LINGUIST List 3.234

Mon 09 Mar 1992

Disc: Linguistic Discourse

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  1. "Michael Kac", Re: 3.224 Linguistic Discourse
  2. Vicki Fromkin, Re: 3.224 Linguistic Discourse
  3. "Ellen F. Prince", Re: 3.224 Linguistic Discourse

Message 1: Re: 3.224 Linguistic Discourse

Date: Sat, 7 Mar 92 14:07:53 -06Re: 3.224 Linguistic Discourse
From: "Michael Kac" <>
Subject: Re: 3.224 Linguistic Discourse

Richard Ogden's and Bruce Nevin's comments on the tenor of contemporary
linguistic discourse (in some areas, at least) reminds me of something
I realized myself in thinking about this question some years ago. It
had struck me that in a lot of what I was reading at the time the strategy
seemed be not merely to show that your opponent was wrong but that (s)he
was an idiot. On one level, of course, the effect is quite devastating.
But then you ask 'Okay, so this person has just shown that (s)he is
smarter than an idiot. Am I supposed to be impressed by that?'

Michael Kac
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Message 2: Re: 3.224 Linguistic Discourse

Date: Sun, 08 Mar 92 14:01 PST
From: Vicki Fromkin <IYO1VAFMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 3.224 Linguistic Discourse

Sharp debate, including, unfortunately, ad hominem attacks on the
'opposition' is certainly not a unique characeristic of linguistics as
other scientists will tell you, nor did it start with the Chomsky era.
As an old timer (I remember when I was young and foolish) I can assure
you that the acrimony between the anti- and pro-mentalists was as
great as between the functionalists and 'formalists' today, and frankly
some of the arguments re. for example, whether or not a plus juncture
could be considered 'real enough' to be used in phonemic analysis were
oftenmore heated than arguments between GBers and GPSGers or Relational
Grammar or LFGers etc.
In the days when discovery procedures were mistakenly considered
theories, the shouting in conferences over what was admissible as data and
how to proceed from one level to the next discussion was far from polite
and there were times I was sure the shouting would be replaced by fist fights.
Furthermore, the idea that it is Chomsky and his followers who today
are the most agressive and dogmatic of linguists is not supported by
the empirical facts.
During my five years as Secretary-Treasurer of the LSA I was amazed
by those who wrote us attacking the LSA and LANGUAGE for being the
handservants of the 'generativists' which as Newmeyer has shown is very
far from the truth. I spent lots of time trying to convince some of our
historical leaders not to resign as members, and attempt to show that
straw men were being erected and then shot down.

But wotthehell -- if one is passionate about one's work and beliefs
it is understandable that such arguments and fights arise, despite
the myth of scientific objectivity.

In the years before World War II, when heated discussions over any
number of questions arose, a common admonition was "Save your strength
to fight fascism" so I would suggest we save ours to do whatever we
can to understand the nature of human language, the common goal of all
linguists, and while we're at it, the way things look in the world, we
may also want to save our strength to fight fascism once again.
Vicki Fromkin
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Message 3: Re: 3.224 Linguistic Discourse

Date: Mon, 09 Mar 92 02:32:02 ESRe: 3.224 Linguistic Discourse
From: "Ellen F. Prince" <>
Subject: Re: 3.224 Linguistic Discourse

in response to richard ogden's and bruce nevin's nostalgia for the good
old days, my understanding is that they were pretty vicious themselves.
perhaps the only change is the abandonment of a certain 'gentlemanly'
rhetoric, a rhetoric that camouflaged some of the most pernicious motives
and behaviors. remember morris halle's extraordinary lsa presentation a few
years ago on the jacobson-bloomfield correspondence, not to mention the
well known stories of hockett's reaction to jacobson--by comparison, the
field today is extremely humane and civilized.
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