1576: "I Could Care Less"

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Dec 05, 2015 8:44 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:If you start doing that, you are engaging in prescription, albeit a different kind than the kind you hate so much, and then the justification of your prescription is open to question, as is your hypocricy in engaging in prescription while at the same time poo-poohing it.
The reason we keep coming back to "this fucking shit again" is that you keep being unwilling or unable to understand what anyone else in the world means when they talk about "descriptivist" and "prescriptivist".

Being opposed to prescriptivism about language in no way magically makes me a hypocrite when I am in favor of prescribing other totally different things (as I already explained in this very thread last time you decided to whine about all the meanie descriptivists).

Your argument here is just as logical as, "You are opposed to the government regulating what chemicals you put into your own body, therefore you're a hypocrite when you support government regulation of utility companies."
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby xtifr » Sat Dec 05, 2015 9:00 pm UTC

ucim wrote:English language and usage is not controlled by a high authority. Spanish is.


Spanish (and French) have official bodies that purport to offer the official definitions for the language. In practice, the language spoken by native Spanish and French speakers is broader than the language defined by official bodies, and linguists will document all of the above.

When discussing Spanish, prescriptivists are using the correct approach, and descriptivists are not.

Unless the linguists are trying to be accurate, in which case, they will document how the people of Madrid or Barcelona actually speak, as well as how the academies think they should speak. The latter is, of course, important, since it provides a very solid definition for prestige speech. In English, determining the bounds of prestige speech tends to be difficult, since it varies from place to place and from year to year. And knowing prestige speech is important. But if you want to go to Paris or Bogota and sound like a native, you need to understand how Parisians or the people of Bogota actually speak, and not just how some institution thinks they should speak.

So, in a sense, it depends on your goals. If you want to submit a paper to the Spanish government, then you should follow what the language regulators prescribe; otherwise you will be (in some sense of the word) incorrect. However, if you want to speak with people on the streets of Tijuana, you may be better off (not to mention safer) to learn the local dialect. No matter what language you're speaking, using prestige speech in the wrong location (e.g. a dive bar in a bad part of town) can be physically dangerous, no matter how "correct" you consider it to be. :)
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby ucim » Sat Dec 05, 2015 9:31 pm UTC

rmsgrey wrote:So presumably there are actually (at least) two languages known as "Spanish" - there's the formally regulated official language, and then there's what Spaniards and a large chunk of Latin Americans speak as their natural language.
Yes. And there are (at least) two languages known as "English" - the language spoken in Southern US, the language spoken in England, the language spoken on television...

However, in the case of English, saying one is "incorrect" is incorrect.

In the case of Spanish, it is correct to say that "what Spaniards and a large chunk of Latin Americans speak as their natural language" is incorrect.

However, as xtifr points out, it might sometimes be a good choice to speak incorrectly.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby rmsgrey » Sat Dec 05, 2015 9:45 pm UTC

ucim wrote:
rmsgrey wrote:So presumably there are actually (at least) two languages known as "Spanish" - there's the formally regulated official language, and then there's what Spaniards and a large chunk of Latin Americans speak as their natural language.
Yes. And there are (at least) two languages known as "English" - the language spoken in Southern US, the language spoken in England, the language spoken on television...

However, in the case of English, saying one is "incorrect" is incorrect.

In the case of Spanish, it is correct to say that "what Spaniards and a large chunk of Latin Americans speak as their natural language" is incorrect.

However, as xtifr points out, it might sometimes be a good choice to speak incorrectly.

Jose


Is it correct to say that the natural language speakers are incorrect in their speech? It seems to me that in order to defend that assertion, you'd have to posit that they are intending to speak the formally-defined language "Spanish" not the natural language "Spanish" (though it's peerfickly poosabell two spook unwrightish in an unregulated language - just harder to separate "incorrect" from "unfamiliar").

What's definitely incorrect is treating mistakes in one language as mistakes in another, even if they share the same name.

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby chridd » Sat Dec 05, 2015 10:02 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Kind of, though predictions really aren't prescriptions. "The climate is getting warmer," is a description about the present. "If we don't change anything, sea levels will destroy such-and-such area of coastal land by 2100," is a description about the future (i.e. a prediction). "The correct solution is drastically cutting carbon emissions," is more of a prescription. (And of course climate scientists are absolutely welcome to make such prescriptions, they're just not doing pure climate science when they do it.)

