Folk-Linguistics 2

June 30, 2014

Hi again, everybody! Next entry on Folk-Linguistics follows.

2          VOCABULARY vs GRAMMAR and AMATEUR DIALECTOLOGY

Very many linguists are especially interested in grammar, and in other highly structured aspects of languages such as phonology (sound-systems). The vocabulary of a language, on the other hand, is the least heavily-structured major aspect of that language, much less highly organised than the grammar or the phonology. And, because vocabulary is so lacking in structure by comparison with grammar or phonology, and thus is so ‘open-ended’, a language’s vocabulary can change much more rapidly than its grammar or its phonology. These changes involve the loss or gain of words and the development of new senses of words as culture and technology change and linguistic requirements change accordingly. Understanding such changes and other matters involving vocabulary requires very little understanding of linguistic theory or the techniques needed for describing and explaining linguistic systems. In fact, most of what non-linguists know (or think they know) about a given language involves vocabulary.

Specifically, the vast bulk of the argumentation associated with non-mainstream amateur claims about language origins and diversification (as discussed in Chapter 1 of my book Strange Linguistics) involves vocabulary, which is replete with superficial (mostly accidental) similarities and which, as noted, requires much less understanding of linguistics. Grammar and phonology are largely ignored, apparently out of ignorance.

Much the same applies to some discussion by non-linguists about e.g. possible communication with extraterrestrials; see for example Fernando J. Ballesteros’ 2010 book E.T. Talk: How Will We Communicate with Intelligent Life on Other Worlds? The grammars and phonologies of the languages invented by science-fiction and fantasy writers (with the exception of those few who have been trained in linguistics, such as J.R.R. Tolkien and Suzette Haden Elgin) are also scantily described and often misconceptualised; almost all of the clearly described features of such languages involve vocabulary.

In contrast, unless they are specifically lexicographers of one kind or another (historical, semantic, dialectological, etc.) with a particular focus on vocabulary, linguists of all kinds and persuasions tend to have only a limited interest in issues involving vocabulary (to the extent that many linguists are less than fluent even in their languages of specialisation; they are very competent in the grammar and speak with a good accent, but because they are bored by vocabulary they do not learn enough words to speak fluently). Most historical linguists are much less interested in the etymologies of words than are amateur historical dialectologists (such as the authors of popular books on the dialects of various regions). Qua linguists, at least, they are interested in an etymology if it is important in respect of some structural issue of more general significance, for example if it helps to resolve a puzzle involving the development of a sound-system. If the etymology is not specifically revealing in this way, it may be of great interest to local authors and their readers, possibly in part through its links with local culture – but not of especial concern to a linguist.

Because it can be carried on, as far as vocabulary in concerned, without specifically linguistic expertise, amateur dialectology predates professional academic dialectology and indeed modern linguistics. It goes back at least as far as John Ray in the 17th Century and has been intensively practised since around 1800 (modern academic dialectology began only in the late 19th Century). Amateur dialectologists mostly work on the usage of their own home areas; they vary greatly in respect of their degree of familiarity with contemporary academic dialectology (and the rest of modern linguistics).

Amateur dialectologists with an interest in vocabulary are in fast very useful to professional linguists in the same way that amateur comet-spotters or sunspot-mappers are useful to professional astronomers. They provide huge amounts of raw pre-theoretical data (albeit often needing to be checked and/or reformulated) which the professionals, too busy and insufficiently motivated to do such work themselves, can treat as input to their broader-brush investigations of fact and to their considerations of theory. But the amateurs, even if they are aware of professional linguistics, may not be aware of how much they themselves are valued by the professionals – especially if disparaging terms such as butterfly-collector (implying a lack of interest in or knowledge of theory) are used of them, as still occasionally happens. And (with their own typically limited awareness of linguistic structure and its significance) they may also be surprised, perplexed or frustrated at the lack of interest shown by linguists in the bulk of their work.

Like non-mainstream authors as discussed above, most amateur dialectologists and non-linguists commenting on dialect display too little awareness of the centrality of grammar (and of phonology) in respect of matters of linguistic differentiation. For instance, it is often said that ‘broad’ Cumbrian dialect is still close to Norse, and indeed intelligible to modern Icelanders or even Scandinavians; but the surviving similarities (other than general features common to all Germanic languages) involve only certain words and a few short phrases made up of these words, not grammar – and mutual intelligibility is very limited. And in the 1960s the linguist William Labov was told by elderly natives of Martha’s Vineyard (Massachusetts) that the traditional speech of the island was ‘almost a separate language’, whereas in fact its peculiarities consisted merely of a strong Eastern Massachusetts accent exemplified especially in certain locally salient words.

More next time (when pos)!

Mark

For my book Strange Linguistics, see:

http://linguistlist.org/pubs/books/get-book.cfm?BookID=64212

Copies are available through me at the author’s 50% discount, for EU 26.40 including postage to anywhere outside Germany.  Please let me know if you’d like one, suggest means of payment (Paypal is possible) and provide your preferred postal address. 

 


Folk-Linguistics 1

June 23, 2014

Hi again, everybody! New series, on Folk-Linguistics (again not sure at what intervals).

0 INTRODUCTION

The ideas about language which are popular among non-linguists (people who know little or nothing about linguistics) are known as folk-linguistics. It is, in fact, possible to regard non-mainstream amateur theories (such as those which I discuss in my book as referenced below and in my earlier series in this forum) as extreme manifestations of folk-linguistics. Most of the writers in question are people who may not know any linguistics but who think about language more than most people do, develop their own highly specific, seriously non-mainstream ideas about language, and take these ideas so seriously that they wish to persuade others of them and therefore publish on them.

More generally, folk-linguistic ideas and opinions are not necessarily mistaken, or even confused. Some of them are in fact accurate, and indeed insightful and helpful. But they often require more careful or technical formulation in the light of linguists’ findings and thinking. And in some cases they clearly are mistaken or confused, or at best dubious; some of them are in fact arguably damaging. They cannot be treated as reliably valid.

I will discuss various common specific and general folk-linguistic ideas in this series of blogs.

1 FIRST-LANGUAGE BIAS

As I have observed before, many non-linguists (understandably but unwarrantedly) believe, or want to believe, that their own language is especially important. This ‘folk-linguistic’ viewpoint becomes a problem if they begin to study linguistics. For instance: some of my first-year Singaporean students were proud speakers of Tamil (mostly Hindus, some Christians). Tamil is the most widely used member of the South Indian ‘Dravidian’ family, an official language in Tamil Nadu and in Singapore itself, and the vehicle of a highly respected literature dating back over 2,000 years. Owing to prolonged contact within India, Tamil and other Dravidian languages have come to share some linguistic features (pronunciation and vocabulary) with the unrelated ‘Indic’ languages of North India (Indo-European) – notably with Sanskrit, which is the classical language of that region and the main classical language of Hinduism. Although scholarly views on these matters vary, the earliest speakers of the Indic languages almost certainly arrived in India to find Dravidian already current there.

There are relatively few users of Indic languages in Singapore (Punjabi-speaking Sikhs form the largest group), and Sanskrit itself is not widely known there except among Hindu pandits.

It soon became clear to me that many ethnically South Indian people such as these students are determined to believe (whatever the evidence) that Tamil was the ‘older’ of these two languages (in fact, Dravidian is often believed to have been in India since the beginning of human language) – and indeed that any feature shared by Tamil and Sanskrit must have originated in Tamil. Even when a form is shared by Tamil, Sanskrit and other Indo-European languages such as Greek with which neither Tamil nor Sanskrit had any pre-modern contact, they are unwilling to accept the obvious conclusion that it came into Tamil from Sanskrit/Indic (‘That is one way of looking at it’).

Even those more advanced Singapore Indian students who had learned about the controversy surrounding the undeciphered Indus Valley Script (which was used in a very ancient civilisation in North India and may represent Indic, Dravidian or some other language family) would almost always be unshakable in their conviction that it must represent early Tamil or at any rate Dravidian. (I later met Indic-speakers who, despite lacking specialist knowledge, were just as confident that IVS represented early Sanskrit!) My Singaporeans were also unsettled when they learned that the earliest grammars of Tamil are clearly modelled on Panini’s very sophisticated and demonstrably earlier grammar of Sanskrit (both languages have extensive and impressive indigenous grammatical traditions).

More next time (when pos)!

Mark

For my book Strange Linguistics, see:

http://linguistlist.org/pubs/books/get-book.cfm?BookID=64212

Copies are available through me at the author’s 50% discount, for EU 26.40 including postage to anywhere outside Germany. Please let me know if you’d like one, suggest means of payment (Paypal is possible) and provide your preferred postal address.


Review of Shakespeare’s Beehive, Part 2

April 28, 2014

Note: this essay is cross-posted at Skepticality.

In my previous post about Shakespeare’s Beehive, the book in which antiquarian booksellers George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler argue that they have found a dictionary owned and annotated by Shakespeare, I focused on some of the problems with the assumptions that underlie their arguments. In this post, I will examine the evidence that they present.

