A question for Fritz

A. Katz amnfn at well.com
Sun Oct 24 19:31:23 UTC 2010

Sid Caesar?

On Sun, 24 Oct 2010, Dan I. Slobin wrote:

> Well, the Gene Searchinger story isn't quite that clear cut, since I did 
> appear in the series and Gene and I had good discussions about language, 
> thought, and culture.
> As I recall, it was George Miller who put Gene onto the task and gave him the 
> first list of people to contact.  And though Gene used some of my material, 
> he juxtaposed me
> with Jerry Fodor in a way that suggested a continuity that wasn't there.  But 
> Gene was also interested in anthropology and neurology, leaving a rather 
> muddled and spotty
> collection of vignettes.  If you look at the list of people in the films, 
> you'll certainly see a slant towards Chomsky et al, but other directions too:
> Noam Chomsky, Frederick Newmeyer, Howard Lasnik, George Carlin, Lila 
> Gleitman, George A. Miller, Mark Aronoff, Judith Klavans, Alvin Liberman, 
> Lewis Thomas, Jeff Leer, Roy Byrd, Suzette Haden Elgin, Russell Baker, Dan I. 
> Slobin, Stephen Jay Gould, Jerry Fodor, David McNeill, Michael Carter, Henry 
> Kucera, Thomas Sebeok, Steven Pinker, Peter Sells, Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, 
> Roberta Golinkoff, Jill de Villiers, Susan Carey, Ellen Markman, John Lynch, 
> Ursula Bellugi, Terence Langendoen, Michael Robinson, Bobby Dews, Deborah 
> Tannen, Paul Ekman, Peter Marler, Ivan Sag, Philip Lieberman, Morris Halle, 
> Peter Ladefoged, Sid Caesar, Kim Oller, Rebecca Eilers, Jane Robinson, 
> Darlene Orr, Nomonde Ngubo, Mazisi Kunene
> Dan Slobin
> At 10:25 AM 10/24/2010, Brian MacWhinney wrote:
>> By now, Fritz clearly has enough for his brief commentary.   Everything 
>> mentioned on this issue so far is accurate, according to my knowledge, but 
>> let me add a few more wrinkles.
>> 1.  Regarding cultural anthropology, I always teach my students in 
>> Crosscultural Psychology that Linguistics had an enormous influence on the 
>> development of both Structural Anthropology and the subsequent Cognitive 
>> Anthropology.  The influence on structuralism was through views such as 
>> Goodenough and others who likened kinship systems to the distinctive 
>> feature systems of Prague School phonology.  Systems of binary distinctions 
>> were at the heart of Herb Simon's EPAM model of thinking and memory.  Both 
>> Jakobson and Simon thought that the mind could be viewed as a digital 
>> computer and so binary features were crucial.  Later, with the rise of 
>> transformation generative grammar, the emphasis shifted to rules of grammar 
>> as models for rules of culture.  The major flourishing of this was in the 
>> 1970s, a bit later than the 1960s noted earlier.  Personally, I thought 
>> this stuff was fascinating.   My understanding is that the demise of this 
>> linguistics cum psychology in cultural anthropology was due not to failures 
>> in linguistics, but to the rise of deconstructivism in ethnography.
>> 2.  Alex is roughly right about Searchinger.  Gene spoke to me on the phone 
>> about my interests and I explained that I focused on language learning and 
>> emergence.  He said "thanks" but that this was not what he was trying to 
>> develop in this series.  Liz Bates  and Catherine Snow had the same 
>> experience.
>> 3.  The situation with regard to physics and biology is a bit complex. 
>> Often, people in those areas simply assume that Chomsky speaks for 
>> linguistics and use his framework for testing of their ideas about system 
>> functioning.  I often get such papers for review and they do not show any 
>> lack of respect for linguistics, just a tendency to not understand the 
>> range of variation of analyses within linguistics. Often the analyses they 
>> offer in applying ideas from genetic diffusion or statistical physics 
>> (Nicolaidis et al.) are more compatible with these alternative views.
>> 4.  The major area that has been left undiscussed and which in my mind is 
>> the potentially most important is computation.  Here, there is the famous 
>> claim by IBM that every time they fire a linguist they improve their 
>> grammar checker.  I guess that counts as lack of respect.  On the other 
>> hand, the basic linkage of generative theory to formal grammars back in the 
>> 1950s was a big deal.   In automata theory classes and textbooks, students 
>> still learn about the Chomsky hierarchy, although much recent work suggests 
>> that other characterizations are more effective for resolving issues in 
>> grammar induction.  More recently, the emphasis on data-mining of the web 
>> as a bag of words seems to have hit a bit of a wall and researchers are 
>> showing increasing interest in and respect for linguistic analysis.  And 
>> there is the issue of computational resources for endangered and 
>> under-documented languages.  Here, people like Lori Levin and colleagues 
>> are finding that computational linguists trained only in the use of HMM and 
>> SVM are unable to understand the challenges of real linguistic structure. 
>> So, there are important areas here involving a beginning of interest in 
>> reintroducing linguistics.
>> 5.  Finally, I wish that I could refer to Conversation Analysis as a part 
>> of linguistics.  I know that I can't really get away with this, although 
>> personally I think it is a part.  In any case, I see a lot of interest and 
>> respect for CA from areas as diverse as marketing, sociology, politics, 
>> aphasiology, and so on.
>> -- Brian MacWhinney
> ******************************************************************************************************************************************
> Dan I. Slobin, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Linguistics, University 
> of California, Berkeley
> address:                                              email: 
> slobin at berkeley.edu
> 2323 Rose St.                                   phone (home): 1-510-848-1769
> Berkeley, CA 94708, USA 
> <http://psychology.berkeley.edu/faculty/profiles/dslobin.html>http://psychology.berkeley.edu/faculty/profiles/dslobin.html
> ******************************************************************************************************************************************

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