i wanna be a grammatologist.

so, on a personal note, i'm casting about for a career. glamorous unpaid internships beckon, as does linguistics grad school. but my real passion turns out to be completely fictitious. worse than that, it's just a grammatical derivation of 'grammatology'.

'of grammatology' is one of jacques derrida's best known works; it's something like the bible (ahem!) of deconstruction. (i've never gotten through the whole thing, nor, unfortunately, do i have a copy in front of me.) in it, derrida outlines (literally--he sets the boundaries) of a non-science known as grammatology. on the one hand, it's a semiotics--a study of signs. on the other hand, it examines the foundations of the possibility of human knowledge. the tenets of the book never add up to a course of action for a positive science or a philosophy that one could live by. grammatology would always be stuck examining its own foundations in a never-ending self-reflexive mess of critical theory and no one would ever read the whole thing (ahem).

a google search for the term 'grammatologist' asked if i really wanted 'dermatologist,' but i think it's too late for med school. grammatologist returns only 763 hits, but they're some of the most interesting i've encountered.

-most appropriately, in an somewhat clumsy interview, jacques himself explains that there's no such thing as a grammatologist.
-a language log post about the history of the word grammelot and the tediousness of academic review in the blogosphere.
-a post on rhizome.org about a piece of pynchonian net art by mark amerika called 'phon:e:me,' which features a character who 'moonlights as an applied grammatologist' (it can be viewed with firefox, btw).
-and last, but not least, a mysterious message board discussion about martial arts, easter philosophy, and language.

but i think grammatology is more legit than a lot of people who use the term realize. i'm currently applying to a couple of linguistics graduate programs that focus on an phenomena known as 'grammaticization' or 'grammaticalization' (don't worry, linguists, i'm not going to say grammaticization is the same as grammatology!) grammaticization is a process of language change whereby new words and structures form from old bits of linguistic material. a canonical example is 'gonna.' 'going to' used to have a strictly physical meaning, but somehow developed the metaphorical meaning of future or intention. that semantic meaning became phonologically different from the physical 'going to,' which is still used (no one would ever say 'i'm gonna the store'), effectively making 'gonna' a new word or grammatical marker. (i don't really have an adequate grasp of all this yet!)

so, great, grammaticization happens according to certain predictable patterns. what does this have to do with grammatology? well, for semioticians, everything has a grammar. signs don't function as signs (don't convey their intended meaning, let's provisionally say) unless they're properly deployed within a grammatical structure. let's take a fairly literal and real-world example: street signs are a system of signs. they have a syntax--spatial, rather than temporal. the 'stop' sign at the end of my block is turned upside down, so it sort of reads 'pots,' but it still functions as a sign--we still stop at it. however, a friend and i, driving up i-35, saw a truck hauling a sign saying 'NW 63rd street, exit only' across a bridge. we did not interpret that sign to mean that we were approaching 63rd street, because it wasn't within the correct syntactic structure (namely, on a stationary pole over the highway). some errors impair meaning and some don't. if the same 'error' (saying 'gonna' for 'going to') is made over and over, it can enable a new sign to emerge within the same grammatical structure (i wish i could think of an example to apply this to street signs).

if linguists are studying the way new grammatical categories and words and structures form, what if they arrived at a generalizable model for how grammars grow and change? what if we could apply these phenomena of repeated error and re-interpretation to all systems of meaning and explain how totalities form, change, die? wouldn't it be sweet to be a grammatologist?

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails