Obscure jargon or unfamiliar disciplines?

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Stephen Hughes
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Obscure jargon or unfamiliar disciplines?

Post by Stephen Hughes » November 15th, 2013, 11:16 pm

Jonathan Robie wrote:On B-Greek, Greek is our bread and butter, and Hebrew, Latin, and linguistic gobbledygook are also relatively common. But participants have widely differing ability to read any of these languages (including obscure jargon).

Be merciful. If you are writing about a topic that mere mortals can grasp, write something mere mortals can read. You are very welcome to write in Greek, Hebrew, Latin, or gobbledygook, but if you do so, provide a translation. Διὸ ὁ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ προσευχέσθω ἵνα διερμηνεύῃ (therefore the one who speaks in a tongue must pray that he may interpret).
I would like to ask whether it is the "linguistic gobbledygook" (obscure jargon) that is not understandable or the unfamiliar lay of the land within the discipline of linguistics? Isn't linguistics just another field of learning in the campus besides language learning?

If someone, who (hypothetically) knew both botany and NTG started to post about Ceratonia siliqua and ἀκρίς, then that would be more or less jargon, because ceratonia siliqua has a common name "Carob", and its seeds are "locust beans". If however, the same person were to start talking about rhizobium that has gone beyond what could be considered common knowledge and into a specialist field.

I'm the first to admit that my views in regard to linguistics are not unbiased. I am (was) a foreign language major from my undergraduate years and have a definite "side of the fence" in an underlying rivalry between linguistics and languages which can be summed up something like; you learn linguistics because you couldn't / can't learn languages ||| (something that amounts to the feel of) you don't know how the bridge is designed, you can only drive across it. But, I do, however, think that the commonality that we have here on B-Greek the Greek language - we are either learning it, or learning how to use it, or at least have an interest in it. I believe that any or all other disciplines might have something to contribute to the understanding of the New Testament in Greek - Roman history, numismastics, social anthropology, economics and linguistics. Perhaps some would see language and linguistics as paw in glove, but am I the only one who prefers bare-knuckles boxing?

The jargon of any other discipline (not only linguistics) will seem obscure for the those who are not well-versed in the field. So, to be more inclusive, would it perhaps not be useful / better that if anything from another discipline that is introduced to a discussion about Greek be done so with the reader in mind, by not only translating, but by also explaining the significance and context of the point raised with as much of an explanation of the theories in that other discipline as is necessary for a reasonably educated man in the street to understand it? Would it be suitable to say; Διὸ ὁ γράφων ὁρολογίᾳ ἐνθυμείσθω ἵνα μεθερμηνεύῃ "Tell the one who writes in technical jargon have a serious think about how they are going to make their jargon understood in plain language."?
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MAubrey
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Re: Obscure jargon or unfamiliar disciplines?

Post by MAubrey » November 16th, 2013, 9:15 am

(for future reference...if you PM someone who makes an editing mistake in nested quotes, then they can just fix it and then you won't have the metaconversations like the ones below. Or if you're a moderator, you could just correct the nesting yourself on the author's behalf)
Stephen Hughes wrote:I'm the first to admit that my views in regard to linguistics are not unbiased. I am (was) a foreign language major from my undergraduate years and have a definite "side of the fence" in an underlying rivalry between linguistics and languages which can be summed up something like; you learn linguistics because you couldn't / can't learn languages ||| (something that amounts to the feel of) you don't know how the bridge is designed, you can only drive across it.
This is insightful and helps me understand where you're coming from.

It might be useful to perhaps also ask someone who has chosen linguistics as a field of study why they made that choice. They may very well have dramatically different reasons than the ones that you've imagined for them...
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Stephen Hughes
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Re: Obscure jargon or unfamiliar disciplines?

Post by Stephen Hughes » November 16th, 2013, 9:48 am

MAubrey wrote:
Stephen Hughes wrote:
Jonathan Robie wrote:I'm the first to admit that my views in regard to linguistics are not unbiased. I am (was) a foreign language major from my undergraduate years and have a definite "side of the fence" in an underlying rivalry between linguistics and languages which can be summed up something like; you learn linguistics because you couldn't / can't learn languages ||| (something that amounts to the feel of) you don't know how the bridge is designed, you can only drive across it.
This is insightful and helps me understand where you're coming from.

