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Friday, March 23, 2012

Metalanguage

[Norma photo]
Meta means beyond. Language means language. In philosophy, one learns metalanguage is a language in which a theory about language is formulated. It is a syntax apart. This sounds impenetrably enigmatic because it is supposed to. One asks what it all means. Good question --and to its provocation the whole of metalanguage is devoted-- which is easily answered. Human language emerged as a metalinguistic response to nature, the language of the universe.

In the language of nature we are nouns. However, we are also processes, nouns who insist upon doing and being, so we are verbs as well as nouns. We are gerunds. I don't mean we should describe ourselves as humans humaning, that would just be silly. It's more like the French gerund which refers to adverbial and objective participles. French gerunds are sometimes confused with Girondins, which is phonetically forgivable.

Girondins were salon-lizards, a part of speech somewhere between being and doing. They were political theorists and pundits who proposed suspension of the king --Louis XVI as it turned out-- but were afterward disappointed with the result and became conservatives in the new government. What happened to conservatives? Did they become verbs of doing or being?

In America, they became Republicans who, for a long time both dood and beed. But lately, the party was coopted by neoconservatives who returned to the salon and barricaded it. Yesterday my friend and grammar teacher since 1965, Willie, sent me a real good article by Nicholas D. Kristof about a book by Jonathan Haidt called,"The Righteous Mind". This article,"Politics, Odors And Soap", says anything that makes us think of disgust or cleanliness also affects our politics. It "pushes our sanctity buttons and makes us more conservative."

Tests and researches discussed in this article suggest an old disparity. Understandably, modern Republicanism --with its new emphasis on intolerance and unregulated greed-- attracts a following of people who are mentally and emotionally involuted, who fear all social elasticity threatens their survival. Whether there's any chance they'll grow up, I don't know, but right now they're not ready for the sorts of thoughts that come to people who stop for them.

So what part of speech does that make one? How does one parse out and diagram the political spectrum so it composes a complete thought? Over this article is a photo containing a specimen of natural language. He is reading today's newspaper which is full of political language. What is it doing to him? I'm not a mind reader but would guess it has not disqualified him as an articulation of nature. Nature is the language of the universe and it speaks through us too --even if we don't always like what it's saying.

4 comments:

  1. That article about "Politics, Odors, ans Soap" could've been written about or by good ol' Newt. He's the absolute smut king of manipulative language. (And yet, he had the unmitigated gall to whine about the "negativity" of the other candidates.) Another good post, as always. Yup, Republicans dood and beed indeed.

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  2. Thanks Susan! Whatever part of natural language we aspire to, we are indebted to Newt for his personal exploration of the expletive. Rest of us should probably keep looking.

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  3. As much as I like this, IMO the real culprit will be Romney, AKA Wetch-a Sketch!

    Whaddaya think?

    And his possibly running mate Palin

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