LINGUIST List 2.43

Tuesday, 19 Feb 1991

FYI: Cognitive Linguistics

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  1. "Daniel L Everett", Re: Replies

Message 1: Re: Replies

Date: Wed, 13 Feb 91 09:37:06 -0500
From: "Daniel L Everett" <>
Subject: Re: Replies
I think that George Lakoff overstates the evidence from neuroscience
against modularity and the illiteracy of generative linguists wrt the
neurolinguistic/psycholinguistic literature. It is hardly likely that
such researchers as Steven Pinker, Jerry Fodor, Yosef Grodzinsky, to
name but three, have not read as well as anyone in the area about claims
for and against modularity. Moreover, I regularly work with students
and faculty at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of
Pittsburgh who assume connectionist frameworks of one sort or the other.
However, it is clear that while connectionism is one approach to the
*implementation* of different issues posed by linguistics, the jury is
still out on modularity of the mind and/or modularity of the brain.
None of the people I work with really thinks there is knock-down
evidence against modularity.

I object, therefore, most strongly to the use of `Cognitive Linguistics'
in such a way as to indicate that any particular group has the inside
track on this issue. Historically, of course, the term would `belong' by
rights to Chomsky's work and its offshoots since he is directly
responsible for most of what is known as the Cognitive Sciences anyway.
Talk of bias by the LSA Program Committee never impresses me positively.
My own experience is that LSA reviewers for programs are very
conscientious, do not reflect any one group, but do occasionally make
mistakes due to tight scheduling pressures.

Much of the problem for the kind of research exemplified in Lakoff's W,
F, & DTs is that while it is highly interesting (at least to me) and
usually very helpful for cultural and philosophical insights, its
argumentation style renders it much harder to `falsify' (and most of us
have a working faith in Popper, even though Feyerabend is a more
engaging writer). This argumentation problem must be overcome by any
paper before it can get into the LSA, Language, etc. There is no
exclusion based on prejudice against any body's views - at least not
on the scale suggested by G. Lakoff.

I think that what goes under the name of Cognitive Linguistics and/or
Connectionist Linguistics is very interesting and quite instructive,
regardless of one's theoretical assumptions and biases. However, anyone
who says that an entire group of people, e.g. generativists, are not
well read in the cognitive literature, etc. is drastically
oversimplifying. Such remarks do not help either side learn from the
other - nor does usurpation of a particular term of so much *emotive*
value to many linguists as `Cognitive' (emotive because calling
something `Cognitive Linguistics' instead of just `Linguistics' implies
that what others do is less relevant for cognitive concerns). Of course,
I can understand why this term is so desirous - we all know that
`Cognitive' is more attractive to funding agencies and nonspecialist
book-buyers than straight `Linguistics'.
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