Reasons Not to Study Linguistics—Part II—Dyspepsia Prater and Cynnie Sizzum SpecGram Vol CLXXXV, No 3 Contents SpecGram Language Placement Services—Advertisement



After an impromptu search in the SpecGram library, we were surprised but elated to find a batch of additional Platonic dialogues on linguistic matters. Plato’s Socrates often passes the time on trivial matters of ethics, justice and all that jazz. Happily for us, the discoveries in the library are all linguistical. Here, then, in a world first publication, is Plato’s Ted.


Ted: Look, there is Socrates, yonder.

Anaximander: Ah yes. Beckon him over.

Ted: Socrates! Come over here!

Socrates: Yes, Ted. But I thought you were at the cinema tonight.

Ted: Plans change.

Socrates: They can do. Did not Heraclitus say as much? You can never go to the same film twice.

Anaximander: But it is you who have changed, not the film.

Ted: Leave it out, Anaximander. We all know your thoughts on Heraclitus. Anyway. Socrates, we were talking of nominals.

Socrates: Ah, yes.

Ted: Anaximander is of the view that all nominals refer. I contest this. What do you think?

Socrates: There are three great arguments in philosophy, and whether all nominals refer is the second of these. I would be happy to pursue this as we walk. But what of your film?

Ted: Forget the film; it’s another story.

Socrates: Or, if you don’t go, it is no story at all.

Anaximander: Can we stay on the nominals, please?

Socrates: As you wish. So, Anaximander, you say that all nominals refer.

Anaximander: Yes.

Socrates: So, I assume, when you utter ‘cat’ you believe this refers to a cat.

Anaximander: I believe this.

Socrates: To which cat does it refer?

Anaximander: To the one intended by the speaker.

Socrates: So if the speaker says, ‘I love that cat’ it is to the cat intended that the term ‘cat’ refers?

Anaximander: Yes.

Socrates: But it is not the case that ‘cat’ does not occur alone in that utterance, but with ‘that’.

Anaximander: I don’t follow.

Ted: Oh look, a starling has just alighted on that branch.

Socrates: Indeed, and as Ted says, ‘a starling’: this refers to the starling we all see?

Anaximander / Ted: Yes.

Socrates: What of this. ‘I would like a new cat’. To what does ‘cat’ refer here?

Anaximander: Surely to the cat which must exist (but is not yet known specifically to the speaker of the utterance) but is understood to exist as the basis for the utterance.

Socrates: I see. So, ‘to refer’ for you does not require that the object of reference be known?

Anaximander: I believe this.

Socrates: I see. And if the speaker says thereafter, ‘Actually, I would like some new cats’, to what does the term ‘cats’ refer here.

Ted: You know what Anaximander will say, Socrates: to the cats which are reasonably believed to exist which the speaker of the utterance would like.

Socrates: Yes. Let me ask: how many cats, then?

Anaximander: Well ... some.

Socrates: And does ‘some’ refer?

Anaximander: ‘Some’ is no nominal but qualifies the nominal. Together with it, the two words refer to a certain number of cats.

Socrates: But we know not how many?

Anaximander: True.

Socrates: Or indeed which ones?

Anaximander: Also true.

Socrates: It seems, then, that the reference of ‘That cat’, ‘I would like a new cat’ and ‘I would like some new cats’ differ in important ways.

Anaximander: But not insofar as they all refer.

Ted: I’ve never owed any cats, don’t like them and don’t want any. Can we move to my objections to Anaximander’s view?

Anaximander: Wait, Socrates hasn’t ...

Socrates: Which are?

Ted: Well, I mentioned nominals like ‘water’, ‘wheat’ and ‘wine’ (www, if you like!)

Anaximander: There you go, bringing the internet into things again.

Socrates: How is your online learning of Klingon going, by the way?

Ted: lupDujHomwIj luteb gharghmey. As you see, I’m a well deserved level 8.

Socrates: ‘A well deserved level 8’. That I think refers incontestably.

Anaximander: Yes, it is equivalent to ‘that cat’.

Socrates: As you say.

Ted: Any objections?

Socrates / Anaximander: Yes.

Ted: So, as to water, wine and wheat, these refer to an undetermined part of all of the water, wine and wheat in the world. Ha ha: wwww!

Socrates: Indeed.

Ted: To which part do they refer?

Socrates: But is this not like ‘I would like some new cats’? The speaker does not know to which cats he or she refers, but knows that such cats exist and it is to this that the phrase ‘some cats’ refers. So it is with your www wordsanother wwww!

Anaximander: I agree.

Ted: This all seems to suggest that the language refers outside of the mind of the speaker. Should not the object be precisely conceptualised?

Anaximander: It is: the object is the known-to-be-unknown number (or part) of cats (or www). Known unknowns, the reason for whose unknownness is known, are precise.

Ted: We will return to this. But what of ‘The soldier’s destruction of the city’. ‘Destruction’ is nominal but depicts an action.

Anaximander: But has not Chomskratos argued that this is only a nominal by appearance? It is in truth a verbal entity as it depicts a process or eventand indeed has undergone a change in form. The ending is a clear marker of its derived nominal status. It appears nominal but only in order to experience linkage with other aspects of the sentence.

Ted: But then ‘teacher’ also has a derivational ending which renders it nominal. But it refers much like ‘cat’, no?

Socrates: Is anyone hungry? There’s a new burger bar opened.

Ted: Let me just add one more argument.

Anaximander: Must you?

Ted: No. But do I wish to? Yes.

Socrates: My tummy rumbles; do you hear it?

Anaximander: Let us agree to talk as we wander. Ted’s final category is puzzling to me.

Socrates: My guess is that you will speak of nominals such as ‘love’, ‘desire’, ‘justice’.

Ted: Yes, indeed, Socrates. You’re bang onas ever.

Socrates: Well, I missed filing my tax returns.

Ted: In matters of the mind, I mean.

Socrates: Filing tax returns is a function of memory and understanding: surely a matter of the mind.

Ted: You know, I think, what I mean.

Socrates: Yes, but do you?

Anaximander: Burger bar time?

Ted: Yes. Lead on Socrates.

Socrates: This way, lads ...

Reasons Not to Study LinguisticsPart IIDyspepsia Prater and Cynnie Sizzum
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SpecGram Vol CLXXXV, No 3 Contents