Quipley’s Don’t Believe It! ... Or Do? SpecGram Vol CLXXXVI, No 3 Contents Reasons Not to Study Linguistics—Part IV—Dyspepsia Prater and Cynnie Sizzum

Extremist Linguistics

Dennis Dossier
Professor of Political History in Linguistics
The Δίς Λεγόμενον Centre for Endeepened Ideation

After enduring decades of the terrible tyranny of Chomskyan syntacticocentrism (as the United Nations once branded it) which launched itself on the world in 1957, syntagmophiles around the world breathed easier and easier through the 1990s as the combined power of George Lakoff’s treatment of There, there: don’t worry about it and Fillmore’s analysis of the Leave me alone construction pulled the head and then body of the Cognitive Construction Grammar baby through the birth canal of data out into the world of the linguistic status quo. And smacked its arse and made it bawl. (Now there’s a metaphor to be born by!)

Yes, those of us who’d been indoctrinated not only in the theory of empty categories (different types of nothing!?) and raising verbs (raised eyebrows all round as seem and believe yank their subject-to-be from the depths of the lower clause), but also in escape hatches (from which there was no escape) and split INFLs (more like splitting headaches), let forth syntagmatically non-trivial whoops of joy as the girls and boys of CCxG not only gave us an even cooler acronym than Hymes’ SPEAKING, but a Brave New World where trees were no longer answers to difficult exercises but instead metaphors for how form related to function. It was a wonderful time to be alive.

But nothing stays stable in Linguistics Land. The liberating cries of ‘it’s constructions all the way down’ and ‘no more grammatical synonymy’ have in time led to a new form of extremism as worrying if not more than VP shells. Here are some recent headlines from CCxG Daily:

The lexico-syntactic cline extends lower than the morpheme and higher than the utterance to encompass everything from handwriting and graphemics up to the meteorology of the utterance. For example, drawing on handwriting analysis, De Sender (2016) offers data to suggest that twiddly bits on descenders on <g>, <j> and <y> should be associated with an ironic attitude to the propositional content rendering a twiddly-bit orthography of ‘Please son, go and join the army’ as ‘We’d love you to remain in the spare room for ever.’ Similarly, the whole of Hamlet has been argued by Prince & Denmark (2013) to be effectively a slightly more emphatic correlate of ‘I’m not sure what to do now’.

For Figg & O’Ground (2018), perspective-taking now includes not only figure-ground relationships and speaker construal but also long- and short-sightedness. Thus, ‘I see what you mean’ when uttered by a spectacle-wearer means ‘I don’t see what you mean’.

From the narrow insistence that near synonymy of two structures implies derivation of one from the other, we’re now encouraged to see the situation of utterance as the main determinant of connection. Pitt & Bull (2017) argue that pairs of utterances such as ‘Our new pit bull’s just bitten off that old lady’s nose’ and ‘I wish I’d taken him to the vet’s last week as the law requires’ should both be read as ‘I’m in real trouble here’.

The moral of the story? Just like politics, linguistic theory swings between polar extremes. If yesterday’s centralisation of power in the late Roman Empire is today’s early Dark Ages, and last week’s Fall of the Berlin Wall is tomorrow’s Euroskepticism, in the same way, it seems, the past’s eager to please / easy to please is the present’s load the wagon with hay / load hay onto the wagon while most of us stand sobbing in a deserted town square, clinging with both hands and in terror to the few remaining formatives that have not been theorised out of existence, and with no wagon and no hay, far from eager and most definitely not pleased.

Quipley’s Don’t Believe It! ... Or Do?
Reasons Not to Study LinguisticsPart IVDyspepsia Prater and Cynnie Sizzum
SpecGram Vol CLXXXVI, No 3 Contents