July 09, 2004

Still on the hook

I'm really excited. Last night I wrote a little piece about an alleged intonational distinction between I could care less and I couldn't care less, and just a little more than two hours later Mark Liberman responds with a "promise to examine the examples in some conversational speech corpora". That's the power of blogging.

But if you have read both of these posts, you might ask: shouldn't I also be perturbed that Mark defended Richard Lederer against my criticism of his assertions about speakers who say I could care less? Not at all. Here's why.

As I have noted before, Lederer understands little if anything about the sounds and sound systems of human languages. I think it's a pretty safe bet that even if Lederer had read Pinker's "sarcasm hypothesis" about I could care less, he is ill-equipped to judge it based on anything other than his prescriptive predispositions.

Arnold Zwicky also comments on Lederer's penchant for nastiness and insult:

The fall into error is a brand of humor that tends to have a nasty edge to it, a superior They Should Have Known Better tone when directed (as in this case) towards professionals, a sneering They Are Ignorant Fools tone when aimed at ordinary folks, in particular students, with their extraordinary word choices, erratic spellings, and uncertain grasp of facts. I guess we're supposed to be shamed into learning some important lesson from these bad examples, but it would be hard for even a compliant and well-disposed reader to do much with what Lederer provides in this column.

This only reinforces my belief that I am right in asserting that Lederer's mission is not a considered analysis of Norma Loquendi, but simply to dig up "mistakes" wherever he can find them and to expose them for fun and profit.

So, if Mark is right and demonstrates that I could care less and I couldn't care less "are not generally distinguished prosodically as Pinker asserts they are", and/or that "the cited prosodic difference would not as a general rule yield the asserted (sarcastic vs. non-sarcastic) difference in interpretation" -- and I would be a fool to take Pinker's word over Mark's on matters of intonation anyway -- I'll be happy to read about it. I don't think Lederer would be off my hook, though.

[ Comments? ]

Posted by Eric Bakovic at July 9, 2004 01:53 PM