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  1. #1
    Ever Student's Avatar
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    Question Humpty Dumpty's theory

    What is Humpty Dumpty's theory?

    Thank you.

  2. #2
    jlinger is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: Humpty Dumpty's theory

    Apparently, an ancient Athenian philosopher named Cratylus felt that language could change so quickly that it was impossible to be sure of its meaning. It depended on what its speaker meant to say. Cratylus gave up speaking entirely.

    Then along came Lewis Carol's Alice in Wonderland, and translated the Cratylus Theory of Language into his nonsensical allegory. On her adventures, Alice met Humpty Dumpty on his wall, and he was talking nonsense, or what seemed to her to be nonsense or at best, unintelligible. He used words that had entirely different meanings to Alice.

    Cratylus has been nearly forgotten, but Carol's Humpty Dumpty lives on:

    ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that's all.’

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Humpty Dumpty's theory

    Quote Originally Posted by jlinger View Post
    Apparently, an ancient Athenian philosopher named Cratylus felt that language could change so quickly that it was impossible to be sure of its meaning. It depended on what its speaker meant to say. Cratylus gave up speaking entirely.

    Then along came Lewis Carol's Alice in Wonderland, and translated the Cratylus Theory of Language into his nonsensical allegory. On her adventures, Alice met Humpty Dumpty on his wall, and he was talking nonsense, or what seemed to her to be nonsense or at best, unintelligible. He used words that had entirely different meanings to Alice.

    Cratylus has been nearly forgotten, but Carol's Humpty Dumpty lives on:

    ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that's all.’
    "Blending" can be derived from Humpty Dumpty, like "frown" and "scowl" cause "frowl". Am I saying correctly?

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    Default Re: Humpty Dumpty's theory

    Quote Originally Posted by taghavi View Post
    "Blending" can be derived from Humpty Dumpty, like "frown" and "scowl" cause "frowl". Am I saying correctly?
    No, if you use 'frowl' to describe a facial expression, that is a neologism based on blending and doesn't depend on Humpty Dumpty's 'theory' at all.
    If you called your cat a 'frowl' simply because you thought 'frowl' sounded more appropriate than 'cat' to describe this animal, that would.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Humpty Dumpty's theory

    I'm still in doubt.

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    Default Re: Humpty Dumpty's theory

    Quote Originally Posted by taghavi View Post
    I'm still in doubt.
    Doubt is good! - far better than credulity.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Humpty Dumpty's theory

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    Doubt is good! - far better than credulity.
    Hi,
    "we may select two or more words to express our thoughts and instead of deciding between them, produce them as "portmanteaus", as Humpty Dumpty calls them. such blends are ilustrated in the following errors;
    frown/scowl=frowl"
    Now please convince why Humpty Dumpty refers blending "frowl" as "portmanteaus''?

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Humpty Dumpty's theory

    Quote Originally Posted by taghavi View Post
    Hi,
    "we may select two or more words to express our thoughts and instead of deciding between them, produce them as "portmanteaus", as Humpty Dumpty calls them. such blends are ilustrated in the following errors;
    frown/scowl=frowl"
    Now please convince why Humpty Dumpty refers blending "frowl" as "portmanteaus''?
    This is correct if "Humpty Dumpty's theory" refers to the formation of portmanteau words.
    I was assuming that it meant Humpty's theory that :
    ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’
    as jlinger wrote.This must be Humpty's 2nd theory of meaning.But since your quotation is from Carroll, I think you were right initially. That is, Humpty's theory does not derive from his using a word to mean exactly what he wants it to, but rather from Carroll's explanation of blended or portmanteau words.


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    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: Humpty Dumpty's theory

    Humpty Dumpty breaks the convention of shared meaning by asserting that words mean what he wants them to mean, and not what the speech community would commonly give the word. I think this concept should be separated a but from his use of portmanteau words, as jamming two bits of other words together doesn't lose or really alter the meaning of the original words- brunch is literally a combination of breakfast and lunch, while claiming that words mean exactly what you want them to mean strikes me as very different.

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    Default Re: Humpty Dumpty's theory

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    Humpty Dumpty breaks the convention of shared meaning by asserting that words mean what he wants them to mean, and not what the speech community would commonly give the word. I think this concept should be separated a but from his use of portmanteau words, as jamming two bits of other words together doesn't lose or really alter the meaning of the original words- brunch is literally a combination of breakfast and lunch, while claiming that words mean exactly what you want them to mean strikes me as very different.
    This was my original viewpoint. But I haven't read the book recently. Here is the actual passage from the book:

    "I don't know what you mean by 'glory,'" Alice said.
    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't – till I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!'"
    "But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument,'" Alice objected.
    "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less."
    "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
    "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master – that's all."
    Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again.
    "They've a temper, some of them – particularly verbs, they're the proudest – adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs – however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That's what I say!"[7]


    Regardless, it's possible that Lewis Carroll had a different understanding from Humpty, and that what is called the HD theory did not originate from Humpty, but from Carroll's comments on his own work.
    Nevertheless, it seems that linguists do use "Humpty Dumpty theory", perhaps wrongly, to describe blending, as well as the apparent meaning of 'a word means what I intend it to mean'.

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