Friday, March 06, 2009

The Work of the Symbolic (2)

Have a look at this sentence from Wednesday's post:

The work of the symbolic in institutional processes is embodied in shared sociolinguistic meanings and practices.

Notice that it is in the passive voice (to be + past particple of embody) and notice that* both its subject (the work of the symbolic in institutional processes) and its object (shared sociological meanings and practices) are named by rather complex constructions.

Can we give the subject and object of this sentence simpler names?

Institutional symbolism is embodied in shared meanings and practices.

This is still in the passive voice, however. Perhaps, we canLet's try to use "works" instead of "is embodied".

Institutional symbolism works through processes that are embodied in shared meanings and practices.

Was "sociolinguistic" contributing anything? Well, it is hard to imagine unshared sociolinguistic meanings and practices or nonlinguistic meanings or linguistic practices without meaning. So we could probably say:

Institutional symbolism works through processes that are embodied in sociolinguistic practices.

And is there any important difference here between "sociolinguistic practices" and "processes that are embodied in sociolinguistic practices"? Probably not. So we have:

Institutional symbolism works through sociolinguistic practices.

I'm still not entirely sure what I'm looking for. I am trying to demonstrate, however, that the work of understanding a sentence—thinking about what is says—can be supported by the act of editing it—by constructing other sentences. We will continue on Monday.

*See comments. I have made (and Jonathan has corrected) this mistake before.


Jonathan said...

That's not really passive voice. Compare:

He is dressed in black.

He was dressed by his father.

The first case is the past participle used as an adjective, the second is the passive voice. You can tell the difference because the second example has an active form:

His father dressed him.

The first does not imply that someone dressed him. To make the sentence more active sounding would say "He is wearing black clothing" rather than "someone has dressed him in black." The past participle simply shows the result of an action.

So not every case of form of the verb to be + past participle is passive voice.

You can tell it's adjectival because you can replace a participle with another adjective.

The dinner is prepared.

The dinner is ready.

Thomas said...

Your right. Again, as I recall. (I don't know why I always get this wrong.) I don't have time to fix the post right now. Later.

Presskorn said...

As long as we're nittypicking I didn't like the original occurrence of ”sociolinguistic”, when I read it Wednesday. Of course, it's quite clear what ”sociolinguistic meanings” or ”sociolinguistic practices” means given Frege's context-principle along perhaps with some Davidsonian principle of charity. But to my mind, “sociolinguistic” *really* means “pertaining to the linguistic discipline of sociolinguistics” or “related to interaction between linguistic and social factors” thus making the occurrence of ”sociolinguistic meanings” or ”sociolinguistic practices” rather odd.

No meanings *are* sociolinguistic, but they can be studied in that perspective. And no practices *are* sociolinguistic – unless one means the practice of doing sociolinguistics.

At one point, your post slipped into speaking of “sociological” instead of “sociolinguistic” meanings and practices. And that's really odd in the same way. No meanings or practices *are* sociological, but they can be studied sociologically.

Thus, a sentence like “Institutional symbolism works through sociolinguistic practices” makes it seem like it's doing a piece of explanatory work, while it's really just indicating how institutional symbolism is to be studied.

Thomas said...

This whole month will be for nitpicking! Monday morning I'll pick up on these ideas.