By John E. Joseph
The concept that a few elements of language are ‘natural’, whereas others are arbitrary, man made or derived, runs throughout glossy linguistics, from Chomsky’s GB thought and Minimalist software and his proposal of E- and I-language, to Greenberg’s look for linguistic universals, Pinker’s perspectives on typical and abnormal morphology and the mind, and the markedness-based constraints of Optimality conception. This booklet strains the historical past of this linguistic naturalism again to its locus classicus, Plato’s discussion Cratylus. the 1st half the ebook is a close exam of the linguistic arguments within the Cratylus. the second one part follows 3 of the dialogue’s naturalistic issues via next linguistic background ― usual grammar and standard phrases, from Aristotle to Pinker; usual dialect and synthetic language, from Varro to Chomsky; and invisible hierarchies, from Jakobson to Optimality conception ― looking for a manner ahead past those seductive but spurious and proscribing dichotomies.
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Additional resources for Limiting the Arbitrary: Linguistic naturalism and its opposites in Plato’s Cratylus and modern theories of language
It is clear that he takes the enquiry into etymology seriously, and equally clear that he finds its results unconvincing. Probably Plato is attempting to depict etymology more or less as it was actually practised in the time of Socrates. This mode of linguistic enquiry was associated mainly with the poets and the interpretation of poetry, whereas the physis-nomos debate was associated with the philoso phers and the teachers of rhetoric.
NATURE AND CONVENTION 31 SOC: Then whose work will the weaver be using well when he uses the shuttle? : The carpenter's work. SOC: Is just anybody a carpenter, or only those who know the art? : Those who know the art. ] SOC: All right. Then whose work will the teacher be using when he uses the word? : I don't know the answer to that one. SOC: Can you answer this one: who provides us with the words we use? : I certainly can't! SOC: Doesn't custom seem to you to be their source? : Apparently so. SOC: Then it will be the work of the establisher of customs and laws that the teacher is using when he uses a word?
Baxter is here extrapolating from things Cratylus fails to say. But to conclude from Cratylus' rejection of 'incorrect' words as not really being words at all that his position is therefore descriptive, not prescriptive, seems misguided and potentially misleading. 24. "Cratylus is right" is implicitly part of the 'then' result of an 'if'-clause: if all the preceding contentions are correct, then Cratylus is right; and Socrates will ultimately show that they are not. The statement marks the conclusion of his argument against Hermogenes and the turning point of the dialogue.