By Peter Grieco
“When reducing the continuous to the
discrete, one calls upon binary
oppositions for establishing distinction.”
How big was that fish you caught?
Oh. It was B-I-I-I-I-G, all right
says a proud fisherman stretching out
his vowel as widely as he gestures with his arms.
But the tendency of linguists has been
to dismiss the continuous to minor
importance, as if language in the first place
wasn’t based on mimicry, a kind of acting out
in sounds which eventually turn into
metaphors. The reduction of the continuous
to the discrete has been “a mythological step
of first importance.” There can be no question
of mimesis. Either /ɪ/ in big is lengthened
enough to be significant, or it isn’t.
OK. Let’s say there needs to be a cut-
off. Distances are always discrete. Yet
curves are, except for piece-functions
& asymptotes, always continuous.
For the graph of all fish from the smallest
blow fish to the largest whale shark,
plotted against the number of individuals
animals matching that size, you
have a bell shape. The vast majority
are medium fish. Here the bulge indicates
the magnitude of the population with average
size not the size of the largest fish.