post from Dianne Patterson, U.Arizona

A. Katz amnfn at
Sat Oct 23 12:34:51 UTC 2010

If the rest of the world wants to know about relative clauses or verb 
paradigms, they consult a grammarian, hopefully one fluent in the language 
in question.

While many of our colleagues who are established in the academic world do 
good and useful work of an applied nature, many more are in exile from the 
field, because their contributions were not accepted.

Philologists and grammarians are the ones whose work had the biggest
impact on the field in the past. We claim them as our intellectual 
ancestors, but they did not call themselves linguists.

There is a real problem in this field, and rather than simply congratulate 
ourselves on how great the past fifty years have been, we should ask 
ourselves if any of us have contributed anything with as much lasting 
value as Grimm's Law.



On Sat, 23 Oct 2010, Richard Hudson wrote:

> Dear Fritz and everyone else,
> All this is rather negative and depressing for linguists, isn't it? Which is 
> a shame, because we've actually come a long way in the last 50 years, partly 
> thanks to Chomsky's insights. (OK, you can all throw your bricks at me if you 
> want, but I'm not a Chomskyan; I just think it would be extraordinary if his 
> work had been ALL wrong.) But maybe the question to ask isn't how good other 
> disciplines think linguistics is, but whether anyone else is doing 'our job' 
> better than us. Maybe our job is a particularly hard one? And maybe the 
> extreme divisions we find in linguistics make it hard for outsiders to define 
> a helpful concept 'linguist' on which they can pass judgements? E.g. we have 
> plenty of colleagues who do corpus linguistics, text-based sociolinguistics 
> or field linguistics, with a great deal of hard data and quantitative 
> analysis, but psychologists and neuroscientists probably don't know about 
> them.
> If the rest of the world wants to know about verb paradigms and relative 
> clauses, they need a linguist. (Non-linguists sometimes think they can do 
> better, but the examples that I've seen don't convince me.) The rest of the 
> world may get frustrated by our attempts to analyse such things, and may 
> wonder why we're taking such a long time to reach agreement; but we've been 
> at it for (probably) four thousand years, and we really are trying hard. 
> Maybe all that work has actually given us a depth of insight into our subject 
> matter that younger disciplines haven't yet achieved? And none of them, 
> incidentally, has to cope with 7,000 completely different complex systems, 
> all of which somehow have to be reconciled with theories developed more or 
> less independently in a bunch of neighbouring disciplines ranging from 
> philosophy to neuroscience.
> I still think that linguistics is a fantastic area to work in, and I love it. 
> I know its weaknesses as well as anyone does, but it has enormous strengths 
> as well.
> Best wishes, Dick
> Richard Hudson
> On 22/10/2010 22:33, Tom Givon wrote:
>> 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 
>> Anthropology 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 
>> interest.
>> 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.
>> -Dianne

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