minstrel: aid for baby bards

Heather Rose Jones hrjones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Wed Mar 12 15:11:02 PST 1997

On Tue, 11 Mar 1997, Pendar wrote:

> Ok, here is another area where my semantics got me into trouble. What you 
> are describing is what Tangwystl suggested- Critiqueing. This, to me, is 
> different than criticizing. Criticizing implies that you are being 
> negative, which is why I said in my original post that Criticism should 
> be avoided.

Ok, if I may be the pedantic semanticist for a moment (which I _am_, in
real life) lets look at the three words we've got here: the verbs "to
critique", "to criticize", and the noun "criticism". From a derivational
point of view, all come from the same root. "To critique" retains more of
the original French structure of the word; it has been less lexicalized
into the structure of English and is thus likely to retain a more formal
register and perhaps more of the original semantics.

>From the verb "critique" we derive the agentive noun "critic" (which is
not part of the above scenario explicitly). It is from this Englished word
that we derive, through English morphological processes, the new verb
"criticize". One could argue that "critique" and "criticize" _ought_ to
have the same semantics, however "criticize", because it has been derived
through every language processes, rather than borrowed directly, is likely
to be less formal and less specialized in meaning. This makes it more
prone to picking up additional semantics from the social model of the
"critic scenario", which includes the understanding that critics are more
likely to highlight flaws in a work than to spend proportional amounts of
time discussing all the "good" things about a work.

The noun "criticism" is derived from the verb "criticize" and thus tends
to inherit its semantics; contrasted with "critique" as a noun, which will
tend to take its semantics directly from the more formal verb and not
include attributes that have been added to "criticize".

Ok, what's the point here? The _negative_ interpretation of "criticism"
and "criticize" tends to come from its less formal character and from
aspects of the social frame in which a less formal process occurs
(compared with a more formal/academic frame for "critique", both as a noun
and verb, which brings with it a social expectation of balance and
impersonality). But these aspects don't come from the inherent "meaning"
of the words -- rather from the situations in which they tend to be used.
I.e., if some one "critiques" your work, they are being framed as being in
a formal relationship to you, perhaps as an expert advisor; whereas if
someone "criticizes" your work, they are being framed as -- potentially --
a social equal and not necessarily having any particular specialized
knowledge in the field. And yet, from a technical point of view, that
impartial expert can also be described as "criticizing", and certainly as
"offering criticism". It would be wrong to characterize "criticism" as
obligatorily referring to negative and discouraging commentary, however,
because it _allows_ for this reference, more than "critique" does, it is
possible to interpret the choice of "criticism" as highlighting this
distinction, when in fact such a distinction was not intended by the
speaker. I.e., the speaker may simply have been using a less formal
register in the context of our discussion here, rather than referring to
the less formal understanding of the process under discussion.

This semantics minute has been brought to you by:

Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn
and the U.C. Berkeley Linguistics Department

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