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Essays in Semantics and Pragmatics in Honor of Charles J. Fillmore.

The Jubilar whose sixty-fifth birthday this volume celebrated is best known for his 1968 paper, "The Case for Case."(1) This captured the imagination of a generation that until then had rarely heard "meaning" mentioned in connection with linguistics, one also that had never encountered a language in which grammatical case played much of a part. The initial elan of this discovery has survived better than the case it originally made,(2) but contributors to this book document several of Fillmore's subsequent successes. Particularly noteworthy has been his 1977 discovery that knock in he knocked on the door with his fist means something different from knock in he knocked the door down (p. 10); and there is a glowing description of the day (year unspecified) when he walked into George Lakoff's office and "asked coyly if I had ever thought about the sentence 'From my office, I can see the bay'" (p. 133).

Understandably, this level of insight has been impossible to sustain throughout all fourteen papers by sixteen contributors.(3) Most of the authors content themselves with a modicum of encomium and then proceed to discuss topics only vestigially related to Fillmore's achievements. The main concern of the volume is modern English; but four papers occupying approximately a third of the book may possibly be of interest to readers of the Journal.

Ervin-Tripp, Nakamura, and Guo, "Shifting face from Asia to Europe," pp. 43-71, disarmingly confess at the outset that "we are far from reaching more than a crude preliminary analysis" (p. 44). With this it is impossible to disagree. They take English face in the sense of 'honor, reputation' as a Platonic ideal, and view their problem as finding out how this "concept" is expressed "in Asian languages" (pp. 48 and passim). Since these special senses of English face are easily documented calques on Chinese, while the Korean and Japanese data that they cite also involve calques on Chinese, together with original etymological materials further conflated by loanwords, the least that may be said of their search for the "Asian expressions" of this "concept" is that they have got the direction of their quest precisely backwards. In view of this, it is perhaps not surprising that the authors show themselves totally unaware of the existence of the categories of loanwords and calques, neither of which they ever mention. When they write, "mentsu is the Japanese equivalent of [Chin.] mianzi" (p. 57), they mean that the Japanese word is a recent (early twentieth century) loan from the Chinese form. And their unfamiliarity with the phenomenon of the calque is particularly poignant because, after all, English face in the senses with which they are concerned is nothing more than a calque on Chin. lian id.(4) Numerous elementary errors in data and their interpretation of the same (e.g., the incorrect allegation that "Kor. nach and elkwul . . . are used interchangeably," p. 49) might have been avoided by consulting standard lexical sources,(5) none of which are placed under contribution. Consulting good dictionaries would also have helped them edit out many of their near-pidgin glosses (e.g., Chin. bu yao lian 'shameless',(6) here rendered 'not want face', p. 49). These are not only misleading but at times verge upon racist caricature.

S. Y. Fujii, "Mental-space builders," pp. 73-90, studies "English and Japanese utterances that are to be understood . . . as an expression of wish [sic]" (p. 74), as hommage to another of the Jubilar's insights, his 1987 exegesis of the levels of conditionality inherent in if I were your father, I would spank you. This "expression of wish" may, as we might expect, be translated into Japanese in several different ways, a number of which Fujii explores.(7) But about the curious term in her title she is less informative: "adverbial phrases are 'mental-space builders', for they build 'mental spaces'" (p. 77). Q.E.D.?

C. N. Li, "Ancestor-descendant and cultural-linguistic relativity," pp. 191-200, is another hommage, this time to "Fillmore's work... in the area of deixis . . . [which] ranks among the most seminal and influential contributions in modern linguistics" (p. 191). Li's nine pages throw down a revisionist challenge to all modern linguistic theory, from Saussure to Whorl to Chomsky, none of whom understood that "the grammatical system of a language is characterized by fuzzy edges" (p. 198). Li's minuscule data, drawn entirely from modern Chinese, are surely too slender to support this allegation, if only because the key-term in his argument is cited incorrectly and glossed erroneously. Li writes Chin. shi fu 'master', glosses its constituent morphemes as shi 'teacher' and fu 'father', and then argues that the word contradicts "the obvious biological correlation between old age and the loss of physical prowess" (p. 194).(8) Actually, Chin. shi.fu 'tutor' has the neutral tone on its second morpheme.(9) The script tradition identifies this atonal .fu as an allomorph of fu 'tutor'.(10) But vulgo writings (and misunderstandings, i.e., folk-etymologies) of this .fu as an allomorph of fu 'father' are common,(11) and here have tripped Li up. All in all, Li's handful of examples from a single language are hardly sufficient - even if they were correct, which they are not - to overturn the past century of linguistic science. Saussure, Whorf, even Chomsky seem safe enough.