It might be useful to perhaps also ask someone who has chosen linguistics as a field of study why they made that choice. They may very well have dramatically different reasons than the ones that you've imagined for them...
I'm sorry, what does your series of nested quotations mean, are you talking to me Stephen Hughes or to Johathan Robie??

I am referring to underlying interfaculty rivalries and not my imagination about individuals who someone could ask. I'm unwilling to answer your questions about myself, please direct your comments to the topic not to me.
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Re: Obscure jargon or unfamiliar disciplines?

Post by cwconrad » November 16th, 2013, 10:31 am

MAubrey wrote:
Stephen Hughes wrote:
Jonathan Robie wrote:I'm the first to admit that my views in regard to linguistics are not unbiased. I am (was) a foreign language major from my undergraduate years and have a definite "side of the fence" in an underlying rivalry between linguistics and languages which can be summed up something like; you learn linguistics because you couldn't / can't learn languages ||| (something that amounts to the feel of) you don't know how the bridge is designed, you can only drive across it.
This is insightful and helps me understand where you're coming from.

It might be useful to perhaps also ask someone who has chosen linguistics as a field of study why they made that choice. They may very well have dramatically different reasons than the ones that you've imagined for them...
Mike, you really need to be a bit more careful in proofing what you've written: what you've cited as Jonathan Robie's statement was actually Stephen Hughes' statement.

I was myself surprised by Stephen's explanation of his negative feelings against linguistics. It reminds me of the old saw, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach" -- it gives expression more to animus than to serious evaluation. But I am myself one of those who has expressed considerable ambivalence toward academic linguists (perhaps I should simply use upper case?): I've unquestionably learned a good deal that I've found useful from Linguists, while I've also been not a little frustrated and exasperated at serious statements about how language works that sound like gibberish and provide no clue to the hapless reader who has not been initiated into the lingo being employed. In fact, of course, some Linguists take pains to explain their terminology; others don't. Jonathan's new rule asks for the explanation from all who "speak in unknown languages."

I have had a bias that is perhaps akin to Stephen's; it may very well be without basis, but I find it difficult to shake off: I keep wondering how well Linguists know the particular langage(s) about which they write so confidently. I suspect that there's considerable variation. I'm reminded of my shock at reading Joseph Campbell's monumental survey of the mythologies of the world, The Masks of God: the generalizations were so fascinating and convincing until I found myself reading something he'd written about a tradition that I thought he was oversimplifying and distorting. At any rate, I've wondered about Linguists writing about ancient Greek just how well they know the language beyond one segment of that language's history. Another matter that has troubled me repeatedly is the question whether conclusions being drawn in support of a theory are drawn from an adequate database (actually, that's something that disturbs me about the Social Sciences more generally).

I suspect that academics going into a particular field may not altogether understand the reasons for their choice. I sometimes wonder why I didn't go into Biology (it's probably because I didn't have a sufficiently solid base in mathematics and because I was mesmerized by Greek and Latin language and literature beyond all else).

At any rate, I think Jonathan's rule is a good one. We ought not to assume that other readers of our public posts will understand what we mean when we don't write plain English or clarify the underlying basis of what we're discussing in a post. Maybe there's no happy medium between being long-winded and being curt in responses to others in this forum, but neither long-windedness nor curtness in responses is helpful. πάντα ἔξεστιν, ἀλλ’ οὐ πάντα οἰκοδομεὶ (You may do whatever you like, but it's better to be helpful).
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οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

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Re: Obscure jargon or unfamiliar disciplines?

