Tuesday, December 4, 2012


One day, way back in the mid-seventies, a self-styled linguist from abroad, whose hatred towards Noam Chomsky was incomprehensible to us to say the least, was giving us, graduate students of linguistics, what he called a critique of Chomsky’s linguistics. During the lecture, he spent some time telling us about how Chomsky was not paying income tax and how the clever man was gaining from this act in terms of bank balance and favourable public attention, both. No wonder, he said, that such a person was doing the kind of linguistics he was doing. We were unimpressed partly because we failed to see the connection, but far more because Chomsky’s income, income tax and bank account were of no interest to us in the first place.

The fact of the matter is this: discussing an issue on communication, Chomsky wrote in his Reflections on Language that there was a time he was not paying part of his income tax in protest against some policies of the US government (relating to the Vietnam War). And like some others too, he used to write a detailed and careful letter to the Bureau of internal Revenue every year justifying his non-payment of the same. He was aware that no one was going to read his note and that his income tax papers might simply be fed into a computer. Umberto Eco’s shopping list (the subject matter of an earlier post in this blog) and Chomsky’s letter to the Bureau are similar in that their respective authors believed that neither piece was going to be read by others, so neither had any intention to communicate while writing the same. However, differing from Eco and reflecting on his own experience, Chomsky observed that although sometimes an author may have no communicative intention while writing something, he would still writes with sincerity and care, and would not ignore clarity. It is a different matter that some people do indeed read such writing. In the context of the same discussion in his Reflections on Language, Chomsky said that he wrote The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory as a graduate student assuming that it would never be read by anyone or would ever be published. We know that it was published twenty years after it was written. As for its readers, the eminent linguist James D. McCawley told us in a lecture what was in circulation in the relevant quarters those days, namely that when it was first reviewed, even the reviewer of the book had not read it fully. We do not have to take him literally though. In any case, it is difficult to agree with Chomsky that when he was writing his lengthy manuscript he was very much aware that it would not be “read by anyone”; every graduate student writes his thesis for at least his examiners. We of course need not take his words too literally and interpret “anyone” as “anyone other than the thesis adviser and the examiners”, but then it makes the point he was making weak. 

An author may not have any particular individual or any group of persons in mind while writing, but to say that he writes knowing full well that no one would read his writing is difficult to swallow, when he does not make his writing completely inaccessible. There is of course a coherent answer to the question as to why at all, if one knows that no one is going to read his piece, one writes logically, clearly and in an intelligible manner. The answer is that it has to do with the personality of the author. If he is the sincere and responsible type, it would be reflected in his writing, if he is a bully or a confused person, it will also be reflected in his writing. It has thus nothing to do with his communicative intention or the absence of it.

One can never be sure that one’s writing will never be read by anyone, except when one destroys the same in time. The well known Indian author, Raja Rao, who wrote in English, left behind him much unpublished writing which during his life time he probably did not want to publish for some reason. Now it appears that those who have access are trying to have some of them published in some form. From the fact that Raja Rao did not publish them one cannot conclude that he did not want any one  to read them ever. If that were his resolve, then he should not have preserved his writing in the first place. The fact that he did would suggest that he had no problems if the same were read after his death. Similarly, from the very fact that Chomsky sent his letters to the Bureau of Internal Revenue one would think that he certainly would not have minded if someone there read them. One would never be persuaded to accept the claim that an author wrote for himself, for one’s own satisfaction or for the fulfilment of one’s creative urge, so long as he preserves his writing.

That is why the only stuff I believe  that are written without any communicative intention are the shy, self-conscious, conservative teen aged lover’s poems or billet doux, which readily end up, torn into tiny pieces, in the wastepaper basket.          

Monday, December 3, 2012


As far as I am concerned, there are two Jose Mourinhos; one is the self-styled Special One, as he is known in the football community and the other, who I call The Special One without any restrictive epithet. It seems somehow this second Mourinho has not received due attention.

Soon after his team Real Madrid won the Spanish League, 2011-12, Mourinho started announcing that the 2012 Ballon d’Or should be awarded to Cristiano Ronaldo of his team because he is the best player in the world. The first El Clasico of the 2012-13 edition of La Liga was played in Nou Camp and ended in a 2-2 draw. Ronaldo and Messi scored the goals for their respective clubs. The quality of football on display was very good. Messi’s free kick that beat the wall and the goalkeeper Casillas was a special treat for the football lovers. And as for Mourinho, he said that he enjoyed the match as did the thousands on the stand and millions on television across continents.

