Thursday, 18 October 2012

Meta Metaphoricity, Zero derivation and Null morphemes

  A metaphor is a type of figurative language intended to aid the understanding or to give an added visceral or prescriptive force to a proposition.
  ' Love- True Love-  is an Eden whose abundance is predicated on the export of all its apples' is an example of figurative language in which two separate metaphors are employed in what I think is a meaningful way. A plain way of saying the same thing is, 'If you really love that old whore you've married, then, believe me mate, ignorance is bliss'

   A meta-metaphor is the figurative use of figurative language such that the speaker's own intentionality or epistemic status is either enhanced or rendered amphibolous. 'I am the apple our Eden exports' is a meta-metaphor based on taking the previous metaphor for a fact, indeed as something more real than that which ordinary Reality discloses as being the case, and deriving another metaphor, itself to be taken as even more real, on its basis. Notice there is now no single plain way of saying the same thing. All of the logically incompossible meanings listed below simultaneously coexist in my statement-
1) My 'I'- i.e. my ego-consciousness- that which outlives orgasmic death- presents a threat to our mutual Love. Fortunately, it has been taken out of the equation- i.e. our Love is safe. This is because our Love for each other is not based on ego but goes much deeper. Still, when I think about our perfect union I feel jealous of my own felicity because I am thinking with my ego-consciousness which has been excluded from the consummate and immaculate nature of our mutual love. This also means that though I may continue to  have many bad habits and faults- i.e. though your love does not seem to have made me a better man- this does not prove our love isn't perfect but just that my ego has been excluded from the Earthly Paradise we have found in each other.
2) Sex with you is great but you sure are one stupid broad. That's why I keep hitting on your ugly sister and alcoholic Mom and toothless old Gran. Live with it.
3) I'm Gay.
4) No! Your buying a bigger strap-on won't help.

  Meta-metaphors are useful, indeed vital, in a sort of ruminative speech or writing directed at oneself. They enable the entertainment of incompossible intentionalities and represent a sort of 'bracketing' or epoche such that- at least, the appearance of- paradigm busting thought becomes possible. Smoking dope achieves the same end but it makes me vomit.

 What does all this have to with Paninini's adarshanam lopah- i.e.  the null morpheme?

The Italian Philosopher/Indologist, Dr. Elisa Freschi- surely a winsome fanciulli rendering fragrant Mimamsa's Jurassic Park- whose book on Tantra is coming out next month, has this to say on her excellent blog.

Zero in Indian philosophy

Grammarians and linguists are familiar with the idea of a function of the ‘absence’ of morphemes which is currently called “zero”. Western linguists beginning with de Saussure's work of 1879 have often postulated the existence of the so-called zero-morphemes where the actual perceptible linguistic form does not match its relevant semantic and syntactic content (see T. Pontillo 2002, p.559ff.). They resorted to this device on the basis of a significant opposition pointed out between comparable morphological structures.
As focused by Al-George (Al-George 1967, p.121), on the other hand, the Indian linguistic zero is not a mere device, adopted for a descriptive purpose. It rather seems to represent “the consequence of a definite philosophy of form”, namely “the category which exists though not embodied in a concrete form, suspended as a pure virtuality at the border between existence and non-existence”.

Dunno 'bout you, but doesn't that sound a bit like Ibn Arabi's barzakh, if not the Tibetan bardo? But, before we develop that idea, let us define a notion of 'Zero derivation' as what happens, from the morphological p.o.v, when a word shifts from one category (e.g. noun, verb, adjective etc) to another without any apparent change in form. The null morpheme is invoked here, by formalists, as a sort of invisible affix permitting a word's conversion from one category to another. This poses the problem of polysemy for word-formation theory- which emphasizes connection between form and meaning- because visible affixes have a limited set of meanings whereas zero-morphemes are not limited in this way. For this reason, generative linguistics of the Panini/Chomsky type might appear to be of limited use. Perhaps language is just an extension of general cognition rather than syntax being an independent cognitive system autonomous from general cognition. Under this view, semantics takes center stage whereas for generative linguistics it is syntax which is the star of the show. However, the more inflectional endings a language retains, the bigger the constraint on run-away Congitivist metonymy and the greater the canalisation towards Generative null-morpheme polysemy. However what can be said about words- viz zero-derivation based on null morphemes- can be said of larger collocational units. In other words, we have a route from null morphemes, to metonymy via zero derivation, to meta-metaphoricity all of which occurs 'at the border between existence and non-existence'- i.e. in barzakh. Perhaps this answers the question with which Dr. Freschi concludes her post- 

A more general problem is: How can an absent element perform a function notwithstanding its absence? How comes that an effect can be grasped in absence of its cause? 

On the latter problem, see here (on tantra and prasaṅga as a possible answer).

Her book on Tantra is coming out next month (November 2012)- so that's one for the Christmas stockings sho' nuff.


  1. thanks for the fanciulle, but I guess I am getting too old for that (and I did not ever have the physique du role).

    1. Sadly, we but grow older to grow young. I, at my advanced age, am already a foul mouthed urchin. And once your book comes out you will be hypostatized as a Umberto Saba like fanciulli in that Arcadia from which the Italic mot theme 'ego' is but expressive of an Indic, that is Nysian, exile.

      Still, what you say is true. Your breasts are probably not quite as fanciulle-like in proportion as my own middle aged and pendulous man-boobs. You understand, that authentic INDIAN Indology is based on comparing breast size and morphology just as Greek Geometric method, as foundational of post Socratic philosophy, arises from an agon re. the proper way to measure penis size (vide South Park

  2. That book sounds interesting. I was reminded of something you wrote earlier about glottal stops. How they were in between the 'vowels that sign desire and the consonants that express our needs'
    But, I don't know how that would fit with Sanskrit 'svara vs vyanjana'.
    I don't know enough to comment on Sufi influence on Sansrit Pundits but, in any case, you will have to do a lot more to show that your ideas on 'ain' 'ghain' are something which Ibn Arabi etc shared through a common paideia.
    I did read your book but am not convinced. What exactly are you adding to the debate? As my daughter says its 'so-oo random'.

    1. Boo! Bad Shiela! Due to why this atrocity upon innocent Tamil person? As for Sufi influence on Sanskrit Pundits- ask your Kashmiri ancestors. What? Lost their akashic mobile number? Don't give me that excuse. You affluent Chiswick types all have the latest Apple i-phone and I happen to know they have an app just for that.
      You ask what I'm adding to the debate? Do you really think utterly trivial, my seminal contention that Cockney, rather than Yorkshire Islam, is that univocity in Zahirriya Islam for which even Edward Said searched in vain?
      Boo! Kindly say something nice next time.