Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


Apologies To Twitter Philologists

August 8, 2012
I off-handedly used the word “exosemantic” in a twitter discussion last night, because I am a huge tool. I feel pretty bad about it, especially since the conversation was about annoyance at “big words” (meaning: very heavy words, not very long words). So I thought I’d write out the analogy in my head, because it seems like the only honorable thing to do at this point. 

volume – the phonetic, syntactic, and morphological space that a word occupies. A very “long” word is one with a lot of syllables, a very “tall” word is one with a lot of morphemes. 

mass – the semantic, pragmatic, and social impact of a word. A very “heavy” word has not only a lot of specific entailments, but may also have a lot of socially linked implicatures that are strongly bound to the word itself or to its use in certain contexts. 
density = mass/volume. A very dense word is one with a low volume and a heavy mass. A very non-dense word is one with a high volume but very little mass. 
exosemantic – the part of a word or statement that isn’t its strict entailments, but which are extremely common implicatures– specifically, these shouldn’t be contextual or Gricean implicatures, but socially bound ones, which have been formed by continued use of the word in particular contexts, or by particular speakers. The exosemantics of a word may eventually become incorporated into the defining entailments. 
There should be a correlate, endosemantic, but this would simply be the lexical entailments of a word, so I don’t know that we need a new word for that. I don’t actually think we necessarily need a new word for exosemantic either, since you could probably explain it in sociolinguistic and pragmatic terms, but it gets very subjective and weird and hard to pin down, in that region of meaning, so I wanted a history-free label to use without weirding anyone out. (Also it sounds cool.) 

This is abstract and ridiculous

October 21, 2010

Draft for a Squib

Above linked is a late draft for a small paper I’m writing just to explicate my understanding of some of the theory I’ve been grappling with for my independent study this quarter. I’ll happily take notes from the peanut gallery on this– the more the merrier! Flames, etc., completely welcome on this post. Go for it.


further notes on squibs and science

October 12, 2010

Sometime before I ran away and hid in the countryside all summer, I wrote an essay about my thoughts on squibs. I announced that I was tired of separating my personal life from my academic life, as they are innately inseparable, and that I was tired of neutering my academic writing of its emotional strength. To demonstrate how I felt about this, I accompanied it with a (singularly mediocre) “Midterm about Drinking.” This was my Syntax II midterm, which combined the actual assignment with a fictional narrative framing the exploration of the topic as a demonstration of how my peers and I actually get good work done: that is to say, we get good work done over beers and with friends, through the medium of fights and drinking songs and hugs and hat-stealing and general antics. My actual analysis of the material was flawed, but I still maintain that my presentation of it was not. We do our best work when we don’t separate it from our lives, when we involve it in all conversations, when we care about it enough to bring it up at the bar, or the beach, or in bed.


That said, I’m not really going to follow that template for this next squib. This research was done sitting alone on the floor of my living-room in my crummy apartment over the pizza place on the west side of town. I did the entirety of it in boxers. I text-messaged a lot of people to consult them on basic premises of my exploration, and a lot of the responses were “…What?” I cannot synthesize a situation in which anyone especially cares to debate narratology with me in the Poet and the Patriot on a Saturday night; it is a simple fact that the people who care about this stuff are the ones at home reading on a Saturday night instead. That said, this research is not a-personal for me; where linguistics is my extroverted side, literature is my introverted side. This is the side of my research—which is in essence a different approach to the same material—that I want to do alone in bed, drinking tea and reading poetry, closing the blinds and listening to cello solos until I cry.


Let me explain, momentarily, why this is so emotional for me: the divide between res and vox and intellectus—that is, the Gap, of which I spoke earlier, between “actual” reality, linguistic reality, and mental reality—is where my absolute fear of the abyss comes in. I can approach it from either linguistics or literature; both are my attempt at a scientific, logical, rational way of finding the exact boundaries of the Gap. I don’t honestly believe they are separate disciplines, but rather separate methodological approaches to the same basic question: What in the hell is up with language? Sub-questions include Why and how does this shit work? and What is it about language that we dig so much?


To quote Jakobson (and I’m always up for a Jakobson quote– there’s a reason all my notebooks have “Mrs. Kirby Jakobson” drawn with little hearts on the inside covers): “Insistence on keeping poetics apart from linguistics is warranted only when the field of linguistics appears to be illicitly restricted, for example, when the sentence is viewed by some linguists as the highest analyzable construction, or when the scope of linguistics is confined to grammar alone or uniquely to nonsemantic questions of external form or to the inventory of denotative devices with no reference to free variations” (64). I’ll extend that, though: the insistence on division is also occasionally warranted when poetics starts relying on ex nihil or inductive arguments, where the theory defines the data, rather than the other way around.


To clarify, I am saying that both fields have flaws in their methodological approaches. Linguists can be a bit defeatist or limiting (and with excellent reason; no one knows better than a scientist how goddamn ignorant we are about the world), and (for lack of a better word) philologists can be a bit spurious or overly declarative without sufficient evidence for the arguments they postulate.


Between this, I’m sort of trapped. With the way the contemporary university is arranged, it’s extremely difficult to be both a scientist and a humanist, and there are very few of my peers who are in the equivalent situation of studying their chosen subject from two completely different angles. The only ones who come to mind are people who, like me, find themselves accidentally double-majoring in Literature and Linguistics. There seems no other discipline so awkwardly straddling the divide, and I think this is a downright shame, in a way. Should not a painter also study the physics of light? Should not a singer also study acoustics and phonetics?


No matter; I’m not completely unique, just uniquely complete. I’ll do syntax in bars and poetics under my bed, both by flashlight and with much melodrama, both without any regard for suggestions that I keep my life out of it; this is my life, and I simply could not ask for any greater or more satisfying purpose than to muck around in language forever.


appropos of very little

July 7, 2010

There are few noises in the world that please me more than the banjo. In that category are also the mandolin, cello, and a well-rasped fiddle. There is, I think, much to be said for the vibrations of strings in the universe.

I’m working on writing down some of my family history, in addition to my own exploits. I don’t know exactly how I got elected for this job, but my parents, their siblings, and many of their old friends seem to agree that I’m the one suited to get these things down on paper before they’re lost. The family adventures are grand and plentiful, it’s true, but I’m not the only writer in my family, not even in my generation of it. Both my sisters write. At least one of my cousins does. Why am I entrusted with this? I don’t know all of the stories– some of them I’ve had to get second- or third-hand, and some of them are only very carefully alluded to, but never told outright. I’m not the most informed, and I’m not convinced I’m the most capable.

I do, however, appear to be the only one with this much free time on my hands. For now, at least.


If anyone was curious as to the syntactic structure

April 13, 2010



Globalization and McDonald-based Anecdata

February 26, 2010

Week 8, Day 3: Friday!

Read the rest of this entry ?


Repost of a repost

February 13, 2010

@Benladen has kindly provided me with some screencaps of his Twitter dealings with @mark_yudof. I’m reposting them here so they’re lovely and visible:

Bizarre Direct-Messaged Response

Dealings with the Twitter authorities

And! This is how we’ve confirmed that @mark_yudof’s office is definitely behind the banning. It’s the letter @IlllllllllllllI received from Yudof’s office regarding the matter.