T. Ohori, "Remarks on suspended clauses," pp. 201-18, studies structurally incomplete fragments in Japanese that are "very often interpreted as complete, sometimes urging turn-taking" (p. 203). Ohori terms this "natural" because "ideas are expressed in 'spurts' in conversation . . . and do not have to be syntactically complete" (p. 204). He goes on to suggest that certain of these "natural spurts" are however really complete because they are "a part of an idiom," the missing segments of which are always "crystal-clear" to him (p. 206). Even when these "spurts" are not "a part of an idiom," he is nevertheless able to generate what is missing by applying canons of logic and reason (pp. 207 ff.) to the fragments. His analysis works equally well, whether what is being studied is in the text or not.

S. Okamoto, "Pragmaticization of meaning in some sentence-final particles in Japanese," pp. 219-46, examines final morphemes in fragments cited from a currently modish variety of Japanese Valley Girl jargon, in order to argue that these forms "are best regarded as sentence-final particles . . . rather than complements" (p. 220). This happens to be precisely the analysis arrived at by Martin twenty years ago.(12) Okamoto's too-frequent citations of Martin, not only for her main thesis but also often for plain matters of fact beyond all dispute (e.g., "the [sentence-final] use of koto is considered feminine," p. 223) do more than induce a strong sense of deja vu: ultimately they raise the question of why she thought it necessary to go to all this trouble only to arrive back at where Martin left the question in 1975, in virtually every detail.

Where is all this meant to lead? The hope is held out that musings, coy or not, about how one sees the bay from one's office, along with suggestions about how one spanks a baby in Japanese, will one day not only tell us "what the word can do, and occasionally . . . what it actually does," but ultimately may even "explain why words behave as they do" (Atkins, p. 41).

This seems more than a little unlikely. Does professing to find significant parallels between the employment of English expletive there, German da, and Japanese are (Ostman, pp. 265-66) really clarify the "why" of any of these words in the three languages cited? Does deriving Heb. izen 'to balance' from ozen 'ear', and in the process marveling at "the folk knowledge of the anatomical connection between the inner ear and a person's sense of balance" (Petruck, pp. 291-92), tell us anything worth knowing, particularly since in almost the same breath the author documents, on the basis of comparative Semitic (p. 292, n. 16), that the two words really have nothing to do with each other apart from the misty world of folk-etymology?

Naturally enough, no matter which language is being discussed in these pages, the concern is always with "meaning." But "meaning," it turns out, means nothing more here than transition into English, or English paraphrase if the original itself is already in that language. Sometimes these paraphrases are ingenious and intriguing; but too many of the translations, especially from the Japanese, are misleading or even downright wrong. Renderings such as 'then, please' for zya sure-ba and 'I feel sorry' for sumi.mase.n(13) (Ohori, pp. 203, 205, 206) are lexically incorrect and pragmatically misleading; the verb manabis 'study', not (as in Okamoto, p. 219) 'learn'; wake means 'sense, meaning; reason, cause, circumstance, case'(14) but never 'story' (as in Ohori, p. 214); the list could be extended virtually without end. In the opening lines of his "Case for Case," Fillmore had special praise for linguists "willing to risk the danger of being dead wrong." Could these cases of dead-wrong translations masquerading as "meanings" be intended as some sort of backhanded hommage to the Jubilar?

