Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Linguistic Fallout

Posted by Neal on January 30, 2005

There’ve been a few fun posts about linguists’ jargon in the past week. The Tensor wonders about standardly assumed, a phrase that I’ve encountered in reading linguistic papers, and take to mean, “I don’t have time to unravel all the arguments for and against this assumption, but it’ll help my analysis, and everyone else is doing it so why can’t I?”

David Beaver at Language Log follows up with some thoughts on the phrase explanatory adequacy, and Arnold Zwicky confirms not only that is this phrase primarily used by linguists, but also that it’s a specific kind of linguist that uses it.

The phrase that I’ll add to the list is to fall out. Unlike radioactive fallout, falling outs (fallings out?) among friends, or wardrobe malfunctions, falling out is a good thing for linguists. Say you’re trying to explain phenomenon Z. Sure, you could write (or as linguists say, posit or stipulate) a few new rules saying that phenomenon Z exists, and hopefully your description will be accurate and aid in developing a more complete picture of how the language works. But if instead, you can take a few rules that are already needed to describe some other, well-accepted phenomena of the language, and then show that these same rules all by themselves predict that phenomenon Z should occur, then you can say that phenomenon Z falls out of your analysis of the other stuff, and that’s a real coup, man!

2 Responses to “Linguistic Fallout”

  1. Anonymous said

    I’m already familiar with this sense of fall out from mathematics, so I don’t think this is another example of a linguistics monopoly over a term of art.
    –ACW

  2. Neal said

    I stand corrected. Thanks for the input!

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