A generative linguist in Connecticut

B. Elan Dresher


Originally published in Glot International 7, 5, Pages 12-14, May 2003.

Once when I was a graduate student I heard a talk by Marcelo Dascal on Leibniz’s plan for a universal language (see Dascal 1982, 1987). I remarked to a fellow student that Leibniz’s scheme looked naive. “I’m surprised,” I whispered, “I thought that Leibniz was supposed to be a smart guy.” “You have to remember,” he whispered back, “that people knew a lot less in those days. Hell, if we could be in graduate school back then we’d get our Ph.D.s in a week.”

He was joking, sort of, but it’s an appealing thought. A famous expression of this view is Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, in which Hank Morgan, a nineteenth century American, is transported back to sixth-century England and becomes “Sir Boss” by using his superior knowledge of science and ability to make machines and weapons.

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