Date: Wed, 13 Sep 1995 15:05:29 CST


Subject: Re: Pronounciation of Oxymoron -Reply


For a moment I thought I read you wrong yesterday. I reread the

statement which I questioned but think I read you right. You said:

Remember that what's REAL is idiolect, not dialect, the latter being a

construct hypothesized by linguists or school teachers or politicians

or whoever.

Now I read you saying:

Yes, Sali, clearly constructs such as 'dialect' are real, as are

observable patterns of behavior of all sorts.

Has your position changed? Also, aren't you contradicting yourself in

this second statement? If a dialect is a construct (presumably out of some

reality--I assume speech), can it be real in the same way as the reality

from which it has been projected? As we go back to perception, I perceive

speech/utterances, not a language, though I identify utterances as

instantiations of a category called language L. Are categories realities in

the same way that their members are? (I am not quite happy with this analogy

either, because languages are not clusters of utterances, but I hope you get

my point). I think you are off track in your other considerations, except in

referring me to the notion of phoneme. I do not think a phoneme is as real

as a speech sound is. A phoneme is a construct, but a speech sound is not. I

perceive the latter not the former.

Now, since Wayne refers me to Saussure, I'd like to point out that

although he helped linguistics in distinguishing between "langue" and

"parole" (among several other good things), he still did not conceptualize

everything right about language, especially its relation to individual

speakers. For instance, he insisted so much on the institutional aspect of

language, an institution to which native speakers are born, that he could

not reconcile this view with the role of native speakers in innovating and

bringing about changes. Claude Hagege does a better job than Saussure on

this matter (in his book THE LANGUAGE BUILDER, 1993). Native speakers both

use inherited principles and modify some of them as they speak, and thus

a language is constantly being rebuilt, which I find very normal/natural

because I know of no school where native speakers are sent to be certified

native speakers... And I'd like to claim that some native speakers are more

skilled than others in using their language, but then I would be opening a

Pandora's box I am very reluctant to get into.

Anyway, my question yesterday was intended to suggest that idiolect,

dialect, and language are all constructs, perhaps with different degrees of

remoteness from reality, nonetheless very useful constructs.



Salikoko S. Mufwene

University of Chicago

Dept. of Linguistics

1010 East 59th Street

Chicago, IL 60637


312-702-8531; fax: 312-702-9861