Their evidence is made up of correspondences or verbal parallels they see between the annotations and Shakespeare’s works. Many of these rely on what they call mute annotations: underlinings, slashes by major entries, circles by subsidiary entries. This is problematic for several reasons. For one thing, they can pick out any word or words from a flagged entry (whether underlined or not) to match with a passage in Shakespeare. Sometimes they pick words scattered in various distantly separated parts of the Alvearie that appear close together in Shakespeare.

I haven’t looked at every page of the Alvearie in detail, but I have browsed through it quite a bit. I have yet to see a single page that has no mute annotations. This seems to be a case where computational stylistics would be useful. It is not enough to say, “the annotator flags this word, and Shakespeare uses this word.” We need to know how many flagged words appear in Shakespeare, how many don’t, and how many appear in the works of Shakespeare’s contemporaries. Michael Witmore and Heather Wolfe of the Folger Shakespeare Library point out some of the questions that need to be answered:

2) Rare and peculiar words. How many of the words underlined or added in the margins of this copy of the Alvearie are used by Shakespeare and Shakespeare alone, as opposed to other early modern writers? Further, how many of the words that are not marked or underlined in this copy of Baret are nevertheless present in Shakespeare’s works? Are these proportions different, and to what degree?

3) Associations. K[oppelman] & W[echsler] write of “textual proximity in Baret mirroring textual proximity in Shakespeare” (107). As we know from studies of other resources used by early modern writers, it is in the nature of a dictionary to list commonly associated words (including synonyms and words that co-occur in proverbs or adages). How likely is it that Baret’s Alvearie–as opposed to proverbial wisdom and common association–is the only possible source for Shakespearean associations? Again, following the line of questioning above, how often do spatially proximate combinations of words that are not underlined in Baret nevertheless co-occur in Shakespeare’s works? How often do the proximate marked words in Baret occur near one another in writers other than Shakespeare?

Until the necessary statistical analysis is performed, we can only assess the strength of the parallels Koppelman and Wechsler offer as evidence.

They are weak. Incredibly weak. So weak that many do not deserve to be called verbal parallels at all.

And some of the parallels are indeed closer to writers other than Shakespeare. For instance, by “cawdle” (caudle, a spiced gruel mixed with wine or ale and used medicinally), the annotator adds, “a cawdle vide felon.” Under “felon,” Baret includes a figurative use of caudle: “with a cawdle of hempseede chopt halter wise, and so at the least to vomit them out, to cut them off from the quiet societie of Citizens, or honest Christians” (“cawdle” is underlined by the annotator). The annotator also adds a cross reference under “hemp:” “hempseed chopt halter vide felon.” Koppelman and Wechsler admit that Shakespeare never uses “felon” and “caudle” together, but note that Jack Cade uses both words in Act 4 of 2 Henry VI. In the second speech, Cade says, “Ye shall haue a hempen Caudle* then, & the help of a hatchet” (4.7.88, quoted from First Folio, which mistakenly prints “Candle”).

Koppelman and Wechsler quote the main definition of “caudle” from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED); however, they don’t note that definition b. specifically refers to a caudle made of hemp. Two passages are quoted, Cade’s speech and a passage from the Martin Marprelate tracts of 1588: “He hath prooued you to have deserued a cawdell of Hempseed, and a playster of neckweed.” This wording is closer to Baret than is Shakespeare’s, and it is earlier. Did the tract author own this copy of the Alvearie? I have no reason to think that he did. Did Shakespeare borrow from Baret or Marprelate? Or was a hempen caudle a well-known idea?

This supposed verbal parallel is actually stronger than many of the ones Koppelman and Wechsler note, and it more closely resembles someone else’s writing.

Another (comparatively) strong verbal echo appears in Richard III. The Duke of Clarence says he thought he saw “a thousand fearefull wracks” (First Quarto, 1.4.24). Among the horrors and treasures of those wracks, he saw “Wedges of gold” (1.4.26). The same phrase appears in Baret. As Koppelman and Wechsler note, “Twice the annotator’s eye and pen have fallen on the link between wedges and gold, as is demonstrated in the underlined text: wedges of gold - a precise recording of which we see in the extracted speech of the Duke of Clarence.”

This does seem like an unusual phrase, and the exact wording does appear in both Shakespeare and Baret, although the annotator only underlines the first word. However, the phrase was not unusual in the Renaissance. In the OED, definition 3a under “wedge” reads: “An ingot of gold, silver, etc.? Obs.” “Wedge” was first used to mean an ingot of metal in the Old English period. The phrase also appears in some early modern translations of the bible. In the Coverdale Bible (1535) and the Great Bible (1539), Job 28:16 contains the phrase, “No wedges of gold of Ophir,” while Joshua 7:21 of the Geneva Bible (1560) includes the phrase, “Two hundredth shekels of siluer and a wedge of gold of fyftie shekels weight.” Considering how common the phrase was, it seems rash to assume Shakespeare found the phrase in Baret.

The same is true of “yield the ghost,” uttered a few lines later, again by Clarence. This phrase is “printed in Baret with a simple slash and variant spelling addition provided by the annotator.” This again is quite a common phrase, a variant of “give up the ghost.” The earliest quotation in the OED comes from the late 13th-century South English Legendary. It is also used in the last verse of Genesis (49:33) in the King James Bible.

In discussing Hamlet, Koppelman and Wechsler say, “Baret receives a citation in many critical editions of Hamlet for the peculiar use of ‘stithy.’” To indicate the “many” critical editions that refer to Baret, they cite one edition from 1819 (Thomas Caldecott, ed., Hamlet and As You Like It: A Specimen of a New Edition of Shakespeare, London: John Murray). They fail to explain what is “peculiar” about Shakespeare’s use of the word. Although it may be unfamiliar to many people today, it was common enough in Shakespeare’s day. Shakespeare’s use is slightly unusual in that he uses it to mean forge or smithy rather than an anvil. The OED includes only five quotations for this usage. Shakespeare’s is the earliest. Baret, however, defines “stithy” as “anvil.” The annotator adds “enclume,” French for anvil. In other words, if Shakespeare’s use of the word is peculiar, he did not get that association from Baret, and the annotator didn’t record the meaning Shakespeare uses.

In discussing Shakespeare’s love of unusual words, Koppelman and Wechsler mention “cudgel:”

[In Baret, a]t B98, bang or beate with a cudgell, the annotator underlines cudgell  and puts a slash in the margin next to bang. Shakespeare was the first to use cudgel as a verb (the noun existed, in archaic forms, since the ninth century of earlier). Cudgel in 1 Henry IV has the literal meaning “to beat with a cudgel,” but in Hamlet it takes the figurative meaning of “racking one’s brain”: “Cudgell thy braines no more about it.”

This might be significant if Baret or the annotator mirrored Shakespeare’s unusual use of the word, but they don’t: neither uses it as a verb, and neither uses it figuratively. Instead, Baret uses and the annotator underlines a rather ordinary word used in a rather ordinary way (and cudgel, though it has a long history, was not “archaic” in Shakespeare’s day).

In their discussion of the sonnets, Koppelman and Wechsler mention what they think “may elicit the biggest ‘wow’ of all.” The annotator has marked the following entry with a circle: “Let, impediment: hinderaunce.” No words are underlined. We are supposed to be amazed by the similarity to the opening of Sonnet 116: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments….” The problem is, of course, that Shakespeare’s “let” and Baret’s “let” have quite different meanings and functions. Baret’s “let” is a noun. It means impediment. He is defining it as an impediment. The OED defines it in a similar manner. Shakespeare uses the verb, meaning “to allow.” When Shakespeare was composing his sonnet, did he perhaps consider the other meaning of “let”? Was he playing with that meaning? I don’t know. It’s possible, but if he did, there is no reason to think he took the association from Baret. The two words are synonyms. Shakespeare didn’t have to read Baret to know that.

Koppelman and Wechsler believe that the best evidence that Shakespeare was the annotator comes from the trailing blank, a blank page at the end of the book on which the annotator has written extensively, mostly English words with French equivalents. They believe this page relates to the Falstaff plays (1 & 2 Henry IV, Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry V, in which Falstaff’s death is announced and in which Shakespeare includes a significant amount of rudimentary French). They claim that almost all of the (English) words appear in one of these three plays. Not all appear exactly, however. For instance, the annotator has included “pallecotte,” which he defines as “habillement de femme.” Shakespeare does not use the word “pallecotte,” but he does use “coat” and “woman’s gown.” These do not seem extraordinary matches.

There is one phrase that is a truly extraordinary match to something Shakespeare-adjacent. The annotator writes “A lowse un pou lou lou.” This exact phrase appears in an 1827 French translation of Merry Wives.” That is an interesting coincidence, but Koppelman and Wechsler see great significance in it. I don’t understand how a French translator working long after the deaths of Shakespeare and the annotator can have any bearing on the relationship between the two.

