Mark P. Line mline at ix.netcom.com
Thu Feb 13 00:21:13 UTC 1997

			   Tom Payne wrote:
			   > Karl Teeter recently posted a message in which he
			   > that contributors to this list refrain from
			   "flames." He
			   > then immediately caricatured a very reasonable
			   perspective on
			   > descriptive linguistics as "nonsense."

			   He has to call it "nonsense" in the first part of
			   his message because he
			   calls it "irrelevant" later on.

			   Doesn't explain why he calls anything I've seen (or
			   done) here "flames",

			   > Perhaps in a future post, if people are
                             interested, I will
			     > try to articulate a perspective on descriptive
			     > as qualitative social science
                             research. Linguistic
			     > knowledge is "tacit" knowledge, and as such
			     > methodologies, such as participant observation,
                             are most
			     > appropriate for illucidating it.

			     Yes, please elaborate.

			     > Participant observation
			     > may be discredited among those who view
			     > linguistics as
			     > more of a "hard" science than a social science,

			     I think linguistics is very much a social
			     science. What else could it
			     possibly be, after all? Yes, it has psychological
			     and biological
			     underpinnings. So does economics.

			     > but I
			     > believe that there are certain questions about
			     > a language,
			     > even the nuts and bolts of syntax and
			     > morphology, that
			     > cannot be adequately understood using only
			     > quantitative
			     > methods.

			     You can't even identify a phoneme inventory using
			     only quantitative
			     methods ...

			     But on the other claw, even the so-called "hard
			     sciences" are recognizing
			     that quantitation is not synonymous with science,
			     nor even with
			     "hard-science". John Casti said something in
			     SciAm quite recently about
			     physics needing less mathematics and more

			     No need to apologize for pursuing a qualitative
			     approach in linguistics or
			     any other scientific endeavor.

			     -- Mark

			     (Mark P. Line   ----   Bellevue, Washington
			     ----   mline at ix.netcom.com)

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			     Date: Wed, 12 Feb 1997 17:38:21 -0800
			     From: "Mark P. Line" <mline at ix.netcom.com>
			     Organization: Open Pathways
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			     Subject: Re: Fieldwork today or cultural theft ?
			     or theory or...
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			     Trond Trosterud wrote:
			     > Mark P. Line has a long answer to my
			     posting. Despite much polemics and
			     > protests from Mark,

			     "polemics" = "not merely stating one's
			     disagreement, but also explaining
			                   why one disagrees"

					   I make no apologies for that, but I
					   will stop if founded disagreement
					   undesirable on this list.

					   > I do not see much disagreement
                                             between us. So when I
					     > in the following leave out
                                             passages of Marks answer, it is
                                             because we
					     > agreed upon these things from
                                             the very beginning (despite Marks
                                             way of
					     > reading my mail).

					     If you say so. How should I have
					     understood the part where you
					     told Peter
					     that his position was flawed
					     because language is not property
					     like land or

					     > Well, the parallell should
                                               rather be "if I copy your
                                               formula, you are no
					       > longer the only one that has
                                               it." In a capitalist world,
                                               this is
					       > important, since I then can
                                               SELL it, get MONEY for it, etc.

					       Yes, those are some of the
					       values which Western culture
					       attaches to
					       proprietary information,
					       e.g. chemical processes.

					       Now, what are some of the
					       values which Maori culture
					       attaches to
					       proprietary information,
					       e.g. their own language?

					       > In ANY
					       > world, if I pollute
					       > the river of your
					       > neighbourhood, the river is
					       > polluted, if I hunt and
					       > kill
					       > EVERY caribou, no new
					       > caribous will be born,
					       > etc. This was my point.

					       Why do you move from the
					       culturally relative concept of
					       theft to the
					       (sometimes) physically
					       objectifiable concepts of
					       contamination and

					       You seem to be arguing now that
					       nobody can contaminate or
					       destroy the
					       Maori language and culture,
					       therefore the concept of
					       property cannot
					       apply. But there are a couple
					       of objections to that argument:
					       first, the
					       conclusion doesn't follow from
					       the premise; second, the
					       premise is false.

> I do not see why capitalist society's copyright laws should be relevant
> in the case of lg and grammar.

It is relevant because it is the way _Western_ socities deal with
proprietary information. The Maori deal with proprietary information in a
different way, but their way is no less valid for them than our way is for
us. That's the point I was trying to make. You cannot make the
ethnocentric argument (or rather, you cannot apply that argument to Maori
policy) that language and culture are not subject to Western copyright law
and therefore is not, for the Maori, a proper subject of their own
culturally-defined property sanctions.

> >How does one go about constructing culture-independent ethical
> >standards?
> As far as I know, large parts of ethics #are# culturally-independent.
> All religions I know of (and I see religions as a subset of our ethical
> codes) have the principle of mutual respect in one form or another.

