Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Oh, you fools!

Geoffrey Pullum has a cute post over at Language Log today about the uses of language, the least of which, he declares, is to inform:

I'm sorry, I don't want to sound cynical and jaded, but language is not for informing.

His whole post is worth the read, but this sparked my memory about a paper I wrote many years ago. In my life previous to linguistics, I was a damned filthy English major but I took a course once that had something to do with discourse and conversation analysis (but, ya know, utterly vacuous in the way only English department courses can be) and I recall being frustrated by the assumption in the literature that communication was fundamentally "cooperative". Being the damned filthy English major that I was, I wrote an entire seminar paper without doing any empirical research at all, not even a Liberman-esque Breakfast Experiment; rather, I argued from my gut (as Colbert might say) that human communication was fundamentally competitive with each participant trying to "win" something, or at least in some sense trying to outperform the other. Unfortunately, that's about all I can remember of the whole event.

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