SPUG: Re: SPUG presentation

Michael R. Wolf MichaelRWolf at att.net
Thu Jan 20 19:50:14 PST 2005

At 04:49 PM 1/20/2005, Trey Harris wrote:
>Thanks, I really appreciate the kind words.
>(Incidentally, I was trained as a linguist, so maybe you've got something
>there.  As a Chomskyan, I really can't abide a Whorf reference with a
>straight face--but I suppose programming languages, as cultural artifact,
>are more amenable to such conjecture and don't require full acceptance of
>the Weltanschauung of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. :-)

I've been picking up linguistics on the side in the past few years.  I'd 
been quoting the Whorf statement for years before I started researching him 
(or his detractors).  I've backed off his statement a bit, but I still find 
it very useful to start a discussion at the beginning of a programing 
language class.  It sets the stage for the kinds of constructs that the 
language du jour (C, C++, shell, Perl, ...) can (and cannot) do well.  A 
brick is good for some things.  It can even open a can, but only if a can 
opener isn't available, and you're really hungry.  Lots of folks in my 
intro to language-du-jour classes find the discussion helpful as a 
foundation for the rest of the class.  And I find that having had that 
conversation, I don't have to field as many off-topic (i.e. off-language 
questions).  Not that I mind some off-road travel, mind you.  I, too, think 
it's instructive to go over the edge to get a feel for just where it 
is.  The Whorf quote sets a nice framework for the class.

And I do appreciate you challenging the Whorfian hypothesis.  It helps me 
to fit his work into the larger linguistic framework, something I've been 
actively studying for a while.

While we're on the linguistic/author subject....  What are your thoughts on 
"The Language Instinct".  I read it a year ago, and am currently in the 
middle of "How the Mind Works".  I've gotten even more interesting comments 
about Pinker's thinking.

Perhaps we could even pick up a conversation over lunch some time?.  It 
would be interesting to me to engage a formally trained linguist in a 
discussion of what's worth learning in the literature and where some of the 
interesting work is going.


Michael R. Wolf
     All mammals learn by playing!
         MichaelRWolf at att.net

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