The mighty ponds of Hampstead
Being a fan of Mr. Samuel Pickwick, Esq., I am well disposed towards following similarities between his immortal Club and scientific communities, especially in my own field, theoretical linguistics, and in somewhat vaguely related branches the linguists venture to discuss.
It is amazing how many terms like ‘grammar’, ‘phase’, ‘economy’, ‘syntactic’ vs ‘post-syntactic’, ‘left periphery’, ‘focus’, ‘mora’ etc. are easily shared by international pickwickian communities in such a way that the members of these communities are able to distinguish pickwickian and non- pickwickian uses without being able to define the content of the corresponding notions. Nobody knows exactly what ‘focus’ is about, but every self-respecting person knows how Prof. P or Prof. W used this term in his/her ground-breaking version of the Theory of Tittlebats. One might even stick to the hypothesis that these notions shared by pickwickian communities are inherent ideas, but this hypothesis has not been verified yet: there seem to exist mentally sane linguists (?!) that are allergic to them. There is also a problem of acquiring pickwickian levels of competence (ignorant adult linguists may be compared to toddlers with a possibility of L-1/ L-2 acquisition), but this problem can be eventually solved by getting positions, part-time jobs and research grants as well as by other socialized means.
I am dead serious. I am not trying to say that the notions like the abovementioned ones cannot be defined in a reasonable manner: they surely can. I am objecting to the idea that mutual understanding inside a pickwickian community is a guaranty for a clear scientific content. Besides, I do not think that pickwickian approaches to defining grammars, modules of language, etc. always produce optimal results.
Professor M.C.Hare and professor M.D.Hatter discuss Formal Pickwickian Grammars in the presence of their Phd students.
What’s the attraction of the Pickwickian then?
I feel that that it is a yearning for a true scientific ideal (or image). People discard non-pickwickian uses as rude or ambivalent and desire to be selected club members.
And finally, here is the best portrait of Mr.Pickwick, Esq.,P.P.M.P.C., made by a Frenchman and performed by a German.