Wise:

"Simon R. Hughes" writes Fashion doesn't progress, so the analogy ... going to succeed, because they don't fit the real world.

What about the terminology (which is what I was addressing in the above)? What prompted linguists to rename "parts of speech" "word classes"?

Really? I would have thought that was very clear. But OK, since you ask...
The reason can be summed up in one (Latin) word: impedimenta. Which is the Latin word for 'luggage', and is cognate with the modern English word 'impediment', i.e, stuff that trips you up and gets in your way when you're trying to move forward.

The term 'parts of speech' is a direct translation of Donatus's 'partes orationis' and goes back to the Fifth Century. And refers to Latin and Latin grammar. And its successors, which I refer to generically as "creationist grammar" that is, varieties of 'traditional' English grammar that take the authority of Latinate grammar as their starting point, and refuse to refer it to scientific analysis for validation.

That's a lot of impedimenta. Fifteen hundred years of Lost Luggage, most of it incomprehensibly labelled, all of it heavy.

Nevertheless, it's clear that there are different kinds of words. Some term is necessary to refer to them. 'Word Class' is a good choice, since it's straightforwardly descriptive: it means a class (type, kind, variety) of word, and has no other impedimenta to shlep around. 'Part of Speech' is not a good choice, since it has no transparent interpretation ("part"? "speech"?), and harks back to Donatus's lost luggage and everybody who's filed a claim for it, in order to talk about it.

I'll grant you, "Part of Speech" gets used in computational linguistics as "POS"; but it's always pronounced /piyowEs/ and it explicitly has nothing to do with Donatus, or traditional grammar. The most common usage is in the phrase "POS tag set", which refers to a large (typically 32 or 64 items for some reason, powers of two keep recurring in computational contexts -) set of types of word that are useful to label and to keep separate. But that's not linguistics; that's computer science.
Surely you're not going to claim that was a scientific-corrective development.

I can't speak for Raymond, but that's precisely what I'd claim. One of the reasons for changing vocabulary is to avoid impedimenta, and that's normal for 'scientific-corrective' terms like this.

-John Lawler http://www.umich.edu/~jlawler Michigan Linguistics "It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself." Thomas Jefferson
Teachers: We supply a list of EFL job vacancies
Thus spake John Lawler:
Also spricht Raymond S. Wise:

At last someone recognises it. Makes you feel like a hero, dunnit?

Hold on a mo...
What about the terminology (which is what I was addressing in the above)? What prompted linguists to rename "parts of speech" "word classes"?

Really? I would have thought that was very clear. But OK, since you ask... The reason can be summed up ... That's a lot of impedimenta. Fifteen hundred years of Lost Luggage, most of it incomprehensibly labelled, all of it heavy.

Most of us didn't learn about the baggage "parts of speech" brings with it. Also, most of us don't get confused by Latin grammar when speaking of English. I'm beginning to feel quite guilty about it all.
So what's the real problem with "parts of speech"? Is it a logical positivism thing? There are plenty of antique terms that have been successfully imported into English, and been applied to something quite different. Does anyone in the English-speaking world balk at an orator who uses notes, for example?
Nevertheless, it's clear that there are different kinds of words. Some term is necessary to refer to them. 'Word Class' ... linguistics as "POS"; but it's always pronounced /piyowEs/ and it explicitly has nothing to do with Donatus, or traditional grammar.

Nor does the term when applied to English grammar.
The most common usage is in the phrase "POS tag set", which refers to a large (typically 32 or 64 ... of types of word that are useful to label and to keep separate. But that's not linguistics; that's computer science.

Surely you're not going to claim that was a scientific-corrective development.

I can't speak for Raymond, but that's precisely what I'd claim. One of the reasons for changing vocabulary is to avoid impedimenta, and that's normal for 'scientific-corrective' terms like this.

So there are people who would be confused by using "parts of speech". I'm a word-class man, so I won't be confusing anyone in the forseeable future.
In any case, thanks for the history lesson, John. I find that kind of thing interesting.

Simon R. Hughes
Thus spake Raymond S. Wise:

(Snip)

It has been three days since John Lawler wrote the ... fit to criticizeJohn Lawler for his take on the matter!

I, who have criticised you before, have nothing to criticise John Lawler for. He treated a specific example, provided historical context, and showed the development of linguistics out of the demonstrable error.

