LINGUIST List 4.362

Tue 11 May 1993

Sum: The Event

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  1. Mark Seidenberg, summary: "The Event"

Message 1: summary: "The Event"

Date: Sat, 8 May 93 11:22:09 PDTsummary: "The Event"
From: Mark Seidenberg <marksneuro.usc.edu>
Subject: summary: "The Event"

No one reported ever hearing the publication of "Syntactic Structures"
referred to as "The Event," contrary to the assertion in Russ Rymer's
book about Genie which was repeated in the NY Times Book Review two weeks ago.

Several generations of MIT students wrote in to assure me that it wasn't
them.

Several people had interesting recollections of what a big event it was
when they encountered the book in the late 50s, but that's a different
issue.

There seem to be two possibilities as to how this canard developed:

a. Rymer has a terrible ear for dialogue, heard lots of people say
what a big event this book was in the development of linguistics, and
rendered it as "linguists call it 'The Event.'" This is a serious
liability for a reporter and makes one question how accurate anything
else in the book is.

[One of the respondents called this "journalistic license." I myself
don't think there is any such license unless journalism is poetry and
judged only by whether it sounds nice or not.]

b. Rymer made it up because he needed a simple way to convey that
linguists are narrowly focused on theoretical arcana. The thesis of
the book is that everyone expoited poor Genie for their own purposes,
including the linguists who studied her. Presumably because their
noses were so deeply immersed in proving Chomsky's theory that they
couldn't see the child needed help.

Insofar as he distorted the role of the linguists in the project in order
to fit the story he wanted to tell, I feel that Rymer himself should be
added to the list of people who exploited Genie for their own purposes.

Mark Seidenberg
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