post from Dianne Patterson, U.Arizona

Tom Givon tgivon at
Fri Oct 22 21:33:52 UTC 2010

Dianne Patterson has asked me to post this for her:


Dear All, 

I'm afraid I can't quote anything of interest in the literature, but I 
second Tom Givon's private experiences.  I have a BA in Philosophy, a 
Masters in Linguistics, and a PhD in Psychology.
I've worked on language acquisition, animal-language issues, done 
fieldwork in a remote region of Mexico, and spent the last 10 years 
doing neuroimaging work.

I have found that academics in Psychology, Speech Sciences, Biology and 
think many linguists associated with the old School Chomskian 
perspectives are out of touch with real data and out of touch with how 
research is conducted.

This cultural divide is too bad, since I honestly believe linguists 
might be able to contribute to these fields if they were a little more 
willing to appreciate the perspectives, methods and hard work of people 
in these fields.  Instead, linguists often leave behind them a trail of 
offended scientists by making a variety of poor choices in their approach:

-Asserting time and again the sort of quasi-religious dogma that humans 
are "qualitatively different" than other creatures (this is NOT a 
scientific hypothesis, it is not clear what it means, nor is it obvious)

-Assuming that only linguists have any insights into language...and 
never bothering to learn what other disciplines might have to offer 
(e.g., well vetted tests in Speech Sciences).

-Suggesting time and again that real data from real people is of no 

And, if linguists are interested in data:

-Assuming researchers who have worked long and hard and at great expense 
to acquire data should just turn it over to the linguist who has 
contributed nothing and/or offers VERY little (asking for a free ride is 
not a good way to ingratiate yourself)

-Thinking of language disordered populations as resources to confirm 
Chomsky's latests theories with (sorry, these are real people, not lab 
rats. If you aren't interested in helping, then rethink your goals.) 
I hope that training in linguistics and the attitudes that go with that 
training can change, because otherwise other academics will just avoid 
linguists, and that's too bad, because linguists have some unique 
problem solving skills...and I the "True Believer" linguists give the 
more reasonable linguists a bad reputation.


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