If one example is sufficient, then what I have posted concerning the double negative ("negative concord") contains, cumulatively, more detail than what John Lawler wrote in this thread concerning creationist grammar. And I have, many, many times, given as references the names of works which are well known for identifying errors in fact and reasoning made by the traditional grammarians.
He did not call prescriptivists horrible names; he did not

"(H)orrible ****? This means that you can identify at least two such names. I challenge you to do so. I'd be surprised if you could identify even one.
classify them together with spiritists, acupuncturists, and alchemists; nor did he claim that prescribing descriptivists may

I see no advantage to being identified as a sort of creationist over being classified with any other of those pseudoscientists.
escape the prescriptivist epithet by means of their track records.[/nq]Well, I'm sure I have said this before, but here goes: What distinguishes a scientist, or someone who looks at the world from a scientific viewpoint, is not that he knows correct facts, but that he knows how to generate those correct facts. He knows how to test hypotheses. He knows when he is proven wrong. What distinguishes a descriptivist usage critic from a prescriptivist usage critic is not, at base, the facts of usage which the critic knows, but the way of looking at language, and the ability to admit his error when the data proves him to be wrong.

The prescriptivist viewpoint is similar to that of a pseudoscientist or a true-believer in a religion: There is no possible test which can compel him to admit that he was wrong. He may indeed change his opinion, but there is nothing which compels him to do so in the same way that a scientist is compelled to change what he believes about a given subject.
P.S. I myself have never used the word "spiritist," nor do I remember ever having heard it used. However, a check with www.onelook.com demonstrates that it is indeed a synonym for "spiritualist."

Raymond S. Wise
Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
E-mail: mplsray @ yahoo . com
Thus spake Raymond S. Wise:

You use "prescriptivist" as a term of abuse prescriptivists have no redeeming qualities, in your usage. In the same way, your description of prescriptivists as "pseudoscientists", when they make no claim to scientific status, also suggests your hostility towards them.
The names are horrible in your usage, at least that's the way it comes across to me.
But, sure, there was an element of hyperbole in what I wrote.
classify them together with spiritists, acupuncturists, and alchemists; nor did he claim that prescribing descriptivists may

I see no advantage to being identified as a sort of creationist over being classified with any other of those pseudoscientists.

You understood John Lawler's usage of "creationist" as concerning so-called creation science? I took him to mean those who unquestioningly receive what they have been told is truth. That was the case of the Latinists.
escape the prescriptivist epithet by means of their track records.

Well, I'm sure I have said this before, but here goes: What distinguishes a scientist, or someone who looks at ... do so in the same way that a scientist is compelled to change what he believes about a given subject.

But the prescriptivist, at base, is opining, speaking of the "should", which places him outside the scientific sphere. His utterances are qualitatively different from those of the scientific descriptivist who is describing rather than advising.

The prescriptivist, unlike the psychoanalyst, is not pretending to offer scientific truth. To call it pseudoscience, then, is at best an exaggeration.
But to address my point in the track record thing: when descriptivists begin to talk like prescriptivists when they start talking of the "should" of usage they wallow in the same slough of opinion as the prescriptivists. Science has no place for opinion on the "should". I'm sure Martin Gardner would agree.
P.S. I myself have never used the word "spiritist," nor do I remember ever having heard it used. However, a check with www.onelook.com demonstrates that it is indeed a synonym for "spiritualist."

Or vice versa.

Simon R. Hughes
Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
Thus spake Raymond S. Wise:

If one example is sufficient, then what I have posted ... do so. I'd be surprised if you could identifyeven one.

You use "prescriptivist" as a term of abuse prescriptivists have no redeeming qualities, in your usage. In the same ... that's the way it comes across to me. But, sure, there was an element of hyperbole in what I wrote.

Your error here is stronger than mere hyperbole. You are saying that if a critic criticizes a given group of individuals, by using terms which he believes to accurately describe them, then *he is calling them "horrible names."* So if a practitioner of scientific medicine, speaking of homeopaths, call them (1) "homeopaths" the customary name for the practitioners of homeopathy, used both by them and by others and (2) "pseudoscientists" the assessment which the critic has made of them then he is calling them "horrible names." I suggest the logic of your charge is faulty.
Let's look at it from a different perspective. If, as has certainly been known to happen, a creation scientist calls an evolutionary biologist (1) an "evolutionary biologist" and (2) a "pseudoscientist," then according to your reasoning, the creation scientist is calling the biologist "horrible names." He is certainly correct in calling the evolutionary biologist an "evolutionary biologist" that is the customary name used by evolutionary biologists and others. And I would say he is equally certainly making an incorrect assessment of the biologist when he calls him a "pseudoscientist." But that does not make his use here of either "evolutionary biologist" or "pseudoscientist" a "horrible name." Yet that is what your reasoning would demand.
What if we allow, for the sake of argument, that "pseudoscientist" is a "horrible name" I think that an absurd proposition, but am allowing it here for purposes which will become clear shortly. That leaves only "prescriptivist" as a supposed "horrible name" that you claim I have called prescriptivists. Well, I certainly have called prescriptivists "prescriptivists." However, it would be an offense against reason to allow you get away with claiming that the use of a customary term for a given group of individuals a term used by both them, their supporters, and their critics is a "horrible name." That means that you failed to fulfill my request to name at least two "horrible names" that I have called prescriptivists.
I see no advantage to being identified as a sort of creationist overbeing classified with any other of those pseudoscientists.

