Greg Pulliam pulliam at IIT.EDU
Tue Jun 17 20:53:00 UTC 2003

Dennis is right on the money in paragraph three below.  People like
Fiske (and many of my non-linguist colleagues, BTW) assume that
because they are highly competent *users* of language, they are also
experts on its structure. This would be like me thinking that because
I am a very good driver, I know how cars are built.

I also think that many people feel very threatened by language change
and variation.  You can see this in the TVR's motto, which appears to
be based on a real, if unfounded and therefore illogical, fear that
the language changes taking place around us are some sort of vanguard
of social and cultural change--for the worse.

I have found that my truly liberal colleagues can be persuaded that
such fears are not logical. The ones whose cultural and political
views lean toward preserving the Anglo-American culture and canon in
the face of a perceived onslaught from Latinos, Asians, Africans,
Arabs, Indians, etc., usually do what Mr. Fiske did when they are
confronted with clear and copious evidence showing that (1) their
ideas are wrong and (2) they make exactly the same sorts of errors
they decry in others: they try to change the subject, usually by
asking why I have to be so mean.


At 7:55 AM -0400 6/17/03, Dennis R. Preston wrote:
>One need go no further in associating a right-wing approach in
>general and Mr. Fiske's notion of language than his own self-damning
>assertion of his apparently innate ability to see the difference
>between right and wrong, true and false. The liberal-scientific
>position takes quite a different view of the world in general. What's
>so annoying to true believers is that we refuse to declare all-time
>truths and continue to muddle around seeking better answers.
>If I went on a chemistry discussion list (although it perplexes me
>why I might) and found that my beliefs were at odds with all
>professional chemists I could either 1) begin to at least question my
>belief about the chemical makeup of something, or 2), take a Fiskean
>position, and note that professional chemists didn't know
>doodly-squat about chemistry.
>But so it goes with linguistics, and since it is more "human" than
>chemistry (and considerably less "scientific" in the popular mind),
>it will always attract crackpots like Fiske.
>I guess I am still on the side of having a professional ADS
>discussion list. In my case, I spend a great deal of professional
>time recording and studying exactly the sort of popular linguistic
>belief (folk linguistics, if you will) espoused by Fiske. But when I
>am with my colleagues (even electronically), I guess I'd like to take
>a break.
>On the other hand (and I think Ron Butters is one of the principal
>supporters of this view), I'd like to aid wherever I can in bringing
>linguistic sophistication to the public. I doubt, however, if
>participation in Mr. Fiske's publication or discussion with him
>(since he is in full possession of the truth, a common characteristic
>of folk belief about language in the US) would further that aim any
>more than the occasional liberal lamb slaughtered on Fox News [sic].
>I see I have no allies among the members of ADS. So be it. I am quite
>confident in my approach and how I see things -- more perhaps than
>any of you (who
>need to rely on mockery, insult, and even, I am disturbed to read, copyright
>infringement to make your points) are.
>If you're so keen to read Trudgill's 1500-word rebuttal of Halpern, I trust
>you'll be equally interested to read Halpern's 4400-word response to Trudgill
>in the July issue of TVR.
>Robert Hartwell Fiske
>Editor and Publisher
>The Vocabula Review
>The Vocabula Review
>A measly $8.95 a year
>The Vocabula Review
>10 Grant Place
>Lexington, MA 02420
>United States
>Tel: (781) 861-1515
>Dennis R. Preston
>Professor of Linguistics
>Department of Linguistics & Germanic, Slavic,
>      Asian & African Languages
>Michigan State University
>East Lansing, MI 48824-1027
>e-mail: preston at msu.edu
>phone: (517) 353-9290



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