Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Popcorn by the Colonel #6

Must every article have a title? Or:

Is there no place for rhetorical questions?

0 The name “Cholmondeley Featherstonehaugh” is pronounced “Chumley Fanshaw.”

1 According to Robert Leonard, a forensic linguist quoted in The New Yorker, words set off “sparks of potential meaning” that one absorbs into one’s storehouse of prior experience and fits into a script called a “schema” -- plural “schemata,” as with stigma/stigmata. As any sentence unspools, we adjust our schema to achieve better meaning. But wait, there's more!

2 A note before proceeding: do not confuse “schema” with “shema,” the Jewish confession of faith made up of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41.

3 The process of schema adjustment goes like this:

• “John was on his way to school last Friday and was really worried about the math lesson.”
Who is John? (A schoolboy.)
• “Last week, he had been unable to control the class.”
Who is John now? (The teacher.)
• “It was not fair of the math teacher to leave him in charge.”
Who is John now? (The janitor? The anthropology teacher?)

4 “Language is a very human form of communication,” according to Leonard. The statement is troubling because it suggests that there are non-linguistic forms of communication. (It also suggests that there are non-human forms of communication, but let’s not go there now.) What examples are there of non-linguistic forms of communication? “Body language” is "language" by definition. Paintings? Sculpture? Wordless screams? Caresses? Bringing flowers and chocolates to one’s shipoopi?

• Has Wesleyan an anthropology department (linguistics is a subdiscipline of anthropology)? Help!

5 In Middletown the hot question is, as usual, what’s the difference between metonymy and synecdoche?
• Synecdoche, which is pronounced much like “Schenectady,” means referring to (a) the whole by the name of the part, as in “all hands on deck” for “all crew members on deck,” or (b) the whole for the part, as “Colombia lost to Uruguay” for “the Colombian team lost to the Uruguayan team.”
• Metonymy means referring to a person or thing by the name of a closely related thing, as in “the White House is calling” or “the Crown unmakes rebels.”

6 The line between metonymy and synecdoche is sometimes unclear, as in “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.” (Emphasis in original. Not.) Are "ears" part of one's listening ability, or something closely related to it? In the confusion, metonymy seems to have gobbled up synecdoche. Middletown being a university town, there are doubtless pillows wet with tears for the loss of synecdoche, while metonymy burps.

7 Nothing succeeds like excess, so once more into the breach: what’s the relationship between semiotics and language? Semiotics (a/k/a semiology) is the study of the meaning and use of signs and symbols. Are there any non-linguistic signs and symbols?

8 The Colonel dislikes settling arguments by reference to the dictionary, but a good dictionary (and they're not all good) can shed as much light on some subjects as something that sheds a lot of light on things. One meaning ascribed to language is "a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings." Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002, http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (28 Aug. 2012).

9 At this point, the alarm clock goes off and The Colonel awakens. “It was all a bad dream,” he thought. “I must have eaten a bad schtroumpf at that place far from Middletown.”

P.S.: Advice from "Get rid of cable" commercials seen in Middletown (YouTube):

Don’t Attend Your Own Funeral as a Guy Named Phil Shifley
Don’t Let Your House Explode
Don’t Have a Grandson with a Dog Collar
Stop Taking in Stray Animals
Don’t Wake Up in a Roadside Ditch
Don’t Re-Enact Scenes from ‘Platoon’ with Charlie Sheen
Don’t Sell Your Hair to a Wig Shop.


Anonymous said...

I thought the hot question in Middletown was "Have you been to Froyo World yet?"

Anonymous said...

I salute you, mon colonel! Bravo!