Of another word pair, Koppelman and Wechsler say, “Bucke looks to have a hyphen mark at the end of the annotation, connecting it to bacquet (basket), turning it into bucke-bacquetBuck-basket is used four times, all in Merry Wives, including a pair of usages by Falstaff.” Buck-basket is an unusual word: the OED lists only one usage in addition to Merry Wives. However, when I look at the word pair, I don’t see “bucke-bacquet,” I see “bucket bacquet.”

Baret bucke basket

According to the OED, the etymology of “bucket” is uncertain, but it apparently comes from “Old French buket washing tub, milk-pail (Godefroy s.v. buquet).” The Online Etymology Dictionary says “bucket” comes from Anglo-Norman “buquet.” In other words, I suspect this is an English word with its French equivalent. Such word pairings make up the bulk of the page. Koppelman and Wechsler have transformed a glossary-style entry into a bilingual compound word with strong Shakespearean associations. This seems a particularly egregious example of confirmation bias. They concluded long ago that Shakespeare was the annotator, and then they settled down to find evidence. This is not the way one discovers the truth.

It is, I suppose, possible that Shakespeare is the annotator, but until a rigorous analysis (including statistical analysis) is done of the text, all we can say is that Koppelman and Wechsler have provided very weak evidence for their hypothesis.

ES


Review of Shakespeare’s Beehive, Part 1

April 26, 2014

George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler. Shakepeare’s Beehive: An Annotated Elizabethan Dictionary Comes to Light. New York: Axeltree Books, 2014. Kindle ed.

beehive-title

Last week, Shakespeare fans celebrated the Bard’s 450th birthday, and two New York antiquarian booksellers announced that they had discovered a copy of an Elizabethan dictionary annotated by the birthday boy.

In 2008, George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler purchased a copy of the second edition of John Baret’s Alvearie, or Quadruple Dictionarie, containing four sundrie tongues: namelie English, Latine, Greeke and French on Ebay for over $4000. This copy was annotated in what Koppelman and Wechsler believe is a late Elizabethan or early Jacobean hand.

alvearie

Over the years, several scholars, particularly T. W. Baldwin (in William Shakespeare’s Small Latine and Lesse Greeke) have suggested that Shakespeare was probably familiar with and may have owned a copy of Baret’s Alvearie*, along with Thomas Cooper’s Thesaurus. Koppelman and Wechsler go one step farther: they believe Shakespeare owned their copy of the Alvearie and that the annotations are in his hand. If this were true, the volume would be of immeasurable value to Shakespeare scholars; in a more literal, monetary sense, it would also be of immeasurable value to Koppelman and Wechsler.

Baret defines each word or phrase in English, then provides the equivalents in Latin, French and Greek. He also includes quotations and aphorisms in all languages. The annotator has added two types of annotations. Koppelman and Wechsler call the first type “mute” and the second “spoken.” The mute annotations include underlined words and phrases, slash marks by major headwords, circles by subsidiary headwords, and other marks. The spoken annotations are additions: words and phrases as cross-references to other entries, corrections, or additional quotations and aphorisms, including biblical quotations in English.

On their website, shakespearesbeehive.com (free registration required), Koppelman and Wechsler have provided a zoomable digitized copy of the Alvearie, as well as a compilation of all the annotations. Regardless of the identity of the annotator, this is of huge value to scholars. A complete digitized copy is useful in itself, and the annotations provide valuable insights about how such a dictionary was used in the Early Modern period.

Why do Koppelman believe the annotator was Shakespeare, and how strong is their evidence? They present their case in their newly published book, also called Shakespeare’s Beehive, which they present as an (extremely) extended catalog description of the their copy of Baret.

Although I wrote my MA thesis on The Tempest, and Shakespeare was a test area on my Ph.D. written and oral exams, Shakespeare and Renaissance literature are not my primary areas of study. I am not an expert on paleography or textual studies. However, I know enough to be profoundly skeptical of Koppelman and Wechsler’s argument and deeply unimpressed by their evidence. Even before examining the evidence in detail, I noticed some red flags that caused me to question their methodology. In their introductory chapters, they are extremely defensive about arguments that no one, as far as I know, has actually made. Of course, when mounting an argument, it is necessary to anticipate possible objections, but Koppelman and Wechsler’s arguments have a strong whiff of straw about them.

For instance, Wechsler is quoted in several stories as saying that scholars “were extremely helpful giving advice, but it was also clear that they weren’t about to jeopardise their reputations with such a claim.” He and Koppelman make similar comments in their book. They even suggest that they won’t be taken seriously because they are booksellers, not scholars:

For two booksellers in Manhattan to purchase, out of the blue, a heavily annotated book from the library of all libraries, on Ebay… it’s understandable that no one would give that a chance.

Much the same thing is said by proponents of Bigfoot, Young Earth Creationism, psychics, Reiki, or any other fringe belief. Why don’t experts in the relevant field back the fringe-proponent up? Because they wouldn’t get tenure, they wouldn’t get published, they’d be mocked and ostracized, they’re in on it, they’re pawns of Big Whatever, they’re closed-minded, they don’t pay attention to amateurs.

But who are these scholars who won’t support Koppelman and Wechsler? They don’t say. In general, they have gotten sympathetic coverage, and scholars have been cautious but not dismissive. Stephen Greenblatt is quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald as saying, “It would reinforce, in a fascinating way, Shakespeare’s passion for language. We know that Shakespeare had an eye out for unusual words – but we have only limited knowledge of where he went to find them.” He adds, however, that he has “not had time to weigh the evidence.” Shakespeare scholars would love to find a copy of absolutely anything annotated by Shakespeare. Seriously, they would be absolutely giddy with delight over the Elizabethan equivalent of “roflmao” next to a dirty joke.

But just because they want something to be true doesn’t mean it is true. Good scholars are cautious. Good scholars do not accept an extraordinary claim within days of its announcement. Michael Witmore and Heather Wolfe of the Folger Shakespeare Library responded to Koppelman and Wechsler’s announcement:

Even the most skeptical scholar would be thrilled to find a new piece of documentary evidence about William Shakespeare. Scholars, however, will only support the identification of Shakespeare as annotator if they feel it would be unreasonable to doubt that identification. This is a fairly high evidentiary standard, since it requires on to treat skeptically the idea that this handwriting is Shakespeare’s and to seek out counterexamples that might prove it false.

This is exactly how scholars in any field should respond to an extraordinary claim. They go on to explain the research methods that will likely be used to assess Koppelman and Wechlser’s claims. These are rigorous and time-consuming, as they should be. Such a high evidentiary bar diminishes the possibility of confirmation bias and cherry picking.

Koppelman and Wechsler also use straw man arguments when discussing the the handwriting of the annotator. The only universally accepted genuine examples of Shakespeare’s handwriting are six signatures on legal documents. All of the signatures are in Secretary hand. Other examples of handwriting that are sometimes attributed to Shakespeare–some other signatures, including signatures in books, and Hand D of the manuscript of the collaborative play Sir Thomas More–are also in Secretary hand. Most of the “spoken” annotations in the Alvearie (and almost all of the annotations in English) are in Italic script. As far as paleography is concerned, this is problematic, but not in the way Koppelman and Wechsler suggest. They argue at length against the suggestion that Shakespeare couldn’t possibly have been capable of writing in Italic script. They don’t, however, quote or cite anyone who has actually made this argument.

They even compare this supposed insistence on Shakespeare’s exclusive use of Secretary hand with those who deny Shakespeare’s authorship:

The overriding question…is whether Shakespeare should forever be categorically denied an ability to use both scripts based principally on his Stratford background. Does this not seem oddly in perverse harmony with someone who argues that a provincial boy from Stratford as author is incompatible with one of the great speeches in, say, Henry V?

I suppose it is possible that scholars have argued that Shakespeare couldn’t have ever used Italic script because of his humble background, but Koppelman and Wechsler provide no evidence that this is so. The association between conventional scholars and Shakespeare-deniers is particularly ironic, since Shakespeare-deniers rely, to a large extent, on confirmation bias and cherry-picked evidence. As we shall see, these are techniques at which Koppelman and Wechsler also excel.

This straw man argument also disguises the real paleographic problem: it is very difficult to compare two different styles of handwriting. With only six rather variable signatures to use as comparison, study of Shakespeare’s handwriting is ridiculously difficult anyway. But Koppelman and Wechsler skirt the issue by focusing on irrelevancies and side issues. They lament, for instance, that people (presumably scholars) will demand scientific proof. They also hint that the general public may be more sympathetic:

Understandably, things bend heavily, even necessarily, under the burden of proof in the quest for any namable [sic] annotator, because we live in an age where an enormous amount of trust is placed in the ability to test and prove something scientifically. In the absence of scientific proof, evidence – no matter the strength – is often deemed unreliable, regardless of how it registers in the court of public opinion. It follows, then, that an inability to precisely test ink from the Elizabethan period will make for a wobbly case in the quest for answers as to the exact age of the annotations in our Baret, let alone to the still more complicated determination of who has added the ink to the pages.

