Forwarded from Nestor (reply to Mark)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Dec 12 07:24:36 MST 2002

On Wed, 11 Dec 2002 18:56:10 -0000, Mark J. wrote:

I have 2 questions to aks you: what's the difference between a direct
and an indirect object, and what does this means: "The interest of this
verification does not lie on any kind of claim for "linguistic
precedence" (after Saussure, this is a nonsensical idea)"

A) Direct vs. indirect object: if not a display of British humour (if
British, it is "humour", isn´t it?), probably this question is linked to
my comment on Marx stating that English expressed the so to say "direct"
meaning with an AS word and the "indirect" meaning with a Latin one.
Marx was not thinking of grammar but of semantics. Take "lamb" and
"mutton", for instance. The live animal in AS, the elaborated product in
Latin. Thus, "worth" (to speak in an easy way, "use value", the natural
contents of the commodity) against "value" (similarly, "exchange value",
the share of generalized social labour embodied in the commodity)


But Mark´s question brings me back to high school years when my teacher
of Latin and Classical Culture almost drove me mad with these questions.
It is the first time in my life I can give some use to those hard fought
battles with Cicero and Sallustius, so that I won´t lose this
opportunity, even at the risk of boring almost everyone on Marxmail.
Will try to translate into English (don´t know if this is valid) what I
remember from what I learnt for Spanish, French and Latin (as far as I
remember this is a general grammatical function, because I have some
idea that when I learnt English, German and Hebrew -latter two almost
forgotten by now- the issue came to the fore again and again).

If I say, for example, "I will hit every Mark for posing such a question
on this list" the DIRECT object of the speaker´s action is "every Mark".
They are the ones who receive the action. The rule in Spanish is that in
the Spanish "Voy a golpear a todos los Marcos por plantear preguntas
como ésta en esta lista" (literal translation, not exactly good Spanish)
you can replace "los Marcos" (which litterally translates as "the
Marks") by "los" (singular: "lo"), the equivalent to "them" (singular
"him") in English; that is "_Los_ voy a golpear..." ("I will hit

In classical Latin this was expressed by declination: "the Marks"
(Marcos) were expleted in Accusative form, instead of the Nominative
(Marci, singular Marcus) I would have said "Marcos". Spanish words come
usually from a crystalization of the Accusative form of the Latin word
which can be observed in the singular/plural alternance (in Italian,
where words crystalized from the Nominative, the singular/plural would
be Marco/Marci).

If conversely, I say "I will serve a cup of coffee to Louis for his
patience with these linguistic ramblings" the DIRECT object is the cup
of coffee, but the INDIRECT object (the one who benefits from the action
taken on the cup of coffee) is Louis, and in Latin this would have been
expressed, usually, in the Dative form. It would have been expressed
with "Ludovico" without preposition, instead of "Ludovicus" the
Nominative form. In Spanish you express same idea by adding the
preposition "a", which here has a different sense (English "for") than
the "a" of the first sentence (English "to").

I hope this satisfies your Oxonian question, dear Mark.

2) Now, on to the second -and more interesting- one: what I was thinking
about was the obviously nonsensical claim by Bragg that English was
among "the first" modern languages, thus telescoping AS unduly into our
times. The reference to Saussure has to do with the basic (and obvious,
if you think of it) that there is _no evolution, in the sense of
"progress"_ in the forms of the language, and that each system of
phonological oppositions must be understood as equally valid, as such
system, as any other no matter whether it is a system of the 21st.
century AD or a system of the 21st. century BC.

Take Spanish and Portuguese, for example. To a Spanish speaker with a
knowledge of the history of her/his own language, Portuguese sounds
deliciously "ancient", because the hallmark in the transition from Old
Spanish to Modern Spanish was a complex of phonological changes which
did not take place in Portuguese. These situations take place in the
structure of the language, too. Italian syntactical structures are much
"older" than those of Spanish, and they resemble more the structures of
17th. Century Spanish than those of 21st. Century one. None of the
above, however, authorizes the eerie idea that "Spanish" is more
"advanced" than Italian or Portuguese, and so on.

This is why I classified Bragg´s linguistics as a revival of old
ethnocentrical nonsense (such as the other great lie that Saussure
destroyed, according to which monosyllabic languages -Chinese- were
"more primitive" than aglutinant languages -Turkish-, and these "more
primitive" than flexive languages -Sanskrit-). Languages are means to
express the full variety of human feelings and thoughts. While they
fulfill this function, they are all equally valid and "primitive". When
they don´t they simply include new ways of speaking which introduce
these new feelings and thoughts, this is all that happens.

Hugs and my regards to Grammar teachers on the list, who I hope will be
lenient with this posting by a dilettante.


The Marxism list:

PLEASE clip all extraneous text before replying to a message.

More information about the Marxism mailing list