Robert D. Sutherland
 

 

LANGUAGE AND LEWIS CARROLL

Mouton-DeGruyter. Janua Linguarum, Series Maior, 26. (1970). 245 pp. LC: 73-101966

From the Preface: “The aim of this book is to analyze the nature and scope of the linguistic interests of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and to determine, insofar as possible, his basic assumptions regarding the nature and functions of language. There is need for a study which attempts to be exhaustive; for although Carroll’s literary works are permeated with evidence of this interest in language, and although some aspects of this interest have been commented upon by twentieth-century students of language, the true range, depth, and ultimate seriousness of his concern (as well as the sophistication and perceptivity of his linguistic insights) have not been generally recognized.”
Chapter  1: Lewis Carroll’s Interest in Language
Chapter  2. Carroll's Use of Language as a Vehicle for Play
Chapter  3. Lewis Carroll and the Study of Language
Chapter  4. Signs
Chapter  5. The Process of Classification
Chapter  6. Names
Chapter  7. Nominal Definition
Chapter  8. Ambiguity
Chapter  9. Sound and Sense
Chapter 10. Word Magic
Chapter 11. Postscript

Review:

Martin Gardner, editor of The Annotated Alice and The Annotated Snark. Review in SEMIOTICA (1972), 89-92: 

“The theme of Robert D. Sutherland’s admirable book ... is that Carroll’s understanding of semiotics was deeper than hitherto recognized and that, by studying his word play and his informal pronouncements on language, one can reconstruct Carroll’s essential linguistic views. Sutherland ... is well aware ... that Carroll did not have a scientific, consistent philosophy of language. He believes, nevertheless, that it is worthwhile to make a systematic study of Carroll’s incomparable word play and to guess as much as one can about the assumptions underlying it. The result is a greater appreciation of Carroll’s grasp of semiotics and a heightened understanding of that marvelous mix of logic and word play that has come to be called Carrollian nonsense. Such a study was initiated by the authors of a few magazine articles and by Daniel F. Kirk in his monograph, Charles Dodgson, Semeiotician (University of Florida Press, 1963). The task has now been completed by Sutherland in a treatise so comprehensive that it is unlikely it will be attempted again. ... Nothing in Carroll’s writings or in Sutherland’s study casts light on certain profound questions in linguistic philosophy; for example, on the extent to which all natural languages may have an infrastructure independent of a particular culture because it corresponds in certain ways with the structure of the physical world in which all cultures evolve, as well as with basic experiences common to all humans. But on less controversial levels of linguistics Carroll’s work is a rich collection of comic illustrations for significant insights. There is no better guide to this aspect of Carrollian nonsense than Sutherland’s definitive, splendidly written book.”

Acknowledgment:

Peter Heath, in The Philosopher’s Alice (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1974). pp. 7-8, claims that his book is “the first full attempt at a serial...account of Alice’s logico-philosophical misadventures”, which, he hastens to add, “is no dispraise of the excellent philosophical articles on Alice by Professors Alexander, Pitcher, Holmes, and others, which have often been a source of suggestion and are frequently cited in the text. Still less does it disparage two admirable books on the subject whose aid it is a pleasure to acknowledge: Martin Gardner’s Annotated Alice, and Robert D. Sutherland’s Language and Lewis Carroll. Gardner’s well-known guide to the literary, biographical, and philosophico-scientific background of Alice has furnished a model for the format of this book, as well as much helpful and hard-won information, thankfully utilized wherever it has been found appropriate. A similar and still larger overlap of interest occurs in Sutherland’s book, the only full-scale scholarly treatise on Carroll’s complete output, seen from the point of view of modern linguistics. Since logic, philosophy, and the study of language have nowadays much in common, and since Carroll had a somewhat unnerving knack of anticipating points in all three fields that were wholly neglected by his contemporaries and have only more recently acquired importance, it is not surprising that Sutherland's learned and perceptive treatment should likewise anticipate much that a philosophical critic would also wish to say. On one point especially it is easy to agree with him, namely that Carroll’s uncommonly shrewd understanding of the ‘logic’ of language is essentially an intuitive business, and does not spring from, or terminate in, a general theory or philosophy of language. As Sutherland happily puts it, the scattered insights to be found in Carroll’s writings represent the fossil bones of an animal that never actually existed, and the quest for its reconstruction is therefore one enterprise that a commentator may justifiably neglect.”


Purchase options:

From Mouton/De Gruyter; with used copies available from Amazon.com and many book dealers online.

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