LINGUIST List 5.1467

Sun 18 Dec 1994

Qs: Sapir-Whorf, Nominalizations, Metaling, Lang/Anthropoidea

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  1. , Sapir-Whorf and Innateness
  2. Steven Abney, cross-linguistic work on nominalization
  3. Prof. Roly Sussex, metalinguistics
  4. Steven Schaufele, Q: language amongst the Anthropoidea, or, the Racist Linguist Plot

Message 1: Sapir-Whorf and Innateness

Date: Thu, 15 Dec 1994 09:41:31 Sapir-Whorf and Innateness
From: <>
Subject: Sapir-Whorf and Innateness

If the Sapir-Whorf "Hypothesis" is an "ideology" rather than a hypothesis,
then is that not true also for "innateness" (cf. "Universal Grammar") as
currently used by most linguists who use that term?

I think so. At least I have seldom if ever seen the term "innateness" used
where it gave me any confidence that I could infer from its use anything
remotely testable about the linguistic theoretical beliefs about the
speaker/writer using it.

If I am correct about the status of this term/concept, then what does its
use tell us. I suppose the latter is a socio(meta?)linguistic query.

Actually, I have the *impression* that the term is not much used *outsde*
linguistics by contemporary geneticists, developmental biologists, etc. Is
that impression correct (I honestly don't know)? If not, how *is* it

Larry Gorbet
Anthropology & Linguistics Depts. (505) 883-7378
University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM, U.S.A.
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Message 2: cross-linguistic work on nominalization

Date: Sun, 18 Dec 94 12:23:22 +0cross-linguistic work on nominalization
From: Steven Abney <>
Subject: cross-linguistic work on nominalization

We are interested in finding cross-linguistic studies of the syntax
and semantics of nominalization.

We would like to get a picture of the range of nominalization
processes that are available in the languages of the world. We
mean 'nominalization' broadly, to include any morpho-syntactic
process for turning a verbal element into something with nominal
characteristics, including derivational morphology, gerunds,
infinitives, and complementizers.

We'd like to emphasize that we are interested in cross-linguistic
accounts of both the syntax of nominalizations *and their semantics*.

Thanks in advance,
Steve Abney and Fritz Hamm
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Message 3: metalinguistics

Date: Sun, 18 Dec 1994 22:14:58 metalinguistics
From: Prof. Roly Sussex <>
Subject: metalinguistics

Webster's New World Dictionary (of the American language) says that
the term "metalinguistics" originated in the US (the dictionary
tags it as an Americanism, which amounts to the same thing). However,
the NWD doesn't give the source. Can anyone help me track it down?

Roly Sussex
University of Queensland
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Message 4: Q: language amongst the Anthropoidea, or, the Racist Linguist Plot

Date: Sun, 18 Dec 1994 07:52:48 Q: language amongst the Anthropoidea, or, the Racist Linguist Plot
From: Steven Schaufele <>
Subject: Q: language amongst the Anthropoidea, or, the Racist Linguist Plot

Douglas H. Chadwick, in his review of Kanzi: the Ape at the Brink of the
Human Mind, by Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Roger Lewin (NYTimes Book Review,
Dec. 11, 1994, pp. 15-19), says,

) ... This goes a long way toward countering the complaint that language-
) using apes are merely responding to cues from researchers or, at best,
) learning rote behavior to get rewards without really comprehending the
) meaning of the words they employ. ... Part of the problem is that the
) authors are playing by rules laid down by their critics. It was Rene
) Descartes ... who fashioned the longstanding paradigm of animals as
) automatons [sic], incapable of doing anything other than mindlessly
) responding to whatever forces impnge on them. Descartes insisted that
) animals cannot even feel real pain or pleasure, much less understand or
) remember the experience. ... In our era, this tradition has been
) carried on by linguistics experts equally intent on preserving language
) and reason for the exclusive use of humans. Each time an ape
) demonstrates either ability, the linguists set about redefining language
) and reason in more complex and confusing ways, erecting yet more
) artificial barriers for primates to hurdle.

Excuse me, is this something i've missed in my seven years of grad school
and subsequent four years of professional activity in linguistics? Are
we deliberately engaged in a dastardly plot to deny our anthropoid
cousins their birthright? Psycholinguistics has never been one of my
fortes, but i certainly don't remember anything in the introductory
survey courses i've taken myself or developed to teach to others anything
so much as hinting that it is an a priori assumption of the field of
linguistics that language is the exclusive prerogative of Homo sapiens,
only that it's an important part of the package that defines that species.

I remember enthusiastically inflated claims made back in the 50's about
the forseeable progress in computer technology -- predictions as to how
quickly we would get computers that could not only converse with us in
real time in some given human language (default: English) but whop any
human being in chess as well. As all AI researchers know, it soon became
clear that these predictions were based in part on an oversimplified
notion of what constituted language (if i remember correctly, some
premises were on the level of Edgar Rice-Burroughs' endowing his heroes
with a 'spectacular ability to master alien languages' that consisted of
an ability to memorize a dictionary). And i understand that many claims
about 'ape language', and the rebuttals from the community of linguists,
have been at similar levels. But it seems to me that this is quite
different from the scenario in which the academic linguist, threatened by
the physical anthropologist, mutters, 'Hmm; so far we've felt safe with
this definition of linguistic competence, but this chimp has mastered
that. We'll have to change the definition if we want to avoid
miscegenation!', which is apparently what Chadwick is envisioning.

Now, i daresay there may be individual linguists who do react this way,
just as in previous eras there were scientists who would from time to
time redefine the standards of what constituted full humanity. or
civilization, or what have you, to maintain the claim that whatever it
was, the native peoples of Africa and the Western Hemisphere didn't have
it. But i certainly don't, and i'm not aware of any of my colleagues
that do insist, as the sectional headline in the NYT Book Review has it,
'on keeping language and reason for humans alone' (i'm also a little
bemused at this conflation of language and reason; language has never
struck me as an entirely 'rational' process), much less that, as Chadwick
and, by derivation, said headline imply, that as a professional class we
are unanimous in doing so.

I'm considering writing a letter to the editor to complain about this; if
anybody else has already done so, please let me know. But what i really
want to know is, what is the current general consensus (if there is one) of
the field on this subject? Are the claims in the Savage-Rumbaugh & Lewin
book anent Kanzi's linguistic ability valid? Or is some further
clarification in order? Is it just that some researchers in this area
have a (perhaps understandable) chip on their shoulder? Or is there a
really conflict between theoretical linguists on the one hand and
physical anthropologists and primatologists on the other on this subject?

Dr. Steven Schaufele
712 West Washington
Urbana, IL 61801

**** O syntagmata linguarum liberemini humanarum! ***
*** Nihil vestris privari nisi obicibus potestis! ***
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