LINGUIST List 5.309

Fri 18 Mar 1994

Disc: Mainstream Linguistics

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , Mainstream linguistics/academic protectionism
  2. Robin Schafer, Mainstream Lx
  3. Sam Wang, Mainstream linguistics

Message 1: Mainstream linguistics/academic protectionism

Date: Fri, 18 Mar 1994 07:12:53 Mainstream linguistics/academic protectionism
From: <>
Subject: Mainstream linguistics/academic protectionism

Re Ian MacKay's comments about Canada's government policy on university
jobs, I understand and sympathise with Canada's problem with their near
and powerful neighbour. In fact the policy discriminates not just against
US linguists but Australians, Zambians whoever. One might argue that
free interchange of people and ideas around the world is being inhibited.
It would be interesting to see what the effect of the policy has been
in terms of what range of theories offered in Canadian departments. Has
it tended to break the dominance of the "mainstream" discussed?

There is no such policy here in Australia. I suspect that influx of US
linguists will increase, and a fair proportion of these will be GB/
P&P/mainstream. This is not necessarily because most linguists in Australia
think this is the most productive approach around but simply because
of the perception that students must be given a reasonable background
in this theory because it is perceived to be dominant and the accepted
"mainstream". The most obvious source of GB people is US (or at least
US-trained) linguists.

Pat McConvell, Northern Territory University, Darwin, Australia
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Message 2: Mainstream Lx

Date: Thu, 17 Mar 94 21:57:55 PSMainstream Lx
From: Robin Schafer <schaferling.UCSC.EDU>
Subject: Mainstream Lx

Professor Connolly's contribution to the discussion on Mainstream
Linguistics highlights a sentiment so very often expressed by
linguists that I wonder whether it can rightfully be attributed to
the fringe: i.e. the importance of the "real" language. My own
experience leads me to believe that this is a characteristic of all
linguists, not a sub-type of them. Since I am a student at UC Santa
Cruz, where people do manage to do theoretical work on those "less
familiar languages" (some of it even in the MIT tradition), perhaps my
experience is skewed by what may be the isolated sanity of this faculty.
But I think not. At University of Arizona I was confronted with the
same shameless sanity. In colloquia and workshops at Stanford, again I
am met with this emphasis on the data. And even in Linguistic Institute
classes (often taught by persons in the mainstream) I have found the
same fixation on the data, it's status, the means of collecting it, the
delicacy of consultant work, etc. Could I be the victim of sheer
coincidence? I think not.

I think there are few linguists who do not appreciate "real
language" precisely in the terms that Professor Connolly describes.
So where does this split between interest in theory and interest in
"real" language come from? I think it comes from the linguist's need
to hone in on a portion of the language system in order to have
something constant to consider across languages and instances of use.
Tension is created as soon as we begin to hone data from "real"
language. We approach the tension differently, and we hone
differently, guided in part by our theory. I think it is in the
struggle with this tension that the division between theory and
"real" language is born. If you don't like my theory, you may
well dislike how I "cut" my data from the "real" language. You
may then decide I have no regard for "real" language. This is
unfortunate. The differences in the way we determine data are
true differences between theories. Nonetheless, it is an issue
separate from the respect we have for "real" language.

There is another issue that it would be interesting to separate
from the milieu. Many of the contributors to this discussion who
self-identify as fringe are not employed in linguistics departments
or programs. Many of these contributors also work in theories that
are not MIT-based. A claim was thus made that departments discriminate
in hiring. Perhaps. But another way to look at the situation is to
realize there are simply not enough jobs.

One contributor to this discussion actually wrote that of the
10 jobs in syntax he knew of in the last 3 years, 2 of them went
to fringe practitioners. Great. What I noticed was not the 2/10
ratio, but the 10. 10 in three years. That's right, 10. And how
many hundreds of syntacticians (practitioners of *any* theory)
did we graduate? Admittedly this was not an accurate figure. The point
is, we can worry about diversifying in terms of theory, or in terms
of race, or in terms of class, or gender or eye-color...but with this
kind of employment opportunity, diversity won't happen. We really need
to consider our responsibility in this matter, because we cannot attract
a diverse group of students without the honest likelihood of employment.

It would be unwise to dismiss this observation by reasoning that
there are simply not enough linguistics departments. In the end,
no profession can survive if the only reasonable employment opportunity
is to be like your major professor: one professor can produce many
students. There must be some way to direct graduates into the larger
economy. We may well all prefer to work in an academic setting, but
it should not be the only option.

I disentagled this issue from the mainsteam/fringe issue so it
could serve as a topic for further discussion. Still I suspect that
even if this "how much" issue were taken care of (there were
lots of jobs of various sorts), the "how" issue would remain...
and be fierce. This would seem an experiment worth trying.

Robin Schafer
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Message 3: Mainstream linguistics

Date: Fri, 18 Mar 1994 15:19:53 Mainstream linguistics
From: Sam Wang <>
Subject: Mainstream linguistics

 > From: Steve Berman <>
 > Does someone hold a monopoly on "the data"? Has Connolly's language
 > teaching _per se_ led him to linguistic generalizations such as those
 > embodied in the Obligatory Contour Principle, the Head Movement Constraint,
 > or the conservativity of quantifiers?
 This kind of statement sounds like OCP and Head Movement Constraint
 are god-given truths. Any justification for that? If they are
 not god-given truths, why are these 'generalizations' so important?

H. Samuel Wang
National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan
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