LINGUIST List 3.134

Tue 11 Feb 1992

Disc: Linguistics and Popular Press

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  1. Geoffrey Russom, Re: 3.126 Proto-World
  2. Joe Salmons, Proto-World
  3. , Re: 3.126 Proto-World
  4. Logical Language Group, Popular Views/Linguistics Education

Message 1: Re: 3.126 Proto-World

Date: Mon, 10 Feb 92 08:25:42 ESRe: 3.126 Proto-World
From: Geoffrey Russom <>
Subject: Re: 3.126 Proto-World

Some responses on this topic sympathize with SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN'S
choice of Proto-World and allied topics on the grounds that GB theory
is inherently non-interesting to the GAP (Great American Public).
This attitude is unjustifiable. SA publishes plenty of stuff on non-sexy
topics like number theory. Although the articles may be "watered down,"
they are not represented as something other than what they are, and do
often accurately represent the research interests of the field in general.
Part of the problem seems to be a desire among some linguists to dump on
"mainstream" (Chomskeyan) linguistics when the opportunity for a cheap
shot (or cheap dump) arises. Perhaps the journalists are responding in part
to a concept of "heroic resistance" cultivated energentically by the
Chomsky-baiters for about three decades now.

 -- Rick
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Message 2: Proto-World

Date: Mon, 10 Feb 92 9:28:07 ESTProto-World
From: Joe Salmons <>
Subject: Proto-World

Just when we were getting over this issue... Der Spiegel has an article in
its latest edition called "Schnalzlaute im Paradies" ('clicks in paradise')
dealing with the origins of humankind, in particular Cavalli-Sforza's
theory. It is clearly the most bizarre of the numerous articles they've
brought in recent years on topics in this area. It assumes, among other
things, 'Nostratic, the common proto-language of all Asiatic and European
peoples...' and notes in passing 'three competing theories' of language
origin, including the 'bow-wow theory' and the 'oooh! theory'. Since no
linguist is mentioned, it is unclear where this information (?) came from.
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Message 3: Re: 3.126 Proto-World

Date: Mon, 10 Feb 1992 16:53 MSTRe: 3.126 Proto-World
Subject: Re: 3.126 Proto-World

This is essentially a reply to Lyle Campbell's question about how to
get the media to report the "real stuff".

I don't know how to get the media to do this, since they must report
things people will read. But what's more important is to get out the
real stuff, in as many media as possible.

There are exciting and challenging and even "sexy" developments in
modern linguistics: Petitto's (and colleagues') findings on manual
babbling in deaf children (could have gotten a lot more attention in
the press -- accompanied by an accessible essay on the significance
of such findings for human cognition); the LINGUISTIC significance
of the claim that autistic children have normal language; ditto for
apparently similar facts with respect to Downs' Syndrome kids; current
intensive and productive interactions between linguists and workers in
other areas on thorny problems in cognition, etc. etc.

I'm not saying that the authors of the scientific papers need also to
write a popularized version of such work. But things like this ARE
interesting to the general public; we DO have interesting things to say
(and teach).

I suppose if linguists are going to spend any time writing about the
state of linguistics as it enters the 21st century, they'd be doing
double duty (with teaching and research, etc.) which probably noone
wants to take on. I know I'm saying "someone's gotta do it", but I'm
also saying "sorry, it's not gonna be me".

Carol Georgopoulos
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Message 4: Popular Views/Linguistics Education

Date: Fri, 7 Feb 92 17:52:12 -05Popular Views/Linguistics Education
From: Logical Language Group <>
Subject: Popular Views/Linguistics Education

Michael Newman <MNEHCCUNYVM.CUNY.EDU> writes:
>I think Andrew Carnie made a good point. I think that perhaps the
>popular science press ignores what we consider the central issues of
>linguistics because these problems just aren't sexy to those outside the
>discipline. This may (or it may not) be related to the fact that during
>academic financial crises it seems all too frequent for linguistics
>departments to get closed, and that unlike the case of what happens in
>Europe, in the US, courses in linguistics are not considered a central
>part of most university majors which deal with language, such as foreign
>languages, English or Communications. Why?

I'm sure that the two situations are related. And I'm sure that
linguists other than the historical linguists seldom make an effort to
promote their ideas outside the discipline.

For example, I would say that a central dogma of linguistics nowadays is
that language prescriptivism is wrong, bad, and other pejoratives. But
both English and foreign language classes have ignored this rather
successfully, and the average person still expects the dictionary or
style guide to tell him what language should be, not what it >IS<.

I'm going to speculate on the US education system question:

In the case of non-linguistic language majors, half are concerned with
literature and hence care not a whit for the theoretical underpinnings
of language in general - they want to know how the language in use is
different from English, not how it is the same, else why not study the
literature in translation. Linguistics as practiced in the US is not
particularly more relevant to them than it is to other academic

For other language majors it is probably a lack of time and staff. A
one-semester course in linguistics cannot go very deep into the
linguistic aspects of any one language, and thus you would need a
follow-on course that would teach the application of linguistic theory
to each language being studied. Who will teach the teachers - the
professor of Russian languages who hasn't taken a linguistics course
can't teach the linguistic analysis of Russian? Most universities
can't support a linguistics department staff that could provide such
specialized service courses.

Of course, the concern of other language related disciplines is not
competence, but performance, and the orientation of
linguistics-as-taught if not as practiced would have to switch more
strongly in that direction.

I personally think that an introductory linguistics course would be a
good general education requirement for all majors, if the course was
suitably tailored to teach what all students should know about language.
But I think the real problem has to be solved at a much lower level, to
teach basic linguistic principles as part of an other-culture awareness
curriculum at elementary school levels, and linguistics of ones native
language in conjunction with or replacement of some of the prescriptivist
teaching that pervades elementary and high school 'grammar' classes.
lojbab = Bob LeChevalier, President, The Logical Language Group, Inc.
 2904 Beau Lane, Fairfax VA 22031-1303 USA
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