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I leave open for the moment the question of whether we need to draw any theoretical distinction of the sort. I proceed first to argue that any such distinction, if required, has to be drawn somewhat less uncritically or less naively than can be justified merely by appealing to the kind of layman's problem that, reasonably enough, provides the material for adult education programmes on BBC television, or to the kind of literal-minded humour that one occasionally encounters in letters to The Times, or to the kind of typographical subtlety that one might sometimes be on the look-out for in literary prose or poetry, or to the fact that sometimes communication can be successful even when the language used is manifestly defective in some way.

The humour of the letter to The Times turns on the feigned disingenuousness with which the writer supposes that what the Underground advertisement says is that your idea of when the last train will leave is almost certain to turn out to be wrong, in view of delays that always postpone its departure. But, the logic of the objection goes, it seems that the departure of all Underground trains nowadays is delayed by something or other. So why make a special point of telling us that the last train will be delayed?

Similarly, they will often concede that there is no rule in this sense about the use of the English suffix -ness to form abstract nouns. But, they will argue, this does not show that in these areas the grammatical structure of the language is indeterminate. On the contrary, all it shows is that the grammar includes rules which require the language-user to exercise an optional choice. Let us call this the 'compulsory option' misconception of determinacy. This misconception is particularly popular in historical linguistics, because it fits in with the traditional truism that languages are constantly changing.

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Ergänzungsheft zum Lehrbuch der hebräischen Sprache des Alten Testaments. Paradiglnentabellen und Index zu den Übungssätzen by Ernst Jenni

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