LINGUIST List 4.495

Wed 23 Jun 1993

Disc: GB and politics

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  1. Michael Covington, Re: 4.489 Linguistics and GB
  2. "FELIX SASCHA", GB or non-GB
  3. Joe Stemberger, politics

Message 1: Re: 4.489 Linguistics and GB

Date: Fri, 18 Jun 1993 22:42:19 Re: 4.489 Linguistics and GB
From: Michael Covington <>
Subject: Re: 4.489 Linguistics and GB

This "GB versus non-GB" quarrel is a lot like the "TG versus non-TG"
quarrels of the 1960s. To some extent we may be looking at artifacts
of overly narrow training. Let's distinguish:

 (1) People who are trained only in TG (or, respectively, GB) and who
know comparatively little about linguistics outside their narrow
 (2) People who are interested in syntax from a variety of
perspectives, and who have adopted TG (resp. GB) because it seems to be
doing interesting and worthwhile things.
 (3) People like (2), but not convinced by TG (resp. GB) and therefore
working in other frameworks, but not ignoring what they consider to
be the successes of TG (resp. GB).
 (4) People _not_ trained in TG (resp. GB), who feel left out.

Obviously, job market alarms are going to be sounded by groups (1) and
(4). But almost all real linguistic progress is going to come from
(2) and (3).
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Message 2: GB or non-GB

Date: 21 Jun 93 10:09:03 GMT+1
Subject: GB or non-GB

I'm not quite sure how serious the current discussion on GB or non-GB
is meant to be; but I think at least we should get some facts
straight. I'm not able to judge whether or not it's true that GB
monopolizes the job situation in syntax in the US, but I do know that
the reverse is true in most universities in Germany and apparently
also in other European countries. There is an extremely strong anti-
generative and anti-Chomsky attitude in most linguistics departments
in Germany. In fact, it adds to your credentials if you profess on a
job interview (or when you apply for funding) that Chomsky or
generative grammar is all wrong. I sometimes wonder where this
hostility comes from. I have my own little theory about this, but I'd
be interested in knowing what the rest of the world thinks about this.
Secondly, it's simply not true that GB-people don't defend themselves
when they are attacked, as Haspelmath claims. Chomsky himself wrote
two books in the 70's (Reflections and Rules and Representations)
which are to a learge extent a defense of the generative position.
And others (e.g. Lightfoot, Koster, Pinker, etc. etc.) have done the
same. Similarly, in the late 70's Gazdar's GPSG was, in fact,
considered to be a serious challenge to GB, and people did react.
Something similar happens currently with respect to connectionism.
Thirdly, it is likewise not true that GB people only cite other GB-
people's work. Almost all major contributions to the field deal with
papers and data from outside of GB. To give just one example: look
into the bibliography of Baker's book on incorporation.
Apart from this, the rest is just trivial. Of course, generativists
primarily react to GB papers, just as functionalists react
predominantly to functionalist work, and Montague semanticist deal
with contributions from within the framework of Montague grammar.
One final remark: what I don't understand is why people like
Haspelmath e.g. complain about their work not receiving due
recognition from GB. Why should I care about being cited by people
who I believe to be completely wrong?

Sascha W. Felix, University of Passau/Germany
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Message 3: politics

Date: 22 Jun 1993 09:09:05 -0500politics
From: Joe Stemberger <STEMBERGER%ELLVAXUMNACVX.bitnet>
Subject: politics

The question of how easy it is for non-GB syntacticians to get jobs is an
interesting one, but it is isn't necessarily all politics. It may partly be
marketing. If GB has convinced the field that every linguistics department
needs a GB syntactician, then they'll be at an advantage for hiring. To
counteract that, you don't need discussions of politics, you just need
better advertising.

Politics is often about access to resources, and access to jobs is one
important resource. But there are others.

I doubt that access to research grants is affected all that much by whether
you're GB or not GB. (Getting grants isn't as pervasive in linguistics as
it is in other fields, though.)

What about journal space? I have heard complaints from RG-ers that they
have had an unfairly hard time getting papers accepted in the major
journals. Is that a general feeling out there? And is there a general
feeling that GB papers have an easier time, so that they can be published
with major flaws, while non-GB papers must be perfect to get in (if they
can get in at all)? Access to journal space is probably a better reflection
of pure politics that access to jobs --- there's less marketing involved,
and there are more plenty of in journals for papers (as opposed to only a
handful of new jobs).

As a phonologist, all the questions about GB and jobs seem odd, since there
isn't really any GB phonology out there. Kaye's Government & Charm
Phonology perhaps comes closest, but it is not the dominant theory in
phonology. My impression is that there really isn't much of a problem with
access to journal space for phonologists doing non-dominant theories.
(OK, LI would be a problem. And non-dominant-theory people
DO have to put things in their papers defending assumptions where
more "standard" phonologists wouldn't have to. As someone who likes
concrete analyses, which still are considered non-mainstream at least for
work on English & Russian, I can attest to that. But the access to
journal space is still there.) But what about jobs? Do people outside the
standard (abstract) nonlinear frameworks feel that it's harder to get a job?

Vicky Fromkin suggests that we should be happy about being able to work on
such an interesting area as language, and not get hung up on politics. But
politics can greatly interfere with enjoyment, if someone is on the wrong
end of the stick politically. Of course, talking about politics often isn't
very productive. In (real) politics, those most guilty of playing politics
are often the ones who are most likely to avow that they are not playing
politics (and then go on to characterize their opponents as whiners, as people
who haven't earned access to resources, or as people who are trying to play
politics). There's definitely some politics in Linguistics, with some
negative consequences. How bad is it? And have things improved since the
'60's and '70's, when politics was really rampant?

---joe stemberger
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