I hardly know where to begin. There is the idea that “scientific proof” is somehow different from–and more definitive than–”evidence.” When a formal distinction is made between “proof” and “evidence,” mathematics and law usually get custody of “proof.” Scientific conclusions–no matter the strength of the evidence–are always provisional. In addition, why would anyone expect “scientific proof” when the relevant field is not a science? One could certainly make the case that the methods and evidence used in the Humanities are often unfairly denigrated in comparison to those used in the sciences, but that is not the issue here.

Scientific testing of the ink would only be relevant if the annotations were suspected forgeries. Again, this does not seem to be the case. Even so, scientific testing would be of limited value–it could show a forger used ink not available during the Renaissance, but precise dating of the ink would be much trickier. There are many non-scientific methods for dating texts, manuscripts, literary works, and handwriting. They have been around for ages and have become refined over time. They do not rely on scientific testing. They are not always 100% reliable, but they work fairly well. In some cases they can provide a narrower date than C14 dating, and they are less destructive. Again, this focus on science is a straw man.

The real issue is the difficulty of comparing Shakespeare’s hand to the annotator’s hand. Because of the different scripts, the comparison may be impossible. More accurately, it may be possible to say with a degree of certainty that Shakespeare did not write the annotations, but the chances are vanishingly small that an examination of the writing will suggest the likelihood that Shakespeare is the annotator.

Let’s consider why the accepted signatures are accepted: they are on official legal documents. That’s pretty much it. It’s the nature of the documents that assures authenticity. They form a pathetically small and poor sample for handwriting comparison. No other alleged example of Shakespeare’s handwriting has been accepted based on a comparison with the signatures. Let us look for a moment at Hand D in Sir Thomas More. For many years, many scholars have suggested that this handwritten passage is the work of Shakespeare: that it matches his style and some of his idiosyncratic spellings, and that it is consistent with his handwriting. The corrections suggest that it is an authorial hand: if Shakespeare is the author, it is his hand; if it is his hand, Shakespeare is the author.

Hand D has been studied and studied and studied. It has been subjected to two computational stylometric studies (that’s sciencey). One, by Hugh Craig and Arthur Kinney, concluded that it was the work of Shakespeare; the other, by Ward E. Elliott and Robert J. Valenza of the Claremont Shakespeare Clinic, concluded that it was not.** All that study, and the jury is still out.

That’s how high the evidentiary bar is. That is how high it should be. Koppelman and Wechsler’s straw man arguments attempt to lower the bar, to trump objections that haven’t even been made yet. Bias in favor of science or against amateur booksellers doesn’t matter. Evidence matters. In my next post, we will examine the evidence.

*Latin for beehive. His students, like bees, went off to find the nectar of words and then returned to him with the fruits of their labor.

**For a discussion of the stylometric studies, see MacDonald P. Jackson, “Authorship and the evidence of stylometric,” in Shakespeare beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy, ed. Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells. Cambridge UP, 2013.

ES

Note: this essay is cross-posted at Skepticality.


Linguistics ‘Hall Of Shame’ 40

April 14, 2014

40 THALIA

Hi again, everybody!  ‘Hall Of Shame’ resumes (again not sure at what intervals).

The Australian feminist visual poet Thalia, whose work consists of a mixture of orthodox verbal expression and large-format non-iconic quasi-logographic/ideographic symbols,argues that women and men perceive non-iconic symbols of this kind very differently (categorically or nearly so), and that women – but not men – spontaneously understand them as referring holistically/ideographically to key aspects of female life.  These aspects include, especially, matters such as IVF (In Vitro Fertilization), which Thalia regards as an unwelcome process forced upon women by male-dominated societies and which she portrays symbolically.  See New & Selected Poems (Melbourne, 1998).  No clear evidence has been produced in support of Thalia’s position.

More next time (when pos)!

Mark

For my book Strange Linguistics, see:

http://linguistlist.org/pubs/books/get-book.cfm?BookID=64212

Copies are available through me at the author’s 50% discount, for EU 26.40 including postage to anywhere outside Germany.  Please let me know if you’d like one, suggest means of payment (Paypal is possible) and provide your preferred postal address. 

 


Linguistics ‘Hall of Shame’ 39

February 24, 2014

39: MARK HALPERN

Hi again, everybody! ‘Hall Of Shame’ resumes (again not sure at what intervals).

Some critics of mainstream linguistics explicitly reject the non-prescriptive approach to language adopted by linguists (see the Introduction). One such writer is the Australian journalist Mark Halpern.

Halpern’s views are partly grounded in a belief which he knows is shared by very few indeed, at least among those who think seriously about language, but which he nevertheless regards as clearly correct: namely, the belief that most linguistic change is deliberate and a matter of choice, because linguistic features (he believes) depend on the conscious minds of speakers or writers, especially when they are actually changing. He contrasts this view with a diametrically opposed ‘straw man’ view which he mistakenly attributes to mainstream linguists, the idea that grammatical and other structures ‘have a life of their own’ and do not depend at all upon the minds of language users. Halpern apparently fails to discern the actual viewpoint (intermediate between these two extremes) adopted by (most) mainstream linguists, according to which linguistic features are indeed epiphenomena of human minds rather than independent entities but are mostly not accessed by the conscious minds of native speakers of the language in question in the absence of explicit study – and which are liable to systematic change without conscious decisions being made and indeed without there necessarily being any awareness of a given change while it is in progress. This mainstream viewpoint, of course, is well supported from evidence and argumentation.

Halpern exemplifies mainly with vocabulary changes, the study of which requires much less understanding of linguistic theory or descriptive techniques than that of changes at more heavily structured linguistic levels such as grammar. It is true that some vocabulary changes are deliberate or semi-deliberate, or at least readily accessible to the conscious minds of language users without study. In these respects, linguists will disagree with Halpern less than he suggests they would. But he is mistaken in extending this observation (albeit implicitly and without exemplification) to grammatical and other structural changes.

Furthermore, Halpern regards many of the vocabulary changes which he cites as very unwelcome and as constituting degradation of the language in question (in this case English). He berates linguists for refusing to accept this prescriptivist folk-linguistic stance (which of course is very widely shared).

More next time (when pos)!

Mark

For my book Strange Linguistics, see:

http://linguistlist.org/pubs/books/get-book.cfm?BookID=64212

Copies are available through me at the author’s 50% discount, for EU 26.40 including postage to anywhere outside Germany. Please let me know if you’d like one, suggest means of payment (Paypal is possible) and provide your preferred postal address.


Linguistics ‘Hall of Shame’ 38

February 3, 2014

38: GYÖRGY BUSZTIN

Hi again, everybody!  ‘Hall Of Shame’ resumes (not sure at what intervals).

In ‘Fringe Historical Linguistics 3’ (this forum, March 2012), I discussed Stan Hall’s book Savage Genesis: The Missing Page (no place, 2011), one of many non-mainstream books (etc.) which treat the Hungarian language as especially important in ‘deep-time’ linguistic history and as connected (‘genetically’ or by contact) with many languages around the world.  Hungarian is one of the ‘favourite’ languages of fringe historical linguists (with or without personal Hungarian associations) because of its uncertain ‘genetic’ provenance (it appears to be an outlying member of the Uralic language ‘family’ but this has been disputed), its arguably anomalous geographical location, and the ensuing air of ‘mystery’ which has come to surround it.  For more on these Hungarian matters, see my the relevant sections of Chapters 1-4 of my 2013 book Strange Linguistics (see below).

György Busztin, author of The Legacy of the Barang People, Equinox, Jakarta, 2006) is another author of this kind; but he differs from writers such as Hall in that a) he himself is Hungarian and b) he has an academic background in linguistics (PhD in Arabic Language and Semitic Philology from Lorand Eotvos University in Budapest).  He is thus even more relevantly qualified than Susan B. Martinez – whose book The Lost History of the Little People I have also reviewed in this forum – and might well command some respect from non-linguists.  However, Martinez’s academic background did not prevent her from making major errors; and, although Busztin’s ideas are clearly more sober than hers, his material too is suspect in important ways (see below).

Busztin is also a former Hungarian ambassador to Indonesia, where he has spent much of his life; and his specific proposal in this book involves ‘deep-time’ links between Indonesian and Hungarian.  Indonesian (aka Bahasa Indonesia) is a partly creolised language based mainly on Malay, the principal Malayo-Polynesian language of Malaysia and the region (the two languages remain very similar).  In the years after World War II Indonesian was developed and adopted as a modern national language for the newly-independent multilingual nation.

Busztin’s historical thesis (outlined in Chapter 3 and the Conclusion; pp. 63-107) is that the westward migration of the Hungarians from Central Asia in early historic times was in fact part of a more general diffusion of peoples (with ensuing linguistic differentiation) which also included the southwards movement of people who became speakers of Malayo-Polynesian.  He accepts the thesis of the geneticist Stephen Oppenheimer regarding wide-ranging links of this nature between various peoples of Eurasia (p. 99), but he thus seeks to reverse the south-to-north direction of diffusion proposed by Oppenheimer.

