betwixt and betweenst

And now, back to some linguistic observations! (for those of you interested in reading our continued debate on truth and language, which will be ongoing but is currently on hiatus, refer to the comments of the immediately previous post)

While reading a transcript of a hearing, i encountered two neologisms (dare i say invented usages?): 'scalvaging,' which appeared twice in the speech of the same speaker, and, based on the context, seemed to cross the word 'salvage' with the word 'scavenge'. and another speaker used the word 'betweenst,' as in the sentence, 'they talked about it betweenst themselves.' the suffix 'st' is often an archaic form, as in 'whilst' and 'amongst,' and the speaker may have been using it to make his speech seem more formal or appropriate for a legal setting. as of this posting, a google search for 'betweenst' returned 708 hits, some of which seem serious, though some are clearly parodic. 'scalvage' returned 52 hits.

another 'made up' word that's gotten a lot of press on the internet is 'nother' or ''nother,' which is formed from detaching the article 'a' from the original word 'another.' it most commonly occurs when an adjective separates 'a' and 'nother' as in, "that's a whole nother story." Here are some sites that provide some different perspectives on the 'nother' usage: words at random, professor brians' list of common errors (also note that, at the bottom of the page, the professor lists words and usages commonly considered erroneous that are actually 'correct.' this is probably a whole nother post on its own.), inflections (which also contains a post called 'what has clueless, like, done to language?' that may remind some of you of our previous discussions of like usage.)

how about one more example before i get to the BIG POINT of this post? a friend recently sent me this link to a wikipedia article about the new word 'teh,' which apparently originated from countless mis-typings of the word 'the.' but 'teh' has come into its own, thanks to the internet and a generation of l33t hackers. it's got a whole grammar, much like a real word.

so, the common thread among all these usages is their inventedness. but, even if they're made up, unintentional, or uneducated, they already function as words. they convey meaning, are googleable, are recognizable to people who have never encountered them before, including court reporters. these seemingly aberrant usages, with their varied levels of social acceptability, cannot be excluded by linguists who want to study the general movement of a language.

keep in mind, all these words are 'corruptions' of previous words. they are formed arbitrarily based on ease of typing or articulation, or from 'mistaken' cominglings of other words. but these 'mistakes' are the very process of linguistic change. it is through those who do not know the rules (or choose not to follow them), or who use language quickly, that language changes itself most dramatically.


blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah

[WARNING: Not spell checked or re-read, because I don't care and neither should you]

I don't have to have been lied to in order to have an incorrect belief about how the world works. If every time I eat a bagel an earthquake strikes for the first few times I eat a bagel, I might well believe, based solely on experience, that my eating a bagel causes earthquakes. But further experimentation with bagel-eating would show that this belief is false/incorrect.
First off, how would you be able to recognize that your belief was incorrect? If the earth ceased to quake as you ate a bagel, how would you be able to conclude that the two incidents weren't correlated? That something had been incorrect about your original belief?

Isn't this superstition? The two events, outside of LINGUISTIC communication with others, will always be related. Just because it stops doesn't mean you can conclude the events were never related in the first place. Also, exactly who would the belief be incorrect to? This example doesn't work, because you're speaking of yourself, yourself who already knows the bagel-eating is not related to earth-quaking. Therefore you CAN conclude that the two events are unrelated.

So let's bring in the feral child, bring in a bagel, start an earthquake and get cracking. Ms. Feral Child doesn't know anything about earthquakes. Ms. Feral Child can eat a bagel. So everytime she does the earth shakes. RUMBLE. "My god," Ms. Feral Child doesn't think, "There must be some correlation between my bagel eating and earthquakes."


We have a problem. How can Ms. Feral Child seperate the bagel and the earthquake? Well, I suppose she could've experienced earthquakes before independent of bagel eating, but this would invalidate the whole experiment out of the gate. Right? For our (your) own purposes you'd like the test subject to form an unadulterated belief that bagel-eating is linked to earth-quaking.

So now, moving backward: How can Ms. Feral Child seperate the bagel and the earthquake? I would argue that since the two events occur simultaneously and have occured without predating one another that they are in fact the same event. Bagel eating would involve the taste, the masticating, the digestion, the salivating as much as it involved the earth-quaking.

Now we, being Mr's and Mrs's Non-Feral Children know that there's no correlation between bagel eating and earth-quaking. We also know that the two events are seperate. We have two categories, bagel and earthquake. Of course, these are just morphemes attach to concepts we could've formed anyway without language. You see here's another issue with all of this: To suppose the child has "non-liguistic thought" is I suppose alright, but don't we mean "non-linguistic" in the sense of "not linguistic in the sense of our modern evolved human world". We are really imagining humans at the origin here, something we can only do looking back through the lens of our existing and categorized "linguistic thought". So this "non-linguistic thought" on the part Ms. Feral Child, how can we say it's not "linguistic thought" in a different sense than WE mean "linguistic thought".

