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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: January ::
Re: Literature, Music, Language
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0025  Thursday, 7 January 1999.

[1]     From:   Betty Oakes <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 6 Jan 1999 10:49:04 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0018  Re: Literature, Music, Meaning

[2]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 6 Jan 1999 16:40:33 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0018  Re: Literature, Music, Meaning

[3]     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 05 Jan 1999 20:17:46 +0000
        Subj:   Grammar and Syntax


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Betty Oakes <
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Date:           Wednesday, 6 Jan 1999 10:49:04 EST
Subject: 10.0018  Re: Literature, Music, Meaning
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0018  Re: Literature, Music, Meaning

I'm embarrassed to say I can't credit the poet who proposed that a poem
should have meaning but not should mean anything.  Music may not mean
anything but it can certainly have meaning: it is the most direct art
form to communicate emotion from the artist to the reader or listener.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 6 Jan 1999 16:40:33 -0000
Subject: 10.0018  Re: Literature, Music, Meaning
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0018  Re: Literature, Music, Meaning

>What about the "music" of spoken language? would Gabriel Egan deny
>"meaning" to the intonations, inflections, stresses, volumes,
>intensities, rhythms and rates of that

Surely intonation, inflection and stress, at least, are part of the
language system, whether or not they're registered in any particular
semiotic description?

Robin Hamilton

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 05 Jan 1999 20:17:46 +0000
Subject:        Grammar and Syntax

> >>>Today's English is the lingua franca of the world because it
> >>>has always opted for elasticity and accommodation over
> >>>grammar and syntax.
> >
> >I wonder if Ms. Hughes can explain what she means by "elasticity and
> >accommodation."  All languages evolve to suit the changing situations of
> >their speakers-even languages which, like French, have (almost
> >universally) ignored  Academies ... and even so called "primitive"
> >languages, which, it turns out, have grammars as complex as those of
> >English or French or German or ...

Of course all languages evolve, and all have grammar and syntax, and all
(even French) absorb elements from their neighbors and their conquests.
Grammar and syntax develop out of usage, eventually creating rules that
grammarians don't like to see broken. I'm suggesting that, compared with
other languages, English has always been long on change (elasticity and
accommodation) and short on rules. Am I wrong?

> >Finally, When I was a student of linguistics-my research since grad
> >school has been mostly in computer science rather than in linguistics-
> >"grammar" was a synonym for "syntax."  What exactly do posters mean when
> >they refer to "grammar *and* syntax, as a few have done.
>
> I think they're probably using "grammar" to refer to the sum total of
> all the systems (phonology, morhology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics,
> etc.) which make up a language, and "syntax" to refer specifically to
> the system of arrangements and interrelationships between words and
> phrases that a specific language allows.  At least that's the way
> linguists often use the terms, very roughly speaking.  Or perhaps more
> likely, people are using "grammar" to refer to the collection of
> prescriptive rules they learned in school, and "syntax" to refer to the
> stuff they were supposed to learn by diagramming sentences.  At least
> that's the general impression I get from Stephanie Hughes' post, since
> she appears to be referring to "grammar and syntax" in a disparaging
> way, even though every language, including English, has both grammar and
> syntax from a linguistic standpoint.
>
> Dave Kathman
> 
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You've put it very well, although I'd add that, to me, "grammar" means
the relationship of words to each other as shown by tense, case, number,
etc., while syntax means the order of words in a sentence. As for
"disparaging," one might as well speak disparagingly of trees or grass.

> >Long sentences are needed for elaborate
> >thoughts. When we force students to chop up complex thoughts into single
> >phrase sentences we are doing something to the way they think, something
> >bad.
>
> At the risk of jumping into a controversy too early (I just started
> subscribing), I just would like to point out that when I was in school,
> this was considered the problem. We were taught that complex thoughts
> were of necessity best expressed in clear, simple writing. I still
> believe that.

> Douglas Chapman

Of necessity?

Where is it written that clear writing and long sentences are mutually
exclusive? An elaborate thought deserves an elaborate sentence, but
that's not to say that because it's elaborate it can't be clear.  As for
making complex thoughts simple, can it be done? Can a computer be made
simple like a hammer?  If we tell students to do something that can't be
done, we confuse them, and make it hard for them to express themselves:
"Oh, dear, this sentence is way too long. I'd better chop it up. Let's
see, where can I cut it? And should I cut it into two longish pieces, or
three really short pieces?" And so their personal style dies aborning,
and with it their interest in writing. What price education!

Writing styles are subject to fads, like everything else. The Victorians
loved long elaborate sentences just like they loved elaborate lamps,
hats and interior decor. Some of Proust's sentences take up half a page,
and those of us who love him wouldn't have it any other way. Then along
came WWI which blew everything to pieces, including writing styles. Like
the rest of his generation, Hemmingway was disgusted with everything
that had gone before, and showed it by limiting himself to laconic
he-man sentences ("Me Hemmingway, you Reader"), and the style swung to
the opposite pole, where it has pretty much remained ever since. Or at
least the fad has remained there. Good writers will always use the
language as it is meant to be used.

Stephanie Hughes
 

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