LINGUIST List 3.501

Tue 16 Jun 1992

Disc: Linguistics in trouble?

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , Re: 3.485 Linguistics vs. grammar, ling. dept. troubles
  2. Avery Andrews, linguistics in trouble
  3. BROADWELL GEORGE AARON, Linguistics in trouble
  4. Kon Kuiper, Re: 3.499 Linguistics in trouble?
  5. , Linguistics in trouble?

Message 1: Re: 3.485 Linguistics vs. grammar, ling. dept. troubles

Date: Mon, 15 Jun 1992 12:44 MSTRe: 3.485 Linguistics vs. grammar, ling. dept. troubles
Subject: Re: 3.485 Linguistics vs. grammar, ling. dept. troubles

No point in renaming linguistics departments Department of Grammar.
Some reporter will get hold of the story and write it up. I can
just see the headlines: "Linguists Cover Tracks With "Grammar"!";
"Linguists Seek New Image With New Name"!; etc.
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Message 2: linguistics in trouble

Date: Tue, 16 Jun 92 06:20:38 ESlinguistics in trouble
From: Avery Andrews <>
Subject: linguistics in trouble

By way of further comment on Joe Stemberger's posting:

One reason that people's attitudes towards linguistics might tend to be
based on the state of the field 20 years ago is that this is what
introductory teaching is still based on. In spite of the existence of
well-formalized grammatical theories, introductory syntax is still almost
exclusively based on unformalized versions of TG (how many computational
linguists can you find who claim to actually understand how features are
supposed to work in TG?). In spite of the extensive use of subtle judgements
in the current literature, neither introductory nor intermediate level
books contain any discussion of questions relating to evidence. How many
people do you have to ask, for example, to have a statistically significant
result to the effect that sentence A is better than sentence B, for
example, rather than random responses? What about experimenter effects?
Does anybody know whether there are systematic diffefences in the data
gathered by questionaires vs. the standard `can you say this' interview
technique? (I don't).

Thirty years ago, it was surely a reasonable move to put these kinds of
questions on hold, but maybe it's time to take them a bit more seriously.
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Message 3: Linguistics in trouble

Date: Mon, 15 Jun 92 15:40:39 -0Linguistics in trouble
Subject: Linguistics in trouble

One thing we can do to try to increase our colleagues' understanding of
what we do is to talk to them about it -- at larger universities, especially,
I think we often talk only to each other.

Here at SUNY-Albany we've had a cognitive science reading group, where
people from linguistics, computer science, psychology, and other depart-
ments meet to discuss recent books/articles that cross disciplinary
lines (Fodor's *Modularity of Mind*, for example). We have some terrific
arguments, and I think we end up understanding each other's fields a bit

Our colleagues in other departments do often have outdated ideas about
what linguistics is (and we doubtless have similar misconceptions about
their fields), but setting up contexts for regular interdisciplinary
conversations helps dispel some of these misconceptions.

This is hardly the cure for all our public relations problems, but it
seems helpful.
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Message 4: Re: 3.499 Linguistics in trouble?

Date: 16 Jun 1992 14:05:28 +1200Re: 3.499 Linguistics in trouble?
From: Kon Kuiper <>
Subject: Re: 3.499 Linguistics in trouble?

Thanks to Ellen Prince for her delightful account of doing jury duty. One
can occasionally tell people one teaches grammar and it has a terrible
effect on them. (Useful at times.) But it is very difficult to explain
exactly what linguists do because things like phonetics, grammar and
language in general touch people in so many ways. Phonetics? Oh yes, that
professor in My Fair Lady. Grammar? Yes, we had a teacher I hated in grade
4 who did some of that.
We have the problem that our discipline deals with matters about which most
people are largely ignorant and unconscious, and where becoming
consciousnessly aware is often of no particular practical help. I think that
what Deborah Tannen has done in her two best sellers is the sort of thing
that is of practical use but even there the capacity to analyse for onesself
the kind of conversational styles and strategies that mess up one's
relationships with others is not to be undertaken lightly or ill-advisedly.
Instead of being concerned with the public image of the discipline it seems
more important to teach it well to students and hope that that will make the
subject part of more general awareness in time. If linguists genuinely feel
that their subject is interesting and important then at least some students
will latch on to it in the same way.
Koenraad Kuiper
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Message 5: Linguistics in trouble?

Date: 16 Jun 92 12:57
From: <>
Subject: Linguistics in trouble?

On the subject of department closures:
The program of general linguistics at the University of Hamburg is about to
be eliminated. The professor of linguistics there, Els Oksaar, retired
recently, and this was used as a good opportunity to eliminate the
professorship and with it the program. (It seems that some of the money will
go into a center for sign language study, which is also a good way of spending
it, but doesn't justify the move.)
 But there is also some good news to report here: Theoretical linguistics
survived the disaster of the dissolution of the East German Academy of
Sciences remarkably well. Thousands of East German scholars are unemployed
as a result of this butchery, but theoretical linguistics got the best
grades of all the humanities in the evalutaion by westerns scholars, so at least
the core of East German theoretical linguists (especially the people around
Wolfgang Wurzel and Manfred Bierwisch) are able to continue their work.
At least one eastern German university (Humboldt University of Berlin) will
get a new linguistics department.

Martin Haspelmath, Free University of Berlin
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