jueves, 18 de febrero de 2016


Somehow, just like I prefer scientific/Linnaean/modern European taxonomy to folk taxonomies, I prefer contrast sets and command hierarchies (rank systems in organizations, lists of ranks) to taxonomies. contrast set is a bounded collection of items, each of which could fill the same slot in a given schema, syntactic structure, or other linguistic environment. Like: "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday." (Yes, I consider that the week begins on Monday --- due to my European birth and upbringing and to the ISO calendar [the I in ISO means International, if you care!]--- and I wonder why some Anglophones have to begin it on Sunday... it's like the specific use of "animals" and "plants", or the use of Imperial measures like feet, ounces, and degrees Fahrenheit, other things with the English language used outside academia that leave me flabberghasted... I think Monday at the start and Sunday at the end of the week makes far more sense. It's like having the moon and the sun on two matching bookends, and the books in between those bookends being stories on Tyr, Odin, Thor, Frigg/Frey/Freya, and Saturn/Surtur. Beginning with the moon and getting to know all the deities in between, then crowning it all with the sun at the end.) Or "Aries, Taurus, Gemini..." (reader, continue with the rest of the star signs up to Pisces, and, if you choose to pop Ophiuchus in, remember that it is located between Scorpio and Sagittarius). Or "one, two, three, four, five..." (you get the picture). Ranks... whether nobility (Western or Westerosi, not to mention my own fictive 'verses), organized religion, or the military within a complex human system is organized as a ladder, with or without the glass ceiling that prevents the commoners from breaking their limits by attaining a certainly high rank (the French ancien régime, before the Revolution; or Westeros, have got such glass ceilings), like Linnaean taxonomy and contrast sets, all of these provide order... A company with a rank ratio of one lieutenant or two, a half dozen noncoms, and twenty to thirty rankers makes it rather clear who are on top, like the tiers of a wedding cake. And so does a regiment led by a colonel and consisting of let's say a dozen or baker's dozen of such companies. Organizations like this one are instantly easy to grasp, when one knows the ranks and notices the rank ratio in numbers as well as the distinctives of the various ranks, more ostentatious the higher the position or rank and the more power that comes with it. A more extreme example would be the clergy of the Catholic Church: one single Pope, dozens of cardinals, oodles of bishops... down to the countless "rank and file." In addition to all that, there is something more I like that rank systems have got in common with scientific taxonomy and contrast sets: all of these language constructs are international and rarely vary across languages. After all, a scientific taxonomy is an inclusive strategy, designed for the purpose of analysis... and contrast sets and rank systems are so as well: international, inclusive strategies, that are as little ambiguous as possible and provide analytical inclusiveness

These many-member lexical sets are classified into:
1) Cycles (non-serially ordered): springtime-summer-autumn-winter, Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday, the months, the zodiac... They're all ordered in terms of successivity. Unlike scales and ranks, cycles do not have extremes (circle vs. line), every member is ordered between two others. The fact that there is a conventional first and last member (springtime-winter, Monday-Sunday, Aries-Pisces, January-December) does not detract from their cyclicality.
2) Scales (serially ordered): temperatures (scorching hot, searing/blazing hot, hot, warm, lukewarm... down to absolute zero) or shades of colours (sky, cyan, cobalt, Prussian, navy...)
3) Ranks (serially ordered): like the ranks of the military (Commander-In-Chief, Field Marshal, four-star General, three-star General... down to private/ranker) or those of the Catholic Church (Pope, cardinal, archbishop...), or examination marks (usually marked with numbers, can also be letters). Numerals themselves also constitute a rank (one, two, three, four, five...), with the interesting property that they are an infinite set of lexically complex expressions (1999: try saying it as a year AND THEN as a number!).

Scholars agree that these sets form a category termed many-member sets, characterized by multiple incompatibilities, into which all of them (seasons, months, star signs, military ranks...) fall. Let's take the date of today for an example... If it's winter, it can't be springtime. If it's February, it can't be August. If it's a Thursday, it can't be a Tuesday.
These words are related by means of a semantic link: a sense relation holding between lexical items that are focal points on a semantic continuum.

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