Hmm. I guess I have to learn to be more explicit. An ethical standard
which is partly culture-independent and partly culture-dependent is not a
culture-independent ethnical standard. And I don't know of any
culture-independent way to "split up" an entire ethical code into
independent parts. So I don't know of any way of constructing a
culture-independent ethical standard. If nobody else does either, then
wishing for one is rather self-hoodwinking.

> >As a linguist,
> >you're probably very interested in salvaging descriptively as many
> >languages as possible, before they become extinct. That's nice, but it
> >mainly serves the progress of linguistic science,
> Yes, I am a linguist and interested in that. But this is not only to the
> benefit of "the progress of linguistic science". As many of our
> collegues have shown, it is perfectly possible to go on making all the
> progress they want with, say, the 600 really safe lgs of the world. I am
> more concerned about the heritage of our species as a whole. Lg is a
> central factor uniting human beings against other species, and should be
> treated as a central part of our common heritage.

Okay, then I should rephrase that bit of mine you quoted: "That's nice,
but it mainly serves the documentation of our common human heritage."

> >not the condition of the
> >people whose language is becoming extinct (except for the symbolic
> >quality
> >of a little knowledge about the language their people once spoke).
> The "condition
> of
> the people whose language is becoming extinct" thus does not need to be
> equal to the condition of their language.

I agree. That's why I said "condition of the people", not "condition of
their language". Descriptive salvage of a soon-to-be-extinct language
which the speakers do not wish to maintain only benefits that common
heritage documentation you mentioned, not the community where the language
used to be spoken. Those who are into descriptive salvage for the sake of
our common heritage can be concerned with such a case, if they like.

> >All of my concern for endangered languages has to do with identifying,
> >reversing and protecting against further speaker attrition, for the
> >sake of linguistic/cultural diversity on the planet (not in dusty
> >libraries).
> For the sake of the diversity or for the speakers?

For the sake of the diversity of languages spoken (by speakers). Note that
I said "my concern for endangered languages", not "my concern for
endangered people". The latter concern is driven by much more than a
desire to protect linguistic diversity.

> But let us
> make it a bit harder. You want to protect the "linguistic/cultural
> diversity on the planet". Take two threatened lg communities, speaking
> lg A and B. Lg A is spoken by large groups elsewhere (far away, say),
> whereas lg B will vanish with this speech community. From the point of
> view of the communities, the speakers, the peoples involved, the cases
> are close to equal (not exactly, since the A's always can visit other
> A-areas and learn A as a 2nd lg), but for the diversity of the planet,
> you should go fof B.

Correct, if other things are really equal, if the speakers of B don't
already have their own language planning in hand, if there is a
possibility that they might be convinced to take their language in hand,
and if there is a possibility for speaker attrition to stop and reverse.
Or, alternatively, if the speakers of B already have their language
planning in hand and ask me to help them with this or that.

> >I haven't seen much of anybody meeting Peter on his
> >own ground and trying to explore the situation collaboratively.
> That is true, for all of us, and I certainly want to read more postings
> from him, on why he concludes the way he does.

Wouldn't that cause Peter to have to engage in polemics, an activity
mentioned disparaginly by you at the beginning of this message?

So far, I've mostly seen people telling him he's ethnocentric or racist or
both, or telling him his position is flawed because it does not conform
with Western views of property rights. I'm not the least bit surprised
that Peter has not chosen to offer any more insights into the Maori
position on this list -- most people on this list don't seem to be ready
for that kind of thing.

> >On the
> >contrary, even you state above to Peter's face that his position is
> >flawed because "language is not property like land or money".
> I deliberately used capitalist examples since capitalist societies are
> where most of the visiting linguists come from (all web sites are bought
> by money), and did not intend to say "hey, let us do this on my terms".

I guess I'm not getting my point across. You say we should try to
collaborate on achieving deeper understanding. How does your telling Peter
that his argument is flawed, because it doesn't conform to the conclusions
of Western legal theory, constitute a contribution towards such a
collaborative search for deeper understanding?

> >And besides, what makes you think that a successful debate cannot be a
> >means towards greater understanding?
> "successful" for US, not for ME or YOU.
> What I said was
> >a desire to "win" the discussion and
> >prove the other ones wrong, rather than achieving a deeper
> >understanding
> and by that I looked for a "successful debate" for the #participants#,
> where "success" is to understand, move on, etc., and not a "successful
> debate" for the "winner", the one of us that gets the last word, etc.

I didn't know anybody here was playing games like that. When I disagree
with something and wish to talk about it, I state my disagreement and try
to explain how I reached the position I'm putting forward. In what way can
that behavior be seen as trying to "win" something?

> Personally, I like the debates where I later find I started out being
> wrong, or too narrow-minded.

Good. Maybe you'll like this one a lot. ;]

-- Mark

(Mark P. Line   ----   Bellevue, Washington   ----   mline at ix.netcom.com)

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