Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Jago's comment on "On metaphor" in full

I hope Jago won't mind that I reproduce his email to me in full below. He intended it as a public comment so there's no breach of whatsit.


I started to think out an answer and realised it would turn into a short book.
Yes there are rules, of course there are. I learnt them at school - but what I
realised then was that I only understood them or, if they were badly taught, I
understood what the teacher was meant to be saying, because I already had a good
working knowledge of the rules, and was developing a meta-understanding of that
working knowledge. The unfortunates who didn't have these things were never any
the wiser for the teaching - you can't teach grammar to those who don't already
know it. Then in 1968 or 9 I heard Chomsky at Birmingham. I think in fact
Chomsky would probably go for [you look [actually difficult to translate -"your
appearance is" as in "you look nice". But that is a weak translation.] [You
look / A dog looks]. And the difficulty of translating "look" in that sense
reveals where transformational grammar, or at least where I lost track of it a
long time ago, has nothing to say, in the area of semantics. I think the rules
of language rest on a much larger substratum of whatever it is that meaning is.
This substratum predates language in evolutionary terms, though clearly the
evolution of language has gone hand in hand with the evolution of the substratum.
We know roughly in what part of the brain the surface forms of language are
processed, and where they appear to contact the substratum of meaning, but where
that substratum is, as far as I'm aware, we haven't a clue - yet. Maybe I too
could blog this, but I have other purposes for my blog, partly to try and get
away from the radical earnestness, this kind of thing, which is my curse as a
writer. Maybe we could do a cooperative blog on this specific area. Oh good,
now I've burnt the tea.


Post a Comment

<< Home