Post by MAubrey » November 16th, 2013, 12:45 pm

cwconrad wrote:Mike, you really need to be a bit more careful in proofing what you've written: what you've cited as Jonathan Robie's statement was actually Stephen Hughes' statement.
Sorry about that. I've now fixed it.
cwconrad wrote:I was myself surprised by Stephen's explanation of his negative feelings against linguistics. It reminds me of the old saw, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach" -- it gives expression more to animus than to serious evaluation. But I am myself one of those who has expressed considerable ambivalence toward academic linguists (perhaps I should simply use upper case?): I've unquestionably learned a good deal that I've found useful from Linguists, while I've also been not a little frustrated and exasperated at serious statements about how language works that sound like gibberish and provide no clue to the hapless reader who has not been initiated into the lingo being employed. In fact, of course, some Linguists take pains to explain their terminology; others don't.
Well, you're not alone. There are plenty of linguists who feel the same way. Part of the problem is that the field is so diverse. The terminological needs of a linguist doing language development of a minority language spoken by 50,000 people are quite different than the needs of a typologist working through the details about noun phrases in reference grammars of two hundred languages, or the needs of a linguist working on the nature of language structure and its relationship to the brain for the purposes of understand aphasia.
cwconrad wrote:Jonathan's new rule asks for the explanation from all who "speak in unknown languages."
It's a good rule. If you remember, I advocated something similar after a number of excessively esoteric posts from a certain unnamed individual maybe about 18 months ago.
cwconrad wrote:I have had a bias that is perhaps akin to Stephen's; it may very well be without basis, but I find it difficult to shake off: I keep wondering how well Linguists know the particular langage(s) about which they write so confidently. I suspect that there's considerable variation. I'm reminded of my shock at reading Joseph Campbell's monumental survey of the mythologies of the world, The Masks of God: the generalizations were so fascinating and convincing until I found myself reading something he'd written about a tradition that I thought he was oversimplifying and distorting. At any rate, I've wondered about Linguists writing about ancient Greek just how well they know the language beyond one segment of that language's history. Another matter that has troubled me repeatedly is the question whether conclusions being drawn in support of a theory are drawn from an adequate database (actually, that's something that disturbs me about the Social Sciences more generally).
You're certainly right about significant variation. And within the field, linguists who learn the languages have a similar bias toward those who don't...though theirs is limited to specific individuals rather than an entire field or faculty. For my part, I can only talk about the language abilities of the fellow linguists I know personally or who have expressly stated in their publications the nature of their language abilities. And on that front, all of the linguists I know personally do know the languages they're working in, either as native speakers or as second or third languages that they continue to develop and learn. And for myself, unless I'm citing someone else, I try to only comment on languages that I've put effort into learning: English, Spanish, Russian, and Greek.
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Re: Obscure jargon or unfamiliar disciplines?

Post by cwconrad » November 16th, 2013, 2:17 pm

Mike, I want to thank you very much for your response, both the spirit and the content of it. I'm glad that you acknowledge the rightness of Jonathan's new rule, toward which I hope we may look for commitment in both spirit and the letter from all members of the Forum.

I would just like to emphasize a couple points that I think were at least implicit in what I wrote earlier: I think that there is much that is imprecise and probably erroneous in both traditional grammatical Greek pedagogical lore and the current "actual state of affairs" in Linguists' understanding and representation of the functioning of ancient Greek. I'd like to think that all of us, both those trained in traditional grammar and academic linguists, will acknowledge that our cognitive state is a sort of Augustinian fides quaerens intellectum -- confidence in what-we-think-we-know in quest of an as-yet-not-acquired understanding -- of how ancient Greek works. We collect data, we theorize, we test hypotheses, we grope toward better understanding. It behooves us not to be dogmatic.

So also with regard to how well we know the language, how many of us can claim to command ancient Greek like a literate or even an intelligent non-literate ancient Greek-speaker? Jonathan's distinction of more than a decade ago between "little Greeks" and "big Greeks" is one of which I have always been somewhat dubious. No doubt the difference between a fresh beginner and a γηράσκων ἀεὶ διδασκόμενος (one who keeps learning all the time as he becomes more senile) like myself is considerable, but I have some reservations about people who claim to know ancient Greek like a native speaker or composer of ancient Greek. So let's be cautious when we make claims and assertions of what we know or don't know.
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οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

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Re: Obscure jargon or unfamiliar disciplines?

