Outsiders' views of the value of linguistics

Esmat Babaii ebabaii at gmail.com
Sat Oct 23 07:46:00 UTC 2010

Hi  Fritz,

I want to share what I witnessed in a conference on (theoretical)
Linguistics held at an Iranian university years ago, but I don’t know
if this incidence is relevant to what you are after.  A famous
neurologist, who was and is also doing neurolinguistic research, at
the beginning of his lecture on ‘brain and language’ addresses the
conference manager, a famous linguist, thanking him (a bit ironically)
as follows (in Persian): “Thanks for letting a ‘sack maker’ to the
circle of ‘silk weavers’! Well, I can’t shape language like linguists.
So please excuse me if my speech lacks the expected delicacy and
linguistic sophistication. I speak with facts and figures and I think
they can speak for themselves”. I guess, he wanted to say that talk
and only talk is what linguists do. I should add that this kind of
attitude towards linguists (and other social science scholars) can be
found among most scholars in pure sciences.

Esmat Babaii
Tarbiat Moallem University

On 10/20/10, Frederick J Newmeyer <fjn at u.washington.edu> wrote:
> Hello,
> For a survey article that I'm writing, I plan to assemble quotes from people
> outside the field of linguistics on what they see as the value, or lack of
> value, of work done in linguistics. So I would like to cite published quotes
> from psychologists, anthropologists, literary specialists, etc. on their
> views about the value/relevance of linguistics for their particular concerns
> and its value/relevance in general. Can anybody help me out by pointing me
> to relevant quotes?
> Let me give one example of the sort of thing that I am looking for. The late
> computational linguist Fred Jelinek reportedly wrote: 'Whenever I fire a
> linguist our system performance improves'.
> Thanks. I'll summarize.
> Best wishes,
> --fritz
> fjn at u.washington.edu
> Frederick J. Newmeyer
> Professor Emeritus, University of Washington
> Adjunct Professor, University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser
> University
> [for my postal address, please contact me by e-mail]

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