happy new year...

Wed Jan 3 22:50:13 UTC 1996

From:   IN%"noonan at csd.uwm.edu"  "Michael Noonan"  3-JAN-1996 10:14:18.35
To:     IN%"downing at alpha2.csd.uwm.edu"  "Pamela A Downing", IN%"sathomps at humanitas.ucsb.edu", IN%"tgivon at OREGON.UOREGON.EDU", IN%"spikeg at owlnet.rice.edu"
Subj:   Happy New Year

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Date: Wed, 03 Jan 1996 12:14:06 -0600 (CST)
From: Michael Noonan <noonan at csd.uwm.edu>
Subject: Happy New Year
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 tgivon at OREGON.UOREGON.EDU, spikeg at owlnet.rice.edu
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This may amuse you, depress you, or both.  Edith Moravcsik and I received
this from David Pesetsky, who is spearheading a drive to remove the
`functionalist bias' from reading instruction in Massachusetts.  He blames
Halliday for the wrongheadedness he perceives.  This could be put down to
just another example of MITnikian silliness except that it's now entered
the public arena and could have an effect on public policy.



NOTE: This letter is a communication by Massachusetts residents to
Massachusetts officials.  It was not intended for distribution outside our
area.  We do not authorize distribution or quotation by organizations or
groups.  Individuals who choose to make copies for others should include
this notice at the top.  Also note that our letter commented on an early
first draft of the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework.  This draft has
been revised in light of our comments and those of others, and is
currently undergoing further revisions. We are entirely satisfied that our
views as expressed in this letter have been listened to seriously.

From:  Forty Massachusetts specialists in linguistics and
        psycholinguistics To :  Dr. Robert V. Antonucci
       Commissioner of Education, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Cc:    Linda Beardsley, Curriculum Frameworks Coordinator, Dept. of
       Dr. Michael Sentance,  Secretary of  Education
       His Excellency, William F. Weld, Governor of Massachusetts
Date:  July 12, 1995
Subject:  Standards for Reading Instruction in Massachusetts

Dear Dr. Antonucci:

     We are researchers in linguistics and psycholinguistics -- and
Massachusetts residents.  We are writing to raise certain questions
about the inclusion of contentious and, in our view, scientifically
unfounded views of language in the sections on reading instruction of
the draft Curriculum Content Chapter on Language Arts ("Constructing and
Conveying Meaning"), recently circulated by the Massachusetts Department
of Education.  These views are presented as a principal support for the
reading curriculum advocated as an instructional "standard" in this

     The proposed Content Chapter replaces the common-sense view of
reading as the decoding of notated speech with a surprising view of
reading as directly "constructing meaning".  According to the document,
"constructing meaning" is a process that can be achieved using many
"strategies" (guessing, contextual cues, etc.).  In this view, the
decoding of written words plays a relatively minor role in reading
compared to strategies such as contextual guessing.  This treats the
alphabetic nature of our writing system as little more than an accident,
when in fact it is the most important property of written English -- a
linguistic achievement of historic importance.

     The authors of the draft Content Chapter claim that research on
language supports their views of reading.  The document asserts that
research on language has moved from the investigation of particular
"components of language -- phonological and grammatical units" to the
investigation of "its primary function -- communication".  These
supposed developments in linguistic research are used as arguments for a
comparable view of reading.  We are entirely unaware of any such shift
in research.

     We want to alert the educational authorities of Massachusetts to
the fact that the view of language research presented in this document
is inaccurate, and that the claimed consequences for reading instruction
should therefore be subjected to serious re-examination.

     The facts are as follows.  Language research continues to focus on
the components of language, because this focus reflects the "modular"
nature of language itself.  Written language is a notation for the
structures and units of one of these components.  Sound methodology in
reading instruction must begin with these realities.  Anything else will
shortchange those students whom these standards are supposed to help.

     As linguists, we are concerned that the Commonwealth, through its
powers to set standards for schools, should presume to legislate an
erroneous view of how human language works, a view that runs counter to
most of the major scientific results of more than 100 years of
linguistics and psycholinguistics.  We are even more concerned that
uninformed thinking about language should lie at the heart of a
"standards" document for Massachusetts schools.

