Close and Extended Relative Clauses—A Critical Account—Fang Gui-Ling SpecGram Vol CLXIV, No 4 Contents It’s Notso Clear Now, Is It?—Claude Searsplainpockets & Helga von Helganschtein y Searsplainpockets

On Egslunce

Name Withheld

Following Austin’s initial discussion, speech acts have been the subject of a sizable body of literature; the status of pronouncing in “I now pronounce you man and wife” as signalling an action is uncontroversial, although exactly how this status is to be modeled and incorporated in linguistic theory is not. Because pragmatics has historically been driven by considerations of ordinary language usage, discussions of speech acts have largely devoted themselves to language thatat least in the admittedly somewhat skewed perceptions of pragmaticistsis considered ordinary itself (e.g., to promise), or is localized within professional groups in which its function is both common or unavoidable (e.g., to sentence). The speech acts involved are ones that transparently revolve around actions the speaker can be reliably expected to need to perform in the course of his/her duties (including that of serving as a polite, interactive conversational respondent).

There is, however, a set of rather intriguing expressions that now occur rather often in administrative discourse that have not, as far as this author is aware, received the attention they arguably deserve. Consider the following:

<InstitutionName> actively fosters a climate of excellence.

The Dept. of <FieldName> develops leadership in degree candidates.

Statements such as these appear fairly straightforward; the reader/hearer typically assumes that propositions are being made in the usual way, and that however reference is being established, it is established via the same channels whose properties philosophers have been enjoying disagreeing about for centuries. Close examination, however, reveals a deep and interesting peculiarity of these utterances: the qualities they explicitly or implicitly attribute to a referent are actually recursively assigned as the result of a speech act encoded in the use of the word itself.

A brief lexicographic aside may be useful here for purposes of clarification.1 Historically, and continuing into the present in many domains of discourse, the lexeme (or depending on one’s model of polysemy, lexemes) leadership has two closely-related, roughly characterizable meanings: it can refer simply to being in a position that requires directing the actions of others, or it can take on more positive connotations, implying that one’s performance of such duties was of unusually high quality. The existence of General Burnside’s leadership is a matter of historical record, but Mr. Lincoln’s was exceptional. When discussing a person’s qualities in the abstract, or as potentials, the simple meaning of the word isn’t particularly useful, as it serves only to indicate that if put in a managerial position (for example), the person under discussion would be in a managerial position. While the easy access to truth value inherent in such circularity might prove soothing in a particularly fraught argument, it is unlikely to persuade.

In the case of excellence, its heretofore most basic use involved indicating the status of someone’s abilities or work as well above average, perhaps exceedingly above average; it wasn’t particularly common, perhaps directly because of the mathematical characteristics of the upper reaches of a distribution curve.

The modern business/administrative forms excellence and leadership, however, are not the same lexemes at alla point which can be verified easily by examination of a representative set of university mission statements (henceforth UMSs). The set of people displaying leadership in the sense with strong positive connotations will overlap the set of people displaying leadership in the UMS sense to an extent that approaches random chance at best (the actual pattern suggests negative correlation, but this has not been rigorously tested). It is possible that the UMS sense of leadership is merely the basic one indicated above, but one would like to assume that administrators are able to perceive circularity, and have no intention of letting it extend meetings longer than necessary. Similarly, relative to its traditional usage, the administrative sense of excellence appears at first glance to be so radically semantically underspecified that it could be argued to bear the same relation to qualities that normal personal pronouns do to people. It is seldom, if ever, used in a context in which a median or mean value has been established, nor one in which questions of distribution have been addressed.

We could, at this point, adopt a common notational convention among linguists and refer to the older uses of leadership as leadership1 and leadership2, with the UMS sense as leadership3, but the author would like to suggest that a simple spelling shift will do the same work without reminding some readers that they are in need of bifocals, and at the same time suggest a closer approximation to the meanings to be discussed; he will, therefore, adopt leedurship for the UMS sense, and likewise use egslunce for the UMS sense of “excellence.”2

We are now in a position to address the crux of the issue: The quality of leedurship appears to be conferred and defined by the act of using the word. Saying “X displays leedurship” is tantamount to saying “X has displayed the quality one acquires by having it asserted about X that X possesses leedurship.” Note that this is not an entailment or a presupposition; the second statement is exactly equivalent to the first. Similarly, egslunce is that quality possessed by things that are said to possess egslunce, by virtue of the claim or implication that the thing possesses the quality. While it is perhaps tempting to suspect that these senses were artificially constructed (they seem suspiciously like the type of material one would dream of including in a textbook section on Wittgenstein), it cannot be denied that they have “naturalized” within the administrative linguistic ecology, much as zebra mussels have naturalized in the Great Lakes.

Importantly, the act of claiming the quality need not be realized via a main-clause predicate. Consider the following:

Candidates for admission to <redacted> will display educational leadership by submitting three letters of recommendation along with their application.3

Submitting letters of recommendation is, of course, a standard, if not universal, part of a graduate application process; there is no possible way in which one can be said to display leadership in either of the traditional senses by causing oneself to do what everyone else does. Being able to direct one’s own actions is not the same kind of status that normally places one in the kind of position that is regarded as “leading.” And although the program in question is one in Educational Leadership, and thus one could make the argument that achieving the minimum common standard for normal graduate entrants does place the applicant well ahead of the rest of this particular applicant pool, the point seems strained. This type of usage would appear to involve a speech act recursively encoded and nominalised.

The author would like to argue that this warrants further attention from the pragmatics community. If we assume that administrators place value on having leedurship and egslunce, we are left, arguably, with a fertile field of study of what might be termed second-order speech acts, of a particularly intriguing type that either evades felicity conditions entirely, or automatically meets them regardless of circumstance. If, on the other hand, we assume that administrators regard their use of these terms as vacuous and as being likely considered vacuous by most of the audience, but as useful nonetheless for creating and sustaining a set of social assumptions increasing the valuation of their work, we have a set of equally interesting cases occupying the borders between speech act theory and Frankfurtian bullshit analysis.

If nothing else, we can state confidently, truthfully, and vacuously that anyone performing either such analysis would demonstrate both of the qualities discussed.

[The name of the author of this important piece of skolarsheep has been withheld to protect him or her from being forced to take time from their busy research schedule to relentlessly foster a climate of egslunce in leedurship at their home instatooshun. —Eds.]

1 The fact that the brief aside constitutes at least forty percent of the text should be ignored at this point, or put down to philosophy.

2 The sense here may become clearer if the reader pronounces the <u> as a high back unrounded vowel.

3 The author is not making this up.

Close and Extended Relative ClausesA Critical AccountFang Gui-Ling
It’s Notso Clear Now, Is It?Claude Searsplainpockets & Helga von Helganschtein y Searsplainpockets
SpecGram Vol CLXIV, No 4 Contents