LINGUIST List 4.477

Thu 17 Jun 1993

Disc: The Politics of Linguistics?

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , politics of linguistics
  2. Kersti Borjars, Re: 4.472 GB

Message 1: politics of linguistics

Date: Thu, 17 Jun 1993 14:41:30 politics of linguistics
From: <>
Subject: politics of linguistics

I strongly disagree with the suggestion (made by Maria Polinsky and Vicki
Fromkin) that we should stop discussing politics on LINGUIST and get on with
our work. Like any other human activity, linguistics necessarily has political
aspects that need to be open to public debate. The question is not: Are we
doing linguistics OR politics?, but rather: Is politics confined to "smoke-
filled rooms" behind the scenes, or is it also discussed in an open and demo-
cratic form? The LINGUIST list seems ideally suited for such discussions --
e-mail lists are among the most democratic media available (through Chomsky's
writings, many linguists are aware of the manipulability of newspapers and TV
even in open societies). LINGUIST has seen many political discussions, e.g.
on Genie and linguistics in the popular media, and it should stay that way.
 Few linguists would deny that politics has played an important role in
promoting Chomskyan linguistics, and no doubt the whole field profited from
it (Fritz Newmeyer has written two political books about this). But conversely,
if Chomsky's prestige now leads to a situation of monoculture where the "gene
pool" of ideas is reduced, this clearly does not have a beneficial effect on
our discipline. Just as it is a political problem that the poor countries
offer far fewer opportunities for linguists than the richer countries (as
Anjum Saleemi reminds us), I see it as a political problem that the market
offers better opportunities for GB syntacticians than for others, thus
promoting opportunism (when I was a student in North America some years back,
a Korean left our university because there was only an excellent RG
syntactician there, but he needed a Ph.D. in GB to get a job back home).
 LINGUIST has previously seen controversial political debates around
"cognitive linguistics" and "megalocomparison". Why should GB be a taboo
subject? (Though I DO think that we should not discuss whether Newton or
Chomsky is a nice person.)

Martin Haspelmath
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Message 2: Re: 4.472 GB

Date: Thu, 17 Jun 93 15:18:55 BSRe: 4.472 GB
From: Kersti Borjars <>
Subject: Re: 4.472 GB

A couple of points in reply to the people who
told us to get on with linguistics rather than
discuss the politics of the field:

I am surprised as well about how much interest
this discussion has generated, but I really
don't think the discussion has stopped the
progress of linguistics. If we stopped discussing the
issue I cannot imagine there would be a sudden leap forward
in terms of linguistic knowledge.

I think anyone would find Dick Hudson (whom I believe
started the discussion, but I may be wrong), for instance,
more than happy to discuss linguistic data. One look at his
list of publications would also convince the reader that in spite
of the fact that he "wastes his time" on this kind of political
discussion, he does seem to be able to get some linguistics
done from time to time as well.

Also, the idea of getting on with linguistics, and convincing
other people of your ideas, rather than moan about GB,
seems to involve actually *having a job in linguistics*.
I agree with Vicki Fromkin that those of us who have jobs
in linguistics (temporary jobs a lot of them, OK, but then life
as we know it is not permanent either) can consider ourselves
'fortunate to work on such a fascinating and complex question as
the nature of human language'. However, I thought that the point
made by Barbara Need was that unless you work and publish within
GB, such a job is difficult to come by. And if you have to spend
your days delivering pizzas, getting on with linguistics can be a
difficult thing to do.
I must admit, that I know very little about how easy or difficult
it is to get a job if you are or are not a "GB-linguist" (yes, it
probably cuts both ways). I do know that it is a great concern
for a number of people and that there are good linguists who
feel that they have not been considered for jobs they thought
they could do well because of their theoretical persuasion
(or lack of it). If this is so, then surely this is an issue
important enough for us to "waste" some of our valuable time
discussing (this sounds like a good place for a resumptive
pronoun, but I have never been sure of these things in English).

Kersti Bo"rjars
University of Manchester
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