                              [list of signers starts on next page]
               [Signers are listed in alphabetical order]

1. Prof. Emmon Bach
       (Linguistics, University of Massachusetts at Amherst;
       President, Linguistic Society of America)

2. Prof. Andrea Calabrese
       (Linguistics, Harvard)

3. Dr. David Caplan
       (Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital;
       Director of the Reading Disability Clinic, Massaschusetts General

4. Prof. Charles Clifton
       (Chair, Dept. of Psychology, University of Massachusetts at

5.  Prof. Mark Feinstein
       (Dean of Cognitive Science & Cultural Studies, Hampshire College)

6. Prof. Kai von Fintel
       (Linguistics, MIT)

7. Prof. Suzanne Flynn
       (Foreign Languages and Literatures/Linguistics, MIT)

8. Prof. John Frampton
       (Mathematics, Northeastern University)

9. Prof. Lyn Frazier
       (Linguistics, University of Massachusetts at Amherst)

10. Prof. Edward Gibson
       (Brain and Cognitive Sciences, MIT)

11. Prof. Kenneth Hale
       (Linguistics, MIT;
       former President (1994), Linguistic Society of America;
       Member, National Academy of Sciences;
       Fellow,  American Academy of Arts and Sciences)

12. Prof. Morris Halle
       (Institute Professor, Linguistics, MIT;
       former President (1973), Linguistic Society of America;
       Member, National Academy of Sciences;
       Fellow,  American Academy of Arts and Sciences)

13. Prof. Irene Heim
       (Linguistics, MIT)

14. Prof. Kyle Johnson
       (Linguistics, University of Massachusetts at Amherst)

15. Prof. James Harris
       (Foreign Languages and Literatures/Linguistics, MIT)

16. Prof. Ray Jackendoff
       (Linguistics/Volen Center for Complex Systems, Brandeis;
       author, Patterns in the Mind)

17. Prof. Samuel J. Keyser
       (Linguistics, MIT)

18. Prof. Michael Kenstowicz
       (Linguistics, MIT)

19. Prof. John Kingston
       (Linguistics, University of Massachusetts at Amherst)

20. Prof. John McCarthy
       (Chair, Dept. of Linguistics, University of Massachusetts at

21. Prof. Joan Maling
       (Linguistics/Volen Center for Complex Systems, Brandeis)

22. Prof. Gary Marcus
       (Psychology, University of Massachusetts at Amherst)

23. Dr. Janis Melvold*
       (Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital)

24. Prof. Shigeru Miyagawa
       (Foreign Languages and Literatures/Linguistics, MIT)

25. Prof. Mary Catherine O'Connor
       (Developmental Studies and Applied Linguistics, Boston

26. Prof. Wayne O'Neil
       (Chair, Dept. of Linguistics and Philosophy, MIT)

27. Prof. Barbara Partee
       (Linguistics, University of Massachusetts at Amherst;
       former President (1986), Linguistic Society of America;
       Member, National Academy of Sciences;
       Fellow,  American Academy of Arts and Sciences)

28. Prof. David Pesetsky*
       (Linguistics, MIT;
       Co-director, Research Training Program "Language: Acquisition and

29. Prof. Steven Pinker
       (Brain and Cognitive Sciences, MIT;
        Director, McDonnell-Pew Center for Cognitive Neuroscience;
       author, The Language Instinct)

30. Prof. Alexander Pollatsek
       (Psychology, University of Massachusetts at Amherst)

31. Prof. Mary C. Potter
       (Brain and Cognitive Sciences, MIT)

32. Prof. Janet Randall
       (Director, Linguistics Program, Northeastern University)

33. Prof. Keith Rayner
       (Psychology, University of Massachusetts at Amherst)

34. Prof. Thomas Roeper
       (Linguistics, University of Massachusetts at Amherst)

35. Prof. Elisabeth O. Selkirk
       (Linguistics, University of Massachusetts at Amherst)

36. Prof. Margaret Speas
       (Linguistics, University of Massachusetts at Amherst)

37. Prof. Esther Torrego
       (Chair, Dept. of Hispanic Studies, University of Massachusetts at

38. Dr. Gloria Waters
       (Neuropsychology Lab,  Massachusetts General Hospital;
       School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, McGill

39. Prof. Calvert Watkins
       (Linguistics/Classics; Harvard)

40. Prof. Kenneth Wexler
       (Dept. of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, MIT;
       Co-director, Research Training Program "Language: Acquisition and

*For further information or discussion, please contact:

Prof. David Pesetsky
Dept. of Linguistics and Philosophy
Massachusetts Institute of
Cambridge, MA 02139

phone: (617) 253 0957
fax:   (617) 253 5017
e-mail:pesetsk at mit.edu
Dr. Janis Melvold
Neuropsychology Lab
Dept. of Neurology
Vincent-Burnham 827
Massachusetts General Hospital
Fruit St.
Boston, MA 02114

phone:         (617) 726 5007
melvold at helix.mgh.harvard.edu

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