Date: Fri, 8 Sep 1995 22:16:35 EDT
From: Larry Horn LHORN[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]YALEVM.CIS.YALE.EDU
Subject: Re: contempt vs. content
This is a question that particularly interests me, since one of my recent
research programs has exploited this very contrast. Let me explain and
In a paper I gave at a conference in Helsinki in 1993 (following earlier
oral presentations of the same material) and wrote up for the proceedings, I
sponsored a slogan of the form "Familiarity Breeds CNTNT". The paper,
called "Economy and Redundancy in a Dualistic Model of Natural Language", was
published in SKY 1993 ("SKY" is, of course, an acronym for the Linguistic
Association of Finland--don't ask), edited by Maria Vilkuna and Susanna Shore.
The first section of the paper is called
I. FAMILIARITY BREEDS CNTNT: an overview
and a relevant passage refers notes that
"...the inverse correlation of familiarity and linguistic form--the
principle I dub Familiarity Breeds CNTNT--is reflected by minimal pairs
in which the locally more familiar or frequent member retains or comes
to acquire reduced expression."
(This principle, unlike its cover label, is hardly my invention; it was iden-
tified by Paul, Martinet, and especially Zipf. I'll spare you the details,
since this isn't a pragmatics list, but sample illustrations of its effects
include the degree of vowel reduction in frequent words [astronomy vs.
gastronomy]; the initialization of OSU with different interpretations in the
midwest, southwest, and northwest; and the "marking reversals" noted by
Witkowski and Brown in their Language paper in 1983.)
So a few months after the paper appeared, I received an outraged note
from a friend and colleague, who (while not a native speaker) evidently shares
the majority dialect of ADSers...
Date: Mon, 25 Apr 1994 11:36:07 -0500
From: Knud Lambrecht lambrec[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]emx.cc.utexas.edu
To: lhorn[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]yalevm.ycc.yale.edu
Subject: breeds cntNt ???
I hve nthng bt cntMPt fr yr ignrnce, lrry.
Or is it the Finns that screwed up?
You can all see where this is heading, and you can probably anticipate my
response to Knud...
No, no, it's intentional, and in any case it's not the Finns' fault. Now I'll
admit that the more standard and no doubt the original form of the adage is
the -MP- version. But I've heard the other quite a bit too, and assume it
responds to "Out of sight, out of mind", just as the other (your) version
responds to "Absence makes the heart grow fonder". (Sort of like "Look
before you leap" and "Fools go in where angels fear to tread" vs. "He
who hesitates is lost".) In any event, since it's got to represent the
idea that the more familiar or predictable the expression is, the more
compressed the content can be, while keeping the form
constant (cnstnt?), I need it to be my version. Of course, this assumes a
finesse over CONtent and conTENT as well as over familiarity's breedee, but I
assume you'll let that one pass. Too bad there's no OED for adages.
My background is New York City Rochester Southern California Northern
California ... I have no idea where I might have picked up the "content"
version, and I freely acknowledge that I'm not the most impartial source.
In any case, I'm mr thn cntnt to welcome a few speakers with no career stake in
their judgment to my side of the isogloss.