[PLUG-TALK] the predicate nominative (was Re: [PLUG] OT - grammar checkers.)

glen e. p. ropella gepr at tempusdictum.com
Wed Oct 27 09:50:01 PDT 2004

=><=><= "g" == GLL  <guy1656 at ados.com> writes:

g> machinery in our very language. I simply refuse to participate, because in
g> doing so one must speak and write like an ignorant rube.

Ahhh, but describing the overwhelming majority of your fellow people
"ignorant rubes" is a mere expression of self-hatred, now, isn't it?

g> inherently expressing philosophy understood, it becomes clear that that and
g> most forms of environmentalism are mere expressions of self-hatred. The acme
g> of environmentalism as self-hatred comes in the form of eco-terrorism, which
g> is technically hate-crime against all humanity itself.

Of course.  To buck the instinct "to engineer" is to object to a core
aspect of human nature.  Indeed, it is an objection to the nature of
life itself, since life is all about the modification of its
environment to suit its needs or desires.  So, environmentalism is, at
bottom, a hatred of life!

[grin] To which I say, "Balderdash!"  I've never heard a sillier
exposition of nonsense.  Environmentalism is no more self-hatred than
any other behavior some subculture may choose to engage in.  (Ooops,
sorry for ending that sentence that way... wait a minute... no I'm
not!  Ignorant rubes unite!!!  Four more years! Four more years!!!)
If your reasoning for environmentalism (or most forms thereof) being
self-hatred is valid, then we can use that same reasoning to show that
body piercing, tatoos, makeup, exercise, pharmaceuticals, organic
farming, farming in general, heavy metal music, computers, etc. are
all forms of self-hatred.  Heck, I suppose simple existence itself
could be argued to be self-hatred.  After all, life is pain.  Why
persist?  The ultimate in self-love is suicide by your reasoning....
perhaps in the future, we'll have developed our AI sufficiently to
provide an unborn fetus with the ability to reason completely enough
to discover that, in adulthood, she will be an environmentalist and
hate herself so much that she'll just direct her host to abort her
there and then.

g> : g> : When one says "That is green", for example,
g> : g> : they're not normally referring to themselves.
g> :
g> : g> OUCH! One NEVER uses a plural 'they' to indicate a SINGULAR.
g> :
g> : Hmmm.  The gender issue is a secondary reason I use "they" and
g> : "themselves" in conjunction with "one".  There's another, more
g> : important reason.

g> Here again is where the precision of English applied admirably: 'gender' is
g> actually a grammatical term for why cabbage is 'male' and lettuce is female
g> in French, a baby is neuter in English ('it') and a young, unmarried woman is
g> also neuter - in German ('Das Madchen.") We, in this supposedly enlightened
g> age, find ourselves embarrased to use the word 'sex' where it is appropriate,
g> and instead cower behind the grammatical term 'gender.' Along with many
g> animals, a human, has a sex: male or female. That's the term for what you're
g> equipped with. I tend to anticipate that people who say 'gender' where they
g> mean 'sex' are the of same thinly-educated sort (think of case hardening) who
g> use 'flounder' as a verb when they ought to use 'founder.' (Hint: a flounder
g> is a fish.)

Unfortunately, we're not talking about actual humans.  We're talking
about pronouns... words... symbols.  Words have gender.  Humans have
sex.  So, when discussing the proper usage of "her" versus "him", it
is appropriate to use the word "gender".

But, please don't take this as a defense of my thin education.  My
education is very thin.  But, that doesn't change the fact that my use
of "they" and "them" in conjunction with "one" has primarily to do
with the plurality of the symbolic referrent of the words, not with
the gender of the words.

g> [A]

g> : "One", as in "When one says..." or "One [should] never ..." is
g> : actually a plural concept.  It seems singular; but, it's not.  "One"
g> : defines an entire _set_ of subjects.  <snip>

g> [B]

g> : So, when I say "When one says ...", it is completely appropriate
g> : to use an equally non-particular word like "them" or "themselves"
g> : in the predicate to indicate the same inductively defined set
g> : of referents.

g> [C]

g> : In this sense, "one" is refering to the same real world set of objects
g> : that "they" and "themselves" is refering to.  So, the context is
g> : preserved.  Now, I realize that "he", "him", "himself", etc can also
g> : indicate the same inductively defined set as "one".  But, since I'm
g> : guilty of trying to make English more like a calculus, I prefer to
g> : settle in on the less ambiguous words.

g> You are wrong about plurals in A, B, and C because 'a set' is a single entity
g> and takes a SiNGULAR verb.

No, I'm not wrong.  "one" refers to a single element of the set of all
possible actors, including humans.  It does NOT refer to the set of
all possible actors.  It refers to a single element in that set.  And
according to the rules of English it does require a single verb.  But,
that's not because it refers to the set.  It's because it refers to a
single element of that set.

g> Many writers of lesser skill get seduced wtih the phrase:

g> [a set, a collection, a group, etc] + [of objects, of people] + VERB

g> because in this case the verb is SINGULAR because we are talking about ONE
g> set, or collection of group. So, for 'a group of people,' the group of people
g> IS going to lunch together, even though the people in the group ARE going
g> together.

