January 27th, 2006

ozarque figure

Linguistics; methods; discoveries that look trivial....

What follows (on page 2 of the comments, where I have no idea if you're likely ever to go) is my response to a comment from amaebi in the current discussion, and I wanted to expand it just a tad. It says:

I had just posted that response about hypertexting only being available in online language, left the computer, and headed off to put the laundry in the washing machine, when something occurred to me -- and here I am again. What occurred to me is that the Boring Baroque Response is a primitive attempt at offline hypertexting. And so that you won't have to go searching through my posts for the discussion of the BBR that we had in this journal many months ago, here's an example.

Hostile Language from Attacker:
"WHY do you eat SO MUCH JUNK food???"

Boring Baroque Response from Target:
"I think it's because of something that happened to me when I was just a little kid. We were living in Indianapolis at the time, and ..... no, wait a minute, it couldn't have been Indianapolis, it must have been when we were living in Detroit. Because that was the summer that my Aunt Grace came to visit us and she brought her little dog ... at least, I think it was a dog, but maybe it was a cat -- you know how it is when it's been a long time since something happened, it's easy to lose track of the details. And... [and so on and so on and so on]."

There. Now, on to the laundry.....

I did deal with the laundry, which is now in the dryer, but I wanted to say that thanks to amaebi I now know, at least tentatively, two things I didn't know when I got up this morning. I now know for sure that the Boring Baroque Response can be considered an attempt at offline-language hypertexting. And I now know tentatively -- subject to further investigation -- that perhaps the reason the BBR works so well is precisely because its various "threads" are almost impossible for the Attacker to get at as they go by. Plus, following them would, unless the Attacker were extraordinarily skilled, instantly end the attack. That is, if the Attacker grabbed the "little dog" thread, it would take a lot of skill to make the resulting utterance part of the initial attack about how much junk food the target eats.

I am as delighted about discovering this information -- two whole chunks of new information, you perceive! -- as a biologist would be with having discovered two new animal species. And without the comment from amaebi, it would probably never have happened; I've been working with BBR's for decades, and neither chunk had ever entered my head.

Linguists will work for years on a problem and then be genuinely thrilled by the discovery of one suffix, or one preposition, or one metaphor. That often seems strange to nonlinguists; it looks like such a small result for so much work. But linguists know that even the tiniest linguistics discovery may turn out to have an application to an entire language, or to an entire discourse domain, or both.

I am so pleased.