LINGUIST List 3.490

Sat 13 Jun 1992

Disc: Linguistics in trouble?

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , ling. dept. troubles
  2. "Larry G. Hutchinson", Re: 3.475 Why is linguistics in trouble?
  3. , Re: 3.485 Linguistics vs. grammar, ling. dept. troubles

Message 1: ling. dept. troubles

Date: Fri, 12 Jun 92 14:55:04 EDling. dept. troubles
From: <pesetskAthena.MIT.EDU>
Subject: ling. dept. troubles

The positive aspect of this discussion is nothing but healthy. Us (*we)
linguists must work very hard to spread the good news about our field.
Furthermore, we must work as hard as we can to prevent department
closures. But is it the case that linguistics is particularly
threatened at the moment? In the US, in the past few years, new
departments and graduate programs have been created at Rutgers, UC
Irvine, UC Santa Cruz, Princeton, to name only the ones I can think of
at the moment. Many other US departments are growing nicely, for
example Penn with its new Center. At UMass Amherst, the department has
been sheltered in a truly marvellous fashion against budget cuts blowing
evilly through the university, and has actually grown slightly. In
Western Europe, linguistics appears to be thriving and expanding in
Holland and Germany. There are even glimmers of life from France. In
Italy, the new linguistics program in Venice is doing fine, and Geneva
is an important new center. And these are just some of the departments
that I would know about from my corner of linguistics.

None of this is to minimize the real dangers facing linguistics
departments as University finances turn sour. But I think the
perception of widespread closure threats that I see in some of the
recent messages on LINGUIST may be an artifact of this marvellous and
effective new medium for publicizing such threats. We should work hard
to keep our field alive, but I wonder if there is much need for overall,
as opposed to localized, concern. If it leads to new energy and new
initiative, great, but watch out for (I hope) unnecessary gloom and

- -David Pesetsky

------- End of Forwarded Message
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Re: 3.475 Why is linguistics in trouble?

Date: Fri, 12 Jun 92 17:23:02 -0Re: 3.475 Why is linguistics in trouble?
From: "Larry G. Hutchinson" <>
Subject: Re: 3.475 Why is linguistics in trouble?

The great majority of linguists consider themselves to be scientists. It
seems to me most outsiders do not, and this includes deans. If these
outsiders are wrong, we ought to be able to change their minds by pointing
out some recent empirical discoveries. (But if Itkonen and others are
right, we won't be able to.) If we could cite the discovery of new languages,
new types of languages, new language families, new grammatical phenomena,
etc, we should have no trouble convincing other of our status as
scientists. (A lot of this was in fact going on in the 19th century.)

And if we could point to technological and engineering advances made by
linguists, we would also have little difficulty in convincing administrators
that we are valuable. There have been advances in natural language understa-
standing systems, machine translation, speech recognition and production
by machine, etc., but it is not obvious that linguists can claim much credit
for any of this. (Rightly or wrongly, linguists in the early forties were
able to convince many outsiders that they had made major advances in the
teaching of languages, and were esteemed for it.)

The perception I have is that outsiders are not impressed with our claims.
 Apparently, many of them see
such phrases as "the scientific study of language" as just so much self-
congratulatory back-patting. Without demonstable results of SOME kind, any
discipline is likely to be seen as expendable.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 3: Re: 3.485 Linguistics vs. grammar, ling. dept. troubles

Date: Sat, 13 Jun 1992 08:35 ESTRe: 3.485 Linguistics vs. grammar, ling. dept. troubles
Subject: Re: 3.485 Linguistics vs. grammar, ling. dept. troubles

It isn't only Linguistics which are badly regarded; it is language
and language teaching in general. Who hasn't met someone who says,
"Oh, yeah, I took two years of Spanish [French, German, whatever] in
High School and don't remember a thing." Why is this true of language
and language study, but not Math? Because people aren't aware of
needing to learn it for use in their daily lives; they think they
are already proficient. Foreign languages, of course, seem super-
fluous to most US inhabitants. So perhaps the way to change
perceptions of language and language learning as unpleasant and
useless is to make it useful and necessary daily.
 This is also the point I would make on the TV program mentioned
by Smyth-- perhaps pragmatics and other useful-in-our-daily lives
linguistics might help interest people.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue