Esa Itkonen eitkonen at UTU.FI
Mon Feb 3 10:48:29 UTC 2003

What follows, has a connection with a FUNKNET discussion, some time ago,
about the use of evolutionary vocabulary in linguistics. If there is a
discrepancy between programmatic statements about methodology and the
actual descriptive-cum-explanatory practice, it is always such as to make
the methodology seem more hard-nosed than it is in fact, never the
opposite. This is the topic of my forthcoming article 'Einfuehlung (=
re-enactment) as the basic method of typological linguistics', where I
analyze selected passages from such illustrious representatives of the
functional-typological school as Mithun, Heine, Givon, and Comrie (in this
order). The result of my analysis (also bolstered by reference to Darwin,
but - N.B. - Darwin qua cross-species psychologist rather than Darwin qua
evolutionary biologist) turns out to justify the quaint-looking title of my
article: In practice, we are - and, most probably, will remain - more
'soft-nosed' than some members of the field would like to think, and in a
way that can be shown to have historical antecedents. (Off-prints will be
distributed in due course.)

'Function' is a word with many faces. Iconicity, where it can be found, is
functionally motivated. This reminds me of something that happened a long
time ago. And, now that the spring-flood of memory has awakened, it is all
coming back to me. What is? Well, 'it': THE LAST TIME I SPOKE TO CHOMSKY.
It was after his class, in November 1968. I was convinced that iconicity
(or 'isomorphism', as I called it at the time) holds good not only in a
Tractatus-type ideal language, but also in natural language. (An
English-language version of the paper where I expound this idea was
published in the yearbook of the Philosophical Society of Finland, in
1970.) I explained this to Chomsky in a few sentences. He made a dismissive
wave of hand and mumbled something dismissive. "You don't even TRY to
understand!", I indignantly snapped at him, turned on my heels, and walked
away. Will I ever get a second chance? Sometimes
I wonder...

Esa Itkonen

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