Similarly, "If you use double negatives in your speech many people will think you're lazy or uneducated," is a description/prediction, while, "It is incorrect to use double negatives," is more of a prescription. (Or at least the imperative version, "Aways avoid double negatives," is one.)
But by this definition, "If you use [some particular word] with [some particular meaning] people will misunderstand you" is a description, and "Therefore, you shouldn't use that word to mean that" is a prescription. And "If you use [some particular word] then you'll offend people" or "If you use [some particular word] then you'll perpetuate a misconception" is a description, and "Therefore, you shouldn't use it" is a prescription. And "No one really notices when you break [some particular rule], and even those who say you should follow it frequently break it" is a description, and "Therefore, you should ignore the rule" is a prescription.

The problem is that "prescriptivism" is often used to refer to a specific type of prescription, namely, certain traditional rules that, at best, are (or were at one point) used to distinguish who's educated, and at worst, are just stated and never really followed. But not all language prescription is prescriptivism. Saying that one should avoid offensive language, for instance, isn't part of the traditional rules, but it's still a prescription in the sense that it's telling people what they should and shouldn't say. And the opposite view is sometimes called "descriptivism", even though telling people that they should ignore a rule is a prescription, not a description.

But that terminology is problematic, because while "descriptivism" in that sense isn't a bad position, and it's a position I kind of agree with, it seems like people who call their position "descriptivism" tend to argue as if "descriptivism" and description, and "prescriptivism" and prescription, are the same thing, for instance, by treating things that are prescription as if they were done for the same reasons as "prescriptivism" even when they aren't part of traditional "prescriptivism", or using the fact that science is descriptive to say that "prescriptivism" is unscientific, or by arguing against prescriptions as if they were descriptions and calling that "descriptivism". (And even if people don't argue that way, that terminology is likely to cause confusion, both among people who believe arguments against "prescriptivism" and then, because of confusing terminology, go on to dislike prescription that isn't "prescriptivism", and among people who care about prescribing things who won't be convinced to be "descriptivists" because they think it will mean giving up all prescription. And then people will talk past each other and it'll just get ugly.)

xtifr wrote:One of the differences between science and faith (better terms than descriptivist and prescriptivist)
I disagree; that ties it to a completely separate debate, and those terms already have strong positive and/or negative connotations for some people, which will just make it more annoying to argue about.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Dec 05, 2015 11:01 pm UTC

chridd wrote:But not all language prescription is prescriptivism.
A point I've been waiting for Pfhorrest to understand for several months.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Copper Bezel » Sun Dec 06, 2015 12:04 am UTC

Y'know, guys, before the philosophical-semantic kerfuffle, King Author was saying something demonstrably wrong in fact. Um.

ucim wrote:In the case of Spanish, it is correct to say that "what Spaniards and a large chunk of Latin Americans speak as their natural language" is incorrect.

And without making any nonsense claims of hypocrisy or whatever else, there's no way on earth you're convincing me this isn't the objective morality thread over again.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby elasto » Sun Dec 06, 2015 2:48 pm UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:
ucim wrote:In the case of Spanish, it is correct to say that "what Spaniards and a large chunk of Latin Americans speak as their natural language" is incorrect.

And without making any nonsense claims of hypocrisy or whatever else, there's no way on earth you're convincing me this isn't the objective morality thread over again.

Indeed. That kind of statement puts me in mind of the bonus comic on this SMBC (press the red plunger to view it).

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby CharlieP » Mon Dec 07, 2015 4:38 pm UTC

ucim wrote:
rmsgrey wrote:So presumably there are actually (at least) two languages known as "Spanish" - there's the formally regulated official language, and then there's what Spaniards and a large chunk of Latin Americans speak as their natural language.
Yes. And there are (at least) two languages known as "English" - the language spoken in Southern US, the language spoken in England, the language spoken on television...