Some would have us believe that this feral child, the human being at its origin had completely non-linguistic thought, thought completely uncorrelated to modern thought. This strikes me as ludicrous. If there thought was completely unrelated to our "LINGUISTIC" thought then how did human beings ever form this whole "LANGUAGE" thing in the first place. And, aside from that: What makes this language thing, as a pinning down of concepts succeeding and sometimes failing any different than just an evolution of this arbitrarily defined "non-linguistic thought".

Honestly, I'm losing steam here, so I'll have to come back to this, but one other thing before I sign off. In response to "A1", language is not infinite and neither is thought. This notion of concept that is undefinable seems to imply a complete non-linguistic understanding of a concept. Even if this were possible, which I don't think it is, it's not provable.

These examples are just getting more far flung and ridiculous. We need to move on. Or restructure the discussion.


this debate has begun to self-de(con)struct.

Scott and I have thought a lot about Seb's mango-eating feral child. We've shared some laughs, we may have even grown to love her. But she has to go, and heres' why: Seb writes:
Suppose again that I'm the feral child mango monopolist. I don't have language, but I have non-linguistic thought. In this sign system, I can form all sorts of concepts, like 'mango', 'flavor-X', even, maybe, 'truth', all by my self! What does this do to the thesis that truth has to be a matter of convention or agreement, when it can be signified in a sign system that can develop completely without convention or agreement?
First of all, I'm going to have to object to Seb's first distinction: language vs. non-linguistic thought. This is the arbitrary (though historically priviledged!) distinction that Derrida's "language in general" and "writing in general" terms try to overcome. Aristotle got us into this mess by asserting that language is the signifier of thought, and writing is the signifier of language. this means that thought precedes language, and writing and language are external and secondary to thought. These ideas are held self-evident by thousands of years of western philosophy, and it is precisely these presupposed boundaries that post-structuralists argue we should question.

It's a complicated knot to untangle, as jacques himself illustrates: "The system of writing in general is not exterior to the system of language in general, unless it is granted that the division between exterior and interior passes through the interior of the interior or the exterior of the exterior, to the point where the immanence of language is essentially exposed to the intervention of forces that are apparently alien to its system." I don't understand this at all, and i maintain hope that that's the point.

Continuing with our close reading:
I [feral child] can form all sorts of concepts, like 'mango', 'flavor-X', even, maybe, 'truth', all by my self! What does this do to the thesis that truth has to be a matter of convention or agreement...?
I'll tell you what this does. It answers the question before it even asks it! This statement says: 'presuppose someone who has no communication with others, but has a concept of truth... does this person have a concept of truth, even without communication with others?' This feral child really has us tied up in logical knots! And, to make the example even more ridiculous, keep in mind that the feral child can't tell us whether she has these concepts! Throughout this entire debate, we've been putting OUR words and concepts into her mouth. Who are we to presume to speak for our necessarily voiceless example?

(additionally -- though i'm beating a dead feral child here -- in order to have any expectations, the child must have pattern-based concepts. These concepts (not necessarily words, mind you) would group together many sensory experiences and enable them to be linked to others. this is how language in general, spoken language, and written language all operate.)

another tenet of deconstruction is this: in any binary (true/false, inside/outside, good/evil, civilized/uncivilized), the existence of one term necessitates and relies on the existence of the other. there could be no concept of civilization without the negative example of the uncivilized. there is no idea of truth unless there is the potential for falsehood. and this, i believe, is what bugs the crap out of analytic philosophers.
The system of language associated with phonetic-alphabetic writing is that within which logocentric [read: truth-based!] metaphysics, determining the sense of being as presence, has been produced. This logocentrism, this epoch of the full speech, has always placed in parenthesis, suspended, and suppressed for essential reasons, all free reflection on the origin and status of writing.
western thought (oh, aristotle!) loves to imagine a perfect world with truth but no falsehood, with experience uninterupted and unmediate by language, with rugged individuals who have access to truth without the need for communication with others. but it is this communcation that allows us to know anything outside of our own personal experience - and we never experience truth in the physical world. as scott said: "What's beyond the physical reality of the tree that does not require communication with others?"

