LINGUIST List 4.1080

Tue 21 Dec 1993

Disc: The Nature Of Linguistics

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  1. Richard Wojcik, Re: 4.1013 Linguistics as Psychology
  2. Angus Grieve-Smith, Linguistics as physics

Message 1: Re: 4.1013 Linguistics as Psychology

Date: Wed, 1 Dec 93 11:33:49 PSTRe: 4.1013 Linguistics as Psychology
From: Richard Wojcik <>
Subject: Re: 4.1013 Linguistics as Psychology

A response to Jack Rea's comment:

> The discussion of Bloomfield versus cognitive psychology is wildly
> anachronistic. M Haspelmeth has suggested, "The only anti-cognitive
> anti psychological school was Bloomfield and the post-Bloomfieldians."
> And R. Wojcik has added, "Altho the post-Bloomfieldians represented a
> rather extreme anti-cognitive position...."

Jack's point that Bloomfield's position was within the mainstream of
psychological thinking was correct, but he misunderstood the intent of
our remarks. From a historical perspective, the mainstream (at least
in the US) was "anti-cognitive" in the sense that we were using the term.
Bloomfield himself was somewhat "pro-cognitive" in the 20's, before he
revised his famous textbook. I'm sorry for the confusing terminology,
but I think that Jack understands the difference between the "psychological"
phoneme (of Sapir, e.g.) and the view propounded by post-Bloomfieldians.
If one tries hard enough, one can certainly use the term "psychological"
to describe the post-Bloomfieldian phoneme, but we would still need to
be able to talk about the different approaches to grammar taken by
different generations of linguists. That difference in approach had a
lot to do with whether grammatical description was a description of
mental activity or some kind of abstract, formal (social?) model of
a "system". My opinion is that Chomsky was very skillful at blending
both approaches, which is why some now ask whether psychology subsumes
linguistics. (A thought which I disagree with, BTW.) That certainly
wasn't a question that would have triggered a lot soul-searching amongst
the Bloomfieldians. ;-)
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Message 2: Linguistics as physics

Date: Thu, 16 Dec 1993 13:06:28 Linguistics as physics
From: Angus Grieve-Smith <>
Subject: Linguistics as physics

 I realize it's been about two weeks since the last posting on
this topic, but I've been dealing with exams and papers and such, and
catching up on my LINGUIST, I feel like chipping in my $.02.

 First, it seems to be a slightly different issue whether
linguistic models must be psychologically accurate. This is hinted
at, but not entailed, by the idea that linguistics is a branch of
psychology. You can have rough and inaccurate models of psychological
behavior that are still useful. Conversely, you can have
psychologically close-fitting models of linguistic behavior. (At
least, I hope).

 I find it about as annoying to hear linguists say that
linguistics is a branch of psychology since it deals with the mind as
to hear anthropologists say that linguistics is a branch of
anthropology since it deals with people. It seems like the logical
conclusion to this kind of reasoning is that anthropology and
psychology, and in fact all sciences, are actually branches of
physics, since they all deal ultimately with the movement of matter
and energy.

 I feel that this is not a very productive way of thinking of
science. These linguists and anthropologists my protest that there is
a closer relationship between linguistics and psychology or
anthropology, but I have yet to see a convincing argument that either
of these relationships are somehow closer than those linguistics has
with AI, cognitive science, the various area studies, literary theory,
biology, neurology, sociology or anything else.

 I guess I'd be hard pressed to make a case for linguistics
being a subfield of geology or something, but my point is that
linguistics is its own field, with its own methodologies and its own
challenges. It has a close and productive relationship with a lot of
other fields, but it is not in any meaningful sense a subfield.

 -Angus B. Grieve-Smith
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