There are at least twenty-seven different kinds of English spoken in England. :)
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby HES » Mon Dec 07, 2015 6:05 pm UTC

Do 1337 and lolcat count as kinds of English?
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Dec 07, 2015 6:53 pm UTC

ucim wrote:In the case of Spanish, it is correct to say that "what Spaniards and a large chunk of Latin Americans speak as their natural language" is incorrect.
Just like it's correct to say that the way you're speaking my (English-inspired) conlang is incorrect.

Because that's what those Academies are essentially doing: constructing a language which is similar to but distinct from the natural language everyone around them speaks.

(English has style guides, too, incidentally.)

An analogy I've used before is that a prescriptivist individual or organization telling a group of people they're speaking their own native language incorrectly because it doesn't follow some rules in a book is about as reasonable as telling a group of kids they're playing schoolyard soccer incorrectly because they aren't on a regulation-sized field.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby elasto » Fri Dec 18, 2015 6:59 am UTC

Hah!

Another SMBC comic to sum it all up here

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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Copper Bezel » Fri Dec 18, 2015 9:44 am UTC

Yeah, that pretty much covers it, huh. = o
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Dec 18, 2015 1:24 pm UTC

elasto wrote:Hah!

Another SMBC comic to sum it all up here

How does it do that, exactly?
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Copper Bezel » Fri Dec 18, 2015 9:09 pm UTC

It certainly touches on all of the material and consequential things that you and Phforrest seem to disagree on, but so does this statement:
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Dec 18, 2015 10:39 pm UTC

You don't think we disagree on anything material or consequential? Have you actually read any of our interactions before?
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Copper Bezel » Fri Dec 18, 2015 11:06 pm UTC

In reference to this prescriptivism vs. descriptivism bit, "this fucking shit"? I have to admit that my sense of your past disagreements is fuzzy and almost certainly influenced by the present thread. I don't think Pfhorrest's post originally, in this thread, say anything controversial or that you directly controverted it. I'm very probably projecting this one back onto past instances of your disagreement.

I've already said that the discussion in this one, to me, looks a hell of a lot like the objective morality thread, and the SMBC comic very aptly summed up my feelings on it: here are two (or three, perhaps) wildly different and mutually incompatible philosophical bases for coming to all of the same conclusions.

I do think that asserting that clarity of communication must be the single and ultimate judge of "good" and "bad" choices in language expression is an ethics-like assertion that can't be drawn from study of the thing. I think it's pretty easy to say that it's the most natural starting point, but I think ethics itself has natural starting points, too. And once you work in all of the unstated qualifications, you can certainly make it compatible with any way of expressing yourself in language or prescribing methods for others.

I'm still far more concerned with the assertions that are both philosophically and practically broken, like ucim's about the existence of academies making some languages have a "right" form, while others do not. But I think that's drawn from looking for a philosophical structure "under" the reality where none exists.

So yes, I really do think the SMBC comic looked very similar to how the discussion above looked from my perspective.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Pfhorrest » Sat Dec 19, 2015 3:55 am UTC

FWIW in that SMBC I identify most with the "pragmatist" position. I've never claimed to be defending the thing usually meant by "prescriptivism", the "these are the rules, look someone wrote them down, now obey them or you're wrong, because they said so!" kind of elitist authoritarian position. I'm just equally opposed to the appeal-to-popular-authority position that seems to get labelled "descriptivism" (wrongly IMO; actual descriptive linguistic research is great in my book), and say that a mistake (whatever constitutes a mistake) becoming widespread enough doesn't thereby cease to be a mistake.

I agree with you Copper Bezel that it's analogous to an argument about objective morality (I'm not familiar with the thread you're referencing though), and that seems to be a point where gmalivuk disagrees. I see the traditional "prescriptivism vs descriptivism" argument as analogous to religious moral absolutism vs moral relativism, and my position as, broadly speaking, analogous to some kind of rule utilitarianism, and both of the usual alternatives as irrational appeals to authority, be it either an elitist authority or popular authority; or else the latter, worse still, as tantamount to nihilism if taken to its logical conclusion, though it pretends otherwise.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Dec 19, 2015 6:05 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:FWIW in that SMBC I identify most with the "pragmatist" position. I've never claimed to be defending the thing usually meant by "prescriptivism", the "these are the rules, look someone wrote them down, now obey them or you're wrong, because they said so!" kind of elitist authoritarian position. I'm just equally opposed to the appeal-to-popular-authority position that seems to get labelled "descriptivism" (wrongly IMO; actual descriptive linguistic research is great in my book), and say that a mistake (whatever constitutes a mistake) becoming widespread enough doesn't thereby cease to be a mistake.

