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Archive for February, 2010

When describing the German economy and where Germany went wrong in the past three decades – and, stubbornly, continues to do so, arrogantly maintaining that, even in failing, the German way is the right way – I have often used an analogy or, rather,  fable in discussions and presentations, which I have not yet put into writing as far as I remember.

This shall be corrected swiftly.

Basically, my argument sums up to say that the German problem is their lack of keeping up the quantity of circulation by playing export and fixed fees and costs over domestic consumption.  Money is drawn away from free floating markets of production and consumption by supporting export, monopolisitc structures (German mail, energy, state-run health care, etc.), and uneffectivity bureaucracy (instead of need-oriented civlil service and pragamtic bureaucracy).

The analogy goes as follows:

Imagine Germany was a few folks living near a river. They live by and of the river, so to speak, for the water is the sole or most important natural resource they have. Their best means of producing whatever it is they wish to produce is to use the energy of the water. Therefore, they have built a watermill with a giant wheel. Basically, all their neighbors are quite jeaolous of the big wheel, for it spins mightily. However, the Germans are an equally cautious as they are a bureaucratic, control-freakish people, ingenious builders that they are. What they do, they do right, for crying out loud.

Well, there is a few things Germans are pretty scared of, and, living next to a river (the analogy, mind, for economic circulation or monetary flow), thr of flooding is always present in their minds. Additionally, rivers always gush and spill a little anyway, force of nature that they are, and that doesn’t really bode too well with these control freaks. So there leaders sit around and in a very complicated process, involving all kinds of committees and paperwork being created, they come up with a great solution. Or, basically, they have found many ways to argue in favor of the easiest solution they could come up with, namely give the best friend of the mayor, who employes all the engineers (usually underpaid, but where else can they go) the job of building a dam a bit further upriver . They didn’t really discuss any other options nor did they dare ask around publically, for that would open a can of worms no committee needs. All they need is to get support for the decision. 

The idea of a dam is ingenious, they think, for the spill and gushing  is controlled to the point where they think they can even calcualte the gushing in advance, and, as a corollary, the danger of flooding is also under control. They buy up and produce all the material they need and set to work, promising that many people will have jobs in building the dam.  So they train people for dam-building, even make the teachers at their school teach dam-building instead of  history, music, culture, literature, etc.,  for building a dam is a major undertaking that is consuming a generation or two. And as limited as funds are, after a while, they must cut budget and reduce wages and benefits, even lay off people, despite all the promises, but eventually they suceed building the dam.  Now the dam, they think, is such a fine idea, we continue improving it, so we get ever better control. And so they do, and the dam gets to be higher and higher, holding back ever more water. And the Germans become a society of well-trained dam-builders.

If only it weren’t for this small sub-tribe of Germans who have moved onto the other side of the river some genarations ago. They are widely known as the Smarties (short for smartasses, pardon the French). Those persistent little people are very few, they do not adhere to the political colors of the other Germans, they know only a little about all the special skills of dam-building and have read about so many other things in the world that they probably never had time to become dam-building experts like all the other Germans. Moreover, they keep shouting over the river that the dam-building Germans should wait with further dam-building and actually think about what their doing and, if they need to do anything at all, whether there aren’t alternatives, such as widening the riverbed a little bit, etc. etc.. So the dam-bilding Germans think not well of their brethren: Unable to see what is right in front of them, a dangerous, spilling, uncontrolled  river, they would prefer to have a constructive discussion of all the options and make what they, ridiculously, call an informed decision. None of the other Germans can really understand how people can be so lazy, when so much more dam needs to be build.

Imagine the surprise of the dam-building Germans, who have now held back so much water behind their dam, when they realize that their great wheel has stopped spinning. How can this be, they ask, for we have everything under control? I do not know, says the mayor, who promises to create a committee on the matter. I do not know, writes the man who owns  the engineers, and who lives far away at another river now, teaching these new people the craft of dam-building and owning more and cheaper engineers and dam-material builders, I do not know, says everybody else, but we must go back to build more dam, for otherwise we lose what we have, our job as dambuilders, I do not know, says anyone of the nobodies who are among the laid off dam workers who come to the dam every morning to watch the others, for they do not know what to do in life but build dam.

From the other side of the nearly empty river-bed, someone says, I know. But all the Germans say in unison that this stranger is to shut up, for he knows nothing of dam-building, so how can he know what happened to the great river.

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  Instead of talking about the far more complex situation of two researchers or a layperson and an expert arguing from within two different styles of rationality, we shall consider, for illustrative purposes, the simpler situation of a native and a non-native speaker of English as alter egos.

Let us assume for a moment1 that our respective non-native speaker, Iain, has lived among native speakers for quite a while. In particular with his room-mate, Jones.

