Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Future tense dependent on what?

In today's NY Times, Natalie Angier makes the extraordinary claim that the future tense is dependent on science and math education.

Of course, she doesn't mean it. It would be pointless to argue that we have no future tense to begin with let alone to question how science and math education in America could possibly have anything to do with the (in)stability of a basic grammatical system of English. She's simply not making a point about language at all, so any mention of it is off topic.

But she brought it up. The question is why. Why resort to this odd rhetorical move, what Geoff Pullum calls linguification, when it contains no humour, no clever analogy, no orienting metaphor, and no poetic musicality? Why not simply say, "Our nation’s economy, global allure and future tense all depend on the strength of its scientific spine," which is presumably what she means?


Ran said...

I think the whole article is linguistically confused, with its assumption that creating a single acronym "STEM" is somehow responsible for treating the four fields as separate silos. If anything, the creation of a single acronym should tend to promote the opposite viewpoint, that they have a lot in common. If that's not the case — if people continue to think of the four fields as completely separate goals — then it's probably not the acronym's fault, and eliminating the acronym probably won't help. And it seems borderline-psychotic to suggest that a permutation of the four letters might somehow help that.

Also, the statement that the acronym is bad because people who don't recognize it don't understand it? That's true of any jargon. It's a good argument against using jargon inappropriately, but it's hardly an argument against this specific acronym.

All told, I think the author should have put a lot more thought into what her viewpoint was and why, because as it is, she fails to make any coherent argument. (Or is it just me?)

Brett said...

No, Ran, I had the same thoughts, but I just had time for a short post. Thanks for adding that note.