LINGUIST List 3.477

Thu 11 Jun 1992

Disc: Linguistics or grammar

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  1. (, please don't call it grammar
  2. , Linguistics or grammar?

Message 1: please don't call it grammar

Date: Fri, 5 Jun 92 09:35:08 CSTplease don't call it grammar
From: ( <>
Subject: please don't call it grammar

John Coleman suggests (seriously) renaming Linguistics Departments
Grammar Departments. He has had the good fortune not to have discovered
what a dirty word _grammar_ has become in American society. Not to
mention _grammarian_.

I have told this story many times in many contexts, but not yet on an
e-list. To those of you in particular who work in English departments,
this will sound all too familiar. I've just met someone at a party
or on a plane or, as was most recently the case, in a dentist's chair
(I was in the chair), and the conversation turns to "What do you do?"
And I say "I'm an English teacher." And my new acquaintance replies,
"Oh, well, er, I guess I better watch my grammar." As the poet Donald
Hall so aptly put it, "I leave them in airports, watching their

Look at all the common negative associations of grammar: grammar
monger, grammar grinding, even grammaticotaster. Once I was talking
to a colleague who teaches in a real live Linguistics Department and
she said, out of the blue, "Oh, you probably would have liked to
hear that lecture, you're a grammarian, aren't you?" She, of course,
was not a grammarian but a syntactician.

And what about "The New Grammarian's Funeral"? Grammarian is something
you call someone else, like purist, not something you claim as your
own profession.

Of course, no dictionary records the negative senses of grammar and
grammarian. Harmless drudges have enough of their own problems! If
you want more info on the negative sense of grammar, I can send you a

I'm surprised, by the way, that no one in considering the meaning of
_linguistics_ has recapitulated the competition between linguist
and linguistician as replacement words for the discredited philologist
in the early part of this century. See OED, svv.

Dennis Baron
Dept. of English office: 217-244-0568
University of Illinois messages: 217-333-2392
608 S. Wright St fax: 217-333-4321
Urbana IL 61801
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Message 2: Linguistics or grammar?

Date: Sat, 06 Jun 92 19:05:38 BSLinguistics or grammar?
From: <>
Subject: Linguistics or grammar?

There is understandable concern about the place of linguistics departments
in the administrative priorities of higher education. I do hope that the
excellent suggestion made by John Coleman in 3,463 will nevertheless not be
overlooked. There would be much more public opposition to the closure of a
department of grammar.
 I have often thought that the name "linguistics" is not too helpful for our
discipline, suggesting as it does the mere polyglot. The Guardian must have
been aware of this ambiguity when it profiled dear Peter Strevens, on his
appointment to the Chair at Essex, as "linguistician". The term would be no
better, I think, than "linguist".
 John Coleman was right to anticipate misguided objections from off-centre
specialists. But this is surely not a risk if we understand "grammar" in its
proper width, and perhaps at last broaden our mutual comprehension. And there
are still places where phonetics claims to be divorced from "linguistics". The
main interest in the linguistic postings on the BB of late have been truly
 Bill Bennett.
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