LINGUIST List 10.46

Mon Jan 11 1999

Disc: Discipline Recognition

Editor for this issue: Anthony Rodrigues Aristar <>


  1. Ulrike Zeshan, Disc: Discipline Recognition
  2. Sharon L. Shelly, Re: 10.43, Disc: Discipline Recognition

Message 1: Disc: Discipline Recognition

Date: Mon, 11 Jan 1999 11:00:33 +0100 (MET)
From: Ulrike Zeshan <>
Subject: Disc: Discipline Recognition

Dear fellow linguists,

After reading all these 'negatives' about the state of current
linguistics, and formalisms, and lack of relevance of linguistics, let
me make a more hopeful contribution from a field of research where
linguistics is directly and extremely relevant to all kinds of
practical and social matters. The field I am working in is sign
language research. This is a relatively young subdiscipline of
linguistics (started in the 1960's). Until then, sign languages of
deaf communities were not recognized as real, fully complex,
full-fledged languages. Consequently, sign languages were not used in
deaf education, there was no prestige or pride associated with the use
of a sign language etc. This is beginning to change and has already
changed to a large degree in various countries: there are now Deaf
Pride movements, campaigns for official recognition of sign languages,
for the use of sign languages in deaf schools, for the provision of
sign language interpreters etc. In some countries a lot of this has
already been realized, and others are still to follow. You can imagine
the practical benefits to deaf communities worldwide. **Now the
crucial point is that it's linguistics that has largely contributed to
all these developments!** If linguists had not scientifically proved
the status of sign languages, where would have been the argumentation
basis for all theses demands?

So the message is that linguistics can really make it to socially
relevant work. But the message is also that sign language linguists
didn't do what they did by sitting in a corner and making up sentences
and thinking about LADs and deep structures and transformations. They
did it by going out into the field to where the deaf signers were and
by taking full account of the social and linguistic context. I
personally know very few sign language linguists who work in a
Chomskyan framework, and the reason is of course that it doesn't work
very well. I have been studying Indian Sign Language for four years,
and I still have a hard time telling you where the sentences are in my
signed texts. Linguists working with spoken rather than written
language will certainly agree...

Ulrike Zeshan
University of Cologne
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Message 2: Re: 10.43, Disc: Discipline Recognition

Date: Mon, 11 Jan 1999 09:51:17 -0500 (EST)
From: Sharon L. Shelly <sshellyACS.WOOSTER.EDU>
Subject: Re: 10.43, Disc: Discipline Recognition

Carl Mills' clarification of his original question suggests a
redirection of this discussion toward cultural, political, and
administrative issues in the academe. I was intrigued by Dick
Hudson's remarks about the solid status of linguistics in the UK, and
I wonder to what extent the lack of recognition for the discipline in
the US might be a particularly American phenomenon.

By way of a potential comparison: while I don't think that every
university in France has a separate linguistics department, there are
a number of very well-known programs, and in general the discipline
seems solidly established within the academe. On the other hand:
there doesn't appear to be a lot of communication between trained
academic linguists, and the makers of "official" language policy in
the government (Conseil Superieur de la langue francaise, etc.) and in
the Academie Francaise.

(These remarks are from a foreigner who has spent several years in
France. Our French colleagues may have a different view, and I'd be
very interested to hear from them.)

Sharon L. Shelly
Associate Professor of French
College of Wooster
Wooster, OH 44691
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