How accessible is my 144 word explanation of my specialism? Watch

Shellbeach
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Hi all,

I would really appreciate the opinion of intelligent people outside my field of study. I tried to explain theoretical linguistics, linguistics being the study of language from a scientific perspective.

Does all of this make sense? Are there any words/terms which require, in your opinion, further explanation to make sense? Are there any immediate questions which you would ask based on this short explanation?


"Formal linguistics proposes that, subconsciously, humans have a mental representation of their native languages’s grammar. This representation consists of a system of rules in our mind, governing which sentences sound natural to us. Put otherwise, formal linguists study what we know about our language’s grammar, but are unaware that we know. To illustrate, English natives recognise that subject-verb-object sounds natural, e.g. Sam ate cherries, and object-subject-verb unnatural, e.g. Cherries Sam ate. However, in questions, an object must precede its verb, e.g. (1) What did Sam eat? and not, (2) Sam ate what? (unless ‘what’ is heavily stressed). English natives know that uttering object-verb order (‘ate what’) sounds ‘bad’, or ‘unnatural’. They know that some objects follow verbs, whilst other objects (e.g. what) should precede them. Formal linguists study the precise nature of this subconscious knowledge. "

Thank you for any (sensible!) responses.
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Perseverance
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(Original post by Shellbeach)
Hi all,

I would really appreciate the opinion of intelligent people outside my field of study. I tried to explain theoretical linguistics, linguistics being the study of language from a scientific perspective.

Does all of this make sense? Are there any words/terms which require, in your opinion, further explanation to make sense? Are there any immediate questions which you would ask based on this short explanation?


"Formal linguistics proposes that, subconsciously, humans have a mental representation of their native languages’s grammar. This representation consists of a system of rules in our mind, governing which sentences sound natural to us. Put otherwise, formal linguists study what we know about our language’s grammar, but are unaware that we know. To illustrate, English natives recognise that subject-verb-object sounds natural, e.g. Sam ate cherries, and object-subject-verb unnatural, e.g. Cherries Sam ate. However, in questions, an object must precede its verb, e.g. (1) What did Sam eat? and not, (2) Sam ate what? (unless ‘what’ is heavily stressed). English natives know that uttering object-verb order (‘ate what’) sounds ‘bad’, or ‘unnatural’. They know that some objects follow verbs, whilst other objects (e.g. what) should precede them. Formal linguists study the precise nature of this subconscious knowledge. "

Thank you for any (sensible!) responses.
I can understand, but it’s not very clear. Use simple language and simple sentences. There’s little context to the first sentence. What’s subconsciously? What’s a mental representation? Remove unnecessary words like ‘put otherwise’. The example is confusing.
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Shellbeach
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(Original post by Perseverance)
I can understand, but it’s not very clear. Use simple language and simple sentences. There’s little context to the first sentence. What’s subconsciously? What’s a mental representation? Remove unnecessary words like ‘put otherwise’. The example is confusing.
Thank you. 'Subconsciously' refers to the fact of having a representation of our native language; we are not consciously aware that we have the representation.
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Perseverance
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(Original post by Shellbeach)
Thank you. 'Subconsciously' refers to the fact of having a representation of our native language; we are not consciously aware that we have the representation.
I think you need to break this down even further. You said a representation 'consists of a system of rules in our mind, governing which sentences sound natural to us'. What system of rules? What do you mean it sounds natural to us? I appreciate this isn't easy with the limited word count.
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gjd800
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Is the systemof rules just grammar? In a Chomsky-esque way?
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EagleLegal
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Your draft is not clear at all. I kept asking myself what was the point of it - it was provided out of context.

Perhaps this will help: start with why you're writing this paragraph. Is it to explain a previous degree before studying law? To show that it links to your career aspirations? Assuming it's the latter, your paragraph has to do 3 things: explain linguistics very briefly, explain the skills learned (in a way that differentiates it from a history degree, for example), then explain that this background makes you a better lawyer than the competition. The last two are the key.