Here's an exercise we tried: try to lie without using language. try to lie without saying anything. try to make someone's experience of the world untrue. even imagine an entire 'fake' world (or a Truman Show, if you like), that is the only thing that person has experienced. without an assertion that it is 'real', nothing about it would be untrue. and if a falsehood can't be achieved without language, then neither can a truth.


posting while unawake

First, I'd like to apologize on behalf of my last post. It was most scattered, and in the future I'll refrain from posting on a whim after just waking up.

So, here's a question. In the field of "non-linguistic thought" what value does the possibility of developing a concept of 'truth' serve?
Well, supposing again I'm a feral mango-eating child, I think I would eat the one with flavor X and be unsurprised, then eat the one that tastes like a squirrel and be absolutely shocked. I might doubt that all mangoes taste like X. Or I might form a new concept of a set of objects that look like mangoes but taste like squirrels!
Exactly, a new concept of 'mangos' that taste like squirrels. What would be identifiable as untrue about a mango that tastes like squirrels? The squirrel tasting mango is the squirrel tasting mango. The two can be compared, the mangoey tasting mango and the squirrely tasting mango, but what would lead this lone feral mango-eating child to think of truth in relation to the mangos? I can't find any reason.

What I was more or less trying to get at in my previous post was this: true/false has no value outside of language. There's simply no purpose to it. Think of presenting the same feral child with two trees, one plastic and one a 'real' tree. How could the plastic tree be identified as the imposter? Why couldn't the 'real' tree be the imposter? I'd say they are both 'trees' to the feral child with some shared properties, but each with its own set of unique properties.

But even this seems to fail. Das ding ist das ding. What's beyond the physical reality of the tree that does not require communication with others?


definings, mines, terms, conditions, mines, truths

from the moment that there is meaning there are nothing but signs. we think only in signs which amounts to ruining the notion of the sign at the very moment when, as in Nietzsche, its exigency is recognized in the absoluteness of its right. -Jacques Derrida, from Of Grammatology

if i were a good derridian, my answer to these questions asked in the last few posts would be as simple as: "there is no outside the text." that's why i am not a derridian. but the majority of my philosophical background has been post-structuralism, and i think an explanation of some of derrida's terms (i didn't realize how much they've informed my recent thinking!) would be useful at this point.

a text is any system of signs. ANY signs. linguistic, written, visual, musical, mathematical. you name it, it's a sign. in fact, by definition, if you can name it, it's a sign. and, for derrida, it's ALL called "writing in general." for him, writing is the process of differentiation, and every perception we have is made possible by differences. anything embedded in a system of differences i a sign. and he calls it all writing, or language.
Heidegger reminds us constantly that the sense of being is neither the word 'being' nor the concept of being. But as that sense is nothing outside of language and the language of words, it is tied, if not to a particular word or to a particular system of language, at least to the possibility of the word in general. -ibid

so, when seb wrote, "we have no word for the idea expressed by 'taste of a mango,'" i realized my mistake. it doesn't matter that we don't have a WORD. we already have a SIGN (it's the phrase 'taste of mango', or the memory of the taste, or the expectation). a system of differences exists that allows us to recognize and communicate 'taste of a mango' as distinct from 'taste of an apple' or 'taste of beef' and as distinct from the 'mango' itself, or 'to taste.' and i call this process linguistic, refering to LANGUAGE IN GENERAL, not necessarily written or spoken communication.

i didn't mean to imply that when we 'speak' (another broad 'in general' usage!) to ourselves that we do it in words or morphemes or proper syntax. but i believe the manipulation of thoughts and concepts occurs in a differentiated space - a sign system - a language. and if that is all thought, then so be it... there is no thought outside of language in general. personally, i hold out hope that there is something outside the text, but maybe it shouldn't be called thought. i certainly don't think knowledge or assignment of truth conditions can exist outside 'the text.' i believe what goes on outside these texts is always a matter of belief, not of knowledge.

i also admit that this 'language in general' vocab is a big change from the philosophy of language stuff (but i think it's critical that the two schools develop a common vocabulary and a dialogue!), and i'm so steeped in it i didn't even realize i was using it til i read seb's last comment. he wrote, "Language is a separate faculty that hooks up morphemes that are learned from the community with these [mental] concepts and knows how to sort them into sentences, lets them influence beliefs, etc. (This is an imperfect process...the concept I associate with a word may be different in all sorts of subtle ways with the concept you have attached to the same word.) So really, "linguistic categories" don't exist, except maybe if you took the conceptual contents of what lots of people thought of when you shouted "BLUE!!!" at them." Language is not external. the formation of a signifier (word, for a traditionally priviledged example) and the thing it signifies (concept, or meaning, usually) occur TOGETHER. saussure wrote that signified and signifier were two sides of the same leaf, but he always said that one came first. it is this priviledging that Derrida deconstructs.
He [Nietzsche] has written that writing - and first of all his own - is not originarily subordinate to the logos and to truth. And that this subordination has come into being during an epoch whose meaning we must deconstruct. -you know.

