excessive criticism

dlevere at ILSTU.EDU dlevere at ILSTU.EDU
Sat Dec 19 20:46:15 UTC 2009


I have no ideas about what anyone's motives are, including yours, just  
as you don't know mine. I am only going to answer your post because it  
is misleading about the nature of my own post.

I have conducted field research for more than 30 years on more than 20  
languages. The output of that work includes two full grammars and  
articles on every topic from acoustic phonetics to typology to  
historical linguistics to formal semantics, syntax, and morphology.  
However good or bad my research has been, I am nevertheless well aware  
that there are multiple functional ways of marking the items in my  
query. But, surprise, the particular study I have in mind is  
interested initially only in the particular formal devices I mentioned.

If anyone has written a grammar using as a guideline, or merely one of  
many sources, the Lingua Descriptive Questionnaire prepared by Comrie  
and Smith, they will have frequently encountered the frustration of  
being asked 'Does the language have 'x'?' and knowing that (i) no, it  
doesn't but (ii) it has other ways of marking it. Yet a goal of the  
LDQ, to continue with just that example, is to find out which formal  
devices are used in language after language. So a specific question in  
the LDQ is not after all the ways something can be expressed, but  
whether this or that particular way of expressing it is employed.

So far as I know, there is no study whatsoever providing a statistical  
study of the items I mentioned. And there is no universal agreement  
among typologists about them. Hence my question.

On the other hand, if someone wants to tell me read the 'f'ing  
manual', fine. But tell me where to buy it first, OK? If the answers  
to my questions are common knowledge, I will eat my hat.



Quoting Joan Bresnan <bresnan at STANFORD.EDU>:

> I think that the criticism of Prof Leiss is excessive.  It verges on
> pillorying.  Wasn't she merely observing what typologists know to be
> true: that the grammars of languages which lack the familiar
> structures and markers found in English, for example, often have
> unfamiliar but functionally equivalent means in their own grammars?
> Her advice, as I took it, was to inform oneself about such typological
> variation before querying this forum.
> On computer technology forums, this is rather like the rude advice
> often given to newcomers to inform themselves before wasting the time
> of the experts: RTFM ("Read the F*ing Manual").  It is rude and
> impatient, but not a crime.
> --
> Joan Bresnan
> Stanford University
> http://www.stanford.edu/~bresnan/

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