It has to be said that for all his academic background Busztin’s linguistics itself appears naïve and weak in places.  He does not use established linguistic conventions (italics for forms, single quotes for meanings, etc.).  And although his book is written in English he does not consistently provide English glosses for the Hungarian and Indonesian words which he cites (although in his ‘Glossary of [Hungarian and Indonesian] Wordpairs’ = Chapter 1 on pp. 17-44 he does gloss most of the items); and indeed he suggests (p. 15) that readers who do not themselves know Hungarian and/or Indonesian might not trouble to work through the Glossary in detail (which would of course entail taking his general statements on trust).

More seriously, Busztin’s comments about language and linguistic change (pp. 7, 9, 11, etc.) are often too ‘sweeping’ and indeed emotional in character; he misspells words from other languages (a Greek expression on p. 11; also the language-name Bask = Basque on p. 75); and he prescriptively and inconsistently identifies English and non-English language-names as ‘correct’ (pp. 8, 11).  There are also other ‘quirks’, as where he appears unaware (or facetiously dismissive?) of the entire sub-discipline of psycholinguistics (p. 21).

Among the established linguists whom Busztin quotes by way of background is Morris Swadesh, described on p. 11 as ‘particularly praised’ but in fact generally regarded as a ‘maverick’ much of whose work can be disregarded.  Busztin does not cite (even by way of rejection) the ideas of leading mainstream historical linguists such as Donald Ringe, presumably because these ideas would undermine his own, apparently unsystematic treatment of the data (see below).  In this context: he provides (p. 10) a brief, fairly promising discussion of the various possible explanations for similarities between words sharing meanings (common origin as ‘cognates;’, ‘loans’, accident).  However; immediately after this he refers to a ‘set, albeit small set of rules that work very much the same way in both languages’; but these ‘rules’ prove to be suspect (to say the least) in ways familiar to skeptical linguists.  Seven such ‘rules’ are rehearsed on pp. 12-15.  Six of them are grammatical in character.  Three are ‘typological’ (shared ‘agglutinative’ morphology, flexible word order, lack of grammatical gender; all of these are in fact general in Uralic) and thus (as Busztin admits) cannot be used to demonstrate relatedness between languages, because typology involves very general features which are inevitably shared by many unconnected languages.  (In fact, the grammars of Hungarian and Indonesian are not at all similar.)  Three further ‘rules’ involve a range of suffixes, prefixes and other word-terminating sequences, all of which are (as usual) very short morphemes or single syllables and could easily be shared by chance.  Busztin’s extreme confidence regarding one particular roughly similar pair of prefixes is altogether exaggerated; even the grammatical meanings are different.  His seventh ‘rule’ involves phonetic similarities and is impossibly vague.

On p. 12 Busztin admits that he finds only 150 or so ‘wordpairs’ which he believes display genuine historical links between Hungarian and Indonesian and share an origin.  This is too small a number to support a connection in terms of statistical ‘mass comparison’; and as far as the longer-established ‘comparative method’ is concerned the similarities, as set out in the Glossary (Indonesian words first), are typically superficial and unsystematic.  For example, word-initial Indonesian ar- is presented as corresponding with Hungarian ar-, ir-, ér-, etc. in different words (pp. 18-19).  No explanation is given for this lack of systematicity.  (Most such cases involve multiple Hungarian forms corresponding with the same Indonesian form, since Hungarian has a richer, more complex phonology than Indonesian; but there are cases where the reverse is true, for instance where Indonesian has ta- or te- corresponding with Hungarian te-; see pp. 40-41.)  However, as I have repeatedly explained (see now Chapter 1 of Strange Linguistics), differentiation of this kind is largely systematic, regular and indeed predictable once the patterns are known; it is not haphazard.  These proposals are thus prima facie implausible.  (As in the case of Martinez, if Busztin is in fact familiar with historical linguistics but rejects mainstream thinking on the methodology of the subject, he should state this openly and should argue for his own position.)

Busztin sometimes refers to generally accepted etymologies which he is seeking to overturn and replace with his own, but normally only to dismiss them on inadequate (often apparently subjective) grounds or to say no more about them (see for instance dorong-dorong on p. 25, lekat-lakat on p. 34, minum-innom on pp. 35-36 where he ‘reverses’ an established historical derivation, etc.).  Furthermore, many of the Hungarian and Indonesian meanings given by Busztin correspond only approximately/indirectly, if at all; special pleading often appears to be involved (see for example ‘get’ versus ‘yield’ for terima-terem on p. 41, ‘know’ versus ‘accuse’ for tuduh-tud on p. 42).  Busztin does express a measure of scholarly caution in these and some other cases (for instance some on p. 34), but by including them in his main list rather than listing them separately he is invoking them as supporting his case, and in many other cases he is far more forthright about connections than appears to be warranted even in his own terms.  And he occasionally contradicts himself in respect of the degree of conviction associated with an etymological proposal, as for instance on the Indonesian word tangan on p. 40 (‘we are left wondering…undoubtedly…’).  In still other places in his Glossary Busztin invokes specific explanations which actually conflict with his hypothesis of a link between Hungarian and Indonesian; for instance, on pp. 31 and 34 he acknowledges that both a Hungarian word and its Indonesian semantic equivalent may arise from ‘sound imitation’ (onomatopoeia), but nevertheless still asserts that the relevant words are linked.

Busztin’s summary of the Glossary (pp. 42-44) includes the general claim that the Hungarian forms, often the shorter, are therefore probably the older (but there is no such principle; in many cases involving many pairs/sets of related languages the opposite is true), and lists a range of specific types of phonological change which he has invoked in various cases, without any good explanations as to why each type of change occurred where it occurred.  This gives the impression of arbitrariness: each process is invoked only where it can conveniently be used to ‘explain’ forms.  (See also references in the Glossary itself to other such phenomena, such as ‘metathesis’, invoked – without either clarity or persuasion – on p. 19, in the case of amarah-marah-harag.)  All in all, the summary amounts only to a somewhat more detailed restatement of an inadequately supported hypothesis.

In Chapter 2 (pp.45-61) Busztin seeks to link his linguistic ‘findings’ with Hungarian-Indonesian cultural parallelisms which he proposes.  In some cases the discussion in this section adds a degree of plausibility to his equations as presented in the Glossary; but the above-mentioned problems associated with these equations per se remain outstanding.

All in all, Busztin’s equations are thus unconvincing.  Whatever the strengths of his other ideas, the specifically linguistic aspects of his thesis cannot at present be taken seriously.

More next time (when pos)!

Mark

For my book Strange Linguistics, see:

http://linguistlist.org/pubs/books/get-book.cfm?BookID=64212

Copies are available through me at the author’s 50% discount, for EU 26.40 including postage to anywhere outside Germany.  Please let me know if you’d like one, suggest means of payment (Paypal is possible) and provide your preferred postal address.

 

 


Refael Elisha Cohen: A Family’s Misery Exploited

December 25, 2013

I would rather be doing anything other than writing this right now, but as Susan Gerbic has put it, advocates of science and evidence-based medicine have “drawn a line in the sand” and I don’t feel that we can yield an inch.

For the last few weeks, skeptics have been following the heartbreaking plight of the family of Refael Elisha Cohen, a 6-year old with medulloblastoma, a devastating brain tumor. According to the family, every single medical option has been tried–chemotherapy, surgery and radiation–but the monster has come back. At this late stage, there are compassionate options, palliative care and the relief of pain.

The family, understandably, is still looking for something, ANYTHING that might conceivably help their son. This desperation has sadly driven them into the hands of Stanislaw Burzynski at just the time that he needs a little good PR. The family has embarked on a campaign, appealing to the White House for a compassionate use exemption so that Refael Elisha can receive antineoplastons, Burzynski’s “signature” drug, which have been pumped into generations of cancer patients but have never met the most basic requirements of the scientific community. (In fact, we have seen 3 high profile campaigns simultaneously, unprecedented in the two years I’ve been following the clinic.)

While there are no demonstrable benefits of antineoplaston therapy, there are known side effects, about 3 pages worth, according to the Clinic’s own patient consent form. Because nobody wants to see a child die, a hundred thousand people have signed the petition to allow a compassionate exemption for Rafael Elisha. I share the generous sentiment of these signers, that a child deserves a regular life. Yet, knowing what that Clinic is after two years of continual searching for evidence that the treatment might work, having read the stories of literally hundreds of former patients, I can say without fear of contradiction that to support this family’s quest for antineoplaston therapy puts cancer patients in harm’s way.

I’ve largely remained silent about this campaign, which has featured prominently in the global Jewish press. It seems clear in the numerous reports that have appeared in the press that the family has not received accurate information about Burzynski, the treatment, or the prospects for that drug’s approval. An article came to my attention this morning that I felt I needed to answer, “Houston Boy Battles Brain Tumor; Needs Community Support.” written by the Campaign to Save Refael Elisha Cohen and which appeared in the online Jewish Voice. I hope that the two sentences I submitted in the comments will appear, but just in case they don’t, I figured that I would use my own venue as an opportunity to critique some of the points that were made.