I agree with you Copper Bezel that it's analogous to an argument about objective morality (I'm not familiar with the thread you're referencing though), and that seems to be a point where gmalivuk disagrees. I see the traditional "prescriptivism vs descriptivism" argument as analogous to religious moral absolutism vs moral relativism, and my position as, broadly speaking, analogous to some kind of rule utilitarianism, and both of the usual alternatives as irrational appeals to authority, be it either an elitist authority or popular authority; or else the latter, worse still, as tantamount to nihilism if taken to its logical conclusion, though it pretends otherwise.
You're arguing against a version of descriptivism that doesn't actually exist, at least not among the usual posters on the subject here.

As usual.

What does it mean to be "really really shitty at" language, if not to be ineffective at communicating what you want to communicate?
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Copper Bezel » Sat Dec 19, 2015 2:39 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:You're arguing against a version of descriptivism that doesn't actually exist, at least not among the usual posters on the subject here.

As usual.

Strict moral relativism would be equally hard to spot in the wild, I would think.

What does it mean to be "really really shitty at" language, if not to be ineffective at communicating what you want to communicate?

At the very least I think it's distractingly phrased, and possibly circular. "Communicating" sounds on the surface to be referring to the literal information that's being encoded into the passive and transparent medium of speech or writing. It's putting an emphasis on a particular kind of information content, the kind that a meteorology textbook has quite a lot of and that smalltalk ostensibly about the weather has very little of. Both the textbook and the smalltalk are of course rich with other forms of social signaling, defining a position for the speaker and inviting a relationship to the listener and so on, often through very indirect cues. I don't think there's any part of language that isn't communicating something, but there's very little of any action in a society that isn't communicating something, either.

I'd think that being "really really shitty at" language in a way that's analogous to being "really really shitty at" gymnastics implies inelegance or lack of training. Is your handling of the medium pleasing to others? Does it make you appear competent and contribute to, rather than reduce, your perceived social position in this interaction?*

Or for comparison, what does it mean to be "really really shitty at" drawing? Drawing is just communicating what you see, right?

I don't think it's difficult to say that success in language is success in communication, but I don't think that actually helps define what "success" is. I mean, there are certainly cases where communicating unclearly brings about a desired effect on your listener, whether by your own keikaku or by unexamined application of custom. In those cases, therefore, it's more successful to communicate "poorly" - and that's fine, it's still success in communication, but it's pretty distantly abstracted from the immediate implication of "communicating what you want to communicate".

* To be clear, I'm not saying that this is another the only possible way to judge language expression. It's definitely another way that language is judged, and is either a subset of or a separate domain from "success in communication", depending on how "communication" is read.

Edited for extra qualification.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Dec 19, 2015 3:17 pm UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:You're arguing against a version of descriptivism that doesn't actually exist, at least not among the usual posters on the subject here.

As usual.
Strict moral relativism would be equally hard to spot in the wild, I would think.
And also probably doesn't exist. Argue against it as a philosophical exercise if you like, but my problem with Pfhorrest is the apparent additional notion that it's the position that's actually held by real people here on the forum.

"Communicating" sounds on the surface to be referring to the literal information that's being encoded into the passive and transparent medium of speech or writing.
That may be what you think it sounds like on the surface, but as I've said every time this discussion has come up, for the past several years, people almost never want to communicate only the literal denotation of the uttered proposition. At the very least there are always things an utterance might potentially communicate that the speaker wouldn't want to communicate.

I have never restricted "communication" to the particular type of information you're talking about, and since all of us can make sense of phrases like "non-verbal communication", I don't think anyone else really makes that restriction, either, unless for the rhetorical purpose of creating a straw "anything goes" version of descriptivism.

