LINGUIST List 3.491

Sun 14 Jun 1992

Disc: Linguistics in trouble?

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  1. Vicki Fromkin, Linguistics in trouble?
  2. H.Samual Wang (035, Re: 3.490 Linguistics in trouble?
  3. , Re: Linguistics in trouble?
  4. Hurch, reply AMR 3488
  5. Karen Kay, 3.490 Linguistics in trouble?

Message 1: Linguistics in trouble?

Date: Sat, 13 Jun 92 09:36 PDT
From: Vicki Fromkin <IYO1VAFUCLAMVS.bitnet>
Subject: Linguistics in trouble?

Good letter from David Pesetsky re the continued
life of linguistics. Let's not overreact while strongly reacting.
Yet we do need to be vigilant and it is true that most people including
deans and administrators do not know what linguistics is or what we
do; they don't know the difference between microbiology and molecular
biology either but they reflect society's awe of science and so obviously
departments which are science depts are safer than those that the
deans do not consider science departments. They suffer from the
since we all speak a language we know about language syndrome.

But we are very much alive and growing in many places and doing good things
and interacting with lots of other disciplines and contributing to
aphasiology, neurology, neuropsychology, psychology, speech communication,
AI and computer sci, cog sci, as well as the traditional areas of
language studies, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, speech pathology

 Vicki Fromkin
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Message 2: Re: 3.490 Linguistics in trouble?

Date: Sun, 14 Jun 92 8:09:35 WSTRe: 3.490 Linguistics in trouble?
From: H.Samual Wang (035 <>
Subject: Re: 3.490 Linguistics in trouble?

I would like to add to David Pesetsky's list of growing linguistics.
In Taiwan, there is a new MA program in linguistics that is going to be
instituted in National Taiwan University, and two others being planned
in other universities. We here at Tsing Hua University have had
an MA program in linguistics for six years and a PhD program for
two years. We are working hard to start an undergraduate program
in linguistics, which does not exist in Taiwan. The prospectus is
dim, but by no means nil.
Sam Wang
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Message 3: Re: Linguistics in trouble?

Date: Sat, 13 Jun 92 12:43:33 -0Re: Linguistics in trouble?
From: <>
Subject: Re: Linguistics in trouble?

I'm happy to see that discussion of "why I became a linguist" has begun to
touch on issues of the public image of the field vis-a-vis the problems it is
having at some places.

I don't know whether linguistics is in trouble in a general way. (We're
doing fine here.) But many of the comments made over the last month or more
seem to imply that it's just the think-headedness of journalists that gives
linguistics its sometimes less than wonderful reputation. A recent posting
implies that people ought to appreciate us and foreign languages as much as
they appreciate math, and another implies that we just have to convince
people that we're a real science. But still another noted, if I recall, that
some students who may have been turned off in an introductory course have now
become our colleagues and our deans, with predictable results.

I think people are well enough convinced that linguistics is a science.
Whether it's one that has any use or interest for them is more the question.
Introductory and other courses that turn people off are simply not helpful in
this regard. I think too many of us take too much pleasure in the
challenging sides of linguistics, its supercilious aspects, without due
regard for nasty feelings that may be engendered. The challenging sides are
great for introductory courses -- when the students can overcome the
challenges at least partially. But teaching students how little they know
about language, period, can leave a nasty after-taste.

I think we should be emphasizing our generally interesting implications.
Thus, although I've never done any research in psycholinguistics or
sociolinguistics, I have long emphasized some of its basic insights for their
general interest and appeal. I have also long emphasized the specific
possible -- and generally unrealized -- implications of linguistics for
foreign language teaching (even when this was not for me, as it is now, a
major focus of research). Even specific syntax and phonology can be presented
effectively in intro courses -- although rarely in conversation with ordinary
people without an implicit put-down; the put-down is implicit in classs too,
and if we don't undo it by empowering students somehow, it too may cause bad

In any case, all levels of relevance can be readily argued especially for
future teachers: I don't think we will readily convince anyone that every
little town in America needs a resident syntactician and phonologist, but it
is not hard to argue that every single teacher in that small town ought to
have some of the basic insights about the nature of language provided by
modern linguistics. This includes the ability to avoid classifying someone
as retarded because he has a different "accenT -- there are specific cases of
this happening. But here one can easily argue that a teacher of English
ought to know something of modern scholarship of grammar, too. (This
includes why we are not grammarians, of course!)

As a field, we should not disdain applications and implications, even if we
don't research them individually. The quote of students' feelings about
foreign language courses makes me think of an analogy: Math departments
would have more trouble if its students could just repeat multiplication
tables, but not do multiplication. This, although math is much more important
to more people than linguistics is likely to be. The mere fact that we all
have, use, and depend on languages, does not make linguistics interesting to
ordinary people -- unless we make it so.
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Message 4: reply AMR 3488

Date: 13 Jun 92 18:36 +0800
From: Hurch <>
Subject: reply AMR 3488

In reply to Alexis Manaster Ramer on linguist 3488:
First: "Sprachwissenschaft is not limited to the treatment of grammar.
Thus, the terms are not synonymous. The stdy of grammar is just part of
Second: The original terms were "grammatologie" in the post-revolutionary
French tradition of the Ecole ..., etc. The German counterpart was
philology. And these two did not only represent two cultures but two
distinct fields of research. "Sprachwissenschaft" did not come in before
the Neogrammarians.
Derrida's "Grammatologie" obviously is something different.
Bernhard Hurch
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Message 5: 3.490 Linguistics in trouble?

Date: Sat, 13 Jun 92 13:09:41 ED3.490 Linguistics in trouble?
From: Karen Kay <LL23NEMOMUS.bitnet>
Subject: 3.490 Linguistics in trouble?

> 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

This *is* true of math...the difference is that math has a kind of
mystic power associated w/ it that is respected by administrators,
whereas lx does not, for whatever reason.

Karen Kay
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