You understood John Lawler's usage of "creationist" as concerning so-called creation science? I took him to mean those who unquestioningly receive what they have been told is truth. That was the case of the Latinists.

A distinction without a difference. There are three types of creationists. First, there are those who believe a given creation story because it was presented to them as true and they were never offered any evidence to doubt it. Charles Darwin, as a young man, was just such a creationist. There is no shame whatsoever in this type of creationism. Then there are those who, when offered evidence that the creation story they believe is false, refuse to consider the evidence. Then there are those who, considering the evidence that the creation story is false, come up with intellectually bankrupt explanations why the evidence they have been presented does not disprove the creation story.
The last two types of creationists are operating from world views which are equally morally deficient. Think about it. Would a savant who refused to look through Galileo's telescope, because he might see evidence which would contradict prevailing wisdom, be morally superior to a savant who looked through Galileo's telescope, and subsequently came up with an argument which preserved the prevailing belief? It is quite clear that John Lawler was discussing creationists of the second and third sort, not of the first sort.
Well, I'm sure I have said this before, but here ... compelled to change what he believes about a given subject.

But the prescriptivist, at base, is opining, speaking of the "should", which places him outside the scientific sphere. His utterances are qualitatively different from those of the scientific descriptivist who is describing rather than advising.

As I have said before Eric Walker's animadversions towards linguists notwithstanding there is really no conflict between the prescriptivists and scientific descriptivists. The prescriptivist does not come up with alternate scientific theories about language. The conflict is between prescriptivists and descriptivist usage critics. The prescriptivist does indeed make false statements about usage even when he is aware of the facts demonstrated by linguistic science, such as identifying as nonstandard usages which linguists have identified as standard, and he does not simply offer opinions about usage. If it were simply a case of a prescriptivist saying what "should be," as you claim, then I would have no quarrel with him, as I have made plain elsewhere. See, for example, my comments about an "open reformer" as opposed to a "crypto-reformer" at


or

The prescriptivist, unlike the psychoanalyst, is not pretending to offer scientific truth. To call it pseudoscience, then, is at best an exaggeration.

As it happens, I am quite careful with my language when discussing the matter. I don't ordinarily call prescriptivism pseudoscience. I have typically referred, as I did earlier in this thread, to "the analogy between the traditional grammarians and pseudoscientists." I've just taken a look in the Google Groups archive on what I have written on the subject, and the following is the closest I have come to calling a prescriptivist a pseudoscientist:
See
http://groups.google.com/groups?q=mplsray+pseudoscientist&hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&safe=off&se...

or
http://tinyurl.com/yej4
"And to the extent that a prescriptivist cites a false etymology or makes some other claim that linguists know to be patently false, that prescriptivist is functioning as a pseudoscientist."

That, I contend, is no exaggeration. Otherwise, and generally, I have said that prescriptivism is similar to pseudoscience:
"There are elements of pseudoscience in both prescriptivism and libertarianism."
"Morally, prescriptivism is on a par with pseudoscience, descriptivism with science."
"I have taken an interest in pseudoscientists and similar fuzzy-headed thinkers for more than thirty years. The prescriptivist/descriptivist dispute closely resembles the pseudoscientist/scientist dispute, in the manner in which I have previously outlined. As Eric Walker has pointed out, no analogy is perfect. This one, however, strikes me as a particularly apt one."
And here is an analogy I particularly like, which examines the question of the relationship between scientific descriptivism, descriptive usage critics, and prescriptivists:
See
http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=vk35j17vo79k8a%40corp.supernews.com&output=gplain

or
http://tinyurl.com/yen5
"Let me repeat the analogy I made: The work of linguistic scientists iss (sic) like medical research, descriptive usage advice like scientific medical care, and prescriptivism like quackery. You might say that much of linguistic science is like the work of basic medical research, but like basic medical research, it ultimately helps someone. For example, a linguist who writes a grammar of an indigenous language has written something which may be used immediately by people who wish to contact the indigenous people in question. Skeptics, such as those who write *The Skeptical Inquirer,* are invaluable for combating pseudoscience, but most of them are not scientists themselves. Among other things, descriptive usage commentators function as skeptics of prescriptivism, by showing how prescriptivist usage commentators use faulty logic and incorrect beliefs in their arguments concerning language usage."
In short, for an apt analogy between pseudoscience and prescriptivism to be made, it is utterly unnecessary for prescriptivists to make any explicit claim to be speaking scientific truth. As I have said, I have been interested in the subjects of both prescriptivism and pseudoscience for decades, and the similarity between them is striking.
But to address my point in the track record thing: when descriptivists begin to talk like prescriptivists when they ... of opinion as the prescriptivists. Science has no place for opinion on the "should". I'm sure Martin Gardner would agree.

