LINGUIST List 13.2602

Thu Oct 10 2002

Disc: Do We Need a Replacement for *(...)

Editor for this issue: Renee Galvis <>


  1. Dan Everett, RE: 13.2594, Disc: Do We Need a Replacement for *(...)?

Message 1: RE: 13.2594, Disc: Do We Need a Replacement for *(...)?

Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2002 11:15:10 -0300
From: Dan Everett <>
Subject: RE: 13.2594, Disc: Do We Need a Replacement for *(...)?


I was very pleased to see the responses by Gregg and Schutze on
variability and methodology in syntactic judgments and research. I
think Carson's book is extremely useful. I 'plugged' Cowart's book and
not his only because Cowart's deals more with statistics. But Carson's
book is on my shelf, with underlinings and margin notes, associated
with a wish that I could have written something that good when I was
an MA student.

I am concerned about the quality of data-collection in linguistics.
There is on the one hand a relative lack of interest in serious
fieldwork (interest is growing, but not nearly so fast as the field as
a whole is growing. Admittedly, however, I have a fairly restrictive
view of fieldwork), too many studies just appearing to recirculate
data or, to use a colorful phrase I once heard from Tom Givon, dancing
in different directions around the same Maypole. And on the other hand
there is a longstanding willingness in many of the publications I read
most to talk about data as though they were clear when they are
frequently far from clear. I used to just suspend judgment on the data
to get 'the point' the author was trying to make, but I am tired of
being a charitable reader. It isn't useful.

As Carson says, though, the alternative, more rigorous views of
data-collection and assessment have been around for a long time. They
are largely ignored, nevertheless. Thus much of linguistics runs the
risk of becoming a an exercise in rhetoric. It seems often to avoid
exploring the facts as ends in themselves, using them mainly as
illustrations of points. As one example, consider the mini-industry
around Yawelmani, where entire CVs have been constructed around some,
probably very good, fieldwork that Stanley Newman did before many of
us were born, ignoring the fact that there are still Yawelmani
speakers around, no doubt with the attitude that Eliza Doolittle's
father had towards the linguist Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady: "I am
waiting to tell you. I am *wanting* to tell you, gov'nor". Facts need
to be rechecked. As another example, consider the judgments on logical
form in GB and MP which cry out for quantification, but which are
treated by and large as straightforward. I am not impugning anyone's
integrity or intentions. But I am criticizing a too-long unquestioned
(except by miscellaneous eccentrics) ethos in the field.

I hope that the books by Schutze and Cowart, as well as other studies
to come and others in existence will have their deserved impact on the
ethos of the field. My own learning curve in how to do more replicable
and useful work is just beginning, so I am about as unqualified to
urge a new ethos as anyone. Sort of like the guy advising mothers what
to tell their children in "House of the Rising Sun". But it is a goal.

Dan Everett

Dan Everett
Professor of Phonetics and Phonology
Department of Linguistics
Arts Building
University of Manchester
Oxford Road
M13 9PL
Manchester, UK 
Dept. Fax and Phone: 44-161-275-3187
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue