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By William Safire

The Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist describes his lifelong fascination with Norma Loquendi--common speech--in a suite of columns that celebrates the mysteries and continuous evolution of the English language.

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Additional info for In Love with Norma Loquendi

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I . I i T H E SENSE OF THE CONTINUUM ft It is also possible that there are regions of being about which we are unable to talk. It seems odd, seeing that being always manifests itself in language only, but let us grant this—since there is no reason why one day humanity might not invent languages different from the known ones. But let us keep to those "regions" of being we usually talk about and tackle this talk of ours in the light not of a metaphysics but of a semiotics, that of Hjelmslev. We use signs to express a content, and this content is carved out and organized in different forms by different cultures (and languages).

N o w that anything if that inexplicable can only be known by reasoning from signs. But the only justification of an inference from signs is that the conclusion explains the fact. To suppose the fact absolutely inexplicable is not to explain it, and hence this supposition is never allowable. (WR2: 213) By this Peirce does not mean to say that we can or must exclude a priori that the incognizable exists; he says that in order to state this, it is necessary to have tried to k n o w it through chains of 34 / KANT AND THE PLATYPUS inferences.

A n d perhaps this is the way it happens, given that we can lie and construct fantastic worlds, imagine and foresee alternative states of things. T h e Mind could very well represent even the various ways in which it is in the World. Such a Mind could write the Divine Comedy even if the infundibular structure of the inferno did not exist in the World, or it could construct geometries with no counterpart in the material order of the World. It could even set itself the problem of the definition of 42 / KANT AND THE PLATYPUS being, duplicate entities and being, formulate the question w h y there is something rather than nothing—given that it could talk in many ways of this something—without ever being sure it was saying it the right way.

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