Post by Stephen Carlson » November 16th, 2013, 3:29 pm

MAubrey wrote:You're certainly right about significant variation. And within the field, linguists who learn the languages have a similar bias toward those who don't...though theirs is limited to specific individuals rather than an entire field or faculty. For my part, I can only talk about the language abilities of the fellow linguists I know personally or who have expressly stated in their publications the nature of their language abilities. And on that front, all of the linguists I know personally do know the languages they're working in, either as native speakers or as second or third languages that they continue to develop and learn. And for myself, unless I'm citing someone else, I try to only comment on languages that I've put effort into learning: English, Spanish, Russian, and Greek.
I would tend to agree. In my experience, based on reading a lot of work put out by linguists, the language of ability of linguists in the languages their actively working on compares favorably to that of NT exegetes. (This may be damning them with faint praise.) On the other hand, when they cite example in languages they haven't really studied, the result is hit-or-miss, only as good as the source they're cribbing from. For example, I've already learned enough Swedish to identify obvious mistakes in some examples (e.g., Norwegian spelling).
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Re: Obscure jargon or unfamiliar disciplines?

Post by Stephen Hughes » November 17th, 2013, 12:46 am

Maubrey wrote:This is insightful and helps me understand where you're coming from.
cwconrad wrote:I was myself surprised by Stephen's explanation of his negative feelings against linguistics.
I am also surprised to find that I personally have negative feelings. As my statement was interpreted by someone in this thread it does seem that I was expressing an opinion of my own, but if someone read it twice or thought about it, they would notice that my post talks about departments (or faculties) within the campus, and makes no reference to personal feelings, only my area of study. It was an expression of the light-hearted even jocular rivalry between language and lingusitic departments. By misreading that, my statement has been turned into an insult, and I want here and now to distance myself from that, and ask that people like yourself who have found negativity in my first statement to re-read it in the light-hearted way that it was intended. I'm sorry that I was unable to someone-proof my statement to withstand disinterpretation.
cwconrad wrote:I suspect that academics going into a particular field may not altogether understand the reasons for their choice.
From my years at university and in other study, I would say that there are as many reasons for students studying course or degrees as there are students and their courses.

----
Aside from the need to clear up someone's disinterpretation of the tenor of one paragraph of my leading post, I'd like to get back to the original question. The main point that I am making in this Obscure jargon or unfamiliar disciplines? is that linguistics along with all other disciplines on the campus are separate disciplines - with subeject-specific goals, methodologies, and truths - from Biblical Greek. Jonathan signalled out linguistics as a field that is time and again difficult to understand because of its jargon. After thinking about it, I think that the problem is more than jargon and I am suggesting that if dialogue is to be carried to subject matter that has its home within another field of knowledge, that there has to be enough of an introduction to the other field in that post (or in the thread) to allow it to be intelligible to people who have a comprehensive high school education and a few years of Biblical Greek (or the equivalent). Even perhaps the closest related discipline - Ancient Greek would need to be explained to people who had previously only learn't Biblical Greek, and linguistics - despite its dealing with languages is different from languages in that (regardless of the researcher's competency) aims to be an external observer who can record and systematise an understanding of an aspect or aspects of a language - rather than a language learner who aims to be part of the language at the end of their studies.

I am putting up for discussion the question of whether the Write for the reader rule does (or should) imply the need for explication of a discipline not only jargon.
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Re: Obscure jargon or unfamiliar disciplines?

Post by Jonathan Robie » November 17th, 2013, 1:33 am

I agree - many people know a language, but do not know linguistics. And even a person who knows one field of linguistics does not know all fields of linguistics. Linguists would do well to assume there are a lot of people here who are bright, know Greek, and have no idea what they are talking about unless they spell it out carefully, not only the jargon, but also the concepts behind the jargon.
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Re: Obscure jargon or unfamiliar disciplines?

Post by Jonathan Robie » November 17th, 2013, 1:36 am

Stephen Hughes wrote:I am also surprised to find that I personally have negative feelings. As my statement was interpreted by someone in this thread it does seem that I was expressing an opinion of my own, but if someone read it twice or thought about it, they would notice that my post talks about departments (or faculties) within the campus, and makes no reference to personal feelings, only my area of study. It was an expression of the light-hearted even jocular rivalry between language and lingusitic departments. By misreading that, my statement has been turned into an insult, and I want here and now to distance myself from that, and ask that people like yourself who have found negativity in my first statement to re-read it in the light-hearted way that it was intended.
Ah, I had misread it as well. Tone of voice does not come across on B-Greek, so this kind of joking can be hard to distinguish from a general criticism of the field of linguistics as a whole.

Thanks for clearing this up!
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ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
http://jonathanrobie.biblicalhumanities.org/

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