Several decades of active research have proven that logic has nothing really substantive to offer to linguistics. However, we linguists are proud to note that linguistics does have quite a bit of help to offer to logic. This article outlines the major contents of that help. Confident in the deductive powers of logicians, we do not waste paper here spelling out the underlying principles or their specific applications.
There is a language which has only two personal pronouns: a high grade honorific pronoun and a low-
grade honorific pronoun. Anyone may be referred to with either pronoun, but due to social taboos, each person must refer to himself with the pronoun that is of opposite grade to the one the king uses to refer to him. Does the king use the high grade honorific or the low grade honorific to refer to himself?
Answer: Reflexives are inherently mid-
grade, and since the language has no mid- grade honorific, no one (including the king) is able to refer to himself at all.
Suppose that Jacob Grimm had gone back in time and convinced Proto-
Germanic teenagers that word- initial /b, d, g/ sounded cooler than their voiceless counterparts. What would Grimm’s Law now be called?
Answer: Jacob’s brother Wilhelm was a noted Luddite of his day, who eschewed quill pens and pressed his writings laboriously into clay tablets, and who would never have permitted his older sibling to risk anything like entering a time machine.
Prove the thesis that there is no such thing as an uninteresting adjective.
Proof by contradiction: There are languages, such as Lahu, which have no adjectives. Therefore, to any Lahu person, any adjective in any language would be interesting in the extreme.
You stand at a fork in the road. Next to each of the two roads ahead, there stands a Linguist. The Sage of Language (who bears an uncanny resemblance to your TA in Linguistics 101) has told you the following:
- One road leads to Structure, the other to Function (however you cannot discern any difference between the roads).
- Once you start down one road, you cannot turn back.
- One of the two Linguists always violates Grice’s Maxim of Relevance, and the other one always violates Grice’s Maxim of Quality (however they look identical).
- You will be able to ask only one question, of only one of the Linguists, to ask them how to attain the road to Structure.
- If you determine wrongly, and end up on the road to Function, you and all your intellectual descendants will perish in the same way as did the Generative Semanticists.
What question should you ask?
Answer: Neither Structure nor Function means anything without the other, so you should go home and ask your cook to roast a whole chicken for dinner.
If this sentence is true, then adverb is a well defined primitive unit of language.
Explanation: The sentence contains an adverb, but three copy editors had a fistfight over whether or not to hyphenate it; therefore, the only primitive units in language are phonemes.