Victor Golla vkgolla at ucdavis.edu
Mon Feb 10 09:34:59 UTC 1997


Mark Line writes:

> 1. Language can be separated analytically from culture.
> 2. You can learn to understand (in the scientific sense) a language by
>    working bilingually with a native-speaker in structured interviews.
> 3. Native speakers in Western academic settings are excellent sources on
>    their language. In fact, they may even be _better_ than those in other
>    settings because of their better command of your working language and
>    their ability to learn your descriptive-linguistic framework.
> Since I disagree with all three postulates, I find the kind of linguistic
> "research" you mention very much less than fruitful. Been there, done
> that.

Well, most linguists central to the "field" tradition in the first half
of this century agreed with all three postulates, and by means of such
work generated the data on which most of our contemporary understanding
of language rests.  If Sapir, Whorf, Swadesh, Newman, Haas, and the
rest of their generation did not do "fruitful" research, I'd be inter-
ested to know who you think did or does and to what extent this can be
attributed to living in "field" conditions a la Malinowski.  Much as
I respect--even honor--the SIL enterprise (religion aside), I see no
great insights that have come from their work.  What they have given
us is a much broader database.  The best case probably could be made
for the results of field linguistics in Australia over the past three
decades.  But I wonder if our Australian colleagues would want to make
the case as strongly as you do?

--Victor Golla
  Anthropology, UC-Davis

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