LINGUIST List 4.489

Fri 18 Jun 1993

Disc: Linguistics and GB

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Vicki Fromkin, Re: 4.477 The Politics of Linguistics?
  2. Frederick Newmeyer, Jobs and GB
  3. , The Politics of Linguistics
  4. "Andy Rogers", Re: 4.472 GB
  5. Bill Bennett, GB or not?

Message 1: Re: 4.477 The Politics of Linguistics?

Date: Thu, 17 Jun 93 17:31 PDT
From: Vicki Fromkin <IYO1VAFMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 4.477 The Politics of Linguistics?

Never would I advocate cutting out discussions on politics. I am just not
convinced that the evaluation of one particular theory of linguistics
on the part of faculties hiring linguists is really a political discussion.

But as one of the respondants replied, I am not looking for a job and so
have not faced what some perceive to be a hostile world out there. I do
not think linguistics is unique in the sciences in this regard nor do I
think one should blame the situation on Chomsky. Over the years I, in fact,
thhink he has been more maligned and misinterpreted both linguistically
and poliltically than any other linguist and probably any other scholar of
his repute.
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Message 2: Jobs and GB

Date: Thu, 17 Jun 1993 18:16:49 Jobs and GB
From: Frederick Newmeyer <>
Subject: Jobs and GB

I have been following with some degree of disbelief the postings on the
effects of the supposed domination of the field by Chomsky and his ideas.
It appears to be taken as uncontroversial that working in GB gives one an
edge in the job market. I see no reason whatever to believe that to be the
case, at least as far as job openings in the United States are concerned.

A few years ago, I documented in the journal LANGUAGE that fewer than half
of the linguistics programs in the US are oriented primarily to generative
grammar in *any* form. And many, if not most, of those that are generative
are not GB-oriented: one thinks of Stanford, Illinois, Ohio State,
Chicago, Minnesota, Indiana, Brown, Texas, and so on. I have seen no
concerted effort by such departments to expand into GB.

Most job seekers in linguistics, of course, end up in foreign language or
English departments. Such departments are primarily interested in teaching
experience and an impressive CV, not in the particular generative model
that the applicant works in.

I am willing to concede that the prestige of MIT gives its students an
edge in the job market. But as someone who teaches in a provincial
GB-oriented department, I can assure you that there is no general feeling
here that our students have made a wise career move simply by working in GB.

Fritz Newmeyer
University of Washington, Seattle
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Message 3: The Politics of Linguistics

Date: Thu, 17 Jun 93 23:10:53 EDThe Politics of Linguistics
From: <pesetskAthena.MIT.EDU>
Subject: The Politics of Linguistics

Haspelmath ( defends as follows
the ongoing discussion of the evil influence of "GB" against Fromkin and
Polinsky's injunctions to "get back to work":

>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

Unfortunately, while LINGUIST is an equal-opportunity medium (for those
with e-mail access), it is not an exercise in democracy any more than a
radio talk show is. I sincerely hope the umpteen-thousand non-linguist
readers of LINGUIST realize this. When professional-sociological issues
arise on LINGUIST, it is generally those with axes to grind who
contribute the most. This leads to a preponderance of disgruntled
voices (whose documentation consists of anecdotes about the careerism of
an unnamed Korean student, choice barbs from "a friend of mine who asked
not to be named", and so forth). I can't think of a *more convenient*
forum than LINGUIST for discussion and the propagation of information
about linguistics, but readers should not conclude that this makes
LINGUIST "democratic" in any helpful sense, any more than an election
decided by White House mail would be democratic. Furthermore, even if
it were, truth does not arise from a vote.

I suspect that many syntacticians who care about these discussions
nonetheless keep out of them -- on purpose. They don't want to be
sucked into endless rounds of replies and replies to replies.
Furthermore, people are loath to respond to let grousers (especially
ill-informed grousers -- I do not suspect Haspelmath of this) set the
agenda. Maybe this attitude is wrong -- ignore too much and you might
wake up one morning with the barbarians at the gates. But that's how it
is, whence the one-sided nature of many of these discussions. The best
defense of any body of work *should* be the work itself, its impact on
others, and the new work it generates. Most people who hold a view
about language probably operate on the assumption that this sort of
defense is sufficient. No additional exercise in "democracy",
therefore, is undertaken, with the results visible all too often in
LINGUIST. (None of these remarks should be taken as disparagement of
the LINGUIST editors' remarkable achievement in creating and maintaining
this resource.)

