Chomsky, Labov, Cassidy, Lakhoff, Dilliard, McDavid, Nixon in 1974.

Tim Frazer tcf at MACOMB.COM
Fri Jan 12 04:49:30 UTC 2001

Linguistics in 1974.  I went to the Linguistics Institute in Amherst, Mass.
The Generative vs. Interpretive Semantics debate was hot and heavy.  Noam
Chomsky gave a lecture which might as well have been in Martian as well as I
was concerned. He was very much worshipped there. I felt very intimidated!
Robin Lakhoff gave a talk  arguing that linguists needed to get out of ivory
tower and pay more attention to the needs of ordinary people, e.g. issues in
education, etc.  Oh, and Bill Labov gave a very nice paper where he showed,
empirically, that many native speakers of English did not much agree with
Chomsky and his followers about which sentences were "ungrammatical."

As it turned out, I ended up spending a lot of that summer watchng the
Senate Committee's Watergate hearings on TV.

Someone, I think it was Emmon Bach, taught a neat course in field methods.
He brought in a native speaker of Mbo (?) and we had to transcribe on the
spot.  For me, a rare exposure to a non Indo European language.

A few years before (71-72) I was interviewing for jobs.  My only claim to
being anywhere near linguistics was that I liked to draw dialect maps.  But
at all the interiviews I went to, I was asked about Chomsky, and I usually
panicked.  I am lucky to be employed.  People were publishing high school
textbooks on transformation grammar, full of tree diagrams.

DARE was still moving forward.  The fieldwork was complete, the operation
was housed in White Hall in Madison after moving from univeristy drive next
to the Octopus Carwash., and Mr. Cassidy was looking for funding.  vol. I
was still 11 years away.

SJ Keyser was doing stuff in phonology.  In one job interview I was asked if
I knew about his work on Chaucer's prosody.  Of course I had never heard of
it. Still not sure how I ever got a job.

I can't remember the exact year of Dilliard's BLACK ENGLISH, but that was
certainly a hot topic then.  Dilliard says some impolite things in that book
about Raven McDavid and other dialect geographers, and Raven was very upset.
I remember his joy when Sandra De'Eloia (sp?) published what a remember to
be a solid critique of Dilliard's book in JENGL.  That might have been a
year or two earlier, tho.

Most of the stuff back then was in books and journals; we didn't have Web
sites.  I didn't think I would ever need to learn anything about computers.

----- Original Message -----
From: Erin McKean <editor at VERBATIMMAG.COM>
Sent: Thursday, January 11, 2001 10:56 AM
Subject: Another query--linguistics in 1974?

> Folks,
> I'm really, really not trying to make anyone feel old, but would
> anyone like to post about what it was like to work in linguistics in
> 1974, or the mid-seventies in general? I'm assuming that linguistics
> wasn't well-known to the general public then. I'd welcome any
> pointers to off-line history-of-the-discipline stuff I could read
> about that time. (For some reason, linguists don't seem to be writing
> their memoirs in great numbers.)
> 1974 (in case you're wondering "why then?") was the year VERBATIM was
> I was thinking about trying to do a Nexus search on the word
> "linguist(ic)(s)" to see what I hope would be an increase in
> frequency from 1970-2000. How useful do you db mavens think this
> would be?
> Hoping this isn't too off-topic; I probably should post on the
> LinguistList but y'all are so friendly. . .
> Thanks!
> Erin McKean
> editor at

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