LINGUIST List 5.278

Wed 09 Mar 1994

Misc: Double modals, Mainstream linguistics

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  1. "David A. Johns", Double modals
  2. Paul Deane, Mainstream linguistics

Message 1: Double modals

Date: Mon, 7 Mar 1994 06:13 EDTDouble modals
From: "David A. Johns" <DJOHNSUFPINE.bitnet>
Subject: Double modals

A couple of notes from Southeast Georgia:

 * The most common double modals around here seem to be MIGHT
 COULD and MIGHT SHOULD, but I've also heard MIGHT WOULD and
 yes, MIGHT CAN a few times. My impression (I'm not a native
 speaker) is that MIGHT CAN is more optimistic than MIGHT

 * I heard one local resident use MIGHT BETTER several times in
 one discussion. This suggests that for him BETTER is no
 longer a reduction of HAD BETTER, but has actually become a

David Johns
Waycross College
Waycross, GA
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Message 2: Mainstream linguistics

Date: Tue, 8 Mar 1994 06:44:20 -Mainstream linguistics
From: Paul Deane <>
Subject: Mainstream linguistics

I find the discussion on "mainstream linguistics" fascinating but,
I think there is a danger it will degenerate into inter-camp polemics.
Instead, I'd like to suggest a couple of points lest they be overlooked:

I. It is important to keep in mind, when discussing mainstream vs.
periphery issues to remember the extraordinary tightness of the job
market in recent years. If a non-GB linguist has difficulty finding a
job, that might have just as much to do with the general lack of jobs
as with relative biases in job advertisements. Just for the record,
for instance, I can think of maybe ten jobs that have been advertised
specifically for syntax in the last three years; of these two (at UCSD
and Michigan) were advertised for (and filled by) non-mainstream syntac-
ticians. Since the output of syntacticians is certainly much greater
than the availability of jobs, lots of people are going to be disappointed.
One can debate whether a 20% representation is a fair proportion for
minority views, but that is a far more difficult and subjective question
than the presence or absence of "bias".

II. A separate, and in a sense more critical question, is the DISTRIBUTION
of jobs. My impression, based on being in the job market heavily in the
last three years, is that there is a significant difference in the TYPE
of job a non-mainstream linguist is likely to get. Most of the non-mainstream
linguists I know (except those fortunate enough to land at places like
Berkeley, San Diego, or SUNY-Buffalo) have jobs as linguists in allied
fields, in English or Foreign Language departments. One gets the impression,
by contrast, that MIT graduates generally do land jobs in linguistics
departments (at least, that appears to be the U.S. situation). Since
a linguistic department job is something of a plum (and currently, a
shrinking, sometimes endangered one) this situation certainly generates
a degree of jealousy, and reinforces a feeling of being excluded from
the mainstream among those relegated to the "periphery" in the job

III. I think that some of the polemics about Chomsky are rather misguided.
As an author of a book on non-mainstream syntax (GRAMMAR IN MIND AND
think of no better fate than being selected for direct criticism by
Chomsky, no matter how blistering. Getting noticed is the best possible
evidence that one's work has an impact, no matter how forceful the
response. I hope that non-mainstream linguists will not fall into the
double-bind game of a) you ignore me; b) you criticize me too much.
Conversely, it would be nice if linguists of all schools would be a
bit more careful on such scholarly details as doing thorough literature
searches and making it a point to cite work from other schools if it
bears on one's own work.

It is nice, though, to note that the current debate has gotten some
"mainstream" responses. Rather often, when this kind of issue comes
up, only the dissatisfied speak up. If substantive rather than sociological
issues can also be addressed, so much the better.

 ---Paul Deane
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