At the very least, it is difficult to see how any of this gets us closer to understanding "why words behave as they do." In the Bloomfieldian tradition, translation and paraphrase of course played their parts, but mostly as ways for supplying identification-tags for forms and structures. "Meaning" was always important, but it was something else again, and not lightly to be confused with the output of translation and paraphrase. Nevertheless, care was always taken to make the necessary translation-stages as accurate as possible - hardly the case anywhere in this book, where inaccurate and misleading English renderings are frequently advanced as the "meanings" of forms with which they have not the remotest connection.

Bloomfield, who is somewhat misunderstood and misquoted here (Ostman, p. 258)(15) on this whole question of meaning in linguistic science, always insisted that meaning was important. But he also believed, and taught, that we lack a means for approaching meaning directly, and he always warned that meaning is neither translation (even into English!) nor paraphrase. Reading this book, particularly its contributions that deal with Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, one thought keeps coming back again and again: maybe Bloomfield was right.


1 In E. Bach and R. Harms, eds., Universals in Linguistic Theory (New York: 1968), 1-88. But citations of this landmark paper in the volume under review suggest that not all the contributors have read it carefully enough, and perhaps not always at first hand: sometimes the collection in which it appeared is cited (correctly) as Universals in . . ., sometimes (e.g., p. 109) as Univerals of. . . .

2 Fillmore recanted the bulk of his "Case for Case" arguments in "The Case for Case Reopened," Syntax and Semantics 8 (1977): 59-81. This retraction had at least one important ancillary advantage. In 1968 he predicted that his discovery of case would make "syntactic deep structure . . . familiar from the work of Chomsky and his students . . . go the way of the phoneme" (p. 88). But with his 1977 volte-face he was free once more to invoke the long-despised phoneme for didactic purposes (pp. 70-71).

3 And, the editors tell us, more is yet to come: ". . . we had enough papers for two volumes. . . One volume, containing mainly those papers dealing with grammatical construction reflecting Chuck's more recent work on Construction Grammar, are appearing . . . from Oxford University Press" (p. [vii]). Now that the Case for Case is settled, perhaps the editors might take up the Case for Number-Agreement.

4 I.e., Chin. lian, in the authors' Chinese transcription that ignores tones and junctures. About such writings, Y. R. Chao often told his students, "it would be better to romanize Chinese without writing the vowels than to ignore the tones."

5 The articles on Kor. nach and elkwul in S. E. Martin et al., A Korean-English Dictionary (New Haven: 1967), 313a-b, and 1142a-b, are carefully written lexical accounts of these forms in a significant spectrum of pragmatic situations; they render the authors' scattered speculations and halting glosses almost entirely superfluous.

6 Y. R. Chao and L. S. Yang, Concise Dictionary of Spoken Chinese, 7th ed. (Cambridge, 1970), 179, 237.

7 Over and above the question of how best to render Fillmore's levels for the "expression of wish" into Japanese, Fujii has also had to contend with the fact that 'spanking' plays no part in the traditional Japanese praxis of child-discipline. Standard lexical tools explaining 'spank' in this sense for Japanese readers of English texts (e.g., Kenkyusha's New English-Japanese Dictionary, 5th ed. [Tokyo: 1980], 2027c) use the verb ut-'strike lightly, pat, tap'. Fujii has opted for something quite different, hippataite osioki suru 'to execute punishment, to chastise by thrashing, drubbing, whacking' (thus on pp. 83, 84, with osioki for o-sioki 'punishment, execution', with the deferential o-; her isioki at p. 84, n. 13 is meaningless).

