Academic symposia are great fun if you don’t have a reputation to defend. Listening to a presentation can be informative, but the true entertainment value arises when you watch numerous ivory-tower types begin to shred one another’s theories.
This bit of doggerel has been floating around in my humor files since the 70s (first pulled off a chain printer), and deserves to be appreciated by a new generation of linguists.
With no further ado, I present to you a collection of (allegedly) real interactions documented at early gatherings of linguists. First up:
A Taxonomy of Argument Schemata in Metatheoretic Discussions of Syntax
Name That Tune
I. Logical Argumentation
- If A = ¬A, then my position is true.
Therefore, since A = ¬A, …
- A: ¬p.
B: Since you agree that p, …
- P is absurd, therefore q.
II. Now you see it, now...
- Your argument supports my position.
- I’m aware of these putative counter-arguments, but…
- Let me rephrase that so that it agrees with my position…
- I think that is true, but I’m not sure it means anything.
III. The Reasoned Response
- I don’t see the argument.
- I don’t like your example.
- That’s not a problem in my theory.
- It’s my opinion, and it’s very true.
- I still say that…
IV. Papa Knows Best
- You say that, but you don’t believe it.
- You believe this, but you won’t say it.
- What you really believe is ____, and I agree with you.
- Our disagreement is merely semantic.
- Don’t be misled by the similarity between A and A. It’s merely a superficial identity.
V. Audience Participation: Let’s take a vote!
VI. The Pre-emption
- You’re right, but I said it first!
- What you say is wrong, and I said it first!
VII. The Putdown
- You can’t do it either
- That’s true, but uninteresting in the ____ sense!
VIII. Advancing to the rear
- I knew that analysis was wrong before I proposed it.
- Of course my analysis is wrong in detail – *all* analyses are wrong in detail.
IX. The Principled Argument
A: Shut up!
B: No, *you* shut up!
A: No, *YOU* shut up!
But wait, there’s more!
An Ancillary Guide To Understanding a Syntax Conference
|What the Speaker Says||What the Speaker Means|
|These examples are from Dyirbal, a widely discussed language, so I will assume familiarity.||I don’t know the language well enough to answer questions, so don’t ask any.|
|When you stop to think about what you said, it doesn’t say anything.||I don’t understand it.|
|Some examples are vague; the others are simply wrong.||I can’t quite put an argument together, but I still want to attack yours.|
|No one has ever studied “X”.||I haven’t studied it, and neither have my friends.|
|I may have to retreat (there is a possibility), which is a wise thing to do when you are wrong.||I assure you that you are a good guy if you say that you are wrong.|
|Nobody is going to be converted to another side at this conference. This is not a tournament in which someone will win the main prize.||This is my excuse for not accepting anyone else’s argument, regardless of how valid it may be.|
|It is significant in an “interesting” way.||I could possible squeeze an article or two out of it.|
It’s been a long time since I’ve attended one of these conclaves, but I have no doubt that such things are still heard if you listen closely.
The Old Wolf has spoken.