Though I was momentarily swayed by Fromkin's and Polinsky's eloquent
remarks, I agree with Haspelmath that the discussion might as well
continue on LINGUIST (until the editors squelch it). That is, I don't
think we should be ordered back to the linguistics lab, and I agree that
there should be no taboo subjects. (Perhaps some useful points will
actually be made if the discussion continues.) However, the lab is in
fact where most of us are during most of our professional life. That is
why the "GB" voices in LINGUIST are more often found in the queries
messages than in the polemical messages, and why the best answers to the
"GB"-grousing seen every few months on LINGUIST can be found in
journals, dissertations, working papers and books.

-David Pesetsky
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Message 4: Re: 4.472 GB

Date: 18 Jun 1993 10:47:18 -0600Re: 4.472 GB
From: "Andy Rogers" <>
Subject: Re: 4.472 GB

 Reply to: RE>4.472 GB
Like so many issues I see discussed on Linguist the discussion of whether one
has to discuss syntax within the GB framework to be paid attention to and/or
find a job reminds me that the more things change the more they stay the same.
Move the discussion back 25 years and the question is whether one must discuss
syntax within the framework of transformational grammar in order not to be
dismissed out of hand; after that it was whether one had to belong to a
particular evolutionary variant of that school.

If the issue were resolved or not of significance to the business of
linguistics, I could agree with Vicki's characterization of this thread as a
rather ridiculous discussion and plea for everyone instead to focus on
substantive linguistic reasearch, but as with so many linguistic debates
(Plato, are you listening?) it is neither. The issue boils down, on a very
plausible reading, to the question of what substantive linguistic research

It is true, as Maria Polinsky asserts, that some linguists on some occassions
are more willing to discuss the politics of linguistics than data; it is also
true that on some occassions some linguists are more willing to split hairs
over details of formalism than to discuss language data. Those perceived
facts, among many others, are legitimate areas of discussion in a forum like
Linguist. If you're not interested, there is always the _delete_ function.

The issue of theoretical orthodoxy, whether or not one is taken seriously as a
linguist, and whether or not one finds a job is as likely to determine the
course of linguistic research as someone's latest theory. Perhaps the question
is one of the sociology of linguistics (or of science or academia). Whatever
one calls it, an objective attempt to investigate such questions as

the relationship between one's allegiance to a prevailing orthodoxy and their
engagement in debate and liklihood of job placement;

the rules of academic engagement (and non-engagement); and

the relationship between orthodoxy, engagement, job placement, and the
subsequent evolution of the field

are all legitimate subjects of discussion and research.

Never mind that it is a minefield of sensitive issues.

Perhaps the rules of engagement are as simple as having to share a critical
set of assumptions in order to be able to carrry on a meaningful discussion.
Certainly it often it appears that the question of whether a given set of
assumptions is acceptable coincides with inclusion/exclusion. One would,
however, want to see some evidence and discussion.

Why one would want to discourage such discussion is beyond me.

Andy Rogers
CAD Framework Initiative
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Message 5: GB or not?

Date: Thu, 17 Jun 93 20:55:20 BSGB or not?
From: Bill Bennett <>
Subject: GB or not?

The debate on GB has shown a worrying lack of terminology which has
been amusingly characteristic of our discipline. When colleagues write of
"theories" do they mean -model theories- or -theoretical models-? It is the
latter which are determined by our (linguistic) -theory- (singular),
constrained by observed linguistic behaviour. -Model theories- are answerable,
of course, to mathematics and logic. -Theoretical models- ought to be tightly
sandwiched between the requirements of a linguistic theory (Chomsky 1965) and
the criteria of model-theoretical models. This is where the "notational
variant" question belongs.
 I feel strongly about this need for clarification in terminology, because
until a year ago I was, like many others, content with a descriptive theory
of French schwa. But thanks to many colleagues on this BB I have met a
model-theoretical basis for explanation in terms of the G of GB. The
consequence has been to throw light on a number of other points of French
grammar which had been hidden. The important aspect is to have been able to
turn my attention to the relationship of government. And it really
doesn't matter right now if the model incorporates epenthesis or flotation - it
just might be that different speakers "use" different models.
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