I sense some hostility towards me per the significant number of downvotes and unsympathetic comments, many without constructive advice (though I thank the few users who have supplied it); are questions such as mine too basic for this SE?
What may the downvotes opine as wrong?

  • 5
    Introductory questions are fine. The problem many people have with your questions is that they consider them off-topic.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 8:15

1 Answer 1


Introductory questions are basically the norm. Questions asking us to psychologize an author's motivation for using a particular word in a publication, on the other hand, are off-topic. It would be perfectly on-topic to ask how C-command is defined in syntax (as it turns out, there was an unfortunate period where the definition would change on a weekly basis, but that presumably would not be held against you). Such a question identifies a linguistic concept, and asks an objectively answerable question about what it refers to. Asking why Clements coined that particular term to identify the concept is not a question about linguistics, it is a question about a linguist. I also would maintain that asking why linguists disagree (have different definitions, especially) is not an appropriate kind of question. From the perspective of hard sciences, it is kind of annoying that terminology becomes the invariant and the meaning of terms becomes the scientific desideratum, but that is the way it is, and when you understand that fact, then you would cease to be confused about inconsistent use of terms.

Questions which duplicate prior questions in essentials and which only change particulars of an example are also inappropriate. Once you know that semantic change is effectively random, asking "how do you relate meaning meaning X to meaning Y" is basically asking the same question again and again, with different specific words.

Many people (here and elsewhere) have a tendency to report everything they have heard about a topic and then ask some question, leaving the reader to infer what the relationship is between the massive wall of information and the actual question.

Addendum: hostility is quite distinct from frustration and even annoyance. The former is an unwarranted conclusion. Despite the "like" button, this is not Facebook. This isn't a place to find a support system, it's here to provide cold, hard truth. So don't read anything into the "unsympatheticity" of comments. Focus instead on the content.

  • 2
    Cold hard truth is not so easy to come by in linguistics. Though I agree that "Why?" questions are nice for pub conversation, but not so much for ELU.
    – jlawler
    Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 23:58

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