18.197, Disc: Re: 18.45: An Intelligent Man's Answer to Linguistic Truisms

Fri Jan 19 15:24:45 UTC 2007

LINGUIST List: Vol-18-197. Fri Jan 19 2007. ISSN: 1068 - 4875.

Subject: 18.197, Disc: Re: 18.45: An Intelligent Man's Answer to Linguistic Truisms

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Date: 14-Jan-2007
From: Alexander Kravchenko < sashakr at isea.ru >
Subject: Re: 18.45: An Intelligent Man's Answer to Linguistic Truisms 

-------------------------Message 1 ---------------------------------- 
Date: Fri, 19 Jan 2007 10:21:59
From: Alexander Kravchenko < sashakr at isea.ru >
Subject: Re: 18.45: An Intelligent Man's Answer to Linguistic Truisms 

Re:  http://linguistlist.org/issues/18/18-45.html  (Media)

I was also fascinated by T. Dalrymple's article ''The Gift of Language''
(http://www.city-journal.org/html/16_4_urbanities-language.html), although
for a different reason. Unlike many of my western colleagues, I don't hold
dear the linguistic truisms about linguistic equality, and never have. What
struck me was the insightful argument on the part of a non-linguist (I use
the term ''linguist'' conditionally, in a very limited sense as 'a person
earning his living by saying esoteric things about language to any other
such person' - please, don't try to find this definition in any dictionary)
against the preposterous assumptions about language, its nature, and
function epitomized in Pinker's ''The Language Instinct'' -- but then,
again, to use a periphrasis from a popular song, 'he is not alone'. As
someone who has given the issue of 'linguistic equality' some thought based
on personal lifetime experience, I back Dalrymple on every count and find
Pinker 'guilty as charged'. But this is totally beside the point. 
The important thing is that ''The Language Instinct'' 'is now in its 25th
printing in the British paperback version alone, and its wide circulation
suggests a broad influence on the opinions of the intelligent public' (I
might add that a Russian translation was published in 2004). Surely, one
must agree with Dalrymple that to the average linguist, leave alone a
person from the street, the fact that Pinker is a professor of psychology
at Harvard University is a sure indication that he must be right, for
''were he not, would he have tenure at Harvard?'' The case of ''The
Language Instinct'' is, indeed, the locus classicus of what has been
referred to (quite justly, in my personal opinion) as Voodoo Linguistics
(Gross 2005) within the larger field of Voodoo Science (Park 2000).
Linguistics (especially of the brand preached by people like Pinker) lives
by myths  hard to dispel (Harris 1981; Love 2004; Kravchenko 2006).
Linguistic equality is just another such myth, and sensible people like
Dalrymple can see it very clearly even without special linguistic training.
Basically, the point Dalrymple makes, and very succinctly, is that
linguistic environment in which humans grow and mature affects decisively
their cognitive ability responsible for (social) adaptation, and ''everyone
ought to have the opportunity to transcend the limitations of his
linguistic environment... It is fatuous to expect that the most complex of
human faculties, language, requires no special training to develop it to
its highest possible power.'' 

The linguistic equality rhetoric, being a political correctness spin-off,
ought to be abandoned, and linguists ought to direct their efforts at
elucidating linguistic determinism as the ultimate reality of life as
cognition (Maturana 1978).  

Gross, Alexander, 2005. Is evidence based linguistics the solution? Is
voodoo linguistics the problem? Paper presented at the LACUS Conference,
August 2005, Dartmouth. (http://languag2.home.sprynet.com/f/evidence.htm)  
Harris, Roy, 1981. The Language Myth. London: Duckworth.
Kravchenko, Alexander, 2006. Myths linguistics lives by: Conceptual
fallacies in understanding language and communication. Paper presented at
the 2nd Biennial Conference on Cognitive Science. 9-13 June, 2006, St.
Petersburg (http://www.cogsci.ru/cogsci06/ ). 
Maturana, Humberto, 1978. Biology of language: The epistemology of reality.
In G. Miller and E. Lenneberg (Eds.), Psychology and biology of language
and thought.  New York: Academic Press. 28-62.
Love, Nigel, 2004. Cognition and the language myth. Language Sciences
26(6). 525-544.
Park, Robert L., 2000. Voodoo Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Linguistic Field(s): Philosophy of Language

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