Re: Norms of written English (was... was... was...)

From: John Cowan (
Date: Wed May 21 2003 - 21:49:52 EDT

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    Kenneth Whistler scripsit:

    > > The norms of written English are determined
    > > exclusively by Hartree-Fock approximations.
    > ...which is John Cowan's clever way of indicating that
    > for English, every writer is influenced by every other
    > writer, rather than following some predefined set of
    > rules.

    Thanks for the recap for the physics-challenged.

    Actually I was thinking of publishers and lexicographers specifically:
    publishers follow what they believe to be the norms laid down by
    dictionaries, whereas dictionaries report on the behaviors of those
    same publishers, or their precedessors. For example, there is a general
    tendency in English to move from open compound to hyphenated-compound to
    closecompound, and dictionary makers count instances in published works
    to see which form is dominant at the time. Publishers then look to the
    dictionaries to see what form to use.

    > Of course, the English atom is continually perturbed
    > by all the other linguistic atoms, and there is no
    > guarantee that a Hartree-Fock approximation would
    > actually settle towards a norm -- the behavior might
    > actually be chaotic. ...

    But in fact it is not: the norms are tolerably well established in each
    separate publisher/lexicographer community.

    John Cowan
    "'My young friend, if you do not now, immediately and instantly, pull
    as hard as ever you can, it is my opinion that your acquaintance in the
    large-pattern leather ulster' (and by this he meant the Crocodile) 'will
    jerk you into yonder limpid stream before you can say Jack Robinson.'"
            --the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake

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