LINGUIST List 10.43

Mon Jan 11 1999

Disc: Discipline Recognition

Editor for this issue: Scott Fults <scottlinguistlist.org>


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  1. [** iso-8859-1 charset **] Patrick Andr\233 Mather, Re: 10.37, Disc: Discipline Recognition
  2. Dick Hudson, Re: 10.32, Disc: Discipline Recognition
  3. Farooq Babrakzai, Re: 10.37, Disc: Discipline Recognition
  4. Carl Mills, Re: 10.37, Disc: Discipline Recognition

Message 1: Re: 10.37, Disc: Discipline Recognition

Date: Sat, 09 Jan 1999 17:18:34 -0500
From: [** iso-8859-1 charset **] Patrick Andr\233 Mather <mathervideotron.ca>
Subject: Re: 10.37, Disc: Discipline Recognition

Concerning the recognition of linguistics within academia (and in the
world in general), I too am often dismayed at how little even educated
individuals know about our field. It also seems that linguistics has
lost much prestige over the past few decades: in Quebec province for
instance, linguistics used to be taught in grades 12 and 13 (the last
two years of high-school) until it was abandoned from the curriculum a
few years ago. It is also striking how, in the current language
debate in Quebec and Canada, few linguists are ever asked about their
opinions. The media usually invite writers, poets and politicians to
talk about language, but never linguists.

Last year I read a book by French linguist Claude Hagge, "L'homme de
paroles" (Paris, Fayard, 1985), in which he gives his own explanation
for the lack of recognition of our field. Here is a loose translation
of a relevant excerpt (p. 295-296 in the original) :

"Why is it that, over the last 25 years, linguistics has lost the
prestige it once enjoyed? Why is it that it does not seem to have
fulfilled its promises?... The obsession with its "scientific" status
has led linguists to adopt a false rigor, for which there is no model,
even in the most "rigorous" sciences. The excessive fascination with
formalisms has boxed linguistics in within the confines of a technical
jargon, which seems to have little to do with language as it is
actually spoken. Not only have historical and social considerations
been evacuated from linguistics, but speakers themselves have been
reduced to an abstract concept, and words no longer have any meaning".

Granted, Hagge dismisses linguistic formalism too quickly, and fails
to recognize the major advances made in several areas, including
syntax and language acquisition. Yet, the formalisms used in
linguistics are changing so quickly and are often so complex that
perhaps we have alienated ourselves from other (social) sciences.

******************************
Patrick-Andr Mather
mathervideotron.ca
Tl./fax : (514) 285.92.30
******************************
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Message 2: Re: 10.32, Disc: Discipline Recognition

Date: Sun, 10 Jan 1999 16:45:04 +0000
From: Dick Hudson <dicklinguistics.ucl.ac.uk>
Subject: Re: 10.32, Disc: Discipline Recognition

Joseph Davis's diagnosis sounds very plausible, but I think there must be
more to it than that - something to do with formal structures, perhaps. In
the UK I think linguists have taken the same kind of approach that Joseph
describes, and yet we don't have the problem of invisibility that seems to
face our colleagues in the USA. It often surprises me, in fact, how visible
we are; for instance, Linguistics is one of the fifty-odd units into which
all UK university research is divided for purposes of national assessment,
and it has one of about eighteen `sections' in the British Academy. Maybe
more UK universities have linguistics depts than in USA?



Richard (= Dick) Hudson

Phonetics and Linguistics, University College London, 
Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT.
+44(0)171 419 3152; fax +44(0)171 383 4108; http://www.phon.ucl.ac.uk/home/dick
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Message 3: Re: 10.37, Disc: Discipline Recognition

Date: Sun, 10 Jan 1999 09:22:56 -1000
From: Farooq Babrakzai <babrakhawaii.edu>
Subject: Re: 10.37, Disc: Discipline Recognition

Dear All: 

I thought I was the only one who felt frustrated reading articles on
contemporay linguistics, but it seems that there are more people out there
questioning the relevance of the field. Instead of duplicating what has
already been said, I would like to make a few general, though personal,
remarks about linguistics. 

It is true that in most academic fields the emphasis is on the
'scientific' rather than 'artistic' approach. Isolating 'facts' and
describing them in some assumed 'model' is acceptable, except that it does
not work. Once the theoretical model in the beginning of any linguistic
text is specified through diagrams and algebraic rules, what follows is
again a description of mostly English sentences in more rigorous,
clinically accurate language. What if English did not have WH movment?
Much of what has been published in linguistic journals would have been
irrelevant. 

Instead of focusing on 'scientific' it would be more conducive to look at
'scientific' activity as 'human' activity, thereby broadening the field
rather than narrowing it. 
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Message 4: Re: 10.37, Disc: Discipline Recognition

Date: Sun, 10 Jan 1999 15:37:06 -0800 (PST)
From: Carl Mills <wuggetyahoo.com>
Subject: Re: 10.37, Disc: Discipline Recognition


Now I know what Dr. Frankenstein felt like. So far, all but one of
the postings in reply to my question about why linguistics seems to be
an invisible discipline in North America have been
historical/philosophical laments about the directions linguistics has
taken in the past half-century. These are some very interesting
points, but my question seems to have been misconstrued.

As my graduate students and my friends in LACUS can attest, I, too,
have some serious doubts about the scientific status of linguistics. 
But that was not why I posted the original query. Linguistics exists.
 There are thousands of us in North America alone. Employment
prospects for linguists are at least as good as those in other
disciplines. I just wanted to know why
academic/scholarly/governmental listings of disciplines--with the
notable exception of AAAS--don't include linguistics as a discipline. 
I would also like to read suggestions on how we go about remedying
this situation. Much as I appreciate the replies, the query was
motivated by political/economic/administrative concerns.

Anyway, thanks to all for some very interesting reading.

Carl
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