What is linguistics? What is it good for?

alex gross language at sprynet.com
Fri Sep 9 10:25:58 UTC 2011

I applaud all of your contributions so far and would only add that past 
theories of linguistics, were they still fashionable, could provide yet 
other evidence that our study  is not only "good for something" but truly 
lies at the very center of our many cultures.

The Semanticists certainly took this view when they visualized linguistics 
as a tool we surely need today, nothing less than an ongoing critique of all 
social, political, and intellectual dialogue, as a way citizens in many 
societies could distinguish rhetoric from reality.

And the Whorf-Sapir descriptivists have also left us a useful tool that can 
help us to realize that seemingly distinct cultures and languages, though 
certainly not connected by any "universal grammar," can nonetheless be seen 
as ultimately comparable and equal in value to our own. At least this 
assessment, though allegedly discredited, still lurks on the margins of our 

I am particularly heartened by Professor Wilcox' contribution, that 
translators and interpreters also prove that linguistics is "good for 
something." I am prepared at the drop of a hat to go a great deal further 
and assert that they lie at the very heart of all language study, as I have 
done in my paper "Translation as the Prototype of All Communication," 
accessible at:


It may well be in all the stages of our learning that every single new word 
or concept we encounter, even in our primary language, actually requires an 
act of  explanation, enlightenment, clarification--in short translation--for 
us to understand it. Such an act may be provided by a teacher, a helpful 
friend, a dictionary or other reference book, or the closer reading of a 
text. But whatever form it takes, such an act of translation is most often 
absolutely crucial for us to grasp the meaning. And we ourselves--what we 
call our "knowledge" and our "understanding"--may be to a fair extent the 
sum total of these countless acts of translation.

With very best to everyone!



----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Sherman Wilcox" <wilcox at unm.edu>
To: "Angus Grieve-Smith" <grvsmth at panix.com>
Cc: <funknet at mailman.rice.edu>
Sent: Thursday, September 08, 2011 9:24 PM
Subject: Re: [FUNKNET] What is linguistics? What is it good for?

> On Sep 8, 2011, at 6:08 PM, Angus Grieve-Smith wrote:
>> * Linguists
>> * Computer programmers
>> * Speech therapists
>> * Language teachers
>> * Literary theorists
>> * Editors
>> * Lexicographers
>> * Politicians
> Interpreters and translators.
> -- 
> Sherman Wilcox, Ph.D.
> Professor
> Department of Linguistics
> University of New Mexico
> Albuquerque, NM 87131

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