If, however, it is to explain what you did in a degree/masters, I'd still use the format above. Everything you write, ultimately, has to show why you're the best candidate.
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Shellbeach
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(Original post by EagleLegal)
Your draft is not clear at all. I kept asking myself what was the point of it - it was provided out of context.

Perhaps this will help: start with why you're writing this paragraph.

If, however, it is to explain what you did in a degree/masters, I'd still use the format above. Everything you write, ultimately, has to show why you're the best candidate.
Thanks for your reply. This paragraph isn't part of an application, it's just intended to explain what theoretical syntax is to laypeople. It's an important skill to be able to convey complex ideas simply and concisely....The paragraph would serve as an answer to the question, 'so what exactly is theoretical linguistics, in simple terms?

This was only a first draft, so I expected it to be bad!
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Asklepios
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(Original post by Shellbeach)
Hi all,

I would really appreciate the opinion of intelligent people outside my field of study. I tried to explain theoretical linguistics, linguistics being the study of language from a scientific perspective.

Does all of this make sense? Are there any words/terms which require, in your opinion, further explanation to make sense? Are there any immediate questions which you would ask based on this short explanation?


"Formal linguistics proposes that, subconsciously, humans have a mental representation of their native languages’s grammar. This representation consists of a system of rules in our mind, governing which sentences sound natural to us. Put otherwise, formal linguists study what we know about our language’s grammar, but are unaware that we know. To illustrate, English natives recognise that subject-verb-object sounds natural, e.g. Sam ate cherries, and object-subject-verb unnatural, e.g. Cherries Sam ate. However, in questions, an object must precede its verb, e.g. (1) What did Sam eat? and not, (2) Sam ate what? (unless ‘what’ is heavily stressed). English natives know that uttering object-verb order (‘ate what’) sounds ‘bad’, or ‘unnatural’. They know that some objects follow verbs, whilst other objects (e.g. what) should precede them. Formal linguists study the precise nature of this subconscious knowledge. "

Thank you for any (sensible!) responses.
When writing 'lay' summaries, I find this helpful: http://splasho.com/upgoer5/

It's basically a text editor that flags up whenever you use a word that's not in the top 1000 used words in English.
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EagleLegal
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(Original post by Shellbeach)
Thanks for your reply. This paragraph isn't part of an application, it's just intended to explain what theoretical syntax is to laypeople. It's an important skill to be able to convey complex ideas simply and concisely....The paragraph would serve as an answer to the question, 'so what exactly is theoretical linguistics, in simple terms?

This was only a first draft, so I expected it to be bad!
Okay - in that case, I opt to modify my answer to be 1) explain what it is in simple language and then 2) say what the point of it is.

Maybe it's just me but while it's interesting to learn a theory for the sake of it, I'm also keen to know how I can use the theory/information/data to do something. So if you could turn what linguistics is and what it can be used for/or is used for, that could make for very interesting reading. But that may be just me!
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Shellbeach
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(Original post by EagleLegal)
So if you could turn what linguistics is and what it can be used for/or is used for, that could make for very interesting reading. But that may be just me!
I see your point here, and it can have practical applications, but that would be going beyond the scope of the purpose of the 150 words, which is to explain what it is actually is.....Because, explaining what theoretical linguistics is to a layperson is an entire feat in itself!
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Shellbeach
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(Original post by Asklepios)
When writing 'lay' summaries, I find this helpful: http://splasho.com/upgoer5/

It's basically a text editor that flags up whenever you use a word that's not in the top 1000 used words in English.
Thank you!
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EagleLegal
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(Original post by Shellbeach)
I see your point here, and it can have practical applications, but that would be going beyond the scope of the purpose of the 150 words, which is to explain what it is actually is.....Because, explaining what theoretical linguistics is to a layperson is an entire feat in itself!
Yes, absolutely true. So all I can say is what I'd want to know if you're explaining it to me as a lay person. A theory in and of itself is nice, but it doesn't take me anywhere. Others will not have that view at all. Keep drafting! :-)
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Shellbeach
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(Original post by EagleLegal)
Yes, absolutely true. So all I can say is what I'd want to know if you're explaining it to me as a lay person. A theory in and of itself is nice, but it doesn't take me anywhere. Others will not have that view at all. Keep drafting! :-)
Thank you, Eagle! I suspect that some of the terminology I have used, which has a specific meaning in my field, e.g. 'representation', may not be so clear to non-linguists.....Would I be right in thinking that?
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EagleLegal
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(Original post by Shellbeach)
Thank you, Eagle! I suspect that some of the terminology I have used, which has a specific meaning in my field, e.g. 'representation', may not be so clear to non-linguists.....Would I be right in thinking that?
I've now read it 5 times. Albeit this time I read it SLOWLY.