At some point, native-speakers may no longer assume that Iain is a non-native speaker.

This may be for he lost his accent – regardless of whether he acquired a specific one or just developed an unidentifiable one people perceive him to be a native speaker when they hear him speak. Alternatively, the people close to him, like Jones, have gotten used to him over time and do not treat him any differently (with no bias, so to speak) than they do all the other people close to them.

Thus, their implicit assumption is, in other words, that Iain does speak the language and means what he says. In other words, they have no apriori biases that would lead them to reflect on Iain’s words in any way other than they would faced with a native speaker.

Used to Iain or unable to distinguish him speaking from other native speakers, they drop a part of the principle of charity they uphold when interacting with others.

The principle of charity, in the fashion we use it in this context, has two dimensions.

The general dimension, used for example by Davidson, means that we assume that an interlocutor is intending to say something and, thus, s/he wants to be understood; s/he intends to make a coherent sense, regardless of whether s/he is competent enough.

The particular dimension we refer to, for the present purpose, delineates the problem that ego supposes that the interlocuting alter not only intends to be understood but also may not be competent enough to express the meaning s/he wants to express. In respect of this, ego would assume that the uttered speech act can mean more than ego would normally assume from this particular assembly of words according to grammar. There is always room for interpretation in every sentence and interpretation itself follows preset optional fields.

In short, this situation means that both ego and alter in interlocution operate with assumed contingencies embedded in the speech act. Alter utters a sentence and embeds a specific meaning while realizing a set of possible alternative interpretations of the sentence that ego might draw. These alternatives or potentials are a contingent field. Ego assumes his/her own set of meanings that the sentence can mean within a contingency field, guessing at the intentions of alter.

This is the double contingency of speech acts. In the situation that alter is perceived under the rule of particular charity, it is assumed that alter may not mean what s/he says but something else, because s/he used the vocabulary or grammar incorrectly. In short, ego accounts for the possibility of a larger contingency field and potentially more meanings.

In the situation of ego being Jones and alter being Iain at the point in time where Iain is no longer viewed with bias, the particular principle of charity will have been dropped and Jones assumes the reduced field of contingency applies, which we can call the native set of meaning embedded in a sentence (linguistic semantic2 field) in a language. For example, “the snow is white” would be assumed to have a implicitly fairly fixed contingency field in American English for a Boston native who would assume another speaker, s/he treats as another speaker, is operating within the semantic field.

For a non-native speaker uttering a sentence, his/her own semantic field is equally fixed, however, on two levels that we need to account for: the semantic level as the “deeper meaning” and the language level of which s/he thinks that it represents the semantic level as far as possible.

This is where implicatures and explicatures are going to come in.

First though, we can see how misunderstandings could occur when ego/Jones assumes that alter/Iain is a native speaker, for Jones no longer accounts for the potentials of mismatch and applies the reduced semantic field, which may not be adequate to account for a mismatch in betweens Iain’s semantics and his language competence.

Secondly, what are implicatures and explicatures?

In short, every sentence uttered holds or implies specific selections or decisions (truths) that can follow from it. Hence, implicatures.

Explicatures pertain to cultural/social scripts. Respectively, the selections and decisions – the answers or actions that are supposed to follow – are predetermined in the choice the utterer made.

So explicatures come before the speech act and flow into it, implicatures are in the speech act and flow from it. Thus, a speech act is always wrought between both. Success of a speech-act depends on the convergence between the implicatures and explicatures impressed on both alter and ego.

In Iain’s and Jones’s case, the problem is that there is going to be a mismatch between Iain’s implicatures and Jones’s explicatures and vice versa.3

1A situation I know from personal experiences. My German critics will immediately jump at the chance and say it is worthless, because it is my personal experience and not heeding their imaginary hyper-objectivity that they continually fake for their own work, forgetting that ideals cannot be rendered into true natural kinds only because you treat them as such. Instead, I follow Weber and show where my thoughts are coming from and allow for serious criticism and reflection instead of creating dogma and closed accounts like my German critics do.

2This can be expanded to practices in general, including non-linguistic semantics. The need for this aspect is clear in the semantic agency model. Here, we will stick with language (words and grammar) to keep it simple. The abstraction from language to non-linguistic types is fairly simple once the idea has been understood in principle. Additional contextual aspects such as location, time, situation, may also come into play. E.g. the example “the snow is white” is different for somebody living in Boston in January than for a group of people in a Dubai hotel watching tv.

3There are a few caveats that I feel should be mentioned. The implicature model in semantics was introduced by Paul Grice. While I employ his ideas, I have gravely simplified them for this purpose and this short account is even more simplified. The same is true for the cultural scripts model. We have no space for a thorough discussion here. But use of the terminologies will be justified in some other paper at some point.

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