Friday, July 30, 2004

Update of RT bibliography

Francisco Yus has emailed the relevance list with additions to his online RT bibliography. Some of the papers are available online, including an article on relevance and conspiracy theories, which I will read and report back on (unless mysterious forces intervene), a Sperber and Wilson, a Wilson, and a Wilson and Sperber.

Casacuberta, D. and C. Figueras (1999) "The R files: applying relevance model to conspiracy theory fallacies." Journal of English Studies 1: 45-55.
Available here

Sperber, D. and D. Wilson (1990b) "Rhetoric and relevance." In: The Ends of Rhetoric: History, Theory, Practice. Eds. J. Bender and D. Wellbery. Stanford, C.A.: Stanford University Press, 140-156.=20
Available here

Wilson, D. (1994) "Relevance and understanding." In: Language and Understanding. Eds. G. Brown, K. Malmkj=E6r, A. Pollit and J. Williams. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 35-58.
Available here

Wilson, D. and D. Sperber (1998b) "Mood and the analysis of non-declarative sentences." In Pragmatics: Critical Concepts Vol. II. Ed. A. Kasher. London: Routlesge, 262-289.
Available here

I'm also intrigued by Vlad ?egarac's paper "Relevance theory and the in second language acquisition" in the current issue of Second Language Research (20(3): 193-211) but UCL doesn't take this journal, so whether I get to look at it probably depends on whether I can muster the energy to walk across Bloomsbury to Birkbeck or the Institute of Education and meet a whole new set of librarians. It's a lot to ask for something that's very far from what I'm supposed to be working on.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Review of Pilkington's Poetic Effects; Livnat on irony

The new issue of Pragmatics & Cognition (2004, Volume 12, Issue 1) has a paper by Zohar Livnat: On verbal irony, meta-linguistic knowledge and echoic interpretation and a review of Adrian Pilkington's Poetic Effects: A Relevance Theory Perspective by Motti Benari.

You can get the papers online if you have access to a university subscription to Athens or one of those services. UCL has, luckily.

I've read the review of Pilkington's book and I think it shows some serious misunderstandings of relevance theory or Adrian Pilkington's interpretation of it. The introduction is really good though. I'll post some of my thoughts if I have time later.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Quantification papers

There's been a fantastic run of draft papers on quantification and (formal) semantics available via semantics etc.:

  • a review article covering generalised quantifiers from a philosophical perspective by Michael Glanzberg
  • the slides for a talk Angelika Kratzer gave this summer arguing for hidden situation variables where Stanley and Szabo want hidden variables - and elsewhere besides
  • Bart Geurts arguing that:
    Conditional sentences with quantifying expressions are systematically ambiguous. In one reading, the if -clause restricts the domain of the overt quantifier; in the other, the if -clause restricts the domain of a covert quantifier, which defaults to epistemic necessity.
  • and Geurts again on why unary quantification is fine for most, often etc. if you use Belnap-style conditional assertion.
Very useful for me, since Hiroyuki Uchida and I are thinking of running our informal formal semantics course next year on quantification. Now all I have to do is understand it all...

Friday, July 23, 2004

test - posting with ecto

this post was generated by ecto, a lovely piece of software for managing blogs.
If you post a lot it will save a lot of time - or at least allow you to generate more posts in the same ludicrously long time you already spend online. It's cheap shareware with fantastic support - the author emailed me back within minutes to answer some questions I had.
It's available for Mac OS X and now for Windows - you get the message... (I have no ulterior motive for this, shares in the company... I'm just really pleased with ecto and, particularly, the support.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Chekhov's law of relevance

This post is a response to an Emergency call for the pragmatics police by Mark Liberman on Language Log.
There's a story today in the New York Times about a planned "major expansion of the city's information hot line, 311, ... undertaken just in time to help thousands of visitors to the Republican National Convention next month navigate the city by simply picking up a phone". Terrific, but can somebody tell me why the picture that runs with the story -- at least in the online edition -- shows a sign on the wall in Yiddish?

There must be a journalistic variant of the famous Chekhovian law of relevance for suggestive details in literature, two versions of which are:
"One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it." ---Letter to A. S. Lazarev-Gruzinsky, Nov. 1, 1889.
"If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it must absolutely go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there." --- from the Memoirs of Shchukin (1911)
Let me propose a journalistic lemma: one must not put a foreign-language sign on the wall in a picture of an American municipal office, if the story is not going to comment on it. If it's not going to be mentioned, it shouldn't be hanging there.

