Linguists

S Krishna mahadevasiva at HOTMAIL.COM
Sun Jan 18 17:15:48 EST 1998


Sn Subrahmanya writes:
>In mathematics - a initial 'assumption' is allowed, but again at
>the end it has to be shown that no other 'assumption' would have
>been valid.
>"Linguistis" seems to have this fatal flaw in that-it
>does not show that the initial assumption is the only valid possibility
>and nothing else is possible. So, linguists
>can add layers and layers of assumption and prove whatever they want.



Dear MR Subrahmanya, your argument seems to be going the way in which
many discussions among our beloved expatriate Indians go-A certain
standard is introduced for what ever reason( in many cases, convenience)
by a person and all judgements are made according to this standard,
irrespective of whether the standard holds or not. For example, you have
the classical "Engineers vs Doctors" debate. Engineers hold themselves
to be superior to "doctors"
because their field is "more analytical" i.e. there is moremathematics
making the unverified assumption  i.e. is mathematics the one and only
analytical tool? Is that always the *best* tool? Of course, if you
explain to them that using their own logic, mathematicians are superior
to engineers( "mathematics" is more *mathematical* than engineering)
then you will get the benefit of their combined dirty looks.(If dirty
looks could kill, my friend, we'd be dead a thousand times over:-)
Substitute Engineering in this paragraph by "Archeology" and Medicine by
"Linguistics" and you can see the validity of the theory.
(BTW, I myself am an engineer, and have degrees in two different
engineering subjects, so there is no reason for me to envy/despise
engineers)

 What makes you think that "archeology" is such a powerful tool? In the
hands of the wrong person, anything can be misused..as an example,
please read the writings of Shri P.N.Oak who always tells us that
a mosque is essentially a stupa to which minarets have been added and
the dome has been modified..this ostensibly appears logical and is
chronological (Buddhism precedes ISlam) ; but show it to any trained
archeologist or architecht and they will tell you ten different reasons
why this couldn't have been true.


>
>It boggles my mind to see seemingly rational
>people deriving a proto language existing thousands of years before and
>hundreds of generations  ago spread out
>over great land areas and through millions of people, based on
>assumptions,and then adding more assumptions to it -
>How in the world can one scientifically prove these assumptions ??
>How can one be so confident of assumptions - without logically
>proving that it is the only possibility ??.


Well, since the word "assumption" seems to be bothering you so much,
would it be OK if we called the same stuff "axioms" a la Euclid?:-)
(Please try to prove any "axiom" as opposed to a theorem)

>
>When one reads Seidenbergs papers, one cannot but be impressed by the
>mathematical thoroughness with which he derives his conclusions.
 -------------------------

I am not impressed by this "mathematical thoroughness"( an engineering
/sciences concept, not true of liberal arts) thing...there are fields
that can be described as mathematical, there are others that aren't, so
you can't get mathematical in linguistics or history..In the 18th
century, the French  atheist philosopher Denis Diderot visited Russia ,
the Czar decided that he had to be defeated in a debate and appealed to
his courtiers in coming up with an ingenuous solution.( Diderot was
reputed to be undefeated in convetional debate). Euler( the
mathematician) *proved*  Denis Diderot wrong by introducing mathematical
proof; mathematics was something that Diderot knew nothing about. Euler
said " for all a>0,b>0, (ax+b)**n= m, therefore God exists..prove me
wrong if you can..." . If you now try to pass off "Euler's proof " as
being mathematical, you know what reaction you will be eliciting

Regards,
Krishna

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