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LINGUIST List 18.240

Tue Jan 23 2007

Disc: Re 18.24097: An Intelligent Man's Answer ...

Editor for this issue: Ann Sawyer <sawyerlinguistlist.org>

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        1.    Peter Hallman, Re 18.24097: An Intelligent Man's Answer ...

Message 1: Re 18.197: An Intelligent Man's Answer ...
Date: 23-Jan-2007
From: Peter Hallman <peter.hallmanutoronto.ca>
Subject: Re 18.197: An Intelligent Man's Answer ...

Regarding the Dalrymple article referred to in posting 18.197 and comments 
on it, I suspect it is true, perhaps even quantifiably so, that Abraham
Lincoln was a better statesman than George Bush is. Statesmanship and
eloquence are skills that not all individuals possess in the same degree,
nor do all individual speakers of a language share the same vocabulary.

There is a tradition of linguistic research that goes under the broad
rubric ''philology'' that lies at the intersection of rhetoric, textual
analysis and grammatical description. In this tradition, grammar and
eloquence are not so strictly differentiated, and for the practitioners of
this discipline, contemporary formal linguistics must seem ''airy and
disembodied'' indeed.

However, its disembodiedness is a core methodological tenet, based on the
premise, endemic in modern sciences, that insight into the nature of a
totality can be gained by decomposing it into its component parts and
studying them separately. The notion of 'grammar' from this perspective is
rather narrow--encompassing generalizations about what constitutes a
grammatical syntactic format in a language independently of what speakers
choose to express with those formats.

Formal linguistics is the study of grammar in this narrow sense. But not
because it equates grammar in this narrow sense with language itself. On
the contrary: precisely *because* there is much more to language than
grammar, it is fruitful to divorce grammar from communication and other
facets of language, and observe it in isolation, in the same way that
chemists find some utility in divorcing the components of a compound of
interest from one another. This approach is obviously not holistic, and is
not intended to be, but not because it denies the complexity of language,
but only because of the limited scope of the task it sets before itself.
Some of Gross, Kravchenko and Dalrymple's remarks suggest they believe that
linguists are unaware that there is more to language than grammar. Note
that there is little likelihood that some unexpected epiphany will cause
the chemists of the world to ''abruptly awaken, rubbing their eyes in utter
disbelieve, as they mutter; 'you mean, it's not just [molecules] after
all...?''' It is the linguists' narrow notion of knowledge of grammar that
Pinker is claiming to be invariant among human beings. Eloquence is
entirely another matter, and there is no doubt that there is too little of
it these days.

Linguistic Field(s): Discipline of Linguistics
                            Philosophy of Language

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