But do descriptivist usage critics actually talk of the "should" of usage? No, they don't. They identify certain usages a problematical. They say, in effect, "If you wish to speak Standard English, then avoid using usage X" when usage X is, in fact, a nonstandard usage. They say, in effect, "If you wish to avoid confusing the reader say it this way rather than that way" when in fact, if the person did say it the second way, the reader would be confused. The difference between a descriptivist usage critic and a prescriptivist is that the prescriptivist won't usually let the facts interfere with his opinion. (Sometimes he does. It's hard for a person to be wrong a hundred percent of the time.)I am certain that Martin Gardner would agree that when one is faced with a problem, advice which is informed by science, when it is a subject where scientific facts are known or scientific procedures can be applied, is preferable to advice which ignores scientific facts and scientific procedures. See what I wrote above about basic medical research. And as I have said before, an anthropologist ordinarily studies cultures, he doesn't attempt to make reforms in them.

But if the people of the culture wished to make a particular reform, an anthropologist would be one specialist they could turn to who could make useful advice based upon his knowledge of that and other cultures. In such a situation, he wouldn't be doing what anthropologists ordinarily do, but his advice, being informed by science, would be useful. And a non-anthropologist who applied to the reform in question knowledge which had been identified by anthropologists would also be useful, much more useful than the advice of someone who acted out of ignorance of the scientific facts.
P.S. I myself have never used the word "spiritist," nor ... www.onelook.com demonstrates that it is indeed a synonym for "spiritualist."

Or vice versa.

Raymond S. Wise
Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
E-mail: mplsray @ yahoo . com
Thus spake Raymond S. Wise:
Thus spake Raymond S. Wise:

even

You use "prescriptivist" as a term of abuse prescriptivists ... there was an element of hyperbole in what I wrote.

Your error here is stronger than mere hyperbole. You are saying that if a critic criticizes a given group of ... critic has made of them then he is calling them "horrible names." I suggest the logic of your charge is faulty.

At this point I suspect that you don't yet get my argument. Vide infra .
Let's look at it from a different perspective. If, as has certainly been known to happen, a creation scientist calls ... his use here of either "evolutionary biologist" or "pseudoscientist" a "horrible name." Yet that is what your reasoning would demand.

It does if the evolutionist sneers the term. That's the way your use of "prescriptivist" and "pseudoscientist" have come across to me.
What if we allow, for the sake of argument, that "pseudoscientist" is a "horrible name" I think that an absurd proposition, ... means that you failed to fulfill my request to name at least two "horrible names" that I have called prescriptivists.

Tone of voice and the implications of what you write. When you negatively mark "prescriptivist", as you have done, you are able to use the term as an insult. I have experienced that "prescriptivist" has been used with insulting intent by a university teacher (directed at me, too, which made it even more absurd). Perhaps that is not your intention; all I have to go on is your writing.
being

You understood John Lawler's usage of "creationist" as concerning so-called ... told is truth. That was the case of the Latinists.

A distinction without a difference.

All fundamentalist Christians will go out of their way to prove scientifically that the earth was created in seven days?

Not so.
There is, therefore, a difference.
There are three types of creationists. First, there are those who believe a given creation story because it was presented ... disprove the creation story. The last two types of creationists are operating from world views which are equally morally deficient.

Morally deficient? Oh my! How is believing that the fossil record was placed there by God to upset us immoral?
You have the same attitude against prescriptivists, I have noticed, which is why I called the word in your mouth a horrible name.
Think about it. Would a savant who refused to look through Galileo's telescope, because he might see evidence which would ... is quite clear that John Lawler was discussing creationists of the second and third sort, not of the first sort.

We'll let him tell us, then, if he so chooses.

There is no data that informs anyone of the "should" of any matter. Prescriptivists don't tell anyone the "is" of language, only the (in their opinions) "should". So your argument appears to be a straw man: the scientific descriptivist's work is qualitatively different from the writing produced by prescriptivists. Oranges and apples.
And when the descriptivist falls off the wagon, and starts producing usage guides, he is entering a different realm one of opinion. His opinion might be informed by linguistics, but linguistics never has pretended to tell a native speaker how he should write or speak.

