What is linguistics? What is it good for?

Hancock, Craig G chancock at albany.edu
Fri Sep 9 15:52:12 UTC 2011

As somewhat of an affectionate outsider--with primary interest in composition and in literacy--let me add a slightly discordant tone.
    Linguistics is a discipline that often takes language apart for the purpose of understanding it and then has a hard time putting it back together again. Though it is full of useful insights, many of those are not available in user friendly form.  It seems a contentious discipline that may be undergoing a paradigm shift.
   I don't disagree with anything anyone has said, but wanted to add an additional perspective.  I have tried to be an advocate for increased attention to language in the K-16 curriculum and finding it a hard sell.


-----Original Message-----
From: funknet-bounces at mailman.rice.edu [mailto:funknet-bounces at mailman.rice.edu] On Behalf Of alex gross
Sent: Friday, September 09, 2011 6:26 AM
To: Sherman Wilcox; Angus Grieve-Smith
Cc: funknet at mailman.rice.edu
Subject: Re: [FUNKNET] What is linguistics? What is it good for?

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 study.

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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