Huddleston speaks!

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woodcutter
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Huddleston speaks!

Post by woodcutter » Sat Nov 06, 2004 6:22 am

I often feel under-educated in these endless tense and distance related conversations, so I was surprised to find, while struggling through my fat copy of Rodney Huddleston's grammar, that his views on "distance" appear close to my own. This is what he has to say.

(He has just been discussing 2nd conditional)
It has been proposed that the concept of remoteness is sufficiently general to cover both the primary use of the past tense and the one we are concerned with here. According to this view, the inflection itself would simply indicate remoteness, and it would depend on other features of the sentence or context whether this is interpreted more specifically as remoteness in time or remoteness in factuality. The problem which is facing us here is a type which commonly arises in semantic analysis. As we try to bring more and more uses of a category or item within the scope of our semantic analysis of it, the meaning proposed will become more and more general, with less and less content - and the burden of accounting for the more specific features of the interpretation of sentences containing it will fall elsewhere, on other linguistic elements in the sentence or on pragmatics. The alternative to giving a single very general meaning, which may be fairly empty, is to allow for polysemy, recognising a range of related senses (some of which may be more central than others): different writers may take quite widely varying positions on this issue. As far as the particular case of it that we have raised here is concerned, my own view is that we do need to recognise distinct senses of the past tense, for it is not clear why remoteness as such should select past time as opposed to future time when interpreted temporally (we do not say 'he was here yesterday, is here now and was here tomorrow). Nevertheless the proposal is certainly useful in showing a relation between past time and factual remoteness uses.
Thank you Rodney. Now let's hear no more about it!

Stephen Jones
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Post by Stephen Jones » Sat Nov 06, 2004 9:52 am

Your views as expressed in the thread on subjectivity seem to go well beyond this.

metal56
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Re: Huddleston speaks!

Post by metal56 » Mon Nov 08, 2004 11:02 am

woodcutter wrote:I often feel under-educated in these endless tense and distance related conversations, so I was surprised to find, while struggling through my fat copy of Rodney Huddleston's grammar, that his views on "distance" appear close to my own. This is what he has to say.

(He has just been discussing 2nd conditional)
It has been proposed that the concept of remoteness is sufficiently general to cover both the primary use of the past tense and the one we are concerned with here. According to this view, the inflection itself would simply indicate remoteness, and it would depend on other features of the sentence or context whether this is interpreted more specifically as remoteness in time or remoteness in factuality. The problem which is facing us here is a type which commonly arises in semantic analysis. As we try to bring more and more uses of a category or item within the scope of our semantic analysis of it, the meaning proposed will become more and more general, with less and less content - and the burden of accounting for the more specific features of the interpretation of sentences containing it will fall elsewhere, on other linguistic elements in the sentence or on pragmatics. The alternative to giving a single very general meaning, which may be fairly empty, is to allow for polysemy, recognising a range of related senses (some of which may be more central than others): different writers may take quite widely varying positions on this issue. As far as the particular case of it that we have raised here is concerned, my own view is that we do need to recognise distinct senses of the past tense, for it is not clear why remoteness as such should select past time as opposed to future time when interpreted temporally (we do not say 'he was here yesterday, is here now and was here tomorrow). Nevertheless the proposal is certainly useful in showing a relation between past time and factual remoteness uses.
Thank you Rodney. Now let's hear no more about it!
More wood for the proximity-distance fire:

Huddleston has defined present perfect as the ‘inclusive past’, as opposed to past tense as the ‘exclusive past’ (1984). Thus we can think of past tense as having some fixed point in a time previous to now and ‘excluding’ the present, and the present perfect as expressing a relationship between some past time and now, therefore ‘including’ the present time.

However, it is very important to note that the choice of past simple or present perfect often resides with the speaker, rather than any temporal location of an event or situation. For example if asked, “Have you ever been abroad?” it would be perfectly acceptable to reply, “Yes, I went to Mexico last year.” or, “Yes, I’ve been to Mexico.” The selection relies on the speaker’s perception of the situation, and whether they think it necessary to give a definite time or an indefinite time.

woodcutter
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Post by woodcutter » Tue Nov 09, 2004 12:22 am

I couldn't argue with what Metal wrote, but surely the main thrust of this paragraph is that distance/remoteness is a fairly empty term, and that Huddleston is happier focusing on multiple meanings.

