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#1 2013-11-25 14:49:01

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2101

non linguistic eggcorns

Eggcorns, which are language behaviors, find their home in a specific communications medium. They are semantic mismappings triggered by similarities in the sounds and orthography of linguistic expressions.


In this forum we have focused almost exclusively on eggcorn moves in spoken and written language. Other media can also carry meanings, however, and presumably such meanings can be mismapped under the influence of media-appropriate similarities. Could the basic motions of eggcorns be replicated in media that are not language-based?
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Prime candidates for extra-linguistic eggcorns are the various visual media. Painters and sculptors sometimes depict their characters in settings and costumes that are chronologically mismatched with the subject. Many artists do this on purpose, of course. Antoine-Denis Chaudet, who depicted Napoleon in classical garb, had no illusions that Napoleon dressed like a Roman senator. When a sculptor or painter does this context shift intentionally, the move resembles in visual arts what we might call a metaphor in language. Chaudet was playing with the setting of his Napoleon statue to draw certain parallels.
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But what about unintentional shifts, such as those made by the medieval artists who depicted classical and Biblical characters in everyday medieval costumes (the carvings on this 14th century ivory box, for example)? At least a few of these early artists, it seems likely, really imaged the characters that they were depicting as living a medieval lifestyle. In our own era, Warner Sallman painted Jesus with northern European features, hair, and skin tones. Even if we concede that Sallman made his semantic displacement intentionally, multitudes of those who view his “Head of Christ,” arguably the most widely reproduced piece of art in the twentieth century, map the image without a visual metaphor: the painting simply shows them what Jesus looked like, end of debate (Just keep moving, folks. No Jews here.)
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When visual artists and their audience unintentionally mismap the meaning component of their work, we may have something like a visual eggcorn. If you find this argument for eggcorns in visual art a little esoteric, consider a woodcut by Albrecht Dürer done for his series to illustrate the Apocalypse of St. John. The woodcut that illustrates this passage in Revelation 9:

And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, “Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates.” And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men.

The woodcut shows four angels hacking away with swords at a cross section of sinners (Yes, that is the pope stretched out on the ground on the lower right: Dürer, a contemporary of Martin Luther, had Protestant sympathies.).
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Take a close look at the depiction of God in the upper quadrants of the picture, the figure just above the altar. God is holding three trumpets. Another trumpet has already been given to “the sixth angel which had the trumpet.” The four trumpets in this woodcut are clearly, to Herr Dürer, “the four horns of the golden altar” in the passage depicted in the woodcut. The word “horns” in the passage from the Apocalypse does not, however, refer to trumpets. Altar horns are projections at the four corners of certain ancient altars. These altar bumps were called horns because they were thought to resemble the horns sticking out of an animal’s head. Trumpets are also called horns because of an animal connection: early trumpets were made from animal horns and the term was later broadened to cover certain kinds of brass and wind instruments that were not made from animal horn. Dürer has switched one sense of the word “horn” for another and has reimaged the passage mentioning the horns with the alternate, incorrect sense. (The switch is in German, of course, not English, but the German term, “das Horn,” has the same ambiguities as the English word “horn”).

To ponder: If this mistake of Dürer is not an eggcorn, then what is it? And yet it happens without the artist or the viewer uttering or writing a word.

Last edited by kem (2013-11-25 14:49:43)

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#2 2013-11-25 16:52:16

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1751
Website

Re: non linguistic eggcorns

Kem comments:

Eggcorns, which are language behaviors, […] are semantic mismappings triggered by similarities in the sounds and orthography of linguistic expressions.

and asks:

Could the basic motions of eggcorns be replicated in media that are not language-based?

Perhaps. The example of the horns, however, while not exhibited in a linguistic medium, nevertheless must go through that medium to arrive at its conclusion.

The switch is in German, of course, not English, but the German term, “das Horn,” has the same ambiguities as the English word “horn”.

Exactly. This switch is not in the visual medium, and would not work in Nawatl, for instance, or most other languages of the world. It relies translators’ choices relative to the linguistic structures of the closely related languages of English and German. (The original Greek text has two very different words, _σάλπιγξ_ for the trumpet(s), and _κέρας_ —from which we get keratin — for the projections; its prototypical reference is to an animal’s horns, and is used for the description of various animal-like entities in the Apocalypse.)
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It would seem more accurate to say that Dürer committed (or suffered) a linguistic eggcorn in misunderstanding Luther’s (I suppose it was) text, and expressed that eggcornish misunderstanding in a visual medium rather than a linguistic one.
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A true visual analog of an eggcorn would probably involve a person mistaking the sight of a particular pyramidal or corniform shape that “really” (in whatever sense) was one thing (like a projecting corner of an altar) for something else (e.g. a trumpet) without the linguistic boost.
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(Switching topics:)

When a sculptor or painter does this context shift intentionally, the move resembles in visual arts what we might call a metaphor in language.

Or, in some cases (Escher and Magritte come to mind) a pun.
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(Again switching topics:) I wonder how Dürer understood the numbering of the horn/trumpets to work out. The angel is blowing the sixth trumpet, but he shows it as the first of the four horns of the altar. The seventh trumpet is yet to be sounded, and it will be the last of the series; would that be the second of the four altar-horns? Are two of them simply not going to be sounded?

Last edited by DavidTuggy (2013-11-25 17:19:33)


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#3 2013-11-26 00:40:55

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2101

Re: non linguistic eggcorns

David T writes:

This switch is not in the visual medium, and would not work in Nawatl, for instance, or most other languages of the world. It relies on translators’ choices relative to the linguistic structures of the closely related languages of English and German.

This occurred to me as well – that this particular visual eggcorn was linguistically mediated. But the more I thought about this, the more I realized that this was not really an objection. All visual art is filtered through language categories. When we interpret a painting, we invoke structures of cognition that are honed by—and on occasion completely created by—the particular languages through which we seize the world (Philosophers make this point by insisting that we never “see” anything tout court, we always, “see as.”) The Dürer woodcut, therefore, carries its full meaning only for certain speakers of German or Dutch who lived in the early sixteenth century. Those living a few centuries later would get less of the meaning. Speakers of other northern European languages who live in later centuries and who have lost their familiarity with Judeo-Christian religious tropes take in even less – which is why I had to explain the visual eggcorn instead of just showing the picture. A Nawatl speaker with little exposure to Judaism or Christianity would get almost none of the woodcut’s meaning, I suspect. The reason a Mesoamerican aboriginal would miss the woodcut’s meaning is not because he can’t see the physical representation – it is because the semantics of a piece of visual art are not independent of the culture and language that gave rise to the art. One picture may be worth a thousand words, but no picture is worth a billion words. Visual art is not a universal tongue.

The question about the possibility of a given eggcorn in Nawatl or in any other languages is not really relevant, is it? Almost all the eggcorns we have discussed in this forum are only possible in English. And not for all speakers of English—most of the eggcorns we acknowledge in this Forum are only eggcorns for a small fraction of a percentage of people who read and write English.

The seventh trumpet is yet to be sounded, and it will be the last of the series; would that be the second of the four altar-horns?

If I understood the Book of Revelation, do you really think I would be posting eggcorns on an Internet forum?

Last edited by kem (2013-12-21 19:31:14)

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#4 2013-11-26 03:16:22

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1751
Website

Re: non linguistic eggcorns

If I understood the Book of Revelation, do you think I would be posting eggcorns on an Internet forum?

Good point! (I resemble that remark very strongly.)


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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