8 Li limits his discussion to the employment of shi.fu as a technical term in the jargon of the so-called martial arts; and it is totally within this unnecessarily restricted pragmatic paradigm that he professes to have discovered a "Chinese perception" that "runs counter to obvious biological facts." But his grasp of the politesse of the martial-arts terminology appears to be almost as fragile as his command of Chinese tones and morphology. There, as everywhere in traditional China, the sociolinguistic concern is not with the master's physical prowess or even with his age, but with his superior training, experience, mental agility and perception - all accomplishments that do not "obviously" deteriorate with increasing age. Roman Catholics and Anglicans feel nothing that runs "counter to obvious biological facts" when they address males younger than ego as father; Jap. sensei makes ostensible (Chinese) etymological reference to someone 'born earlier [than ego]', but this is nevertheless what one always calls a physician, no matter how young he or she is. Etymology is never a reliable guide to pragmatics, and Western-style youth-oriented prejudices concerning the "obvious biological facts" of aging are misleading when dealing with Asian societies.

9 The neutral tone is registered for this form in at least three commonly available lexical tools: Mathews' Chinese-English Dictionary, revised American edition (Cambridge, 1943), 288a; Y. R. Chao and L. S. Yang, op. cit., 16; IFEL Dictionary of Spoken Chinese (New Haven, 1966), 221b.

10 The locus classicus for the traditional (and no doubt etymologically correct) morpheme identification is found in a passage in the Hah shu of Pan Ku (A.D. 32-92). A literatus and his eldest son are there memorialized for having enjoyed the distinction of both simultaneously serving as tutors for the crown-prince; and the historian concludes his account of this rare achievement with the line, [Chinese Text Omitted] "father and son together served as tutors, and thus the imperial court flourished" (Han shu [Peking: Chung-hua shu-chu, 1975], 71.3039).

11 The vulgo writings with fu 'father' erroneously for fu 'tutor' begin to be registered in the early sixteenth-century text-tradition of the Shui hu chuan, and become common from the time of K'ung Shang-jen's drama T'ao hua shan (1699) on (citations in Morohashi, Daikanwa jiten [Tokyo, 1957], 4.438d). Probably this coincided in time with the emergence of the neutral tone in Northern Chinese, which in turn further facilitated the confusion of these two already homophonous morphemes. The writing with fu 'father' also found its way into Mathews' Dictionary, 802a, where however the form correctly has the neutral tone marked on the second morpheme, and the gloss ('term of respect, sometimes applied to women') betrays the lexicographer's uneasiness with this writing.

12 Okamoto writes, "Martin's reference grammar of Japanese (1975) lists most of the usages of the morphemes discussed here, treating them as sentence-final particles" (pp. 220-21). This is not precisely correct. S. E. Martin, A Reference Grammar of Japanese (New Haven, 1975), 1169, prefers the term "sentence extensions" to "sentence-final particles," and treats these features in his [section]15, pp. 914-58. Here and throughout her paper, Okamoto never once gives a page or section reference to Martin, a volume of 1198 closely printed pages. But it is at least to her credit that she cites Martin at all. None of the other contributions dealing with Japanese do, even though it might have spared more than one of the authors needless trouble. E.g., Fujii's unproductive lucubration over the introductory employment of tada 'merely' (p. 74, misglossed as 'only'). She has not glanced, to her peril, at Martin's treatment of this "adverb of logical relation," [section]13.7, p. 812.

13 One can do nothing but reproduce the transcription of Ohori's text, with its meaningless segmentations, intact. It is impossible even to guess what distinction is intended between '.' and '-' when he writes sumi.mase.n alongside si-masu and gozai.masu (all on p. 206). The same author routinely lumps together the quotative particle to with its following verb yuu into a single morpheme that he writes TOIU (when not misprinted as TOUI, p. 203), even though iu is a transliteration of the kana orthography for this verb and not a transcription of the word at all.

14 Martin, Reference Grammar, [section]13.2-5, pp. 733-35. Not only is Ohori's gloss incorrect, but from his account of the word one would never guess its most striking grammatical feature, i.e., that it is a postadnominal, and so in this too, as well as in meaning, totally unlike the noun hanasi with which he equates it.

15 The page-reference is worth noting, since there is no entry for "Bloomfield" in the index. Both notices on p. 258 employ only the adjectival "Bloomfieldian"; apparently the indexer did not recognize the underlying name in this formation.
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Author:Miller, Roy Andrew
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1997
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