I'm not sure what SJ means about "subjectivity" - perhaps that I am more excited about core meanings than Huddleston? As far as I can see, as long as you allow a meaning to be "preferred" or "more central" then in practise this works out the same as saying it is a core meaning. In a neutral circumstance that meaning will predominate - in this case of -ed inflected words, the past tense meaning

fluffyhamster
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Post by fluffyhamster » Tue Nov 09, 2004 12:44 pm

For Rodney to gain more clout and become more well-known, he really should consider changing his first name to "Michael", and his second to "Stone" or "Rock" or something tougher-sounding. As it is he sounds like a limpet clinging on for grim death.

Stephen Jones
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Post by Stephen Jones » Tue Nov 09, 2004 12:57 pm

I was referrng to the thread about subjectivity, in which you seemed to be arguing for the existence of the future tense, and that the perfect and continous weren't aspects.

I actually tend to agree with Huddleston, though thinbk he is being silly talking about remoeteness in the future.

woodcutter
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Post by woodcutter » Wed Nov 10, 2004 12:21 am

Well, regarding aspects and future tense, that's another kettle of fish. Isn't it?

Rodney Huddleston seems to be the ultimate authority according to Leicester university, so I suppose he is pretty well known. In order to be an academic big hitter a name like Oswald Cohen-Tiedemann or Zelda Von Strugleheiman or something is the best handle to have.

LarryLatham
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Rodney Huddleston

Post by LarryLatham » Wed Nov 10, 2004 11:10 am

Greetings to you all from Hong Kong. I've been in China for a month, and found it much more difficult to locate internet "bars" this time than on my last trip there. So, much to the relief of many of you, perhaps, I've been out of the loop for a while.

Much seems to have happened. I see our friend Shun Tang has returned, albeit under a psudeonym. (I suppose he might have thought we wouldn't recognize him. :lol: ) I can assure everybody that most of the people I meet here in Hong Kong are clearer thinkers than he seems to be, and more pleasant to deal with as well.

And I also see that the time/distance argument remains unresolved (big surprise! :shock: ). Interesting quote, this, from a heavy hitter like Huddleston. I'm afraid I don't feel satisfied with his argument, though.

I actually have some sympathy for his sensitivities about general meanings sometimes being lacking in sufficient detail for satisfactory explanation. But, in this case, Rodney, in the first place, forgets that language is a device for communicating thoughts. Choices of words and structure are made by people attempting to convey what is in their heads. And, quite often actually, what may be in their heads is vague and lacks clear structure. The idea that we have a device (remoteness) for expressing a certain feeling without having to exactly define the particular details of that feeling gives many speakers and writers a useful tool. Most of the time, just as Huddleston suggests, other elements of the sentence or context offer an obvious interpretation to the speaker's choice of remote verb forms, and sometimes, it is patently clear that time is not the reason. In such cases, an analyst asserting a view of Past Simple Tense mandating a past time meaning will be befuddled. No reasonable explanation of, "What was your name, please?" can ensue from such a view of Past Simple Tense, despite the fact that it is an entirely correct and proper sentence. On the view that selection of Past Simple denotes the speakers perception of remoteness, the analysis is immediately clear as long as you allow that remoteness has many parameters, including 'distance of relationship'. I reject Huddleston's characterization of this as being "empty." It seems crystal clear to me.

In the second place, Huddleston's confusion about why Past Simple Tense refers only to time distance in past time and not in future time (which, as he says, is also remote--from NOW), can also be quite easily explained: Past Simple Tense denotes remote FACTS. Since future time events cannot be viewed as factual, they cannot be included in the meaning of a remote form which limits itself to factual events (from the viewpoint of the chooser). Future events, while they may be remote, must be seen differently than past events, which can be seen as facts.