And many OCD anal retentives are so anxious to educate the ignorant 
around them that they jump to a pre-calculated branch correction without
actually paying attention to what the ignorant said.  So, thanks for
the lesson; but, it's irrelevant to the discussion.

The subject of the discussion is the semiotics of "one", "them", and
"they" when used in a context like that of "When one says X, they 
mean Y".  In this context, "one" means "a subject selected from the 
set of all subjects".  "One" does NOT refer to a particular subject.
It refers to ANY single member of the set of all subjects.  If I had
meant, say, Tammy, I would have said "Tammy".  As in, "When Tammy says X,
she means Y".  And if I had meant "When individual Z says X, he means
Y", then I would have said that.  But, I didn't say that.

Now, examine the difference:  "When one says X, he means Y"  versus
"When one says X, they mean Y".  The latter preserves the "any element
in a set of elements" sense.  The former destroys the sense of the 
subject by putting extra weight on the particularity of the predicate.
The latter preserves the reader's intuition that the subject requires
a non-particular inductively defined set.  The former is dissonant.

g> [D]

g> : And it seems to me that "he",
g> : "him", and "himself" are too personal to indicate these inductively
g> : defined sets.... simply because they indicate gender.  ("He" is more
g> : particular than "they" because it doesn't include the females.)

g> Actually as I said previously, the masculine gender in Standard English
g> subsume the feminine as a gesture of generosity.

But, again, this misses the point.  "One" refers to an element in an
_inductively_ defined set, which means that the contents of the set
are undecided.  The only way one can tell if an element is in that set
is to evaluate it particularly against a predicate that establishes
membership.  In my above objection, I could have said "'He' is more
particular than 'they' because it doesn't include random number
generators".  (Where a random number generator is considered
equivalent in formal reality to a human.)  And since random number
generators are not sexual, neither "she" nor "he" apply
correctly.... although "it" would work quite nicely.  However, it's
completely reasonable to refer to a collection of non-sexual elements
as "them" or "those".  So, by using "they" in the predicate, I can
delay the evaluation indefinitely, which preserves the sense of the

g> : But, this whole rationalization about predicate nominatives doesn't
g> : wash. It smacks of post-hoc intellectualist grafting of a reasonable
g> : structure over the top of an historically accidental linguistic accretion.

g> Here's my take on it: Cultures use things like 'that one wierd traditional 
g> food no one except us can STAND' as identifiers. When an 'in group' can speak 
g> a language or a dialect that an oustider cannot understand or cannot blend in 
g> with the group, that group is comforted with a sense of community. This 
g> happens across social classes where the proletariat simply doesn't know the 
g> words used by the more educated classes, but also when one of those stuffy 
g> folks turns down the wrong alley, the locals know by accent when he asks for 
g> directions, that hello we've got an uptown mark here, and a blackjack might 
g> lead to the next round of drinks.

g> Languages also evolve weird exceptions or needlessly complex lists of
g> individual modes for a simple concept, not only to trip up and identify
g> outsiders but also in order to check up on who is paying attention, and
g> therby identify the intelligent among them. Japanese and Chinese, use
g> counting particle - think of the way 'sheets' is used in 'five sheets of
g> paper.' But these particles are not nouns themselves. They are used between
g> the number word and the thing being enumerated, and they supply a concept of
g> the shape or quality of the thing being counted. God know why, but it's
g> important for them: The farmer has three [small animals] dogs and two [large
g> animal] horses. But birds are counted with the same word used for rabbits.
g> Why? My guess is that silly execptions help identify who among the group can
g> learn and remember, and who cannot, and to help indicate approaching
g> senility, and to identify tourists and other social imposters.

Well, this, too, seems like post-hoc rationalization rather than an
explanation for the accretion of exceptions in the living language.
The primary part of this explanation that nags is the ascription of
a teleological _purpose_ to an historical sequence of events.... 
much like the way a Deist might argue for a clockwork universe.

While I accept the possibility that private languages might be
purposefully developed in cliques, I tend to believe those cliques
will be quite small.  A slice of the population as large as "the
proletariat" could never muster the discipline or the overhead to
purposefully manage a private language without invoking some
conspiracy-ten-men-run-the-world type modifiers.... like the
omniscience requirement for God.

g> English probably has more classes of exeptions simply because it has
g> agglomerated the cultural markings of several older and varied root
g> languages, from Celtic (they conjugate PREPOSITIONS but not verbs) to Roman
g> (word order?) to Germanic (gender and number, PLUS 'strong' and 'weak' verbs
g> and nouns!)

But, this seems completely reasonable.  It's a constructivist
explanation for an accretion.  So, it doesn't set off the bullshit
meter quite so badly.

glen e. p. ropella              =><=                           Hail Eris!
H: 503.630.4505                              http://www.ropella.net/~gepr
M: 971.219.3846                               http://www.tempusdictum.com

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