LINGUIST List 3.515

Sun 21 Jun 1992

Disc: Linguistics in trouble?

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Joe Stemberger, Re: 33.506 Linguistics in trouble?
  2. Jim Scobbie, Linguistics in trouble?
  3. jack, trouble in river city
  4. Larry Horn, Re: 3.505 What has linguistics achieved?
  5. jj36, Re: 33.506 Linguistics in trouble?

Message 1: Re: 33.506 Linguistics in trouble?

Date: Fri, 19 Jun 92 10:56 CDT
From: Joe Stemberger <>
Subject: Re: 33.506 Linguistics in trouble?

In 33.506, Sharon Shelly wrote, about department closings:

>>Unfortunately, in the real world of the American academy these days,
>>lack of department status means a total lack of consideration,
>>power, influence, or self-determination.
>>In other words, I'm afraid that when linguistics departments are
>>threatened, there IS a potential threat to the discipline itself.

That is in fact what we are worried about here at Minnesota. No one was
fired. All of us linguists will still be around and teaching courses,
except for one of us who retired. About half of us remained together as a
subset of another unit, and they'll be able to do linguistics full time.
The rest of us are going to departments that will allow us to keep teaching
some linguistics courses (that was one of the factors
that led me to go into Communication Disorders, for example, since our
Psychology department wasn't willing to be very flexible), but we will also
teach some courses in our new home departments. The upshot: fewer
linguistics courses. (New, unsympathetic, chairmen at some time in the
future could curtail courses even more.)

And, if someone leaves, we have been
told to expect that they will not be replaced, unless that person's
specialty is unique at the University and is judged to be essential to
e.g. language departments. The upshot: through lack of replacement, the
discipline might be at risk.

Being an interdisciplinary program adds uncertainty to life. It's not the
ultimate disaster, but it leaves your status open to further erosion. Of
course, most linguistics departments started out as interdisciplinary
programs, including ours. Coming full circle doesn't do much for morale,
but it could be worse.

---joe stemberger
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Linguistics in trouble?

Date: Fri, 19 Jun 92 11:13:07 PDLinguistics in trouble?
From: Jim Scobbie <scobbieCsli.Stanford.EDU>
Subject: Linguistics in trouble?

Why don't some of you heads of departments out there contact your
deans, chancellors, principals, presidents or whoever, and ask them
for a short statement outlining their view of the place of linguistics
in `their' university? Then we might learn something of the
establishment view of our departments. Perhaps. One would hope that
each establishment would know enough about us and our roles in their
university to prepare a short statement off their own bat. Of course,
they might just go to the university calendar and quote something back
written by members of the department! Or perhaps, in the world of
university politics, such a request is unthinkable. It just seems to
me that participants in the discussion are using a couple of facts
(department closures), anecdotes and introspection as the basis for a
discussion on the views of university administrations. :-) Can't we get
hold of something more solid, or can't we?
James M. Scobbie: Dept of Linguistics, Stanford University, CA 94305-2150, USA
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 3: trouble in river city

Date: Fri, 19 Jun 92 20:27:40 EStrouble in river city
From: jack <>
Subject: trouble in river city

Peter Salus points out wisely, that maintaining the contributions of
linguistics (whatever they may be) "does not require a *Department* of
Linguistics," since linguists may readily be housed, and often are, in
othr departments. I counter that those linguists are in greater peril
than those in Linguistics Departments.

I know of a Psychology Department who decided not to fill its vacant line
previously held by a Psycholinguist/Cognitive Psychologist, and accept
a straight Cognitive person innocent of Linguistics. I also know an
Anthropology Department that decided to convert its Anthropological
Linguistics line into an ethnologist. I know a language department that
has converted its two lines of pedagogy and linguistics into one line,
requiring someone that can also handle literature courses (the former
linguist having taught half pure linguistics, half linguistics of the
language of that department). I could go on, but let us imagine that
these instances and a few more like them are all at one institution which
has offered linguistics in an interdepartmental program!

Mind you, one cannot condemn too thoroughly a Chairman of a Department
whose budget has been cut so that he must chop a couple of positions by
attrition, and decides that he needs to do his reduced hiring in areas
more central to the "mission" of his department, and forgo the luxury
of hiring a linguist who "isn't really one of us".

In the minds of many deans and provosts, if you ain't a department with
budget lines, you don't really exist. If you are a department with budget
lines, and have to become leaner, you will sympathize with the expressed
needs of that department.

In the best of all possible worlds, the examples I have used as illustration
would, of course, be hypothetical.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 4: Re: 3.505 What has linguistics achieved?