Sorry, Rodney (and woodcutter). Despite your credentials, your argument here doesn't float in my puddle. :)

Larry Latham

metal56
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Re: Rodney Huddleston

Post by metal56 » Wed Nov 10, 2004 11:41 am

LarryLatham wrote:Greetings to you all from Hong Kong. I've been in China for a month, and found it much more difficult to locate internet "bars" this time than on my last trip there. So, much to the relief of many of you, perhaps, I've been out of the loop for a while.
You were well missed, Larry. Welcome back to the loopy loop!

woodcutter
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Post by woodcutter » Thu Nov 11, 2004 1:47 am

It's a tough time for Rodney. :( His name has been mocked. :( Larry has returned :D , refreshed and full of loquacious energy, ready to give him a lesson and he only has a humble woodsman to protect him.

Huddleston sees several meanings in the -ed form. It is just that he feels that taking them all and lumping them under a title "distance", which we usually think of in miles or kilometres, ain't helping none.

How can you say that "ed" can't refer to the future because it is not factual, when one of the parts of "remoteness" is the "remote from factual" second conditional.

And since Stephen mentions it, I feel much the same way about "aspect" too, it covers too many things to be a useful concept.

Stephen Jones
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Post by Stephen Jones » Thu Nov 11, 2004 3:42 am

Nice to know that the guy who caused all the problems is back.

The problem Larry is that your idea of distance appears crystal clear to you and Lewis, but is flawed precisely for that reason. Languages are not crystal clear, and distance is an axplanatory device which may or may not be accurate for our present snapshot of the English language but certainly, like your other invention of core modality, has no relation with the way people chose languages.

metal56
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Post by metal56 » Thu Nov 11, 2004 7:48 am

woodcutter wrote:
Huddleston sees several meanings in the -ed form. It is just that he feels that taking them all and lumping them under a title "distance", which we usually think of in miles or kilometres, ain't helping none.


quote]

Does he think that lumping most of them under the term "past simple" (past normally thought of as something that is over ... gone) is a better idea?

lolwhites
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Post by lolwhites » Thu Nov 11, 2004 9:54 am

I can't help but feel it's a little disingenuous to talk about "distance" in term of "miles and kilometres" here. We're talking about something that is in the speaker's mind - it's not something that's measured in miles, kilometres, minutes or seconds.

LarryLatham
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Remote from what?

Post by LarryLatham » Thu Nov 11, 2004 12:48 pm

Thanks, lolwhites, for your precise, and sorely needed, clarification. You are exactly right. Distance is not quite the same as remoteness, and it is the latter term that Michael Lewis uses, as do I. Distance, as woodcutter points out, is reasonably counted in inches, millimeters, kilometers, and miles, among other similar measures. But we are not concerned with that. Remoteness is a feeling. Moreover, I believe that this feeling, this personal measure of closeness or farness as perceived psychologically by the language user is among the most basic and important aspects of English. As I am not a qualified linguist, I cannot really say whether it distinguishes English from other languages, but I suspect that might be the case. Perhaps those of you who are better qualified than I can comment on this. If it turns out to be a genuine distinguishing factor in the sense that our language has specific structural forms designed to express it, then I believe much teaching value could be gleaned from exploiting this in the classroom. Maybe it is a large part of what makes English English.

As for the second conditional form denoting "remoteness from the factual", woodcutter, I must admit that you caused a temporary jolt in my mind there. I had to think about it some. But I believe I can satisfy those skeptics of you out there by suggesting that it is not remoteness from factuality that is referred to, but rather remoteness from reality. Reality need not necessarily be fact. Reality can include what might be, but isn't, which, I believe, is exactly the case when second conditional forms are chosen. When I say, "If I were a linguist, my remarks on the distinguishing features of English would carry some weight" I am offering acknowledgment of my lack of credentials (that's reality, perhaps), but at the same time, I do know something about language, and that is a fact (at least in my own mind).

Stephen, can you come again? I'm afraid I didn't quite understand why my reasoning is fatally flawed because it is crystal clear. Can you expand on that, please? :)

Larry Latham

revel
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WB

Post by revel » Thu Nov 11, 2004 8:39 pm

Hey all!

Just wanted to welcome Larry back, though if you're still travelling, I suppose you'll be leaving us alone again until you find another café with computers and connexion. Anyway, I am pleased to read your words again.

This particular debate I'm afraid I have to stay out of, though. Sorry I haven't anything to contribute.

peace,
revel.

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