Linguistics ‘Hall Of Shame’ 7

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

7 WYNN-MILLER, CROFT, MYRLAND & LATHAM

Some extremely strange thinkers, notably David Wynn-Miller and Mary Croft, are concerned with what they take to be the inadequate basis for most current laws in most countries (including the UK) and with what Croft in particular identifies as the religious basis for legal principles: truly valid laws allegedly arise out of the will of God. This material is taken seriously by some advocates of radical meta-legal reform. These authors present linguistic analyses and theories which allegedly (not always at all obviously!) would support their critiques of current laws. However, these analyses are themselves inaccurate, and the associated linguistic conceptualisation is seriously confused.

Wynn-Miller in particular focuses upon English grammar as it is manifested in texts such as those of laws and of justificatory preambles to laws. On his web-site, he describes English grammar as providing ‘a set of rules for the construction of the English Language so that human-beings can communicate with each other and understand that communication correctly’. (Presumably he would say the same about the grammars of other languages.) He continues: ‘If the rules of grammar were not defined, then it would be impossible to know what is meant by any words or statements. Dictionaries provide definitions for words and the rules of grammar define the construction of sentences in order to convey meaning and ideas unambiguously’.

The tone here is more ‘prescriptivist’/‘normative’ than a mainstream linguist would prefer (it suggests that grammars should lay down rules for usage, even for native speakers); but Wynn-Miller’s ideas are in other respects relatively uncontroversial up to this point. However, he then makes the bizarre claim that it is important to retain as many nouns in the language as possible, because they refer to things or places and therefore ‘are’ real, tangible items. In fact, Wynn-Miller’s ontology is badly astray here. Many nouns (not all) REFER to tangible items (sometimes called ‘photographables’, for instance by Charles Bliss as discussed last time), but they are not themselves those items (like the well-known picture of a pipe by Rene Magritte, the word pipe is not itself a pipe). On the other hand, Wynn-Miller says, verbs describe actions and motions, cannot describe real, tangible items, and are thus harmful to thought. This too is confused: many verbs (not all) describe dynamic assemblies of wholly tangible entities, collectively forming physical events: ‘filmables’. (Some nouns, such as stampede, also refer to filmables rather than photographables.)

Wynn-Miller refers to his novel version of English grammar as ‘Truth Language’ because it (supposedly) retains all nouns as nouns. He offers examples of the operation of ‘Truth Language’ involving various English sentences; one example is For the text of this web-site is with the absence of the legal-advice. (This sentence is, obviously, in very strange English, to say the least; Wynn-Miller does not identify the author.) Wynn-Miller badly misanalyses the grammar of the sentence, and then proposes a new, supposedly preferable version: For the absence of the legal-advice is with the text of this web-site. He describes this version as ‘unambiguous’. In fact, no AMBIGUITY is present in the original sentence; the term ambiguity is apparently being used idiosyncratically here. In addition, the new formulation is not palpably clearer than the original, and it itself might in fact be ‘ambiguous’ if the original were ambiguous; it is also, again, bizarrely phrased. It is indeed far from clear why this new formulation is deemed preferable to the original; this may be because it is held to express (subtly) a political ‘truth’ adhered to by Wynn-Miller (and Croft), whereas the original expresses (subtly) an uncongenial political notion. Furthermore, Wynn-Miller’s new formulation STILL includes non-nouns.

Some of Wynn-Miller’s sentences are cited by his ally David Myrland (if indeed Myrland is not in fact Wynn-Miller himself in another guise!), who openly rejects the authority of the United States government and legal system (rather after the manner of the ‘Freemen of Montana’ and other such groups), threatens to enforce his own principles by sending armed gangs to ‘arrest’ officials, and is currently serving a sentence for non-compliance with various laws. Myrland too suggests that grammatical problems in the English of legal texts render them invalid; in his lawsuits against the American authorities, he presents extensive (often inaccurate) grammatical analyses of such texts, along similar lines.

One is reminded here of thinkers such as John Trotter, whom I discussed in the first instalment in this series: Trotter argues that certain kinds of formulaic expression of philosophical interest – for instance the logician’s For all X, X is Y = ‘all Xs are Y’, as in ‘all men are mortal’ – are to be deemed ungrammatical even though they are the normal forms used by the relevant native speakers (logicians) in such cases, and goes on to claim (bizarrely) that these expressions are not only ungrammatical but are therefore also logically invalid – and that, because the issue at hand is central in discussions of logic, the whole basis of logic is thereby impugned. But Myrland’s grasp of grammar (and of language matters more generally) is far inferior to Trotter’s. Indeed, Wynn-Miller, Myrland and Croft simply do not understand the grammar of English – or linguistics – well enough to make any valid comments on language, or to draw any theoretical conclusions.

The art-theoretician John Latham, in his works promoting his ‘Time-Base Theorem’, takes such ideas even further in arguing (unconvincingly) that language as a whole (supposedly ‘object-based’) cannot adequately describe reality (which is itself ‘event-based’). See John Latham, Time-Base and the Universe (London, 2006); also online discussions and projects such as http://www.arts-humanities.net/projects/reanimating_john_latham_through_archive_event.

For Wynn-Miller, see http://www. natural-person.ca/; for Croft, see
http://spiritualeconomicsnow. net/, from which Croft’s e-book How I
Clobbered Every Bureaucratic Cash-Confiscatory Agency Known To Man
(http://www. spiritualeconomicsnow. net/solutions/How_I_08. pdf) can be downloaded;
for Myrland, see
http://spiritualpolitician.blogspot.co.uk/2007/06/david-myrland-man-who-cures-fear-of.html

More next time!

Mark

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