Sierra in Trumpland

Sierra Spaulding’s answer to Are the media guilty of inaccurately portraying Trump supporters as uneducated and poor? captures the close encounter between the Sandersnista Sierra Spaulding and her aunt’s Trump-supporting friends, in deepest darkest San Diego.…

Hm… yes, I think I have access to some footage of this happenstance:

Why do you love linguistics?

Here is an utterly left-field video I saw today, in the context of my day job (because my CTO is awesome). It’s knowledge management consultancy stuff, but I think it goes some of the way to explaining why I love linguistics:

Cynefin Framework:

  • Complicated, in which the relationship between cause and effect requires analysis or some other form of investigation and/or the application of expert knowledge, the approach is to Sense – Analyze – Respond and we can apply good practice.
  • Complex, in which the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect, but not in advance, the approach is to Probe – Sense – Respond and we can sense emergent practice.

Language, like most interesting human phenomena, is a Complex system:

  • Things aren’t utterly random, as in Chaotic systems. It is possible to make sense of what is going on.
  • Things aren’t just “one plus one equals two, why are you even asking me?”, as in Simple systems. You need expertise and discernment to make sense of what is going on.
    • Of course, ill-informed laypeople think language is Simple. That’s the whole Mencken aphorism: “life is full of simple, easy to understand, wrong answers.”
  • Because language is Complex, you’ll never solve everything, because the interplay is too complex. But you can keep poking away at it with a succession of hypotheses, and getting a better handle on it. And because it is Complex, you’re never going to run out of things to discover.
  • Language is not Complicated, such that an Expert can come up with the complete solution. However, the hypotheses you come up with in the Complex slice are the business of experts, herding together and debating. And they’re fun, because they exercise your expertise. As long as you remember that they are, ultimately, just models.

So I love linguistics because it is a mental challenge (not Simple), and it is inexhaustible (not Complicated), yet it is still tractable (not Chaotic), and it is amenable to the scientific method (Complex).

Of course, that makes linguistics the same as the social sciences, which are Complex for the same reason: humans are involved, so a lot of causal factors are colliding at once. That doesn’t say why I love linguistics and not sociology. I guess that was simply because I was interested in language learning and linguistic patterns. But that’s what kept me interested.

Do you get why I loathe Chomsky now? His approach makes a point of discarding everything in language that makes it Complex. When you reduce language from a Complex to a Complicated system, you’ve reduced it to maths.

Maths is truly a beautiful thing. But language isn’t maths.

(Neither is neurology, which is what Chomsky thinks he’s doing.)

Answered 2016-08-16 · Upvoted by

Logan R. Kearsley, MA in Linguistics from BYU, 8 years working in research for language pedagogy.

What are the precise meanings of the Greek words hyperēphanos and hyperphroneō?

Well, I’ve gone to LSJ. The definitions I find there are:


  1. Group I
    1. to be over-proud, have high thoughts (Aeschylus)
      1. to be proud in or of something (Herodotus)
    2. overlook, look down upon, despise (Aeschylus)
      1. (passive) to be despised (Thucydides)
    3. think slightly of (Eurypides)
  2. Group II
    1. surpass in knowledge (Aeschines); excel in wisdom (Hippocrates)


  1. overweening, arrogant (Hesiod)
    1. bear oneself proudly; living sumptuously, prodigally or insolently, brutally
  2. magnificent, splendid (Plato)
    1. sublime (Damascius)

As you can see, hyperphroneō “above-think” can mean both “be more knowledgeable than” or “think that you’re above”; but from those definitions, that seems to have been about generic pride, rather than overestimating one’s abilities.

In the English language, why is remuneration pronounced renumeration?

People do mispronounce remuneration as renumeration all the time, contra some people’s denial of it here.

God knows I’ve done it, and I should know better.

Why do people do it? Because:

  • The stems muner– and numer– are confusable through the oldest confusion in the historical linguistics book: Metathesis (linguistics).
  • People are familiar with the numer– stem, from numerical.
  • A mention of numerical in a word for how much money you get is entirely plausible, since you get an amount of money.
  • People are unfamiliar with the muner– stem, for “gift”. It doesn’t show up anywhere else in English, the way numer– does.
    • The stem is buried away in muni-ficent “gift-making”, without the –er-. Did you make the correlation?

How does Persian sound for non-Persian speakers?

I agree with Joachim Pense: the feature of Persian that has always stuck out for me is the back /ɑ/. That, in combination with the velars and palatoalveolars, make it sound… how do I come up with an impressionistic description? Passionate, actually. Kinda like German, which I love for its crunchiness, but with an extra /ɑ/, which makes it sound impassioned and earnest.

Did Greeks in the Ottoman age feel Greek or Roman? Why was Greek identity chosen and not Roman when fighting for independence?

Go to Names of the Greeks: much good information there.

On the eve of the Greek War of Independence, the prevalent term for Greeks was Roman (Romioi). That was what the simple folk used, and they used it to refer to Greek Orthodox Christians (the Rum Millet), as the folk of the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire.

The Westernising elite was starting to revive the notion of Hellenes, as heirs of the glories of Ancient Greece, rather than the shame of Ottoman rule—and Byzantium (not much more popular in the West than the Ottomans). From the Wikipedia article, the independence fighters themselves bought into the notion that they were fighting to become Hellenes: the Wikipedia article mentions that

General Makrygiannis tells of a priest who performed his duty in front of the “Romans” (civilians) but secretly spied on the “Hellenes” (fighters)

Makrygiannis—a barely literate peasant, but a gifted storyteller in his Memoirs—embraced his Hellenic identity; and once the Modern Greek State was established, the Hellenic identity was what Greeks were supposed to aspire to, and their Roman identity denigrated. The most touching instance of Makrygiannis’ embrace of a Hellenic identity was his account of how he came to own two ancient statues:

Νέα σελίδα 1

I had two fine statues, a woman and a prince, intact—you could see the veins on them, that’s how perfect they were. Some soldiers had taken them and they were going to sell them to some Europeans, for a thousand thalers. I went over, I took the soldiers aside, and spoke to them. “These statues, even if they give you ten thousand thalers, don’t you stoop to letting them be taken out of our country. These are what we fought for. (I took 350 thalers out and handed it to them.) And when I reconcile with the Governor [Ioannis Kapodistrias], I’ll hand them over to him, and he’ll give you whatever you ask for, so they can stay in our country.” And I’d hidden the statues away. Then, with my report, I offered them to the King [Otto of Greece], so they might be of use to the country.

But in those same memoirs, Makrygiannis recounts that, on the very eve of the War, a Greek excitedly said, “What do you think? We’ll go to bed in Turkey, and wake up in Greece!” But he didn’t call Greece Hellas. He called it Romeiko, the Roman State.

There was a third word, Graikos, that is, of course, just Greek. Modern intellectuals have occasionally used it to differentiate Greek Orthodox Christians (including Slavs, Arvanites and Vlachs) from ethnic Greeks. But it was not used that often.