Mourinho said that talk as to who between Ronaldo and Messi is better should be banned because they belong to another planet, and that this year’s Ballon d’Or should be given to a Real Madrid player (since in this sentence he did not mention Ronaldo, could he have meant that anyone would do? May be we are being unfair to him.) because it is Real Madrid who won the toughest football league in the world. He said this despite the much talked of and widely published sadness of Ronaldo. One reason the player was sad was that he felt that his club had not supported him on such matters as the Ballon d’Or award for him. One does not know how he felt after his manager did not distinguish between Messi and him: “both belong to another planet.” Period. But soon Mourinho changed his mind and came up with a different statement. Incidentally, the provocation for this new one was an observation made by the Barca manager who said that Messi is the best on the planet. Mourinho could not keep quiet.

He said that if Messi was the best on the planet, Ronaldo was the best in the universe. He was from the Mars. We know that it is rhetorical language. Now rhetorical statements must not be checked for their truth value; the same must be taken neither literally nor seriously. They have to be enjoyed; so let none of us ask whether football is played in the Mars and elsewhere in the universe.

In days he came up with yet another observation, as reported in The Times of India on October 15, 2012: “if Cristiano doesn’t win the Ballon d’Or this year, it is only because he’s not nice.” – a really fascinating observation that would delight a student of pragmatics and of communication. It could be seen as a criticism of the voters who would not vote for Ronaldo; they are being charged with taking into consideration non-football factors. It could also be seen as a mildly affectionate criticism of Ronaldo; his manager wanted him to realize that because of his poor public manners, he might not be getting his due. It could also be a clear statement of a fact, meant to be viewed independent of Ballon d’Or or any other award – that whatever his football skills, Ronaldo is not nice. Depending on a host of factors including (perhaps crucially)one’s attitude to Mourinho, one would attribute one of these meanings to him. Anyway, as for us, we are not concerned with the semantics of his statement here. We only note one remarkable feature of this observation, namely that for once there is no explicit mention of Messi here.

Mourinho attempts to justify his choice: if Messi gets the award it would be for the fourth time, when Ronaldo would have got it only once (2008). Besides, Messi has been playing in the same team for years, whereas Ronaldo came from England and for two years was with Real Madrid, which was not winning trophies. Besides Messi’s goals did not lead to his team’s winning a trophy, Ronaldo’s did – Read Madrid became the La Liga winners. Barca might have won the Intercontinental Cup and the Super Cup, but those were small things and counted to nothing. Here we are not evaluating the merit of his assertions, although we have things to say about these. How many voters would be persuaded by these observations is a matter for speculation.

As for Mourinho’s remarks mentioned above, one would find some lack of consistency at the level of detail – on the one hand, he would like talk about between Messi or Ronaldo who is better to be banned, and on the other hand, he keeps saying Ronaldo is the best. His remarks are aggressive, provocative and they sound loud and are crudely partisan. He punctuates his observations with punch line- like remarks and indulges in rhetoric – it does not matter that the same lacks novelty.

But Mourinho is not a football journalist or an academic who writes authoritative books on football. Neither is he professionally or otherwise committed to create beautiful expressions that attract attention. He is the manager of a well known football team, one of the very best in the world, and one of his jobs is to advertise his team and sell its achievements. In a football interview, most in the audience do not often care to think beyond what is being said, so they do not see the inconsistencies which come to notice when the earlier remarks are also taken into consideration. Like the proverbial representative of a country who enjoys the freedom to tell half-truths for his country, the manager can package facts and distortions both to advance the interests of his team. Who, among the managers today, does it better than him? When Mourinho fails to sell his point of view to his target audience, it could mean that persuasive strategies have their limitation. He is a manager who likes to talk and talks forcefully – he, of all his counterparts in these times, remains in the news as much as the team he is in charge of or its stars. When a football team wins a trophy or even an important match, everyone in the football community knows today that a good part of the credit goes to the manager. There is none that drives this point home even as half forcefully as does Mourinho. And as a communicator speaking up for his team, he is special. In this he is “The Special One”, not “the self-styled Special One”.