mango is a character from saturday night live

All this mango talk. Here would be my point: experience is beyond a concept of true or false. True you could be the only person in the world to taste a mango, but in tasting it you would be thinking or saying or in anyway acknowledging some sort of arbitrary truth about the flavor of the mango. The mango's taste would be beyond such frivolous, it would simply taste like itself and others like it. Experience in this way is beyond "truth". Truth is perhaps something in language we use to make ourselves more comfortable.

Taken another way. You and you alone have tasted the mango. Would you be able to say that the mango tastes perfectly. That its flavor is of perfection? I don't. In the case of "true" and "perfect", in order to believe that the mango's taste is true or perfect you must believe that it could be potentially false or imperfect. This instantly sets up a system of linguistic comparison, and the "truth" of the mango can only be sought through communication. If presented with two different tasting mangos, identical in appearance, how could anyone pick the true tasting mango? They would at the very least have to enter a dialogue with themselves, and even then their selection would only be based on their opinion, and not an objective truth.

And that's just the thing: Can there even be such a thing as an objective truth? The age old question, how can we be sure the world looks the same to each of us? If we can't be certain of these things how can we assess truth independent of personal communication? Language, perhaps, sets up a field of objects -words- that we all share the same or at least very similar objective mentality over. With this common objective ground can we see or experience a concept of truth. We trouble ourselves though when we let this safe field of objects, the words themselves, elide into our concept of the real world which is always beyond or ability to categorize and label.


what conditions truth?

A mango is neither true nor false. The taste of a mango is neither true nor false. An understanding, statement, or belief about the mango's taste CAN be true or false.

I personally believe in thought outside of language. I believe it is possible for Seb to taste a new fruit without immediately assigning it linguistic labels. But the moment he says, "A mango tastes like X," to anyone OR to himself, he has made a comparison that relies on linguistic categories. to determine whether or not his belief is true when he tastes another mango, he must communicate with himself over time. for his assessment of the taste to be judged "true" or "false," it must be expressed (in language or in signs).

if seb tastes the mango and never states his belief at all, then tastes another mango and recognizes the same taste, i would argue that he has not made a prediction, but has simply experienced the same thing twice. admittedly, these distinctions are pretty crude, but what i'm really trying to get at here is the fact that "true" and "false" are concepts built up in language.

let's return to the sky for a second. imagine trying to express "the sky is blue" without using words. suppose i point to my skirt (which is also blue), and then indicate the sky. setting aside for a moment the fact that it would be difficult to understand that my pointing indicated the colors, the problem we run into becomes even more severe. my skirt and the sky are both blue, but they're not at all the same color. we only recognize them both under the same label ("blue") because we already know that "blue" encompasses many different shades and hues of blue. without the already-defined totality that the linguistic label provides, there is no way for me to describe the color, even by comparison.

this example also demonstrates the extremely useful nature of words that define totalities like "sky" and "blue". without them, we'd be stuck trying to agree on definitions every time we needed to refer to them. in this framework, confirmation holism (which wikipedia article Seb linked to in his comment) is right on. but it's my belief that much of the framework from which we assess concepts already exists in the language we use to talk about it. saying "'the sky is blue' is true" takes for granted that 'the sky' is a well-defined noun (which doesn't include the air between my eyes and 'the sky', for example), the fact that 'blue' is an already-defined color that includes many shades, and the idea that the 'truth' of a statment is a simple property.


my right is falsely my true left eye

Preach Cristi. I'd go further. Forgive me if this a little lacking in evidence, maybe. A distinction that Cristi makes is words as referent to real physical objects, or visible (since the sky may not necessarily be physical, but at least our experience of it is sensual). There are of course words that refer to things which are not physical, tactile, sensual, holdable. Love, hate, malice, envy, value... True and false are also in this category. One cannot hold truth.

And here's where I think I'd go farther. We only apply a value of truth (or falseness) to a statement. When we say that "the sky is blue" is "true", we are not saying that "the sky is truly blue", but that "the sky is blue" is a true statement. There is--to my mind--no way to evaluate the truth of anything outside of language. Language is the tool by which we identify the senses.

Think of math. We are presented with numbers, which are symbolic equivalents to the amounts they represent. A number on it's own is not true or false. What can be said of the truth or falseness of two. Nothing. We can only begin to evaluate "truth" in relation to numbers by placing them in equations. 2+2=4 and the like. Only when placed in relation to one another can such an analysis begin. 2+2 does not equal 5.