According to the press release published at the Jewish Voice (which is all I can call this appeal, even if it is touching and sincere), a group of volunteers are collecting and sorting leads from around the world for potential treatments. I would like to offer them an additional source, if they have not seen it, clinicaltrials.gov, which lists all active registered clinical trials. Currently, there are 57 trials currently open for treatments into the type of tumor Rafael Elisha has. Any one of these trials is a better option than any illusory trial that the clinic might dangle in front of this family, and I hope they look into these options. I’m certain that Rabbi and Mrs. Cohen will understand that all anyone wants is for their child to heal, and if there was any evidence that the Burzynski Clinic had anything promising, that I would go down to Houston and hold the front door open for them.

In fact, there is one medical option which several prominent cancer researchers continually taught as the most promising for brain tumors.

The latter is called antineoplaston therapy, developed by Doctor Stanislaw Burzynski. The therapy uses peptides and amino acids’ and is manufactured in a block long pharmaceutical laboratory which operates directly under FDA Supervision. The FDA recognizes that the trials show efficiency, but has pulled its approval in 2012 pending reapproval possibly within the year. Current negotiation process is over interpretation of argumentative technicalities.

I would suggest that the statement that antineoplastons are “taught as the most promising for brain tumors” could not possibly be less true, as evidenced by this USA Today article, “Experts Dismiss Doctor’s Cancer Claims.” There is no evidence that any cancer, much less the intractable ones that Burzynski has claimed success for, are caused by “antineoplaston deficit,” which is the entire premise of the therapies. Lack of antineoplastons are simply not recognized as a cause of cancer. Secondly, as far as I can tell, Burzynski has never identified a therapeutic target for these drugs. Instead, we get vague words that sound nice like, “it turns off the cancer cells,” but we are not given an explanation of how that is supposed to happen. I’m willing to bet that if you were to ask the Cohen family how this drug is supposed to work, they won’t be able to tell you either. And if they have the mechanism, I’d honestly be eager to hear it.

The statement that “the FDA recognizes that the trials show efficacy” is purest bunk. There are no clinical trials that would demonstrate this. None. Burzynski has never completed and published a single clinical trial. The tumors he treats, especially the brain tumors, have a pretty high turnover rate. You would think that in over 15 years he might have managed to publish a single clinical trial, but he hasn’t. As part of a deal with the FDA 16 years ago, Burzynski agreed to only treat patients with ANP under the auspices of a clinical trial. So he opened dozens and never published a single finished one. We should not be surprised, of course, when his lawyer says of the Clinic’s trials:

[W]e decided to hit the FDA with everything at the same time. All of his current patients would be covered in a single clinical trial which Burzynski called “CAN-1.” As far as clinical trials go, it was a joke. Clinical trials are supposed to be designed to test the safety or efficacy of a drug for a disease. It is almost always the case that clinical trials treat one disease.

The CAN-1 protocol had almost two hundred patients in it and there were at least a dozen different types of cancers being treated. And since all the patients were already on treatment, there could not be any possibility of meaningful data coming out of the so-called clinical trial. It was all an artifice, a vehicle we and the FDA created to legally give the patients Burzynski’s treatment. The FDA wanted all of Burzynski’s patients to be on an IND, so that’s what we did.

….and that…

Burzynski personally put together seventy-two protocols to treat every type of cancer the clinic had treated and everything Burzynski wanted to treat in the future. [...]

Make no mistake. Burzynski’s publication history, which is open for ANYONE to see at clinicaltrials.gov, is perhaps the most abysmal ever put forward as a marketing tool with a straight face. What he offers instead is his cherry-picked best cases and case series. While we delight that these people have survived, and while we understand why these patients support Burzynski so fervently, they tell us nothing about whether or not the treatment works. If you are only looking at the people who happened to survive, say, there are a dozen, just by looking at them you don’t know how many died. 20? 40? 1,000? 10,000? You don’t know because you are only looking at the survivors. This is why his claimed results are meaningless without published clinical trials. The family and friends of the Cohens should be demanding that Burzynski publish his damned trials so that the FDA will have no choice BUT to allow antineoplastons. Instead, the well-wishing allies of the Cohens are demanding an end-run around the scientific approval process, which is designed to bring effective drugs to market safely. Early this year, Burzynski told the BBC on camera that “Phase II clinical trials were completed just only a few months ago.” Don’t take my word for it. Start at 23:35 or follow the link above:

This was in the spring, which means that it’s been about a year since Burzynski “completed” his clinical trials. Now it is his obligation to publish. If they work, any delay can be attributed directly to his not publishing his results.

Because the clinical trials are supposedly already “completed.” He just told you that himself. As of last month, at least, Liz Szabo at USA Today could report:

Even his staunchest supporters wonder why Burzynski’s drugs are nowhere close to receiving FDA approval. [...]

In fact, the FDA hasn’t had a chance to approve Burzynski’s drugs. He has never officially asked.

Although Burzynski said he has completed 14 intermediate-phase studies, he has yet to file a new drug application, the final step toward getting a drug approved.

So, why the end run around regulation if his drugs work? Again, his treatment is “nowhere close to receiving FDA approval.” Why does this family believe otherwise? If nothing else, I would be keenly interested in knowing that.

The statement that the process of restarting trials is due to “current negotiation process [...] over interpretation of argumentative technicalities,” is also tragically inaccurate. According to a warning letter issued 2 days after the Cohen family launched their petition to the White House, the issues are not mere technicalities. I quote Liz Szabo of USA Today again:

In letters to Burzynski and his research institute posted online Wednesday, the FDA says that Burzynski inflated success rates for experimental drugs that he calls antineoplastons. The FDA also says Burzynski failed to report side effects and to prevent patients from repeatedly overdosing.

The FDA placed Burzynski’s clinical trial on hold last year after the death of a 6-year-old boy, Josia Cotto, of Linden, N.J. The FDA also conducted several months of inspections of Burzynski’s research.

But when the FDA asked to see the child’s medical files, Burzynski sent the agency records that were different than those stored in his office, giving the appearance that the records had been altered, according to the warning.

Burzynski’s failure to keep accurate patient records “raises concerns about subject safety and data integrity, as well as concerns about the adequacy of safeguards in place at your site to protect patients.”

We’re talking about over a hundred overdoses and no evidence to suggest that the Burzynski took steps to prevent them from continuing.  These are basic regulatory issues. Would you willingly send someone to a restaurant that had an unbroken, decade-long string of failed health and safety inspections? Then why would you ever send a child with cancer to a clinic with the exact same record? Even if they were selling conventional treatment, you wouldn’t send a child there. None of this is the regulators’ fault, mind you. Again, Burzynski is responsible and his supporters should hold him to account. Nobody can say the FDA hasn’t given him a chance!
According to today’s letter in the Jewish Times:
Ironically, the Cohens reside 10 minutes away from the Burzinsky clinic. They can see the meds that can potentially save their son even touch the medicine but cannot administer the antineoplaston due to the FDA clinical hold.
If the family was allowed to handle a bag of the antineoplastons, given the true state of Burzynski’s business and trials, it was unfathomably cruel and cynical. I truly hope that did not happen.

According to the press release:

Firstly let us state in crystal clear turn the Cohens are rational, intelligent people. They have researched the Burzynski option on many levels and encourage people to watch the eponymous film “The Burzynski movie part 1 & 2”. In doing so one can readily comprehend why the Cohens are doing their utmost to obtain this treatment. Who within reason could blame them?

Nobody doubts this, but these poor people are also under duress and running out of time. The two Burzynski two movies are veridically worthless.  Again, you have a handful of anecdotes from a few people who happen to have survived and no opposing views. This has been an effective recruiting tool for the desperate, but as this oncologist’s analysis reveals, the director clearly did not understand the patient files that were given to him. The second movie is simply dishonest by omission. Furthermore, the director is clearly a true believer and given to irresponsibly demonizing critics instead of taking into account contradictory evidence. Take for instance his comments about a prominent Burzynski critic who started his online skeptical career debunking Holocaust deniers:

Screen shot 2013-04-05 at 11.15.52 AM

 Nobody blames the Cohen family for their petition or their desire that their son survive. However, the whole reason that decade-long record of overdoses, inaccurate outcomes, and make no mistake, untold millions of dollars raised and clearly wasted on apparently unpublishable clinical trials, were allowed to happen is because Burzynski’s desperate patients campaigned for him the last time he faced regulatory sanctions. So when those lobbying for Burzynski charge that skeptics:

actively speaking against the petition while strong arming others to follow suit are trying to directly hurt the compassionate work of over 80 strong volunteers who are working around the clock to aid the Cohen family

…they are correct, because it has happened before and untold hundreds of cancer patients bore the consequences of that kindness. Uninformed compassion can and has done immense damage in the past. It is my sincere hope that Refael Elisha Meir ben Devorah is healed entirely and he that does not suffer.

