Re: [PALEO,LING] ] Re: Language, gesture, etc.

Peter D. Junger (junger@PDJ2-RA.F-REMOTE.CWRU.EDU)
Fri, 16 Feb 1996 07:59:01 -0500

I am sorry to quote the following exchange in full, but I think I need
the whole thing to make my suggestions comprehensible.

thomas w kavanagh writes:

: There is still a use for Material Culture studies in Anthropology.
: At some time Ralph wrote:
: > > To me, those stone tools do have
: > > "grammar", that is, regularities of sensorimotor, perceptual, and
: > > conceptual operations that maintain a certain invariant structure not
: > > totally dictated by the form of the original stone material prior to
: > > fabrication.
: In reply On Fri, 16 Feb 1996 [that's tomorrow folks], Danny Yee wrote:
: <snip>
: > It still seems a long way from the sophistication of "real" grammar.
: > The number of possible tool forms seems limited (and is certainly finite),
: > for example, unlike the productivity of human language.
: Ach, Danny me boyyo, we live in an industrial world; today the material
: world is mere boilerplate. Think back on the individual primary craftsman's
: world {the perosn who makes the tools that do the work}: have ye ever
: tried to catalog the tools in a blacksmith's shop [We have one here]. Here
: is a primary craftsman who, if he ain't got the tool, he makes one. He has
: an order for a particularly angled brace; to make the brace he needs to
: hold the bars in place; to holds the bars in place he makes a tool. Now it
: may be a pair of specifically angled tongs, and we, following Chenhall
: call them tongs. But they are the unique products of the blacksmith taking
: the syntactical materials at hand, angle irons, hammers, forges, and
: following the grammar of how braces are built, solders, welds, and bends
: them to produce a totally new material sentence. It may be slower than
: language, but it is no less grammatical.

I suspect that your local blacksmith would also use quite a different
grammar in making the tool than would one from another tradition. A
New England blacksmith and a Chinese blacksmith by this suggestion
would follow noticeably different procedures and use different tools
to make the angled brace, even though the ultimate product might be
quite similar (although I would suspect that even the final product
would have a different ``accent'').

Now what I am concerned with in my research is the evolution of legal
tools, which are a lot closer to language than mechanical tools are.
In fact, legal tools may be an actual part of language under some
definitions. But the point I wish to make here is that those legal
tools also have what appears to be their own syntax.

The sort of legal tools that I am referring to are best illustrated in
my experience by the system of writs that were used from the 12th to the
19th centuries in the English (and later also North American) common
law. To start a law suit one had to get a writ--a form with the King's
seal on it--ordering the sheriff to start the action. The formulas that
were used in these writs are still used in the complaints that lawyers
use to inform the court, and their opponents, of what the action is
about, even though the writ system itself was abolished in all common
law jurisdictions before the middle of this century (though not earlier
than the first part of the nineteenth century). By now the different
jurisdictions have their own accents and the formulas continue to
evolve; but, and this is the point I wish to make here, the forms, and
the syntax that governs when and where and how they are used, simply
make no sense to someone trained in the civil law system. And, since
the emphasis in law schools these days is on substantive rules and not
on syntactical rules, I fear that todays law students are also often
incapable of understanding how the syntax of the old forms governs the
relief that they can get from the courts, or--more often--how they
should go about getting the relief that they want.

I would be very interested if anyone could refer me to any studies
that have been done about the way that syntax governs the use of

To give this all a more anthropological twist, I suspect that both
blacksmiths and lawyers are ``bricolateurs'', using whatever tool that
may come to hand, but doing so, and even being able to recognize their
tools for what they are, in accordance with a grammar that they have
learned as part of the essential processes involved in becoming
blacksmiths and lawyers.

Peter D. Junger--Case Western Reserve University Law School--Cleveland, OH