What interested me about this is that it seems that Chekhov's law might be derivable from the communicative principle of relevance with some extra assumptions. All that communicative or pragmatic considerations as such say about the situation according to relevance theory (Liberman only mentions Grice) is that the details of a story should turn out to be relevant enough to have been worth attending to and processing.
It's not clear to me just what is the extra assumption that Chekhov needs to derive his law. Whatever it is, Chekhov's law presumably only applies to certain styles of writing, as contributors to the thread on Chekhov's law seem to discuss:
Of some note in this regard is the opera "The Abduction of Figaro" by P.D.Q. Bach, in which three separate characters, at various points in the action, wave guns around, but never fire them.

(On the other hand, one of them does toss a hand-grenade...)

Ok, I can't let this thread go by withoug mentioning that Gogol (who died before Chekhov was born) was a great writer because he violated this rule. I can't think off-hand of an example in his plays, but the first few paragraphs of "Dead Souls" is spent describing in detail the appearance of a youn man coming out of a tavern, down to the style of pin and type of embroidery in his clothes. This person is never seen again and has nothing to do with the story at all.

And the modern author, Vladimir Voinovich, in tribute to Gogol and thumbing his nose at Chekhov, made sure he pointed out a shotgun, foreshadowed it heavily, only to have it fail to fire at the critical moment in The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin.
On the other hand, all of these might be seen as examples of deilberate flouting of expectations to create comic infelicity, so there's perhaps no example here of literature entirely outside of Chekhov's law. Still, it seems to me that it can't be reasonable for journalists to remove real details that fail to conform with our (stereotypical) expectations: life is richer in details than we expect, perhaps, and I don't think we need to be protected from that.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Robert Quine was W. V. O. Quine's nephew!

I found this out reading this Guardian obituary of Robert Quine, great punk guitarist, who died around May 31st.
Richard Hell's fierce, beautiful elegy in the New York Metro confirms it.

I've learned such different things from the Quines; it's really odd for me to find out that they were related, especially now, although I don't see that it makes any difference to anything.

I guess if you're reading this you'll know all about W.V.O., but maybe not about Robert Quine. As Richard Hell says:
His command of technique came from endless hours of studying the records that moved him — but it was the combination of rage and delicacy, and the pure monstrosity of invention, that set him apart.

I particularly recommend his playing on John Zorn's soundtrack for the film White and Lazy (on John Zorn Filmworks 1986-1990) as well as the Voidoids albums Blank Generation and Destiny Street. You can read about them on Robert Quine's homepage.

Relevance theorist mentioned on Language Log; priorities questioned

Richard Horsey's book 101 Key Ideas in Linguistics. London: Hodder & Stoughton. 2001, is mentioned by Arnold Zwicky on Language Log blog.
...six of these 101 Key Ideas in Linguistics aren't ideas at all, but people. Men, in fact. None dead a hundred years now. So this part of the book is really a list of Six Key Men of Twentieth-Century Linguistics.

Now, take out a slip of paper and write down your six nominees for the Key Men of Twentieth-Century Linguistics. No cheating: no checking Horsey's book or peeking ahead in this posting. If anyone, absolutely anyone, playing fair, gets the same list as Horsey, I'll be astonished. In fact, if you manage this feat, e-mail me and I'll take you out to dinner at the next conference we're both at.

Ok, here's Horsey's list, in alphabetical order: Leonard Bloomfield, Noam Chomsky, Gottlob Frege, H. Paul Grice, Roman Jakobson, and Ferdinand de Saussure. "Sapir-Whorf hypothesis" gets an entry, but Horsey gives no biographical data on either man, nor any discussion of their intellectual contributions beyond the SWH, so they don't count.

Frege and Grice are the surprises, of course. Getting the other four is no great feat, but if you got both of these names, then you definitely have a Horsey take on things, and you get a dinner.

I got Grice, of course, just after Chomsky - it was the rest of the list I had trouble with. Frege and de Saussure seem to me more 19th than 20th century, since their major work was mostly done by 1900, I think. And what did Bloomfield and Jakobson do again?

I guess that Richard's 'take on things' is a relevance theory perspective, with Jakobson, Bloomfield and de Saussure thrown in to keep the publisher happy.

My list would keep Chomsky and Grice and add Richard Montague. I'm not sure who to add after that: Austin, perhaps, or Bertrand Russell. Or some current practitioners other than Chomsky (who has been canonized in his lifetime) - but then it's very hard to choose just a few.

Disclaimer - I wouldn't want anyone to take these comments too seriously; I'm hardly in a position to judge the importance of linguists outside pragmatics and semantics. In fact as as a pragmatist, I wouldn't claim to be a linguist at all, but that's a debate for another time. And anyway, assembling best of... lists is hardly a serious pursuit.