Organo-Linguistics—Grammaticality Brown SpecGram Vol CLXXXVIII, No 4 Contents A phonetic analysis of input to speech-to-text software in an attempt to improve on Upper’s (1974) unsuccessful self-treatment of a case of “writer’s block”—Fabian Tomaschek, Benjamin V. Tucker

The Predicament of the Predicate
or What Have the Grecians Ever Done for Undergraduates?

Mavis Mandalay
Professor of Dead Languages in Linguistics
The Δίς Λεγόμενον Centre for Endeepened Ideation

Open any linguistics textbook, and, after the heavily annotated and thumbprint-smudged first few pages (followed by many entirely unstained and unread pages), sooner or later, you’ll come across that most hallowed ground of the linguistic concepticon, the notion of the predicate. Here’s a standard definition from Linger, Uist & Iks (2017):

A predicate is an event or state perceived (and/or conceptualised) as manifesting itself in the world and in which entities (known as arguments) participate to form predicate-argument structures. Along with adjuncts and certain other information generally conveyed in grammatical function words ... [remainder of definition omitted for health and safety reasons].

“Harrumph!” That’s the sound of most of my undergraduates reading that for the first time.1 Of course, they re-read it many more times once we get on to why verbs are not the only predicates, why seem is a verb but isn’t a predicate (or so they say), why copular be is another kind of verb but not a predicate (or so they claim) and why auxiliary be isn’t like copular be but also isn’t a predicate (or so it is said).

But the big question (other than “Can we have an extension to our essay submission date?”) is “Why states and events? Why not also processes, or attributes and qualities? And why are we doing this?”2 That of course gets us straight into (a)telicity, semelfactivity, inchoativity and all the joys of Vendler’s Aktionsart. Well, there must be a better way to help these poor linguists of the future with the fairly obvious distinction between states and events. And, the obvious answer is always the one right under your nose. And there’s nothing more obvious in linguistics in 2020 that the fragmentary ramblings of a couple of sociopathic pre-Socratic philosophers from three civilizations away. A big hand, everyone, for Parmenides and Heraclitus!

[Applause etc.]

Because, as I was saying to my cleaner the other Tuesday, Mendo and Clite (as Parmenides and Heraclitus were known respectively to their friends (The Apology Part II)) went head to head in antiquity on the competing notions of change and changelessness. Clite, who is best known for not stepping into the same river, was all about the change. Flux was everywhere for the old man. Like, when he went to buy some cans of beer from the corner shop, he always bought a different brand. That sort of thing. Mendo, by contrast, wouldn’t shut up about changelessness. If the bus didn’t arrive at exactly the same time as yesterday, there was hell to pay.

Relying on that old trick that the appearance isn’t necessarily the reality, Mendo gave Clite ten shades of “Whaddaya think about that?” regarding the latter’s insistence that becoming is not only everything but actually πάντα ῥεῖ. Clite, meanwhile, sitting on his own in the corner over there, makes an appeal to fire as primordial and then just returns to wittering on about river metaphors.

We can leave those two old goats to it. As long as no one tells ’em it’s just monadism versus systems theory they’ll keep going until Socrates is poisoned and no one’s any the wiser. But, we’re all about predicates as states and events, as you’ll remember, and I’m sure I don’t need to point out the obvious: Parmenidean monadic changelessness is an ontological underpinning of the semantic notion of the state while Heraclitan panta rhei is simply event by some other name.

So, with this new pedagogic trick up my sleeve, I’ve redone my first-year syntax reading list to include a comprehensive Ancient Greek course followed by translation activities on the fragments of Heraclitus and Parmenides and then a series of seminars on the pertinent secondary sources (the Cratylus and other relevant texts). I’m more than confident that this’ll get at the essence of a linguistic notion of the predicate, marks’ll go up and feedback improve, and I’ll get a teaching excellence award by the end of the academic year.

1 Or because I’ve turned up 10 minutes late again (it’s hard to find time for a quick smoke during term time).

2 Not actually their questions; more kinda the ones I ask them for homework.

Organo-LinguisticsGrammaticality Brown
A phonetic analysis of input to speech-to-text software in an attempt to improve on Upper’s (1974) unsuccessful self-treatment of a case of “writer’s block”Fabian Tomaschek, Benjamin V. Tucker
SpecGram Vol CLXXXVIII, No 4 Contents