LINGUIST List 5.310

Mon 21 Mar 1994

Disc: Mainstream Linguistics

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Vicki Fromkin, Re: 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics
  2. "Richard L. Goerwitz", Re: 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics
  3. Logical Language Group, Re: 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics

Message 1: Re: 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics

Date: Fri, 18 Mar 94 06:41 PST
From: Vicki Fromkin <IYO1VAFMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics

A few more thoughts to add to the 'mainstream' lx discussion.

Glad to see the answers exposing the myth that the so-called mainstream
GB/P&P/formal (whatever) linguists do not deal with 'real languages'
or work only with one of them, i.e. English. This false notion goes along
with the other myths about Chomsky's virulent attacks on the opposition.

One would like to see 'real' evidence behind any such claims. None of
which has been (or can be) forthcoming since they are false claims.

Over the last two decades there has been both intense and broad
research on languages that have not been studied before as well as
reanalyses of languages for which we have many traditional grammars.
Look at the work by 'formalists' on African lgs, Malayo-Polynesian
lgs, east Asian lgs, Native American lgs, as well as Dutch and Swedish
and French and Spanish etc etc etc etc.

The arguments posited to support hypotheses in generative phonology and
syntax must be based on data from 'real languages' or noone will listen
rightfully. Even in areas such as psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics
where generative linguists are attempting to apply GB or other 'formal'
theories in the effort to explain as well as describe linguistic processing
and breakdown, we find work with speakers of many languages. Or look at
the child language acquisition material. Work on Italian, Icelandic, Swedish,
Chinese, Korean, etc etc abounds.

Those presenting arguments -- please do your homework first
before you make statements that are not based on 'real' data.

Another point in response to H. Samuel Wang who asks if some of the
proposed principles in GB theory are "god-given truths" and if not
"why are these 'generalizations' so important"? Of course they are not
God-Given -- but as Einstein put it for physics "the structure of the theory
is the work of reason; the empirical contents and their mutual relations
must find their representation in the conclusions of the theory" but
while a theory, to him, is"the free invention of the human intellect"
..."when we say that we have succeeded in understanding a group of natural
processes, we mean that a constructive theory has been found which covers
the processes in question."

So, if one is interested in explanation as well as description, the
generalizations are indeed important.

Anyway, I find it troubling to see the promulgation of myths such as
"'formal' theorists are not interested in real languages" "Chomsky has
stifled the opposition" "there is a conspiracy against non-MIT linguists".

Do let's argue, do lets debate, but haven't we had enough straw men
erected? Let's discuss substantive not made up issues. VAF
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Message 2: Re: 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics

Date: Fri, 18 Mar 94 09:07:14 CSRe: 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics
From: "Richard L. Goerwitz" <>
Subject: Re: 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics

>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.

I am happy to use whatever theory happens to help me in my area of
specialization - Semitic languages. Theorists are wonderful, in that
they bring in fresh ideas. Some of them, however, do occasionally
seem inordinately resistent to ideas percolating up from us language
specialists - especially when they don't fit into whatever theoretical
scheme is currently the rage.

It would be easy to call this intellectual imperialism, but it is
really just human nature.

I just received a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, and
have extensive training in many Semitic languages, dialects, and writing
systems. During my undergraduate career, I essentially took all of the
core courses that make up the basic M.A. requirements in linguistics at
my university. Since then, I've done extensive work in historical and
comparative linguistics, and have also read voluminously on phonology,
morphology, and computational linguistics. I've also published both high
theoretical and "practical" articles on these subjects, and given papers
as well.

By and large, I find theoretical-linguistics treatments of languages in
my area unsatisfying and demonstrably erroneous. Phonology itself also
seems to wander all over, changing and fluctuating on almost a yearly
basis (and without becoming significantly better at describing phenomena
I am familiar with). I am by necessity an eclectic and a skeptic. Des-
pite my extensive background both in linguistics and language study, how-
ever, most linguists scoff at my credentials as a linguist.

Again, one can hardly see this as intellectual imperialism. It's just
part of the usually friendly rivalry that is modern academia. I love
phonology, historical linguistics, writing systems, morphology, and the
like. But a tremedous change would have to happen before I was ever
accepted as a "linguist," rather than as a language specialist!

-Richard Goerwitz
 U of Chicago
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Message 3: Re: 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics

Date: Fri, 18 Mar 1994 10:20:04 Re: 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics
From: Logical Language Group <>
Subject: Re: 5.309 Mainstream Linguistics

Robin Schafer writes:

> 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.

[ironical examples deleted]

> 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.

I believe that this last sentence points directly to the nature of the
"split" in question. Consider linguistics and anthropology: in the beginning,
they were one discipline. Those who are more learned in the history of
science than I will understand better all the ins and outs that led to the
current division of labor. But I think it is not going too far to say
that there are those who examine "Minute Particulars [Blake]" for what they
can tell us about supposed universals, thus erecting >e pluribus unum<;
and then there are those who view whatever is truly universal as trivial,
seeking for greater understanding of the unique, >ex uno plures<.

Neither pursuit is non-empirical; neither is non-theoretical. But they are
different in emphasis and approach, and nothing is served by pretending
otherwise. Still, a difference in means is not necessarily a difference
in ends, and "we are all here not to see how many potatoes we can pick, but
to get the potatoes picked before winter [Spider Robinson]."

John Cowan sharing account <> for now
 e'osai ko sarji la lojban.
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