Even if others do tend to understand it in a far narrower way than I assume, I've clarified multiple times that information about things like education level and social group membership is also included in what I mean by "communication".
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Copper Bezel » Sat Dec 19, 2015 4:07 pm UTC

But I honestly think Pfhorrest is right that in nine of ten cases in encountering self-described descriptivists in internet arguments, you're talking to someone who believes that they have a philosophically sound and complete structure for claiming that usage defines right and therefore their highly-attested usage in this instance, whatever it happens to be, is right, and everyone else is wrong. Or, far more often, responding to a particular "correction" by labeling it "prescriptivist", while making plenty of their own prescriptions themselves.

Prescriptivism, meanwhile, isn't even a philosophical position, just a description of a behavior. I mean, I will say I've had plenty of conversations where my conversation partner held a completely uninterrogated set of values about "right" and "wrong" usage based in nothing more than how they were taught, and simply lacked critical apparatus to negotiate between contradictions, or seemed to naively fail to understand that their own sense of how the language worked was a thing that had evolved from prior historical forms of the language, or even felt themselves defending the language against the invading hordes and so on. But there's no philosophical basis to any of that.

Even where this discussion started with King Author's post really was a naive misapplication of the ideas of "prescriptivism" and "descriptivism", as if these were opposing teams and Randall was to be chastised for switching sides.

And if we remove those pesky connotations and built-in priorities implied in the language, "communication should be judged by how well it communicates" is definitely circular.

So, yeah, I think we're much more in the realm of philosophical exercise than anything to do with real people to begin with, and anyone who isn't deeply confused is a pragmatist.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Pfhorrest » Sat Dec 19, 2015 7:05 pm UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:Strict moral relativism would be equally hard to spot in the wild, I would think.

While I struggle to think of even a single professional academic philosopher off the top of my head who defends it, it seems like the vast majority of people on the internet I encounter subscribe to some variety of it. Unless you mean something much narrower by "moral relativism" than I do, which is just any non-universalist position (where universalism is broader than some senses of "objectivism" or "realism" and doesn't necessarily imply anything ontological; e.g. R. M. Hare's position) that pretends not to be completely nihilistic; any position that say in effect "nothing is really, actually right and wrong, it's all just baseless human opinion" but doesn't then say "so all claims that anything is right or wrong are false, and anything goes, there's actually nothing wrong with rape and murder, we just don't like it, but if you like it and can get away with it over our objections, I guess that's OK philosophically". Very few people seem willing to make the latter commitment (thankfully!), but almost everyone I encounter on the internet wants to make the former, which makes most of them relativists as far as I can see.

Copper Bezel wrote:But I honestly think Pfhorrest is right that in nine of ten cases in encountering self-described descriptivists in internet arguments, you're talking to someone who believes that they have a philosophically sound and complete structure for claiming that usage defines right and therefore their highly-attested usage in this instance, whatever it happens to be, is right, and everyone else is wrong. Or, far more often, responding to a particular "correction" by labeling it "prescriptivist", while making plenty of their own prescriptions themselves.

Thank you (seriously, I hate this thread much less with you in it), and also, that seems analogous to the scenario with moral relativism discussed above.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Copper Bezel » Sat Dec 19, 2015 7:22 pm UTC

There's a whole thread on this, but I think most people coming from a perspective of moral relativism tend to see things on the level of the culture rather than on the level of the individual. It definitely doesn't mean that anything you can get away with is morally justified, and if moral relativism required that, I don't think it would be very popular in any permutation. What I meant in referring to strict moral relativism is a philosophical stance where right and wrong are necessarily and completely defined by the cultural practice, and thus no widespread cultural practice could ever be "wrong". I admit that's definitely not unambiguously the only position that could be called a "strict moral relativism", but it seems a better fit to me than individual nihilism.

But, again, yeah, there's a whole thread on this in SB.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Pfhorrest » Sat Dec 19, 2015 8:30 pm UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:There's a whole thread on this, but I think most people coming from a perspective of moral relativism tend to see things on the level of the culture rather than on the level of the individual. It definitely doesn't mean that anything you can get away with is morally justified, and if moral relativism required that, I don't think it would be very popular in any permutation.

Yes, I'm not saying that's relativism, I'm saying that's nihilism, to the point of clarifying that relativism is any non-universalism that claims not to be nihilism. And further to the point that lots of people on the internet seem to deny universalism and also deny nihilism, and consequently implicitly affirm relativism.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Copper Bezel » Sat Dec 19, 2015 9:26 pm UTC

Okay, but

What I meant in referring to strict moral relativism is a philosophical stance where right and wrong are necessarily and completely defined by the cultural practice, and thus no widespread cultural practice could ever be "wrong".


