November 19, 2004


I sometimes kick around the idea that in Davidson's famous analysis of indirect speech, we should replace the notion of samesaying with the notion of likesaying. That is, "X said that P" will be analyzed as "X said something that is like what I would say by the following: P."

There are a couple of motivations for this, but most prominent is the idea that our evaluations of indirect discourse reports aren't all or nothing. Take Cappelen and LePore's example (approximately): Joe says "At 11 pm I put on a green shirt, black pants, and blue shoes"; we, knowing that before 11 pm Joe was standing naked in front of an uncurtained window, say "Joe said that at 11 pm he stopped exposing himself to his neighbors."

Is what we say an accurate representation of what Joe says? I think the appropriate reaction is that it's somewhat accurate--accurate for some purposes and not for others. For instance, it wouldn't be accurate if our audience wanted to know whether Joe admitted that he had been exposing himself. And the reason for this, I think, is that when we say "At 11 pm he stopped exposing himself to his neighbors" what we say is in one respect like what Joe said when he said "At 11 pm I put on a green shirt, black pants, and blue shoes," but in another respect it's not like it. Whether the discourse report is acceptable depends in part on how close a likeness is demanded, and what kind.

(Howard Wettstein makes some similar points about how judgments on discourse reports aren't all or nothing in The Magic Prism; at least I remember them as similar. All mistakes mine, as usual.)

If this idea survives to the writing-up stage, I'm planning to ostentatiously refrain from citing as the use of "like" to introduce speech reports in support of it. But if we really want to know how the use of "like" as in "I'm like, no way" is like other uses of "like," it seems like there's a lot of actual linguistic research that seems liek it would be relevant. One, two, three relevant posts at Language Log. None of these, I think, deal with the use of "like" to introduce indirect discourse in Pogo-American (no attempt has been made to reproduce the original emphases):

Aug. 4, 1950: Owl: I jes' been chewin' up a watermelon an' got seeds in both ears---so I thought you say Albert swallied a butterfly---now, what is you did actual say, Pogo?

Pogo: I says again like I say before which was what you thought I said and I did.


Dec. 7, 1949--Albert the alligator and Uncle Antler the moose are staring eyeball to eyeball.

Antler: Jes' who's called me a cow, anyways, mister overgrown hoppy-toad?
Albert: I will tell you when you tell me who callin' me a overgrowed hoppy-toad what call a moo-cow like you a ol' hat-rack.
Antler: And I will tell you whom am I when you tell me who calls me all like you said but not 'fore you tells me who calls me what you say first is I who calls you what I said you be who calls me what you say last only I'm that way at you an' double do it!
[Silent panel.]
Albert [nonchalantly leaning against Antler and puffing his cigar]: I dare you--- jes--- say--- that--- a--- gain!

(And yes, the whole post was intended as a pretext for extended Pogo quotes rather than to put forth a serious philosophical thesis. That seems like a good use of this blog to me.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at November 19, 2004 11:11 AM

Perhaps I am ignorant, but how is "{like,as} I said before" indirect discourse?

Posted by: I AM IMAGINING A RECITATIVE at November 30, 2004 11:26 AM


Yeah, it isn't indirect discourse. I think what Pogo and Antler are doing is the equivalent of "What I/you said" rather than "As I/you said"--I don't really understand as-clauses, but I think "As I said before" requires a clausal complement rather than a term that picks out a proposition:

??I say again as I said before.

I say again what I said before.

I say again, as I said before, that Albert swallowed a butterfly.

I still think that the use of "like" in "what I said" constructions lends as much support to the likesaying theory as the use of "like" to introduce direct discourse (that is to say, none really), in that it makes explicit that the two things that have been said are only like each other rather than being identical to each other.

In the end, of course, I rely on the point made in the last sentence of the main post.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at November 30, 2004 02:01 PM

I don't really think much can be concluded about whether what Pogo's doing more closely resembles "as I said" or "what I said", given that people in Okefenokee sure do talk funny. I agree, though, that quoting Pogo at length is a good thing.

"I say again, like I said before, which was $x" doesn't work anyway; you'd want "I say again, like I said before, $x".

Was it a genuine mistake ("like" for "as if") when you said "it seems like there's a lot of actual linguistic research that seems like it would be relevant", or was that just cleverness?

Posted by: ben wolfson at November 30, 2004 02:42 PM

I think it started out genuine and I left it in for the sake of cleverness. But I'm not sure I'd admit it was a mistake--that sounds awfully prescriptivist, and the language loggers can get grumpy if you call them prescriptivists.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at December 1, 2004 11:01 AM