Fieldwork today or cultural theft ?

Mark P. Line mline at
Tue Feb 4 22:58:14 UTC 1997

Rob Pensalfini wrote:
> While I'm here, I wanted to say something on the thread of the perceived
> theoretical versus descriptive split in linguistics.

I don't see the split at that juncture at all. I see it between different
kinds of [theoretical and descriptive] linguistics. On the descriptive
front, one kind favors introspection and (at best) grammaticality
judgments from linguistically non-naive native speakers, the other kind
favors induction of descriptions from large (or largish) corpora. These
different approaches to description are driven, of course, by the
well-known theoretical (or philosophical) differences we all love to hate.

I certainly wouldn't be surprised if a descriptive thesis were
well-received by faculty, but I assume that the descriptive framework will
almost always be compatible with the faculty theoreticians' paradigmatic
positions. And I wonder if a thesis would often be tolerated that
presented data that might be incompatible with the faculty's theoretical
or philosophical stance.

I think the peer pressure favoring theory (or philosophy) over description
among students is just one manifestation of the extension of one's manhood
inculcated for decades by the formalist mainstream. ["My lambda calculus
is harder to understand and use than your GB. Nyah, nyah."] Students
subjected to such pressure can deal with it easily once they understand
what it's compensating for. :]

-- Mark

(Mark P. Line   ----   Bellevue, Washington   ----   mline at

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