For people who want to understand why I and dozens of other skeptics are fighting, this video puts our campaign in context. Please watch it before accusing skeptics of being heartless:

If, after reviewing the evidence, you believe that the Burzynski Clinic needs to be held responsible for its clearly deficient clinical trials, visit thehoustoncancerquack.com for information about how you can help stop this.

RJB


Christmas Movie Review: Chupacabra vs. the Alamo

December 23, 2013

Spoiler alert: It sucked.

Since it premiered on SyFy in March of this year, the Erik Estrada vehicle Chupacabra vs. the Alamo has been lurking in the shadows, waiting for its moment to pounce. Today it sprang from its hiding place, cinematically ripping my throat out and leaving me a lifeless, tattered corpse.

I finished watching this movie 20 minutes ago, and I can honestly say I remember absolutely nothing about it.

As mentioned, the movie starred Erik Estrada who played….whose character was named….I think that he was in some sort of government job that let him wear leather, carry a shotgun, and ride a motorcycle. He was surrounded by characters who worked high school Spanish into every other sentence, though the computer-animated chupacabras were more convincing than most of their accents. Some of the characters, I believe, were younger than Erik (who am I kidding, they all were), but some especially so, and so I think those were supposed to be some sort of offspring or something.

Estrada’s character, we were assured, was not the complete asshole that he was. His family had been torn apart, not by chupacabras, but by death and crime. Estrada’s character is a widower and his kids are wayward. The boy child has trouble with the law, running in a gang of some sort. The other, the she-child, has trouble with mild parenting.

The movie opens with four drug dealers…apparently smuggling illegal things out of the US to Mexico via a tunnel. As the smugglers (or as I like to think of them, “coyotes without mange”) prepare to send the duffle bags full of, oh, let’s say dirty laundry, they are attacked by unseen chupacabras who first disarm them and then gnaw on their carotid arteries. This, for some reason, is Erik Estrada’s character’s problem, and he shows up on the scene to be vaguely sexist and unlikable. He, of course, has a new partner. We’re not told what was wrong with the previous partner, but I think that suicide is likely.

So, imagine the scene. Estrada is standing in someone’s lungs, which have been ripped out by an unknown animal. His partner, whose name is unimportant, finds a huge animal apparently dying of bullet wounds, and when she suggests that perhaps this animal might be related to the entrails seeping into Estrada’s socks, our hero is all like, “whatever,” and proceeds to be the worst investigator in the history of whatever agency he was supposed to be working for. Instead he goes to have some sort of family drama.

Or something.

So, it turns out that the chupacabras are sneaking into the country through the drug tunnels and taking jobs from mangey American canids. They maraud about San Antonio eating the occasional 30-pack of horny teenagers and commandeering large abandoned industrial sites, where they arrange police ambushes. At some point, the unlikable cop guy teams up with hoodlums, and the movie takes on dimensions of Future War. Instead of large flannel wearing gentlemen, however, everyone has bandannas and the special effects are so bad I longed for forced-perspective dinosaurs. In the climactic scene, the uneaten hooligans and the cop and his family somehow lure all of the chupacabras, which also have rabies–did I mention that they have rabies? they all have rabies– into the Alamo. Then they blow up the Alamo. The end.

Everyone involved with this cinematic war crime should be placed in front of an unconvincing green screen, tied to a stake, and have digital flames inserted onto them in post. I demand an apology.

RJB


Linguistics ‘Hall of Shame’ 37

December 16, 2013

37: DAVID LEONARDI AND M.J. HARPER AGAIN (GENERAL THEORIES)

Hi again, everybody!  ‘Hall Of Shame’ continues!

Instead of (or as well as) offering specific non-standard claims about specific languages or specific aspects of languages, some non-mainstream thinkers propose non-standard, often bizarre theories and methodologies involving language in general or major aspects of language(s).  These theories are rivals to the various general theories current in the mainstream of linguistics, and are often in sharp contrast with all such mainstream theories (and with each other).  I have discussed some such theories in earlier posts in this forum; for those involving historical linguistics, see now also Chapters 1-4 of my 2013 book Strange Linguistics (Lincom-Europa, Munich).  The writers who discuss non-historical issues in this vein include postmodernist philosophers such as Jacques Derrida with their focus upon written language at the expense of spoken, John Trotter, Owen Barfield, Brian Josephson & David Blair, David Wynn-Miller, and John Latham; on these authors, see now Chapter 10 of my book.

Another author of this kind is Mick Harper, who, as discussed last time, presents some astounding and inadequately supported views regarding the history of English (and of other European languages).  Harper also proclaims, by way of methodological background to these ideas, a supposedly novel research methodology for historical linguistics and indeed for the humanities generally, which he titles ‘Applied Epistemology’.  He seems to have developed this notion in response to what he perceives as sloppy and tendentious reasoning on the part of mainstream linguists, historians etc.  In his view, the errors in question are often so basic and so damaging that a new ‘paradigm’ of research is required, much more securely grounded in logic and the theory of knowledge.

Harper’s treatment of these matters is less than persuasive.  The most that can be said in his favour is that he occasionally spots a weak or inadequately explicit piece of argumentation in mainstream work.  But this is not a sufficient basis for erecting (or purporting to erect) an entire novel methodology.  And indeed Harper’s ‘Applied Epistemology’ does not appear significantly different from the methods actually used in the mainstream, where the philosophical background issues are already very familiar.  Harper rejects mainstream scholars’ conclusions – but he offers little valid criticism of the methods used to reach them.  In addition, Harper himself argues weakly and tendentiously in various places (sometimes also displaying inadequate knowledge of the facts); he often treats the evidence and reasoning against mainstream views and in support of his own as much stronger than they actually appear to be.

Recently, in this forum, I discussed the 2013 book Egyptian Hieroglyphic Decipherment Revealed: A Revisionist Model Of Egyptian Decipherment Showing Evidence That The Ancient Egyptian Language And The Ancient Hebrew Language Are Closely Related, by David Leonardi.   In Chapter 7 of this book (pp. 71-77) and the early sections of Chapter 8 (pp. 78-82), Leonardi presents his idiosyncratic ideas about morphology (the structure of complex words each including more than one morpheme = ‘meaningful component’) as applied to Egyptian and Hebrew and also – and more relevantly here – as applied to languages generally.  Following up his earlier published work (and his correspondence with me over the last decade), he introduces here an obscure and unnecessary system of novel morphological terms.  Leonardi regards himself as knowledgeable about historical linguistics, and he even runs a bulletin-board misleadingly called simply Historical Linguistics which promotes his idiosyncratic ideas.

Leonardi’s use of linguistic terminology is idiosyncratic and obscure, and more generally his wording is often strange.  These faults are well exemplified in this section of his book.  To exemplify: in his wording, at least, Leonardi repeatedly confuses synchronic (non-historical) and diachronic (historical) issues (as he does elsewhere) – despite announcing on p. 72 that his focus here is on synchronic issues only, at least as far as Egyptian and Hebrew are concerned.  Specifically, he badly hinders his own exposition of such matters by loosely using the diachronic term change to refer also to synchronic alternation as in English wife versus wive[s] (this is an instance of what a PhD supervisor would castigate as ‘undergraduate’ usage).

Further, Leonardi uses the term derivation with a broad ‘popular’ meaning involving various kinds of synchronic and diachronic relationship between the forms of related words and/or the varied and shifting meanings of one word or of a set of related words (see below for examples).  In fact, this term has a specific technical sense in linguistics, involving the (synchronic or diachronic) morphological relationships of form between distinct words – belonging to the same or to different ‘parts of speech’ – which share a stem, as exemplified by connected English verb-noun pairs such as condemn and condemnation (it contrasts here with the term inflection, referring to grammatically distinct forms of the same word, as in the verb condemn and its past tense form condemned).

Perhaps because of failure to appreciate this, Leonardi seems to confuse etymology considered generally (which is a diachronic matter and is occasionally and informally referred to by linguists as derivation) with the more specific issue of (synchronic or diachronic) matters of derivational morphology in the technical sense of derivation as just explained.  In particular, Leonardi’s decision to include under ‘derivation’ purely semantic differences and changes (those which involve only meaning, not any difference of or change in the form of a word) is very strange and confusing.  On p. 73 he even implies that in what he calls ‘morphological derivation’ there is always [a ‘change’ of] meaning associated with the ‘change’ in form (see above; does he intend the term change to be understood here synchronically, diachronically or both?).  But, although most derivational phenomena (in the narrow, technical sense of the term) do involve differences of (grammatical) meaning, there are counter-examples, involving pairs such as English orient and orientate (both verbs, same sense).  And Leonardi himself includes as derivational some ‘familial’ derivations (see below) involving no change of meaning.  His discussion of these matters appears utterly confused.

