What is your score on the Rice Purity test?

Ah, Purity Tests. Such fond memories of my misspent youth. I actually knew people who knew people who refrigerated their own poop to reduce their score.

And that was clearly wasn’t this version of the Purity Test.

I’m pretty vanilla, to my slight disappointment. 46.

What is functional grammar?

Vote #1 Trevor Sullivan: Trevor Sullivan’s answer to What is functional grammar?

It’s the correct answer, but not defensive enough for my liking. 🙂 So treat this answer as a restatement of his.

There are several ways of explaining why language is the way it is. Originally, the split was between diachronic and synchronic explanations. The diachronic account, which is historical linguistics, explains language in terms of earlier stages of the same language, and change processes. The synchronic account, which took over as the mainstream with Saussure, explains language as a system in its own right, rather than seeking to explain it in terms of process.

Since maybe the 70s in some quarters, but the 50s in others, there is a related split.

  • The formalist account of language explains language as a system in itself, without appealing to extralinguistic causes. An explanation in formalism is the formulation of rules that explain the distribution of phonemes and words and phrases. Generative grammar is the major class of formalist accounts. It ultimately appeals to a language device in the brain: language is the way it is, because that’s how the rules for linguistic structure in the brain work.
  • The functionalist account of language explains language as a means of communicating meaning. So giving the rules by itself is not enough in functionalism: functionalism want to know why those rules, and not others, are best suited to communication. The rules end up having a lot to do with pragmatics and semantics and discourse structure, as Trevor says; and ultimately functionalism concludes that language is the way it is because of cognitive patterns in general, and not a part of the brain specific to language. If you think about it, that also means functionalism is a lot friendlier to diachrony.

They’re incommensurate approaches; *shrug*. To a functionalist, formalist accounts don’t really explain anything, and are circular. To a formalist, functionalist accounts are specious Just-So speculation, and are unscientific.

(I’ll only disagree with Trevor in one detail: functionalists in my experience love typology—it gives them more things to explain in their terms.)

The home turf of functionalism is the West Coast of the US, and it was also big in Australia when I was going through the system. Systemic functional linguistics is an earlier branch of the theory, developed in the UK and Australia (though restricted to Sydney Uni there), and which other functionalists don’t like. It is very popular in applied linguistics, as it gives paedagogically satisfying accounts of language variety.

Should Quora allow for different classes of followers (e.g., besties versus acquaintances)?

I’d enjoy it. In fact, I clearly do it: there is a difference in how I engage with a bestie that I banter with constantly (like, say, Zeibura S. Kathau) and a friend of a friend, one of whose answers I was impressed by.

But… I can make that distinction in my head, because I recognise my besties. I’m not clear what additional functionality or UI distinctions Quora needs to add. I think I’m more friendly to social networking use of Quora than Konstantinos Konstantinides is; but like him, I don’t see what value it would add for Quora to make such a distinction in its interface.

If you have something in mind, OP, I’d be interested to hear it; but be aware that Quora, as far as I can tell, has never been enthusiastic about the social networking use of Quora.

Is it a coincidence that the nations which industrialised first were Christian?

Some good answers here, but none giving the obvious reference: Jared Diamond, Guns Germs and Steel. It was despite (mediaeval) Christianity: Byzantium stopped all science very early. The Islamic world was into Science before Christendom was, and the switches in both worlds were not about the religion, but about interpretations of the religion.

As for why Christianity went big time when it hit Europe: that’s all about the Roman Empire and its successor states, and the power vacuum to its North. And about the Persian Empire rejecting Christianity as a Roman thing.

Can you identify all 50 American states on a map?

Nope, and I’m intrigued to know how other non-Americans will do at the task.

Per Nick Nicholas’ answer to What do you think when you hear the words, “United States”?

Without cheating: forgot 5 states, and misplaced another 7.

And I think I’m on the upper range for non-Americans.