Locating Linguistics in
Dr Francis (Frankie) ‘Dunglebungle’
formerly of the
University of Camford)
Hey folks! So, I was busy at home on a recent Wednesday tidying up the front room, doing a bit of vacuuming, dusting the shelves and thinking about texting my wife (she’s a corporate lawyer Mondays to Wednesdays and an ear, nose and throat surgeon on Thursdays and alternate Fridays) when I suddenly realised I hadn’t emptied the washing machine!
Our house (I say ‘ours’; I suppose technically it’s paid for by my wife) contains a couple of laundry rooms but for ecological reasons we don’t have a tumble dryer. (My wife feels it offsets her carbon footprint for when she has to fly to New York or Strasbourg.) So, it’s down to me to put the damp washing on the drying racks. One of my favorite little duties actually.
Anyway, I was busy draping freshly washed shirts, skirts, corporate lawyer power suits, surgical garments and socks over the racks when, unbidden and unlooked for, a linguistics-related thought suddenly struck me! (Not many of them occur these days: I just do a freshman tutorial class or two for the local university but it’s nice to keep your hand in.) Here’s my insight: the arrangement of washing on clothes racks is a little bit like grammar. Think about it: the clothes rack itself is analogous to whatever linguistic (or, if you’re that way inclined, cognitive) hardware is rockin’ around in our skull, out of which emerges lexical reality and its combinatorial potentialities (gosh, I’ve still got that polysyllabicity even after all these years!); whereas the individual items of clothing are lexical units that have a certain flexibility of arrangement in relation to each other, as well as in relation to the part of the rack on which they are hung. Nice, hey? So, you can’t just throw the items of clothing any old way on those racks (that’s analogous to ungrammatical or word-salady strings); neither does one place only one t-shirt, skirt or pair of underpants on each rack (the equivalent of monolexical utterances). Instead, sensitively taking note of how any given item of clothing can sit, given its shape, size and dampness, alongside some other item or items of clothing on the structural framework which is the clothes rack, one creates a combinatorially effective and efficient—and even aesthetically pleasing—array of items upon the rack.
Of course, my thoughts wandered further: perhaps the clothes slowly drying can stand for processes of grammaticalisation or even—excitingly—the emergence of a standard lect. Quite a thought—but a thought for another time. For the principle here, surely, is the following: linguistics can be found in everyday places. Even the most menial of tasks, hanging out clothes to dry, can be a rich experience of (and in) the majesty and mystery of the nature of human language. I’ll certainly be busying myself in the coming days, looking for signs and symbols of capital-L Language in the ironing, the weeding, the dusting and, yes, even cleaning the bath. And I hope you will too: open your eyes and look out for—and even locate!—linguistics in everyday places.
Anyway, that’s enough for now; I have to get the lamb casserole prepped up: my wife’s in at 10:30 tonight and dinner must be ready. All the best to all and good luck in locating linguistics in everyday places!