Leonardi’s use of some key specific expressions, such as in theory (for example on pp. 71 and 72) is also obscure – disastrously so, in context.

Another problem with Leonardi’s exposition involves his tendency to focus upon spelling and written forms rather than on phonology/pronunciation (which is, obviously, conceptually prior).  On p. 71, when defining his term familial (see below), his references fluctuate between spoken and written forms; but on p. 73 he goes so far as to declare that if a word undergoes only a ‘change’ (see again above; does he intend this term to be understood synchronically, diachronically or both?) in pronunciation (i.e. not in spelling) then that change does not qualify as a ‘morphological derivation’.  But the relationships between spoken and written forms in each language are historically complex; and there is no good reason to exclude differently-pronounced forms from the concept of ‘derivation’ merely because they are spelled the same (consider pairs of forms such as the English noun and verb both spelled permit and derivationally related but pronounced differently).  This confusion on Leonardi’s part is partly the result of sheer linguistic naivety and partly associated with his idiosyncratic non-standard belief that that God simultaneously created spoken and written Hebrew and that in early Hebrew, at least, letters and phonemes can therefore be equated.

Leonardi’s account also displays various outright inaccuracies.  For example, he commences Chapter 7 with the blatantly false (and confusingly supported) statement that ‘the field of Historical Linguistics lacks terminology to describe types of word derivations’ (p. 71); it appears that he is not sufficiently familiar with the linguistic literature or has failed to understand it.  And indeed – as in his earlier work – Leonardi misinterprets the statements of mainstream linguists such as P.H. Matthews (cited – without a full reference – on p. 79) about these matters (though he refuses to accept correction on this front); and in places he attacks ‘mainstream’ straw men.

Another set of mistakes involves Leonardi’s decision to treat as etymologically related various pairs or sets of words which either are known to be unrelated or have uncertain etymologies.  This is often connected with his belief that many words in many languages have unacknowledged Hebrew origins.  Examples include English plot and plate, cited together on p. 71, and his tracing (p. 74) of English court to English core and ultimately to Hebrew sor (‘court’).  There are also sheer errors of fact regarding word-meanings (for example that of the Latin word posterior; see p. 72).

Apparently thinking here of ‘derivation’ in his loose sense, Leonardi introduces some general issues which are only marginally relevant to the narrower technical notion of ‘derivation’: a) the transfer of words and of some of their phonemes from one language (or ‘dialect’; he confusingly refers in this context to ‘dialect group[s]’) to another, described here as filtered derivation (p. 73), b) the phenomenon of words taking on new meanings through originally metaphorical use (Leonardi calls this phenomenon analog derivation and is careful to distinguish this notion from that of analogy, on which see c) below) (p. 74); c) the reanalysis of the morphology of transferred words by way of analogy (p. 75), d) the obscuring of background morphological facts over time within one language (p. 75), and e) the development of words based on onomatopoeia or sound-symbolism (p. 75; also Chapter 8).  His comments on all these matters are largely valid in themselves, although some of the last body of material (e) relates to his own non-mainstream views about the origins of Hebrew phonemes and letters.

Leonardi’s own novel morphological terms include:

Familial (pp. 71ff)

In these cases, one word is said to be ‘derived’ from another (within one language or cross-linguistically; see p. 76) by way of an unsystematic difference of form and an associated unpredictable difference of meaning.  It is suggested (p. 77) that some cases of this kind can involve compounded sequences of two or more stems with distinct, linked meanings; but Leonardi’s main examples involve single stems with simple senses.  Leonardi states that ‘in theory’ there are no examples of familial derivation in Hebrew or Egyptian, because their morphologies are highly systematic.  But his examples from other languages (such as English plot and plate as discussed above) are typically wrong or at any rate unsupported; and in any event this would involve derivation only in Leonardi’s looser sense of the term.  In addition, Leonardi confusingly states (p. 73) that some familial derivations involve no change of meaning.  Overall, it is not at all clear that a new term is needed here, still less that familial would be the best term (Leonardi justifies it as referring to ‘families’ of words, an unhelpfully loose concept, subject – like his version of the notion ‘paradigm’ – to multiple interpretations).

Associative (pp. 72ff)

In these cases, the same form is said to have taken on (slightly) different meanings in different contexts (within one language or cross-linguistically).  Leonardi’s specific example (involving Latin and English uses of posterior) is wrong (as noted above), but the point is made.  Now in the technical sense of ‘derivation’ it is perfectly possible for some pairs of derivationally-linked words to have the very same forms, in writing (see above on permit and permit), pronunciation or both (consider noun-verb pairs such as English book and book = ‘make a reservation [in a book]’).  But the (main) differences of meaning between the members of such pairs are, obviously, grammatical.  In contrast, Leonardi (obviously thinking only of ‘derivation’ in his loose sense) is speaking here of (diachronic) shifts of meaning at word-level (‘lexical’ as opposed to grammatical meaning).

Lexiform (pp. 72ff)

Cases of this kind are said to be especially numerous in Hebrew and Egyptian as reinterpreted by Leonardi.  In these cases, two or more word-stems (lexical morphemes) combine to form what traditional grammarians and many modern linguists have called compound words, as in blackbird or antifascist (this is derivation in the technical sense).  Leonardi acknowledges this usage (see below) but also states that linguists have used the term complex word in this context.  This latter is false; he has misunderstood the literature.  Complex words are in fact those which include at least one lexical morpheme and at least one grammatical morpheme, as in derivation in the technical sense or inflection.  Leonardi rejects the ‘straw-man’ position he has erected on the grounds that it fails to allow for the later development of the words in question (originally sequences of two or more lexical stems with distinct, linked meanings) into simple words seen as having single meanings – a phenomenon used on p. 75 to exemplify his point identified above as point d) (the specific example used is English magpie).  But this objection appears irrelevant in any case: the initial (synchronic) compound nature of such words is one thing, and the subsequent (diachronic) loss of their internal morpheme boundaries (etc.) – and their later ensuing (synchronic) single-morpheme status – is another.  Leonardi is again, it seems, confusing synchronic and diachronic issues (and berating linguists for not thinking in this confused way!).   He goes on to suggest (again wrongly, as it seems) that the term compound is more commonly used (by linguists?) for cases which are ‘semantically disjoint’, giving two obscure English compound words as examples of this pattern but failing to explain his apparently idiosyncratic use of the term disjoint.  He then suggests (correctly) that some linguists use the term compound more widely to include all ‘lexiform’ cases and (obscurely) that they thus fail to distinguish ‘semantically singular’ and semantically disjoint words (the reader still does not know what either of these terms means).  And he concludes this section by redefining his term lexiform in quite other terms, as involving ‘changes’ (synchronic or diachronic?) of phonemes resulting in new meanings and as contrasting in this respect with ‘familial’ derivations which (here only) are said to involve no meaning change (see above).  After reading this section one still has no real idea as to what the novel term lexiform is supposed to mean!

Inflectional (pp. 73ff)

This term is itself mainstream (see above), but it does not actually involve derivation in the technical sense.  Leonardi’s own discussion of the relevant ideas again manifests large amounts of confusion and error.  First: he correctly states that inflections (‘inflectional derivations’) are grammatical; but so are derivations in the technical sense.  Second: some of Leonardi’s examples here actually involve derivation, not inflection (for example, the English noun cooker vs the verb cook), or else cases which are ‘borderline’ and/or ambiguous in this respect (such as cooking).  Third: Leonardi, correctly indicating that inflectional differences involve different forms of the same lexeme (‘dictionary word’), defines this latter concept in terms of the ‘bases’ (‘stems’?) of the (complex) words in question being ‘semantically exactly the same’ (having the same meaning).  This is correct in itself but not restrictive enough: i) the very same is true of derivational differences, and ii) the stems must also be the same in form, or at least recognisably closely related, to count as the same lexeme (the stems abattoir and slaughterhouse have the same meaning but they do not represent the same lexeme).  Fourth: Leonardi sets up another straw man by claiming that some linguists treat the English verb-forms left and went as inflectionally related; in fact, all linguists would agree with him in identifying went as inflectionally linked with go (as a highly ‘irregular’ past tense form).  (The morphological and semantic history of go and went is actually very interesting, but I cannot deal with it here.)  And the obscure final sentence of this section wrongly invokes (as it seems) ‘the point of view of the speaker’ and the sociolinguistic process of standardisation.

Leonardi completes this chapter with a summary (pp. 76-77) which includes further references to his own idiosyncratic views and serves mainly to add to the overall confusion.

I hope it will be clear even to non-specialists that the material discussed here, and Leonardi’s material in particular, exemplifies ‘how not to do linguistics’.

More next time (when pos)!

Mark

For my book Strange Linguistics, see:

http://linguistlist.org/pubs/books/get-book.cfm?BookID=64212

Copies are available through me at the author’s 50% discount, for EU 26.40 including postage to anywhere outside Germany.  Please let me know if you’d like one, suggest means of payment (Paypal is possible) and provide your preferred postal address.

 


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