That's the thing I meant would be difficult to spot in the wild in purest (purist?) form. I don't know, can you "implicitly" affirm something as abstract as the kind of philosophical stances we're talking about here by denying other things? That's hardly an exhaustive list.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Pfhorrest » Sun Dec 20, 2015 1:35 am UTC

Well if there are no universal moral truths (contra universalism), but there are some moral truths (contra nihilism), all that's left is that whatever moral truths there are must be relative. That sure sounds like "right and wrong are necessarily and completely defined by the cultural practice" to me, though maybe 'opinion' might be a closer fit than 'practice' (with practice serving as evidence of opinion, still).

And yeah I think it's totally possible to implicitly take a philosophical stance, if you've explicitly rejected its negation. (In this case the negation of the relativist thesis, "there are moral truths but they are all relative", is "there are some non-relative moral truths, or no moral truths at all", the dysjuncts of which are the theses of universalism and nihilism respectively).
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Dec 20, 2015 2:35 am UTC

With language, the information that an utterance conveys depends on the way other people use that utterance, but there is objective truth about what information is in fact conveyed in a particular speech act, how clearly and unambiguously it's understood, and so on. And that information can in principle be compared to what informationthe speaker intended to convey, and the clarity and ambiguity can be compared to the intended levels of clarity and ambiguity, and thus there is a fact of the matter of how well the speaker succeeded with their communicative act.

"Relative to culture" doesn't just mean one thing, so it doesn't make sense to criticize it as if it is. ALl kinds of things are social constructs, but that doesn't mean all social constructs work the same way.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Copper Bezel » Sun Dec 20, 2015 1:59 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:And yeah I think it's totally possible to implicitly take a philosophical stance, if you've explicitly rejected its negation. (In this case the negation of the relativist thesis, "there are moral truths but they are all relative", is "there are some non-relative moral truths, or no moral truths at all", the dysjuncts of which are the theses of universalism and nihilism respectively).

That assumes that the person's position must necessarily be logically consistent within your chosen taxonomy, though. And since no one actually comes to their practiced morality solely by solving out the implications of a couple of first-principle axioms, I'm not sure that that's a fair or useful assumption to be making.

gmalivuk wrote:With language, the information that an utterance conveys depends on the way other people use that utterance, but there is objective truth about what information is in fact conveyed in a particular speech act, how clearly and unambiguously it's understood, and so on. And that information can in principle be compared to what information the speaker intended to convey, and the clarity and ambiguity can be compared to the intended levels of clarity and ambiguity, and thus there is a fact of the matter of how well the speaker succeeded with their communicative act.

Don't get me wrong, I think that's the most obvious standard in most cases, even if I think it's probably better ultimately to frame it as bringing about a desired state in the listener than the receipt of information. I also think that internal aesthetics held about the language are at least as important as anything that we'd normally describe as clarity in the actual cases where individuals are actually likely to correct one another. You can certainly describe that in terms of clearly communicating one's own elegant command of the language or some such, but that does seem like an unnecessary stretch to me that's a point against rather than one for the idea of treating the whole business of success in language in terms of clarity and information.

But those are very similar ways of describing the same set of concerns. At best, they're reducing the importance of particular kinds of authorities or conventions by failing to name-check them.

I want to say that a person either is or is not imposing an arbitrary external preferred state, whether the ones who do impose an arbitrary standard do so through the naive and provincial perspective granted by the form of the language they were taught to speak and write, or for political or other reasons, and so on. But a person can fully understand how languages develop and still take the position that standardizations or reforms would make a particular language better. The French Academy clearly takes the position that one of the goals of the French language is to be as French as possible, and exerts its power to influence the language that is actually spoken. Perhaps they simply want to make certain that speakers clearly communicate how very French they are.

I don't think it's useful to make -isms out of these activities. Linguistics departments are descriptive institutions and academies are prescriptive ones, and thus largely participate in those respective activities. Perhaps there is a perfect linguist out there who never corrects anyone or even winces internally without a very good and logically well-investigated reason to do so, soundly and securely justified in the concept of communication itself, but that seems more a matter of constitution than one of philosophy.