Date: Sat, 20 Jun 92 15:04:28 EDRe: 3.505 What has linguistics achieved?
From: Larry Horn <LHORNYaleVM.YCC.Yale.Edu>
Subject: Re: 3.505 What has linguistics achieved?

In response to Peter Salus's comments in 3-505:
 First of all, on a factual matter, it is not accurate to state that "Yale
and Purdue, e.g., have interdepartmental programs", at least with respect to
the first conjunct. Yale has had a department since 1961 and, as I mentioned
in an earlier posting this spring, the prospects for our future have at least
been upgraded to uncertain. We will know more after an ad hoc committee, not
yet appointed, completes its evaluation and the administration receives its
report. Since the administration is almost entirely new, with the key
positions of President, Provost, College Dean, and Graduate School Dean all
staffed by people new to those roles, it is not clear what will happen, but we
remain cautiously optimistic. We have argued all along that a coherent
linguistics program does not REQUIRE the existence of an autonomous
department--situations like those at Cornell prove this--but as it happens,
Yale's is one of I think many many programs which probably could NOT remain
coherent if the current faculty were dispersed to various departments. More
specifically, we feel that it is virtually certain under those conditions that
decisions about which linguists to hire, made by the senior faculty in say
French or Classics or Psychology, will bear no connection to what would be
needed to maintain a coherent graduate program or undergraduate major. (This
is the argument I tried making to ex-President-to-be Schmidt and other
administrators, with no evident impact; luckily, the faculty committee set up
to review the original restructuring committee recommendations was more
receptive.) More specifically, there is no guarantee that we would end up
with at least one syntactician and at least one phonologist under the
non-departmental arrangement, and it's hard to imagine a cohesive program
without that bare-bones minimum. The situation at Yale thus falls precisely
within the scope of Sharon Shelly's remarks in reply to Salus, when she
distinguishes his ideal metadepartmental world from the actual world in which
'lack of department status means a total lack of consideration, power,
influence, or self-determination', especially in the current fiscal climate.
 Ellen Prince's remarks (in the same posting as Peter's) are also germane.
 In fact, her reference to 'a university (which will remain unnamed)' with 'a
real crummy philosophy dept, with all sorts of problems' that was nevertheless
preserved because after all '"how can you have a university without a
philosophy department?!?!'" was exactly recapitulated in last winter's
restructuring at Yale, where precisely this reason was given for maintaining
philosophy while deleting (that is, seeking to delete) linguistics. Further,
her point about the lack of linguistics at the universities at which current
senior faculty and administrators received their education is apropos: in our
case, that university was (almost) more often than not Yale herself, and at
least for the older faculty and administrators the rich Yale tradition in
linguistics was carried out (at the graduate level only) in the absence of a
department--until 1961, when that strategy was abaondoned, largely
because by that time the language departments had become more and more
literature-oriented, as they are today, and indifferent if not actively
hostile to linguistics, as they are today. Again, this condition is presented
here as Yale-specific, although its echoes may have resonance elsewhere.
 On a lighter note, I was struck by Larry Hutchinson's remark (3.490):
'The great majority of linguists consider themselves to be scientists. It
seems to me most outsiders do not, and this includes deans.'
I can only take this on the sloppy reading, to suggest that most deans and
other non-linguists do not consider THEMSELVES to be scientists. But Larry
clearly had the strict reading in mind, which I find inaccessible--as well as
unfortunately true, at least in the Yale situation where the initial fate of
linguistics was entirely determined by the Humanities-based members of the
restructuring committee. Thankfully, the review committee recognized the
flaw in this approach and established that future decisions affecting us
will be made only after consultation with the social and natural sciences
--Larry Horn
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 5: Re: 33.506 Linguistics in trouble?

Date: Fri, 19 Jun 92 09:12 EDT
From: jj36 <>
Subject: Re: 33.506 Linguistics in trouble?

For Michael Kac, who wasn't sure whether Jan Baudouin de Courtenay
(1846-1929) had coined the term "la linguistique" -- he didn't. The first
attestation of the term dates from 1812, and it was quite current by
mid-century. See Sylvain Auroux (1987) "The First Uses of the French Word
'Linguistique' (1812-1880)", in _Papers in the History of Linguistics_, ed. H.
Aarsleff, L.G. Kelly, and H.-J. Niederehe, Amsterdam: Benjamins, 1987.
--John E. Joseph, Dept. of French & Italian, Univ. of Maryland, College Park
MD 20742 USA
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue