LINGUIST List 5.744

Sun 26 Jun 1994

Disc: What good is Linguistics ?, Definition

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. "Leslie Z. Morgan", Re: 5.718 WHAT GOOD IS LINGUISTICS ?
  2. R.Y.L. TANG, What good is linguistics?
  3. E. Wayles Browne, Re: 5.717 The popularisation of linguistics,

Message 1: Re: 5.718 WHAT GOOD IS LINGUISTICS ?

Date: Tue, 21 Jun 1994 09:34:33 Re: 5.718 WHAT GOOD IS LINGUISTICS ?
From: "Leslie Z. Morgan" <MORGANLOYOLA.EDU>

I think that at Liberal Arts schools without Linguistics Depts. one
should include the LOGIC of language. Many of my students are those
who "can't learn languages": they've tested poorly on the MLAT because
they "don't know grammar" and they "don't know vocabulary". The
school therefore has them take an etymology course and some other
language course (e.g., Intro to Linguistics) instead of two semesters
of a foreign language. We do a lot of the stuff mentioned-- dialects,
word-formation, etc., but we also do a LOT of problem sets. The initial
reaction is always, "Oh, but I can't speak X, so I can't do this." But,
by the end of the semester, most of them can do morphological problems
(with a phoneme list & equivalents at hand) with reasonable success.

Diagramming sentences is the other big hit; we use _Doing Grammar_, and
make it most of the way through. There are 50 sentences for 7 chapters,
enough for us to review and work through many times each point.
(There are selected answers in the back of the book, too.)

Giving students an idea of the LOGIC of language (any language) gives them
the tools to cope, should they ever need to, with an other/other language(s).
One of my LD students told me, with pride, at the end of a semester, that
he was able to do his roommate's Russian homework thanks to all our problem
sets (though the roommate had given up!).

Perhaps this is more of a language teacher's approach, but that is my
training, and the students seem to enjoy it.

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Message 2: What good is linguistics?

Date: Thu, 23 Jun 94 17:24:51 WSWhat good is linguistics?
From: R.Y.L. TANG <>
Subject: What good is linguistics?

Dear netters,

I just read that message with the captioned subject (21 June) and I want to say
 something about it. While linguists are discussing how to put all those
 'technical matters' into courses and writings useful for students and the
 public respectively, some have, in fact, done the job splendidly. In the course
 of my graduateresearch, I came across some names in this regard which I want to

Michael Geis -- Aren't he doing a good job in his _The Language of TV
 Advertising_ (1982)? He very much wants *ordinary* consumers to take up some
 linguistics (the validity of conversational implicature drawn from advertising
 claims, in particular) and he wants more monitoring of misleading advertising
 claims. His treatment may still be complicated for the layman, but I think some
 of the linguistics in his work (e.g., elliptical comparatives) will be
 comprehensible for ordinary people.

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson -- They have demonstrated how linguists (if you
 accept them to be linguists!) can talk about socio-cognitive semantics without
 using formalism (_Metaphors We Live By_, 1980). I am sure an adaptation of
 their work will give ordinary students and folks some interesting and arresting

Norman Fairclough -- His _Language and Power_ (1989) is both a thesis on
 'crtical language study' as well as a handbook for *anyone* who is concerned
 with an awareness of the exercise of power through different text types in our
 daily life.His goal is explicit: he wants to propose some *usable* framework
 for critical language study which can lead to *emancipation* (sounds Marxist!)
 of the suppressed. And linguistics just comes in to serve as a mediating *tool*
 for achieving that social goal.

Thus, I can assert that many linguists (though may not be orthodox ones in the
 eyes of Chomskyans!) out there have *already* done things highly relevant to
 public life. In fact, the 3 texts above can well be the reading material for an
 introductory course open to all. I am sure there will be some more accessible

This discussion also opens up another dichotomy besides the
 prescriptive-descriptive one: social or asocial. I think this should also be a
 dimension to considerwhen one is talking about 'popularizing linguistics' or
 'what can linguistics dofor the public/humanity'.


Raymond Yin-loong TANG
Dept. of English
University of Hong Kong
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Message 3: Re: 5.717 The popularisation of linguistics,

Date: Tue, 21 Jun 1994 16:30:55 Re: 5.717 The popularisation of linguistics,
From: E. Wayles Browne <>
Subject: Re: 5.717 The popularisation of linguistics,

"Oh, you're a linguist? What does a linguist do?"
"Analyzes different languages and sees how they work."


"Oh, you're a linguist? How many languages do you speak?"
"Some better, some worse, but what a linguist does is figure out HOW people
speak languages."
Wayles Browne, Assoc. Prof. of Linguistics
Dept. of Modern Languages, Morrill Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York 14853, U.S.A.
tel. 607-255-0712, 607-273-3009
e-mail (formerly and
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