To me, in most cases, it looks a lot more like preference, aesthetics, conventions, trends, occasional shibboleths - fashion. And any arrangement of schools of fashion is going to be organized more by arbitrary historical accident of which preferences and tastes happened to cluster which ways than by any fundamental differences of philosophical stance.

So to say, "I'm a descriptivist, and this is my philosophical underpinning for that choice, as well as for my own choices of when and what to prescribe" doesn't hold a lot of water for me. I really think it's literally interchangeable with "I understand linguistics". (Which in itself is good, obviously - it's certainly better than taking the position that the correct use of this or that case or mood, or whether this particular adjective can take an intensifier, is each some kind of autonomous moral precondition of the universe.)
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Dec 20, 2015 3:38 pm UTC

Well yes, as xtifr has said, there are descriptivists and there are non-linguists.

The reason I wouldn't tend to include aesthetic considerations is because I've always maintained that one person's aesthetic preferences should have no bearing on the correctness of another person's utterance, except when the first person thinks those preferences are absolute and objective and will assume undesirable things about the speaker if those preferences are violated. For example, don't split infinitives in a letter to someone who will believe you're uneducated or lazy for splitting an infinitive, unless you're okay with that person believing you're uneducated or lazy.

As with cultural practices, aesthetics are relevant but they are sort of one step removed from "correctness" in the sense of "successful communication of information". (It's too broad to relate this idea of correctness with bringing about a desired internal state, because I'm not willing to count things like inadvertently hitting a nerve as a kind of language mistake.)

It's like, my act of giving you $5 in exchange for this item is not correct because that happens to be the average price for the item in the market we're both in, but rather becaue the price tag says it costs $5. The decision to put that tag on it was likely caused by all sorts of more complex economic and cultural interactions, but in the end giving you $5 is the correct price because it's the price that will buy me the item.
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Re: 1576: "I Could Care Less"

Postby Copper Bezel » Sun Dec 20, 2015 5:18 pm UTC

I suppose that's fair - most of our notions of correctness have a general consensus behind them, and it's only in particular cases that we haggle with them, even internally. Correctness still looks to me less like "communication" and more like performance, though - and, I mean, fully acknowledging that performance and language are both kinds of communication, they're different subsets, and I still think it's either misleading or trivially true to say that language should be judged by how well it communicates.

The reason I wouldn't tend to include aesthetic considerations is because I've always maintained that one person's aesthetic preferences should have no bearing on the correctness of another person's utterance, except when the first person thinks those preferences are absolute and objective and will assume undesirable things about the speaker if those preferences are violated. For example, don't split infinitives in a letter to someone who will believe you're uneducated or lazy for splitting an infinitive, unless you're okay with that person believing you're uneducated or lazy.

Does a thing stop being "aesthetic" when it reaches some degree of consensus, though?

To me, it really looks like language correctness is always defined by convention and trend; mastery or lack thereof and choice to conform to or selectively differ from those conventions and trends. Language can err at a spelling level, a syntactic level, a grammatical level that's concerned with "special" properties of a particular word in a particular kind of construction, a lexical level, a stylistic level, and any number of others coming from different directions, so that there are certain syntax errors no native speaker would make in speech, all the way up to commonly misunderstood fixed phrases. And the act of performing according to convention in any one or all of those layers is as completely separate from the act of clearly denoting an intended message as a pile of bricks and wheels is from a Lego car.

Like, I personally happen to hate the misheard fixed phrase "peaks my interest", partly because a person's choice to repeat it is a shibboleth of an unattentive and uncritical handling of language, partly because it retains the meaning of the fixed phrase "piques my interest" despite seeming to mean something very different when read literally, and partly because I can't help thinking how unnatural a construction it would be for someone who'd never hear the latter phrase. In speech, I'll even say "pricks my interest" to allude to the fixed phrase myself while sort of calquing it away from homophony with the misinterpretation, despite occasionally using the word "pique" otherwise (as in "fit of pique"). That's an entirely aesthetic calculus. Granted, it's one where I'm not particularly bothered by defining "correctness", either, but those are the kinds of considerations I have in mind when I'm reconsidering my own language habits.
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