A sentence is the same. The words themselves, and the things they represent are themselves beyond truth. What after all is the difference in truth between a physical chair and the word chair? Both are objects, sensually experienced. They carry no truth value of their own. They are what they are. Chair=Chair. Only when we linguistically place them in equations of action, definition and the like can we even begin to comprehend "truth" in relation to the objects. And even then it is not about the objects themselves, but about the statement.

truth conditions my right eye, too.

in a recent post i made the statement "post-structuralists argue that there is no truth outside of language; that language itself is the condition of 'truth' and 'falsehood.'" and i'm going to try to defend that against proponents of truth-conditional semantics and against Seb's well-reasoned comment in response to the aforementioned post.

objects in the world are not 'true' or 'false.' let's take a classic example:
the sky is blue.
this is a pretty widely accepted fact. i don't think any poststructuralists would argue with it, and i don't think i want to, either. but here's the key: in order to widely accept it, in order to declare it as fact, we have to first communicate about it. making an observation about the sky and saying 'the sky is blue' are two very different things.

even an internal concept that the sky is blue is linguistic, because 'blue' and even 'sky' are defined by their conventional uses. 'the sky is blue' might be understood as 'that which we have constituted as a totality called 'the sky' appears to correspond to the hue i have been taught to call 'blue.'' and of course, every term i've used in that expansion could be expanded itself.

for communication to be sucessful, its participants must begin with certain mutual understandings. some of the most basic of these are the names of colors and objects in the world. 'the sky is blue' is not a pure statement of truth because it is always mediated by these categories and assumptions.

likewise, the 'truth' of the statment is mediated by a particular concept of truth: that which is universally agreed upon; that which is measurable by instruments; that which can be recorded. there MAY be an objective truth regarding the color of the sky, but in order to AGREE on it, we HAVE to communicate about it. and in order to determine whether 'the sky is blue' is true, we have to have already agreed about what 'truth' means.


State of the Blog Address

We've been blogging now since May 9th, 2005, which means we've been at this for almost two months. We've collected 1400 visitors in our short lifespan and begun to network with some other language bloggers. Here are some other interesting statistics, gleaned from our hit counters, to give us (and now you!) an idea of what our readership is all about.

Most common keyword searches that lead to Invented Usage:
1. invented usage (4 hits)
2. lightsaber sound effect (3 hits)
3. like usage (2 hits)

Other things Invented Usage could be mistaken for an authority on:
"liquid hot magma" sound bit evil (Yahoo)
"similarity" "vagina" "vocal cords" (Google)
Web-cam style diarists than essayists, making a clear case for the importance of a multicultural voice, (Google)
when the false teeth were invented (Yahoo)

(ed: i like how because of keyword google searching someone clicked on our site thinking it held the answer to the similarity of vocal coords to vaginas. how hilarious is that? they were so WRONG! perhaps they thought using the vocal coords as a vagina would constitute an "invented usage.")

We've been visited by usage enthusiasts from all over the country, and even the world!
(Y)our top 3 countries of origin:
1. United States
2. Malasyia
3. Phillipines

Top 5 locations:
1. Hicksville, New York
2. Providence, Rhode Island
3. Oklahoma, City Oklahoma
4. Indianapolis, Indiana
5. New Haven, Connecticut

To give new readers a taste of the old classics, and since writing the blog has been such great fun, we thought we'd give each of our editors a chance to link back to some of their favorite posts:
Scott:tpyos rlue!1 (Cristi gives us the priviledge of a well-deserved smackdown regarding typographical and speeling erorrs.); truth conditions my left eye (read truth conditions, and feel the inner theorist burgeoning inside Cristi's soul.); legorature (don't be a block head! think about how reading a book is like putting together a boat from those lego diagrams we used to hate.)
Cristi: on like usage (a zesty blend of syntactical experimentation and piquant social criticism); my language wants to get high (how does Scott know whether his language is lucid or poetic?) names not of this blog (a spastic brainstorming session that reveals the history of 'invented usage'.)

So, all in all the blog is in a pretty good state, and we've got big plans for the future!
Things we promise our readers:
more frequent postings
more theorists
more poetry
more explosions

Ideas we've been kicking around, and may or may not implement one of these days:
more contributing writers
a supplemental website with biased info on writers, poets, and theorists
a glossary of terms and theorists(?)
a message board

Posts upcoming:
more reactions to 'a heartbreaking work of staggering genuis'
theory 101: some of our favorite impenetrable quotes
more on truth conditions
and some poetry!