I think "compelled" is too strong a word. Scientists are people, too.
But the prescriptivist, at base, is opining, speaking of the ... of the scientific descriptivist who is describing rather than advising.

As I have said before Eric Walker's animadversions

Is that your word or his? In either case, do you know which of the many meanings of the word is intended? I can't work it out.
towards linguists notwithstanding there is really no conflict between the prescriptivists and scientific descriptivists. The prescriptivist does not come up with alternate scientific theories about language.

So prescriptivists are not pseudoscientists, then. I'm glad we've cleared that up.
Now, would you like to explain this, please?


Prescriptivism is to descriptivism as pseudoscience is to science, as I have said before. If it were simply a matter of opinion, then prescriptivism would be to descriptivism as a religion is to science, but not only is that not true, I doubt that it would be of much comfort to prescriptivists.

Raymond S. Wise
Fri, 11 Oct 2002 16:10:16 -0500

I accept that your position may have changed. That's a good thing sometimes.
What about this one?


Morally, prescriptivism is on a par with pseudoscience, descriptivism with science (as I've discussed before). Raymond S. Wise

4 Apr 2002 14:37:02 -0800(Email Removed)


Perhaps you see now that there really is nothing immoral about prescriptivism, at least not in the same way that there is about psychoanalysis.
The conflict is between prescriptivists and descriptivist usage critics. The prescriptivist does indeed make false statements about usage even when ... as identifying as nonstandard usages which linguists have identified as standard, and he does not simply offer opinions about usage.

Yes, he does. His opinions are informed by linguistics, but opinions they remain.
If it were simply a case of a prescriptivist saying what "should be," as you claim, then I would have ... plain elsewhere. See, for example, my comments about an "open reformer" as opposed to a "crypto-reformer" at http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=uqefhmodlbvcff%40corp.supernews.com&oe=UTF-8&output=gplain or http://tinyurl.com/yeg1

Yeah, but there you didn't say that you had no quarrel with him, but "I would find it pointless to call him a prescriptivist". Between the lines: a prescriptivist is someone you have a quarrel with. No quarrel<>no prescriptivist. That's that horrible names thing again.
The prescriptivist, unlike the psychoanalyst, is not pretending to offer scientific truth. To call it pseudoscience, then, is at best an exaggeration.

As it happens, I am quite careful with my language when discussing the matter. I don't ordinarily call prescriptivism pseudoscience. ... have written on the subject, and the following is the closest I have come to calling a prescriptivist a pseudoscientist:

(Snip references)
You missed the one (quoted above) in which you say "Prescriptivism is to descriptivism as pseudoscience is to science", and that it is something you "have said before". I would claim that that claim is closer to calling prescriptivists pseudoscientists than anything you quoted, since you claim descriptive linguistics is scientific.
"Let me repeat the analogy I made: The work of linguistic scientists iss (sic) like medical research, descriptive usage advice like scientific medical care, and prescriptivism like quackery.

There's that horrible names thing again.
You might say that much of linguistic science is like the work of basic medical research, but like basic medical ... language has written something which may be used immediately by people who wish to contact the indigenous people in question.

If we want this thread to drift, we could talk about the morality of the linguists' role in the exploitation of indigenous peoples by Christian missionaries.
Skeptics, such as those who write *The Skeptical Inquirer,* are invaluable for combating pseudoscience, but most of them are not ... have been interested in the subjects of both prescriptivism and pseudoscience for decades, and the similarity between them is striking.

But to address my point in the track record thing: ... opinion on the "should". I'm sure Martin Gardner would agree.

But do descriptivist usage critics actually talk of the "should" of usage? No, they don't.

What does the "guide" in "usage guide" mean, or imply?
They identify certain usages a problematical. They say, in effect, "If you wish to speak Standard English, then avoid using ... than that way" when in fact, if the person did say it the second way, the reader would be confused.

That certainly sounds like the "should" to me, despite the obfuscating conditional "if".
The difference between a descriptivist usage critic and a prescriptivist is that the prescriptivist won't usually let the facts interfere with his opinion. (Sometimes he does. It's hard for a person to be wrong a hundred percent of the time.)

Horrible names.
I am certain that Martin Gardner would agree that when one is faced with a problem, advice which is informed ... also be useful, much more useful than the advice of someone who acted out of ignorance of the scientific facts.

We really should talk about those missionaries.

Simon R. Hughes
(I didn't actually intend to answer this at such length; I'm not feeling too good.)