Your first 2 sentences now make perfect sense to me.

How's that for ironic.

PS - I like 'representation' but replace it with the word 'picture'
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Shellbeach
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(Original post by EagleLegal)
I've now read it 5 times. Albeit this time I read it SLOWLY.

Your first 2 sentences now make perfect sense to me.

How's that for ironic.

PS - I like 'representation' but replace it with the word 'picture'
Ahaha. I suppose the first time you read it, you were thinking it was a mis-placed piece of text in an application.

The problem with the word 'picture' is that 'picture' has stronger connotations of an actual visual image - which is not what I mean. 'Representation' in the sense I used it in means 'a mental state or concept regarded as corresponding to a thing perceived' (that's taken from Oxford's dictionary). Perhaps I should avoid the term altogether, and go with something like:

'humans have a subconscious knowledge of their native language's grammar/word order. More precisely, this 'knowledge' is a type of system....'
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Perseverance
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(Original post by Shellbeach)
Ahaha. I suppose the first time you read it, you were thinking it was a mis-placed piece of text in an application.

The problem with the word 'picture' is that 'picture' has stronger connotations of an actual visual image - which is not what I mean. 'Representation' in the sense I used it in means 'a mental state or concept regarded as corresponding to a thing perceived' (that's taken from Oxford's dictionary). Perhaps I should avoid the term altogether, and go with something like:

'humans have a subconscious knowledge of their native language's grammar/word order. More precisely, this 'knowledge' is a type of system....'
I don't quite agree with the other poster, you can discuss theory without having to explain the point or use for the reader.

Imagine you have no knowledge of your field i.e. put yourself in the position you were in before you studied the subject; would you understand what you're saying?

In terms of writing simply, you may find this helpful: http://www.paulgraham.com/talk.html.

Tim Urban is also excellent at breaking down complex subjects, like AI or the history of the world, to a layperson: https://waitbutwhy.com/
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Notoriety
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Makes sense.

Sam ate what? is a poor example as to most people this seems syntactically valid. Do you have any other way to express this idea?
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Perseverance
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(Original post by Asklepios)
When writing 'lay' summaries, I find this helpful: http://splasho.com/upgoer5/

It's basically a text editor that flags up whenever you use a word that's not in the top 1000 used words in English.
This is excellent!
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threeportdrift
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(Original post by Shellbeach)
.........

The idea behind formal linguistics is that we all have a subconscious understanding of what sounds grammatically correct in our native language, even when we can’t explain the grammar in technical terms. For example, native English speakers recognise that ‘Sam ate cherries’ is grammatically correct, and ‘Cherries Sam ate’ is somehow incorrect, even without knowing that English is a subject-verb-object based language, not object-subject-verb. Formal linguists study the precise nature of this subconscious knowledge of native languages and how we recognise correct and incorrect grammatical structures apparently intuitively.

88 words
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Shellbeach
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(Original post by threeportdrift)
The idea behind formal linguistics is that we all have a subconscious understanding of what sounds grammatically correct in our native language, even when we can’t explain the grammar in technical terms. For example, native English speakers recognise that ‘Sam ate cherries’ is grammatically correct, and ‘Cherries Sam ate’ is somehow incorrect, even without knowing that English is a subject-verb-object based language, not object-subject-verb. Formal linguists study the precise nature of this subconscious knowledge of native languages and how we recognise correct and incorrect grammatical structures apparently intuitively.

88 words
Thank you for your response, but your reformulation of what I wrote changes the meaning of what I'm trying to get across.
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