Date: Sat, 23 Mar 1996 10:28:04 -0500


Subject: Re: Defining Asia

rudy troike said:

A survey of folk-definitions

(like Dennis Preston's interesting study of folk-impressions of regional

varieties of American English) is another matter, but presumably should

begin from a base of professional definitions, just as linguists are not

content to let folk-concepts determine our own analyses.

well, i think this all depends on what the goal of your research is,

but if the goal is to find out what X means, then i think the folk

conceptions are prior to the "expert definitions". if the aim is to

find out what "asia" or "fruit" means in english, then it's a sub-

question what it means in geographers 'or botantists' english. (of

course, if you're writing a "standard" dictionary, then you give the

people what they want: "expert" differentiations [usually] ahead

of folk conceptions.)

certainly, if your aim is to look at semantic change in popular

language, it's not relevant what the "experts" said unless the term

originated with them or if laypeople came to be affected by their use

of the term. for something like "fruit" (or "race" and "ethnicity",

which i've been working on), the popular use of the term has staying-

power (and its own logic) that all the experts in the world have not

been able to affect (while tomatoes may be fruit for some government

regulations, i'd hold that this is in large part because they are not

prototypical vegetables either. the technical definition of fruit

is not so strong that people argue much about whether cucumbers or

green beans are fruits, even though they "technically" are). in fact,

in the case of social "science" terms like race, and perhaps to some

extent like _asia_, the popular conceptions bias the "expert"

definitions, rather than vice versa.

reality is subjective and the majority usually rules,